Maurigi Tenuta di Budonetto, Sicilia
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Maurigi Tenuta di Budonetto, Sicilia

The town of Piazza Armerina in interior Sicily has seen the range of conquests and historical eras that are so characteristic of the Mediterranean's largest island. The Normans controlled the area during the Middle Ages; the town itself was the scene of major action during the Second World War in July 1943. The area is free of clamor and cannon fire today, yet local artisanal wine producers like Maurigi still struggle to bring attention to their quality wines on the international market.

The Maurigi Budonetto Estate is located on slopes ranging up to 2000 feet above sea level. The land on the estate is varied, with steep slopes, alluvial soils in some parts, bare rock in others. Microclimates abound, changing from segment to segment. Over centuries the estate had been devoted to non-vinous uses, but proprietor Francesco Maurigi was convinced the land could take well to the vine. In 1998 he planted indigenous Sicilian grapes on part of the property, then expanded largely with international varieties on the advice of enologist Giovanni Rizzo. The result is a rich array of wines of both colors, several of which are named for Maurigi daughters Maria, Sofia and Ottavia. We can access these wines in the United States thanks to the diligent efforts and restless energy of importer Alex Berlingeri.

All these wines, white and red, have respectable levels of acidity not often associated with hot climates. The diurnal temperature variation—hot days and cool high altitude nights—brings this benefit. While Sicily has a handful of specialized DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) appellations, the best Sicilian wines, and the entire Maurigi line, are bottled under the IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) regional denomination. Prices are suggested retail. Wines are stainless steel fermented unless otherwise indicated, and all wines I mention here are dry.

The 2007 Maurigi Bacca Bianca, $16, is a white wine comprised of 60% Inzolia, 20% Grecanico, and 20% Chardonnay. The indigenous Inzolia adds flinty and nutty notes with citrus fruit. Grecanico is known for its tang and in fact has a reputation for maintaining acidity despite Sicily's searing hot days. These grapes are produced on some of Maurigi's highest vineyards whose cool nights lend acidity-preserving qualities of their own. The result is a light straw with a warm citrus nose of fresh lemon, bright acidity, citrus and mineral on the palate, some almond, and a warm grapefruit finish.

The 2006 Maurigi Coste all'Ombra, $24, is 100% Sauvignon Blanc. The wine is a light green-tinged straw. Aromatic notes are fresh and typical of Sauvignon Blanc, but milder than most wines of this type: green gage plum, some grassiness, white flowers, and asparagus. On the palate the acidity is well integrated. Primary palate notes are apple and apricot, not the tropical fruit flavors generally associated with hot climate Sauvignon Blanc. The altitude gives the grapes a rest every night. The finish shows nice minerality.

The 2006 Maurigi Le Chiare, $24, is 100% Viognier. The lovely nose on this wine brings mineral, peach, pear and dried apricot. In the mouth the wine is medium bodied, with a shade over mid-level acidity and palate notes of gravel, citrus, guava and pineapple. The finish is warm mineral and ripe fruit with a fragrant touch of fennel.

The 2004 Maurigi Terre di Sofia, $33, is the winery's premium 100% Chardonnay offering. The wine is fermented in oak barriques in the Burgundian manner and aged an average of twelve months in mostly used wood. The medium straw wine has a nose of honey, white flowers, orange blossom, lime and fresh cream. Mouth filling, the wine combines a respectable level of acidity with a powdery minerality. The entire palate is well integrated, with a good citrus core and some baking spice. The elegant finish requires patience. Though Chardonnay is the most widely planted international varietal on the island, Sicilian Chardonnays are in general not making headlines, but this carefully produced offering acquits itself well.

The 2005 Maurigi Saia Grande, $24, is 45% Merlot, 45% Syrah and 10% Pinot Noir. “This is a people-friendly wine,” Alex Berlingeri tells me, “with no wood and no bitterness on the finish.” Though Pinot Noir only comprises 10% of this wine, it has a light purple Pinot-like color. The nose is perfumed with violet and rose, shows some red fruit, a little sassy peppery spice, and some nose-tickling just-ground nutmeg. On the palate the wine is nicely extracted and ripe with a stimulating combination of red cherry fruit edged with citrus. The acidity does its work but otherwise behaves, and tannins are not a real factor. The finish is fruity yet rather gentle; friendly indeed.

The 2003 Maurigi Terre di Maria, $35, is 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 25% Syrah and 10% Pinot Noir, fermented in barrel and aged two years in wood. “The Pinot brings a fruitiness and softness,” according to Alex, “into what otherwise is designed to be a pretty big wine.” The ruby-colored wine has a nose of black cherry, raspberry, baking spice and violet. This is full-bodied, structured wine with excellent extraction and round tannins. Along with black and red fruit, the palate brings chocolate, vanilla, a note of roasted walnut and a slightly bitter tinge. The finish is long and led by wood notes.

The 2003 Maurigi Lù, $48, is 100% Petit Verdot, a rarity for Sicily or in fact anywhere. “Maurigi wanted to produce a wine with great integrity of fruit,” Alex says. “Structure” is the word Alex uses, but I add the attribute “Corners” onto my own notes. The wine is fermented in oak barriques and aged eighteen months in wood. The nose is spicy, with nutmeg, clove, pepper, sweet oak, red plum and cherry. The palate has good fruit combined with satisfying doses of chocolate and vanilla. You can get your teeth into the chewy tannins.

The 2003 Maurigi Terre di Ottavia, $48, is a seeming contradiction, a big-bodied Pinot Noir. Though I would never guess the wine to be 100% Pinot Noir if given a blind taste, this is a wine that works: flavorful, tactile, and satisfying. “The word on this wine,” Alex states, “is terroir.” The wine is fermented in large 500 litre tonneaux then aged in oak barriques for 24 months. A deep ruby, the wine brings concentrated black cherry and blackcurrant aromas to the nose, very ripe black fruit to the palate, firm acid tang when you need it and chunky tannins. The finish brings some pomegranate tang.

The 2002 Maurigi Granny, $48, completes the trio of single varietal reds, in this case with 100% Cabernet Franc. Yes, from Sicily; who knew? The wine is barrique fermented and barrique aged eighteen months. The nose is a deep rose, with green bell pepper. The wine is medium-bodied with tangy pomegranate acidity, some tannic grip, red fruit and more of the pepper, tobacco and cedar on the palate. Pomegranate and the tannins prevail at the finale. For Cabernet Franc fans like me, this is an interesting wine: Sicilian terroir combined with aromatic notes I associate with the Loire. It works.


Verdict: A full line of first class wines.


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Sicily is the Mediterranean's largest island, and a formidable producer of wine.

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award


Maurigi Tenuta di Budonetto, Sicilia

The Maurigi wine estate in Sicily.

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