Sicily was once considered simply as a key contributor to the European wine lake, with only 25% of the wine bottled on the island. However, since the 1980s Sicily has undergone a renaissance and the once great wine producing island of antiquity has now become a fine wine producer once again. Sicily has been described by Tim Atkin MW as ‘one of the most exciting wine regions in Europe… blessed with a combination of abundant sunshine, varied terroirs and good indigenous grapes’. Jancis Robinson MW equally venerates Sicily, ‘[It is] undergoing the most exciting revival as a fine wine producer’.

As a result we have been searching for a special wine from Sicily’s leading red grape variety Nero d’Avola that offers immense quality at a compelling price point. We have found exactly that in Marchesi Mazzei’s Zisola 2011 and Doppiozeta 2010, which have been awarded 92 and 93 points respectively from James Suckling. The Zisola and Doppoizeta are priced at £16.40 and £28.40 duty and VAT paid.

The Mazzei family are acclaimed in Tuscany for producing two wines of incredible value; the superb Chianti Classico Castello di Fonterutoli and Belguardo from Maremma. Their expertise and commitment to quality shines through into their Estate in Sicily where they exploit Siciliy’s flagship red grape variety Nero d’Avola to its peak capacity. Their vineyards are located in Noto at the south tip of Sicily, contiguous to Syracusa and the town of Avola, the grapes apparent birthplace. The vineyards are found 130 metres above sea level, on a western/south-western exposure, thereby benefiting greatly from their altitude and proximity to the Mediterranean Sea.

The vineyards boast a wonderful combination of complex soils, predominating in Calcareous matter, with a high mineral content adding a powerful backbone, structure and definition. The Estate comprises of 50 hectares, of which 21 have reverted to their original use of viticulture: the vines are planted ‘ad alberello’ (bushed trained) at a density of 5,500 vines per hectare, interspersed with olive, citrus and almond trees. The majority of the vineyards are planted with Nero d’Avola which constitutes 100% of Zisola, with some Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Petit Verdot, which are added to the Doppoizeta: all grapes are hand-picked. The Mazzei family have invested heavily in the Estate and restored their two ‘baglio’ buildings, where the modern winery is now found.

We tasted both wines with Giovanni Mazzei at the beginning of the year and we were truly impressed with the vintages. The Zisola is a glorious expression of 100% Nero d’Avola. The wine spends 10 months in 33% French barrique (225 litres), which integrates the soft, ripe and juicy fruit while adding notes of smoke and toast. The 2011 has intense blueberry flavours that succulently envelope orange peel and forest fruits notes. The tannins are delightfully ripe and there is ample acidity that lends the wine to an extremely balanced yet potent finish: Nero d’Avola is a naturally acidic grape, making it perfect for the warm weather.

The Doppiozeta 2010 is special blend of 60% Nero d’Avola, 30% Syrah and 10% Cabernet Franc. The grapes are fermented for 14-16 days at 26-28°C and then the wine spends 16 months in 50% French barrique. The inclusion of the international varieties and the longer barrel ageing result in a muscular wine, with wonderful complexity, a heady concoction of ripe dark berry fruits, dried black cherry, cassis, smoke, toast, chocolate and cinnamon. Doppiozeta has a dense mouth feel and excellent potential for bottle ageing.

Both wines transport one to Sicily, conjuring the warm dry sun, the sea breeze, the wild yet beautiful surroundings and the towering Etna. As soon as we tasted the wine we immediately hankered for roasted meats, games, hard cheese and even pizza.

Mazzei Zisola Doppiozeta 2010 – 93pts James Suckling
6×75 – £130 IB or £170.40 VAT and duty
James Suckling, 93 points, tasted Dec 2013
This is a dense and rich nero d’avola with lots of dried cherry character, but it’s full of chocolate and light toasted oak character as well. It remains full and balanced. Better in 2015 but so delicious now.

Mazzei Zisola 2011 – 92pts James Suckling
6×75 – £70 IB or £98.40 VAT and duty
James Suckling, 92 points, tasted Dec 2013
Lovely aromas of dried cherries and blueberries follow through to a full body, round tannins and a tangy finish. Lively red. Mostly nero d’avola. Drink now.

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