Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Breathtaking Views and Wines of Abbazia Santa Anastasia

(June 2016) That morning we checked out of our hotel in Messina around 8am and drove about an hour and a half along the northern coast of Sicily towards Palermo. Our destination was Abbazia Santa Anastasia, which is a winery housed in a 12th century Abbey where the Benedictine monks were making wine more than 900 years ago.

Stone Courtyard at Abbazia Santa Anastasia

In the 1970’s the old abbey was purchased by the current owner and converted into a winery with a hotel and restaurant. Perched on a hilltop only 7 miles from the ocean, the abbey has amazing views of the water and over 65 hectares of organic and biodynamic vineyards and 50 hectares of olive orchards. When I return to Sicily, I definitely want to stay here for a couple of nights.

Today the winery produces 550,000 bottles and exports half of their production – primarily to the US. However, they do not sell it as biodynamic or organic in the US market due to different winemaking regulations between Europe and the US.  European law allows a small amount of sulfites to be added to organic wine, whereas US standards do not.  In Europe the word “bio” is used on the label to mean “organic.”

Entrance to the Abbey

A Unique Welcome to Abbazia Santa Anastasia

We were greeted by four very passionate people – the viticulturist/winemaker, the tourism director, marketing director, and export manager.  It was one of the most welcoming experiences we had because they invited us to sit down for espresso and biscotti and then asked us what questions we had. Therefore instead of being lectured to immediately, we had an open conversation and they had a clearer idea of what we were interested in.

We spent some time talking about marketing and wine tourism, and were impressed with the amount of social media and Internet marketing they were doing, including Facebook, Twitter, TripAdvisor and Booking.com. They also focused on gastronomic tourism by offering cooking classes, special dinners, and other events to bring people to the estate.

Inside the Wine Cellar of the Abbey

The Cellars and Vineyards of Abbazia Santa Anastasia

After about 30 minutes of coffee and Q&A, we took a tour of the cellars and were impressed with the glass lined concrete tanks used for the biodynamic wines to control temperatures more naturally. The non-biodynamic wines were made in either stainless steel tanks or foudre (large oak barrels). After touring the fermentation room, we moved to the barrel storage room and saw they were using a combination of 225 liter and 500 liter for aging.

Informative Tour of  Fermentation Room at the Abbey

 Though we didn’t go into the vineyards, we could easily see them from the winery, including the red clay soil, steep slopes, and sheep grazing in the meadows. The vines were all on VSP trellis. Like many other wineries, we noticed they had irrigation hoses running below the vines, even though special permission has to be obtained to use water for certain DOCs and irrigation can only be used on young vines for Demeter and organic certifications.  It seems as if everyone in Southern Italy has irrigation – just in case…

Tasting the Exquisite Organic and Biodynamic Wines of the Abbey

After the tour we were escorted through the hotel and restaurant, and were very impressed with the beautiful old furniture and d├ęcor. The courtyard of the abbey is especially charming with red roses climbing up the ancient stone walls. The restaurant has a terrace that looks out over the ocean, and there is a large swimming pool below.

We settled into a lovely old room that was set up with roundtables for our wine tasting.  Here we were treated to four delicious wines, two made organically and two biodynamically.

2015 Grillo Abbazia Santa Anastasia (organic) a delicate floral and citrus nose which followed through on the palate with a crisp acid. Light and refreshing, made in stainless steel. Slightly similar to pinot grigio. 6.70 euros, around $18 in US

2014 Nero d’Avola Abbazia Santa Anastasia (organic)– medium ruby color, nose of cherry and vanilla.  Very light and elegant on palate – more like a pinot noir.  No oak – 9 months in stainless and aged 3 months on bottle. 6.70 euros, around $18 in US

2013 Passomaggio Abbazia Santa Anastasia (biodynamic)– a blend of 55% Nero d’Avola, 30% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Fermentation in large oak foudre, then 15 to 18 months of aging in 500- liter French oak barrels. Huge, spicy, black fruit and earth, pepper, velvety tannins, and long finish.  An amazing value at only 9.60 euros! in Sicily.

2012 Sensinverso Nero d”Avola (biodynamic) – 100% Nero d’Avola with a beautiful perfumed nose of mixed berry and spice. Aged 30 months in small oak barrels and then another year in bottle, this wine was lovely with soft velvety tannins, generous but well integrated oak and warm berry compote.  A long gentle finish.  17 euros.

The Wine Shop at Abbazia Santa Anastasia

Before we left, we stopped by the wine shop to purchase some wines, and were delighted to find again that they sold wine by the “wine gas pump” so that customers could refill their own containers.

The hospitality at Abbazia Santa Anastasia was warm and genuine, with everyone falling over themselves to welcome us and make sure we were comfortable and all of our questions were answered. They even walked us to our bus and stood in the driving waving good-bye until we could no longer see them. I definitely want to come back here and stay a few days at the hotel.

"Wine Gas Pumps" at the Abbey Wine Shop

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