Neil Duarte's Vino e Cucina d'Italia

The Wines of the Queen of County Road 68

In Italy the initials "SP" on a road sign stand for "Strada Provinciale" – or, in the U.S., "County Road." SP 68 is a country highway in the province of Ragusa in Sicily near the town of Vittoria that runs in front of the vineyards and winery of Arianna Occhipinti ( It has provided the name for several of her amazing wines.

Signorina Occhipinti, at less than 30 years of age, is one of the youngest winemakers in Sicily. That, however, does not stop her from being one of the best winemakers and certainly a most dynamic advocate for her ideas of winemaking. She is truly impressive in her knowledge of the art (I still believe winemaking is an art) but she also combines her academic training in viniculture with her passion for her land as well as the history of Sicilian winemaking.

Arianna Occhipinti.
Arianna Occhipinti. PHOTO: Terry Duarte.

Starting with the assistance of her uncle, Guisto Occhipinti, the superb winemaker/part owner of COS (see my previous article), Signorina Occhipinti now has under cultivation over 10 hectares (almost 25 acres) of Nero d'Avola and Frappato grapes plus another hectare of Albanello and Moscato, two white grapes. Though her bottles don't indicate it, her vineyards are certified organic. She believes passionately that you should treat the grapes properly on the vine and exclude the chemistry in the winery. None of her wines include filtration in the process. Signorina Occhipinti's first vintage was in 2004 and the accolades since then have poured in from everyone who is fortunate enough to taste her wines.

We visited Signorina Occhipinti's vineyards and winery during a recent trip to Southeastern Sicily and after a tour, tasted her wines.

Normally we start with the whites and progress to the reds. However, we began with the 2010 Frappato, a red, which was not yet fully aged. The wine was light garnet in color, had good legs and a really nice finish. It had 60 days maceration before aging in 25 hl Slovanian oak casks. This will be an excellent wine when the aging is complete. Our second wine was the 2010 Nero D'Avola. This was light purple in color and had a smooth yet strong finish. This was another potential winner.

The 'SP68' brand. (Courtesy A. Occhipinti.)
Having tasted the young wines, we moved to Signorina Occhipinti's fully aged offerings. Named after the road that takes the finished products to market, the 2009 SP68 Bianco Sicilia is a blend of 50 percent Moscato di Allesandria and 50 percent Albanello. This 11.5 percent alcohol wine has a fabulous Moscato nose and an open finish. This was a very good white wine that would be great in summer or with seafood.

Next we tried a wine that Signorina Occhipinti has not yet released. It was called Sottosopra ( "below and above" in Italian), a 100 percent Frappato spumanti (sparkling) that I, not normally a fan of sparkling wines, thoroughly enjoyed. I believe that this wine holds great promise.

Continuing with the highway theme, our next wine was the 2009 SP68 Nero D'Avola E Frappato, a blend of 70 percent Frappato and 30 percent Nero D'Avola. This wine, aged six months in stainless steel tanks and an additional month in the bottle, was purple in color with an interesting nose and a long, smooth finish. I gave this wine a 91.

Next was the 2009 Il Frappato, a 100 percent Frappato 12 percent alcohol wine made from vines that were 55 years old. After 50 days of maceration, it spent 14 months in Slovanian oak 25 hl casks followed by two months in the bottle. Light garnet in color, the taste was smooth and fantastic. I gave this wine a 93/94 rating. You really must try this!

Returning to Nero D'Avola, we tasted the 2009 Siccagno, a 100 percent Nero D'Avola produced from vines that are 35 years old. It was deep purple in color and very smooth in the finish. A maceration of 40 days was followed by 16 months in Slovanian oak casks and six months in the bottle. This was a truly excellent wine whose only fault was that it followed a wine that took my breath away.

We finished with the 2006 Grotte Alte, Signorina Occhipinti's Cerasuolo di Vittoria. This wine, made from 40 year old vines and aged for four total years in Slovanian oak casks (one year separately, three blended together) with an additional six months in the bottle is best described by Senorina Occhipinti herself who called it "the essence of her Sicily." I gave this medium purple in color wine with a great nose a 92.

The area of Southeastern Sicily near the town of Vittoria has some fabulous wines. After meeting the Occhipinti family I have become a fan of their wine, especially Cerasuolo di Vittoria. I end by saying that you should remember the Queen of Highway 68, Arianna Occhipinti. Long may she reign and continue to produce her superb wines.

Arianna Occhipinti's wines are represented in the US by Louis Dressner (

August, 2011

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