Unlikely Greatness: Palari Faro

Greatness, like lightning, can strike anywhere, but, still like lightning, some places are more likely than others. No one is surprised to hear about a great wine from Barolo or from Corton, but twenty years or so ago, when I first wrote about Palari, the east coast of Sicily was probably one of the least likely places in the world for connoisseurs to expect a great wine. And if location wasn’t the worst thing working against it, the unknown indigenous grapes its regulations called for – Nerello mascalese, Nerello cappuccio, Nocera, and two others even more obscure – should have finished the job.

So maybe it was just a stray lightning bolt that smacked those hills near Messina – but if it was, it’s been striking them regularly for 25 years now, as the Palari estate keeps turning out gorgeous wines vintage after vintage, racking up Tre Bicchieri and Cinque Grappoli awards from Italian critics, and establishing itself firmly as one of Italy’s truly great red wines. Perhaps, because of its small size – 7 hectares, 50,000 bottles – it is fated to never be more than a cult wine. If that’s the case, I’d urge you to join the cult: Palari is something worth believing in.

To begin at the beginning: Palari is the estate name. The wine’s DOC is Faro, for the lighthouse that marks this stretch of Messina’s coastline. Back in the late ‘80s of what has too rapidly become the last century, that DOC was on the verge of being not stricken by the lightning of greatness but stricken from the books: It was about to be deleted because no one was making the wine any more.

Enter Luigi Veronelli, one of Italy’s finest wine journalists and connoisseurs. He felt passionately about preserving Italy’s oenological traditions, and he knew that his friend Salvatore Geraci had inherited his grandfather’s 18th century villa and old vineyards within the Faro DOC zone. Since Geraci had earned his reputation as an architect by his meticulous restoration of old buildings, what more fitting project for him than restoring an old vineyard and rescuing an endangered DOC?

Salvatore Geraci

Geraci took on the job, and the rest really is history. Determined from the start to make a great wine or no wine at all, Geraci got his brother, an agronomist, to revitalize the vineyards, consulted with one of Italy’s best enologists, and started making wine. His first vintage was 1995, and Veronelli hailed his ’96 as “Italy’s Clos de Vougeot.” Bam! The lightning had struck, and it hasn’t stopped striking since.

So what is Palari all about? Here is Gambero Rosso’s description of the 2014 vintage, which it awarded – no surprise – Tre Bicchieri: “From the outset, with its charmingly complex and elegant nose, it delivers. On the palate, it’s just as sophisticated, proving rich in silky tannins, plush and extremely long.” And here is Daniele Cernilli on the 2013, which he awarded 92 points: “Intense garnet ruby color. More evolved than other versions, aromas of strawberry jam, cassis, hints of tamarind then ethereal notes of kirsch. Powerful taste, warm, evident and velvety tannins. Great persistence.”

I just recently – and very happily – matched a bottle of Palari 2005 with a very authentic Sicilian dinner, and I can testify that the wine is all that and more. The longer aging of my bottle only made the wine more smooth and elegant and composed, more complete in itself and harder to separate into individual taste sensations than are younger examples. In short, this is a very great wine, and a very special one.

It has been joined for some years now by a “second” wine, Rosso del Soprano, vinified from the same grapes. The quotation marks around “second” are advisable, because, according to whom you read, Rosso del Soprano is almost as good as/better than Palari. What do you know?  A second lightning strike in the very same place? Or Zeus just hit a twofer? It hardly matters which. We should just revel in our good fortune: Greatness is where you find it.

One Response to “Unlikely Greatness: Palari Faro”

  1. Bob Griffin Says:

    Tom – thank you for the post. I was not aware of the connection with Luigi Veronelli. An interesting story. I was fortunate years ago when a wine shop specializing in Italian wines introduced me to Palari. I have enjoyed over the years. There are now several other producers in the Faro DOC thanks to Geraci and Veronelli.

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