2018 Martha Stoumen, Nero d’Avola, Mendocino County.
The latest Nero d’Avola release from Martha Stoumen is simply gorgeous and highlights the rise in Italian varietals, which once struggled to gain traction and never seemed to live up to their promise or the the classic version in the old country, but that has really changed in recent years with many stunning versions of Italian grapes have emerged, including this one. Just this week I tried Ryme’s outrageously good Aglianico and this stunning Nero d’Avola, both of which are just thrilling red wines that marry our terroir and California’s wonderful warm ripe personality with the grapes true varietal character, with Martha’s Nero delivering a beautiful deep color, layered black and red fruits, mineral and spice notes all in a sublime textural wine that fills the palate with expansive, but clearly detailed flavors. Martha Stoumen maybe the only person with such hands on experience with Nero d’Avola, both in its homeland, when she interned at COS winery in Vittoria Sicily and here in California, where she has vines works with in Mendocino, the Benson Ranch in Ukiah, Chiarito Vineyard, also in Ukiah and the Fox Hill Vineyard, on the Talmage Bench, a vineyard that has championed Italian varietals for over 30 years. Her time working with Giusto Occhipinti at COS helped form her only natural style of winemaking and gave her insight on this grape and how best to unlock its true potential, which this 2018 vintage shows, it’s a brilliant effort and charms with a slight rustic and earthy edginess, while still remarkably poised in the glass. The 2018 Nero d’Avola starts with a mix of crushed berries, an array of florals, dried herbs and that inviting dark inky garnet hue before revealing black raspberry, spiced plum, earthy blueberry and morello cherry fruits along with touches of leather, minty anise, cocoa powder, blood orange and a hint of cedar. There is a zesty underpinning of natural acidity and fine grained, almost sweet tannin that makes this wine’s structure so compelling and its form gives Martha’s Nero d’Avola a nice flexibility with cuisine choices, in fact it gets even better with hearty dishes. This vintage, as Stoumen’s tech sheet shows, comes from a blend of three organically farmed vineyards, mentioned above, 63% sourced at Benson Ranch Vineyard, Ukiah, Mendocino County, a 14 year old dry farmed (no irrigation) set of vines, on gravelly loam soils then 25% from Fox Hill Vineyard, Talmage Bench, Mendocino County, these are 33 year old vines (as far as Martha knows, might be the oldest Nero d’Avola in CA), with sandy loam soils, plus 12% sourced at the Chiarito Vineyard, in Ukiah as noted as well in Mendocino County.

Stoumen hand crafts an exciting set of wines, mostly out of the box and unique offerings, with this Nero d’Avola being her signature wine, in my opinion and she has a special fondness and connection to this Sicilian grape. Martha says, she spent a very time working with Nero d’Avola at COS in Sicily, so the fact that Nero d’Avola even exists in California—AND that she get to work with it in both the vineyard and cellar—makes her heart happy, it also makes me happy, especially her efforts with this vintage, which has really brought out the best in this wine. Stoumen also is taking a different path when it comes to vineyard sites, while most winemakers are fighting over coveted coastal sites, making the grapes from those extreme places very expensive, she has chosen to look elsewhere, noting she is proudly looking inland, where the hotter climate and shorter spring season make low-input (organic and holistic) farming a reality. Stoumen adds, she still wants to make elegant wines, with freshness and vibrancy, this has given her a freedom to experiment with a different grape set and a choice of lesser known varieties. For Stoumen the Nero d’Avola has been, as she admits, a perfect and natural fit. She does a few different versions of Nero d’Avola including this one, as well as a Rosato (Rosé) and in a blended red, all of which are well worth searching out, but this 2018 is one you really shouldn’t miss, plus you should also check out her Zinfandel, which is also a studied and natural style, almost old school wine with a bright crunchy profile. Martha’s Nero d’Avola was all de-stemmed and was fermented in concrete tank until dry, before being gently pressed to well used barrels and rested on lees. After 12 months, Stoumen racked it off lees, blended the different vineyard, which were fermented in separate small lots and then put back into barrel for a total of 18 months barrel aging, that helped make those tannins supple. I am very excited to see so many great young winemakers on the scene these days and I am certain the future of California wine is in great hands, with so many intriguing talents crafting a whole new generation of great wines with Martha being one of these exceptional and hard working artisans, their success is a joy to watch and to taste! For this Nero d’Avola, Martha suggests a mouth-watering range of ideal pairings including pasta alla norma, grilled steak with fresh herbs, classic caesar salad, roasted duck breast. She mentions, and I agree, the balanced body of this wine can hold up to many textures and flavors without overpowering them, the same way classic Sicilian examples of Nero d’Avola, like those of COS, Valle dell’Acate and Arianna Occhipinti’s do.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

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