Sicily keeps surprising me with highly individual wines and this wine is truly outstanding. Qualitatively, it is an absolute bargain, so if you are looking for an interesting red off the beaten track with capacity for mid-term cellarage, you should take a look at this. After all, it is off the beaten track where the greatest value for money can be found.
The wine in question is made from Nero d’Avola – an indigenous Southern Italian grape variety that I would have doubted could hit such heights had I not tasted this wine. The name ‘NeroBufaleffj’ may remind me of a line of Scrabble letters before I have arranged them into something intelligible, but it is actually the name of a ‘contrada’ or Grand Cru. Many of the top Sicilian producers have focused their attention on producing single vineyard Nerello Mascalese, but Gulfi is at the forefront of championing single vineyard Nero d’Avola. There has been a dramatic rise in quality at Gulfi; Ian d’Agata, who is, for me, far and away the most experienced and knowledgeable critic on Southern Italian wines, commented in 2019 that ‘Gulfi has made some of its best wines ever these last two years’. Having tasted this 2017 yesterday, I have to agree – it is off the charts.
This indigenous Italian grape variety (Nero d’Avola) barely gets a mention in my old, dog-eared copy of Jancis Robinson’s Vines, Grapes and Wines, which possibly reveals how it had fallen out of favour in the 1980s. Fortunately, that has since changed and today there are a good range of hugely impressive examples from this often-overlooked variety that are being championed by clued-up critics. Its name, d’Avola, comes from the southern part of the province of Syracuse in Sicily, where it is highly regarded for producing age-worthy wines. However, it is also known as Calabrese, hinting at the fact that it is equally at home on the mainland, in Puglia and as its name suggests, the toe of Italy, Calabria.
Gulfi was established in the 1970s by Raffaele Catania; his son Vito took over the running of the estate in 1995, but today it is run by his sons Matteo and Raffaele. Their Nero d’Avola vineyards lie in south-eastern Sicily in an area known as Pachino, within the much larger Noto region. In fact, the Catania family has been fighting for years to get this subzone recognised, as it is capable of far higher quality than the rest of the district. As you might expect of such an estate, they have Nerello Mascalese vines on the slopes of Mount Etna too, but it is their Nero d’Avola that is the principal focus. The curiously named Bufaleffj vineyard is in Pachino, close to the coast at just 50 metres above sea level. The vineyard possesses a complex base of black clay, white limestone and red sand.