I really didn’t know what to expect when I saw the names Judeka and Sampietrana for the first time. Were they, as I alluded to in the title, small islands in the Pacific? Or somewhere in the Caribbean near Trinidad and Tobago perhaps?
But no, given that the Tweet in which I first saw the names was from The Wine Workshop then they had to be wine-related. A half a second research revealed them to be Italian, another half a second showed they were imported by the fantastically-named (and fantastically-talented) Enrico Fantasia of GrapeCircus, and the final half second showed that it was free. Sold!
I’m sure it’s probably looking a bit suspicious now, but I’m not in any way associated with or paid by The Wine Workshop. With that out of the way, let me wax lyrical about how well this tasting was set up. Despite being free to attend, there were generous bowls full of delicious olives and olive oils accompanies by platesful of doughy bread, the glasses used were proper Riedel ones, and there weren’t just a few wines but six of them in total. Though quite simple in execution it was obvious that real care and attention went into the evening, much like the shop itself.
So, on to the wines. First thing that struck me – apart from the odd names (to me at least) – was how young both companies were: Cantina Sampietrana was started in 1952 while Judeka is only a bábóg, having set up only in 2007. Bearing in mind that two Italians I have close associations with, Antinori and Masi, were established in 1180 and the late 18th century respectively, you can see the difficulty I have in getting my head around how youthful these guys are…!
The second thing that struck me is how consistently good the wines were, and as a result what great value they turned out to be when I checked their prices a few days later. Enrico must really be commended for sourcing such interesting wines at such good prices, and I’d really encourage anyone to grab a bottle of any of the below as soon as they spot them.
Increased interest in Sicilian wines has meant many producers there rushed to vinify their wines to appeal to an international (read, American) palate. That is to say, over-extracted and over-oaked. I was surprised to learn that Judeka, however, don’t use any oak at all. Reducing oak ageing significantly is fair enough, and indeed it’s the trend of the last few years, but to completely absolve from any oak at all is quite radical I think, at least in my (limited) experience. Judeka instead stick religiously to stainless steel and are trying out terracotta and some ceramic too. This allows the purity of fruit to show through, though also means that the wines aren’t built for ageing.
I asked if this young firm was established perhaps as a rebellion against the recent trend towards international grape varieties and global tastes, and I was assured it wasn’t. However Judeka’s apparently dogmatic approach to Sicilian wine seems to suggest otherwise. They grow almost exclusively Sicilian varieties such as Insolia, Nero d’Avola, Grillo, Frappato and Zibibbo, with Syrah the only outsider in their stable. They practice organic viticulture and, as mentioned, don’t use oak in their vinification and are experimenting with traditional terracotta and ceramic. Add in some very modern twists – photovoltaic cells, natural irrigation and more – and you have a very exciting young winery. One to watch.
Judeka Insolia ‘Angelica’ 2013
€14.99 from Sheridans’ Cheesemongers (in store and online)
I started with this, the only white of the night. After a couple of sips and listening to the spiel, I asked what the grape variety it was. There was a brief pause and some polite hesitation before I was told it was insolia, which was printed in large on the label I was directly looking at. I had never heard of insolia before, but this is one of dozens, if not hundreds, of indigenous Italian grapes that don’t often see the light of day outside the country, so I could take some small solace in that fact. Didn’t make it any less embarrassing though.
This was a lovely, light, fresh, lemon-and-lime wine with some apricot. It was deliciously refreshing, and I couldn’t get over how light, both in colour and texture, it was, but without feeling insipid. Would be amazing on a warm spring or summer day.
Judeka Nero d’Avola ‘Orlando’ 2013
€14.99 from Sheridans’ Cheesemongers (in store and online)
This is the accompanying red to the white above – indeed, this is the Orlando of Orlando Innamorato (Orlando in Love), an epic poem published in 1482 by the Italian Renaissance author Matteo Maria Boiardo. Angelica (above) was a princess and the love interest in the tale. These two characters are beautifully rendered on the labels and it’s always great to have a little story behind them too. Read more about the tale on Wikipedia here.
But, what about the juice? I’m delighted to say it was just as appealing as the labels (phew!). This differed so much from Nero d’Avolas I’ve had before which tended to be big, hot and spicy. This was deliciously fresh and light with bright juicy red fruits. It had nice integrated acidity: enough to be noticed, and to go really well with food, but not too much to be a major factor. A touch of dustiness and salinity underneath the juicy fruits added a distant allure to an otherwise delightfully appealing wine.
Apparently this is how Nero d’Avola used to taste before the oak brigade took over (see intro) and it makes me wonder why they ever diverged from the standard. The Judeka Orlando sees no oak at all which retains its purity of fruit and that delightful fresh characteristic. A pleasure to experience. I’m glad that we have the opportunity now to taste what Nero d’Avola was originally meant to be like.
Judeka Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2012
€22.99 from Sheridans’ Cheesemongers (in store and online); Donnybrook FairThis was another new one for me (a common theme that night). I was told that Cerasuolo di Vittoria is the only D.O.C.G. in Sicily, which struck me as surprising. This is made of 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato, the latter being another unknown before that evening.
And again, the label: apparently the area in which Cerasuolo di Vittoria is produced is famous for its colourful ceramics, the style of which is produced beautifully on this label (and also the company’s website). Caltagirone, one of the major towns in the region, has a pretty epic staircase showcasing this local expertise.
This was a beautiful, fragrant and elegant wine, lovely and light but with depth too. Crunchy red fruits like cherry and raspberry were evident, but it was the intangibles that got me, its clean, fresh, ethereal elegance. A delight.
From Sicily to Puglia, the ‘heel’ in Italy’s ‘boot’, and from young bucks to someone a little more traditional you could say. Cantina Sampietrana doesn’t seem to have as much of a story as Judeka does, as far as I can see, which may be down to the fact that they’re a co-op (unionised grape-growers hardly gives rise to exciting backstories), so we’ll let the wines speak for themselves…
Sampietrana Primitivo ‘Ambasciatori’ 2012
€12.99 from The Wine Workshop, Dublin; Sheridans’ Cheesemongers (in store and online); John R’s, Listowel, Co. Kerry
Ambasciatori translates as, er, ‘ambassadors’, an odd name perhaps for an entry-level wine. Still, dress for the job you want and not the job you have, as they say.
Primitivo is known as Zinfandel in the US. Yep, that quintessentially American grape was originally brought over by an Italian emigrant but unidentified until long after its new name was too established to be changed. Mind you, Primitivo itself is said to have descended from either Croatian grapes Crljenak Kaštelanski or Tribidrag, so who’s keeping check?
Spicy damson, prune and a touch of leather. Lighter than expected and a little bit short on the finish, but for the price it’s forgivable. A decent mid-week quaffer that comes in a disappointingly cheap, Lidl-like bottle.
Sampietrana Negroamaro ‘Principe Moro’ 2009
€15.99 from The Wine Workshop, Dublin; Sheridans’ Cheesemongers (in store and online); Mitchell & Sons, Dublin; The Blackrock Wine Cellar, Dublin; Listons Delicatessen, Dublin; Ardkeen Quality Food Store, Waterford
Principe Moro = Dark Prince. That’s more like it. Negroamaro itself means something like “black bitter”, so it’s all dark and gloomy here, which showed in the wine too. Dark and brooding aromas of smoke, coffee, clove, cinnamon and black tea. Deep and intriguing.
The palate was grippy and mouthwatering, savoury and moreish. Delicious, “like Christmas cake in a glass” as someone said out loud, but the length could have been a little longer. Still, for this price it’s excellent value, and you could make up for the medium length by just buying another bottle.
Sampietrana Salice Salentino, Vigna delle Monache
€18.99 from The Wine Workshop, Dublin; Sheridans’ Cheesemongers (in store and online); Mitchell & Sons, Dublin; Ardkeen Quality Food Store, Waterford
This is another Negroamaro, but from the Salice Salentino D.O.C. and also a riserva, meaning it spent 12 months in barrel versus the 6-9 months of the IGT Negroamaro above (exact details are hard to find). To be honest it doesn’t warrant the €3 premium in my opinion, and I’d much rather the Principe Moro if both were offered to me. The nose on this was concentrated and a little overpowering, with a little violet giving some respite.
On the palate it’s more intensity but without focus, just all toast and vanilla from all that oak ageing, which itself is very evident in the flavour profile. Though it finishes a little lighter and crisper, this is precisely the sort of over-worked, big-boned wine that Judeka is judiciously avoiding. It will undoubtedly suit many tastes, but after the exercise in lightness and beauty beforehand this came across as very clunky.