Sicily’s Duca di Salaparuta partnered with Drinks Retailing to take a group of buyers to its historical Marsala cellars as well as its facilities in Aspra and Casteldaccia near Palermo. The group discovered myriad styles of Marsala, as well as the breadth of Duca di Salaparuta’s wine range – offering everything from supermarket sips to top drops
Sicily was once the jewel of the Roman empire, supplying ancient Rome with much of its sought-after wine,” says Freddie Cobb, head of drinks and wine buyer at Vagabond. Today, he notes that the likes of Duca di Salaparuta pay homage to tradition, while looking to the future.
“Duca di Salaparuta embraces the old traditions with Florio Marsala, along with the modern, at the winery in Aspra,” explains Cobb. And we start with a journey to the coastal town of Marsala in the west of Sicily. A town that gives its name to Marsala DOC – and has been home to Florio since 1833.
Just a stone’s throw from the sea, two giant 64,000-litre wooden barrels guard rows and rows of Marsala casks as they mature in the high-arched naves of the Florio cellars. And winemaker Tommaso Maggio explains that their position in the cellar is paramount.
“The temperature and humidity is different in different parts of the cellar,” he says. So much so that the new Florio Marsala labels feature a guide to the geography of the cellars, explaining the nuances of flavour that cellar location imparts.
“As you get closer to the sea, the temperature drops and the level of humidity increases,” Maggio explains. “The closer to the sea, the more the Marsala wines are enriched with undertones of seaweed and savoury tastes.”
Whereas the top of the cellar, with lower humidity, helps to create complex tertiary notes. Dan Farrell-Wright, director at ecommerce retailer Wickhams, praises the importance of winemaking at Florio. He says it is interesting to see “how much the winemaking is down to the winemaker” when it comes to style, ageing and cellaring.
Carlos Blanco, co-founder of Blanco & Gomez wine merchants adds: “I find it great what Cantine Florio is doing to restore Marsala’s reputation as one of the world’s great wines.”
In terms of styles, there are various types of Marsala, classified according to age and sugar content (see table). Florio only produces from the Superiore standard and upwards – and its portfolio comprises entry level Vecchioflorio available at Morrisons, up to high-end limited-edition wines.
“Marsala gave me a newfound respect for a wine that I will put my hands up and say I regularly overlook,” says Chris Howells, co-owner of Must Wine Bars. And another revelation came in Palermo bar Farmacia Alcolica, where the group tried Marsala in cocktails, including a twist on both a Negroni and a Penicillin.
MARSALA CLASSICO SEMISECCO 2015
A youthful Marsala that packs a punch. Woody aromas mixed with drunken raisins fill the glass. The palate is intense and concentrated with flavours of dates and sticky toffee pudding glazed with salted caramel. Seriously decadent. (Freddie Cobb)
MARSALA VERGINE RISERVA 2004
This dry style of Marsala was a revelation. Aged, fortified sweetness on the nose leading to a dry palate with rich marmalade fruit, really versatile food-wise and quite stunning. (Kent Barker)
MARSALA DOLCE SUPERIORE 2017
This is definitely the style of Marsala that most people will be familiar with. A bouquet of dates and honey and a very well-structured palate, with the right balance of sugar and fruits, makes this Marsala very enjoyable as an after-dinner wine. (Carlos Blanco)
DUCA DI SALAPARUTA
Two hours away, in Aspra, close to Palermo, the group explored the company’s state-of-the-art facilities, complete with a bottling line capable of bottling 10,000 bottles per hour.
“This modern winery produces better quality, which you don’t find everywhere,” says Salvatore Tomasello. “It’s important for us because we produce wine that is both ready to drink, such as our popular supermarket label, Corvo, or wine that can be kept for a long time.”
Duca di Salaparuta also makes highend wines produced and aged in oak barrels in nearby Casteldaccia. Vagabond’s Cobb says that investment in the facilities emphasises quality.
“From state-ofthe-art barrel rooms to high-tech cleaning systems, guaranteeing that consumers can always rely on tasting wines that are fresh, clean and damn delicious, as well as providing the perfect production facilities for the Sicilian varieties to shine.”
Tomasello reveals that the winery is home to the famous Nero d’Avola single-varietal wine, Duca Enrico, which was the first single-varietal Nero d’Avola in the history of Sicilian wine, created in 1984. And one that was certainly a hit with the group.
DUCA ENRICO 2018
The red wine I enjoyed the most. Its liquorice bouquet and palate of cacao, vanilla, hazelnuts and chocolate made this wine exceptional. Well-structured and balanced, this wine has elegance on the palate that will take years to achieve for other wines coming from other regions and countries. (Carlos Blanco)
CALANICA ROSÉ 2021
The surprise of the line-up. An aromatic rosé, with lots of character as your glass fills up with raspberry, and underlying Mediterranean herbs, of thyme and rosemary, with notes of rose petals providing some freshness. Rose petal also transgresses on to the palate with an acidity that provides an electricity to the wine and a saline finish. Incredibly characterful. (Freddie Cobb)
PASSO DELLE MULE 2020
Bold red colour with a purple tinge, aromas of black cherry, raspberry and a touch of vanilla and Christmas spices. Very well-integrated oak tannin with good acidity and length. (Dan Farrell-Wright)
“Sicily is a versatile, stunning country with a huge wealth of vinous history and some of the most exciting terroir in the world,” finishes Kent Barker, founder of Eight Stony Street and Wilding. And Duca di Salaparuta is at the very heart of it.