The wines of Cortese, Sicily


After protracted negotiations, Stefano and Marina Girelli purchased Cortese from Giovanno Cortese in 2016. It’s a wine estate based in Vittoria in Sicily, and farming is now organic. The Girelli’s already owned Santa Tresa (they bought this in 2001), and believe firmly in the potential of Sicily and its indigenous varieties. These wines are very impressive, and offer excellent value for money.

Cortese Nostru Catarratto Lucido 2020 Sicily, Italy
12.5% alcohol. Organic. This is utterly delicious: it’s full flavoured with pear and peach fruit, and some layers of spicy structure. There’s a warmth to the fruit, with a touch of apricot richness, as well as this lovely spicy framing with a crystalline citrus finish. Such a delicious white, combining richness and freshness. 91/100

Cortese Nostru Carricante 2019 Sicily, Italy
13% alcohol. Organic. Slightly restrained nose with lovely taut citrus fruit and a touch of pear, showing freshness as well as nice clean fruit. It’s a really pure and very fine dry white, with no obscuring oak and a really nice bright orange-peel and herb finish. Lovely balance. 90/100

Cortese Vanedda Bianco 2018 Sicily, Italy
13.5% alcohol. Organic. This is a blend of Sicilian white grape varieties Catarratto and Grillo, I think). The destemmed grapes are given a couple of days skin contact, then pressed and barrel fermented. It has a rich, complex nose of apples, nuts, pears and some grapefruit. The palate is vivid and intense with taut citrus and peach notes, some spiciness, and a distinctive mineral edge. With good concentration and acidity, as well as a bit of structure, this could age in very interesting ways. I’ve seen it described as a Chablis of the South, and that seems quite apt. 92/100 (UK retail c. £17)

Cortese Nostru Nero D’Avola Senza Solfiti Aggiutini 2020 Sicily, Italy
14% alcohol. This organic Nero D’Avola is made without added sulfites. It’s really floral and direct with bright black cherry and blackberry fruit, showing some peppery brightness, and also a touch of curranty, pruny ripeness at the bass end of the spectrum. I love the brightness and freshness here: this shows lovely fruit with great balance and focus, with a nice touch of sour cherry on the finish. Brilliant value. 90/100 (UK retail £12.50 independent wine merchants)

Cortese Nostru Nerello Mascalese 2019 Sicily, Italy
13.5% alcohol. This is organic, and it’s a beautifully fresh, floral, lighter-styled red with pretty sweet cherry and plum fruit, some green sappy notes, and a savoury, stony, mineral edge. It’s floral and fruit-driven, but has enough tannic bite to keep it interesting and food friendly, and there’s also a nice pepperiness. A lovely wine combining sappiness and drinkability. Lovely purity. 92/100 (UK retail £12.99 Gusto Wines, Slurp)

Cortese Sabuci Cerosualo di Vittoria 2017 Sicily, Italy
13.5% alacohol. This is organic. It has a firm but aromatic nose of black cherry and blackberry with some spice and tar. The palate shows sweet cherry and berry fruits with some spice, leather and dark tea notes as well as bright acidity and a bit of grippy structure. Nice weight here with some savoury firmness as well as sweet black fruits. 92/100

Cortese Senia Nero d’Avola 2016 Sicily, Italy
13% alcohol. Organic. Fermented in opened up barriques turned on their ends. Dense, chewy but fresh with sweet blackcurrant and blackberry fruit as well as some notes of tar and gravel. It has some grippy tannins, but there’s really nice freshness and definition to the palate, which shows smooth, ripe fruit at its core. Such focus here, and it’s drinking well now but has the guts to develop over the next decade. Very serious and gastronomic. 93/100 (£16-20 independent wine merchants, Slurp, Beaconsfield Wines, Thorne Wines, Jascots)

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