Tasca d’Almerita Rosso del Conte: 1979-2006

2006    Tasca d’Almerita Rosso del Conte 93

2005    Tasca d’Almerita Rosso del Conte 92

2004    Tasca d’Almerita Rosso del Conte 94

2003    Tasca d’Almerita Rosso del Conte 91

2002    Tasca d’Almerita Rosso del Conte 91+

2001    Tasca d’Almerita Rosso del Conte 92

2000    Tasca d’Almerita Rosso del Conte 93

1998    Tasca d’Almerita Rosso del Conte 89

1994    Tasca d’Almerita Rosso del Conte 90

1991    Tasca d’Almerita Rosso del Conte 89

1989    Tasca d’Almerita Rosso del Conte 91

1983    Tasca d’Almerita Rosso del Conte 90

1981    Tasca d’Almerita Rosso del Conte 87

1979    Tasca d’Almerita Rosso del Conte 92

Tasca d’Almerita is one of the leading estates in Sicily and Italy. The estate’s top red, Rosso del Conte, is among the handful of wines from Southern Italy with a long, distinguished track record that goes back several decades. This tasting with proprietor Alberto Tasca provided an incredible opportunity to re-visit a number of older, and now exceedingly rare, vintages. It also proved the significant potential of both Nero d’Avola and Sicilian wines in general. I can only hope one day there will be many more properties making wines of such distinction and age-worthiness. In particular, readers lucky enough to own any of the older Rosso del Contes should be thrilled!

For most of its life Rosso del Conte was predominantly Nero d’Avola, one of Sicily’s most important indigenous red grapes (the other being Nerello Mascalese) with a touch of Perricone, another native red variety. In 2003 the estate began adding a small percentage of their best barrels of international grapes to the blend in an attempt to give the wine more shades of complexity. The use of international varieties peaked at about 30% in 2006. During these years Tasca d’Almerita also conducted extensive work to gain a better understanding of the qualities of the various clones of Nero d’Avola. With the 2007, the estate has scaled back the use of international varieties to roughly 10%, while Nero d’Avola and Perricone once again make up the majority of the blend at approximately 75% and 15% respectively.

Rosso del Conte is made from a number of different vineyards, but the core of the wine comes from San Lucio, which was planted in 1959 with Nero d’Avola and Perricone. Some of the estate’s other vineyards include Piana Margio (planted in 2000), Cordicella (planted in 1976), Ciminnita (planted in 1974), Case Vecchie (planted in 1974 and 1976) and S. Anna (planted in 1976). All of the vineyards sit at roughly 470 meters above sea level with south to southeast exposures. The relatively high altitude of the vineyards is a major reason Rosso del Conte retains excellent acidity and freshness, even in the hottest years. The exact vineyard blend depends on each vintage, and it is not a foregone conclusion that all of the parcels will be used every year. For example, the 2003 Rosso del Conte was made only from San Lucio. In most years, the harvest takes place around the middle of October. 

Early vintages of Rosso del Conte were aged in chestnut barrels. I am too young to have tasted the wines when they were first released, but by all accounts the wines were extremely hard and difficult to appreciate. What a difference a few decades makes! In the early 1990s the estate transitioned to a combination of 30-hectoliter and 60-hectoliter Slavonian oak casks, and smaller French oak barrels. By the mid 1990s the conversion to100% French oak was complete. Throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s the percentage of new oak increased from 50% in 1994 to 100% for vintages 2004 through 2006. Similarly, fermentations evolved from lengthy periods of contact on the skins in cement with no temperature control to shorter fermentations in stainless steel with temperature control. At their best, today’s wines show exceptional elegance and plenty of Sicilian character.

Tasca d’Almerita’s 2006 Rosso del Conte is a beautiful wine graced with gorgeous inner perfume and layered red fruit. Silky tannins frame a long, elegant finish. The 2006 is an understated, delicate Rosso del Conte that should continue to develop beautifully in bottle. It is also somewhat of an experimental vintage, as the percentages of Nero d’Avola and Perricone are 55% and 15% respectively, while international varieties account for 30% of the final blend. Despite the relatively high presence of international grapes, the 2006 maintains a clear link with the wines of the past. The 2006 vintage was characterized by warm yet even weather that created an extended maturation cycle and allowed for a leisurely harvest from mid-September to mid-October. 93. Drinking window: 2014-2026. The 2005 Rosso del Conte has put on significant weight since I first reviewed it in The Wine Advocate last year. The 2005 has grown into a big, generous red packed with perfumed fruit. Stylistically it is a wine that relies on sheer power over subtlety; the balance and sense of harmony are nevertheless superb. 92. Drinking window: 2010-2025. The estate’s 2004 Rosso del Conte is incredibly polished and silky on the palate. The aromatics are equally compelling, as an array of tobacco, earthiness, tar, leather, licorice and herbs emerge from the glass, adding multiple layers of nuance to the expressive dark fruit. The 2004 is an excellent choice for readers who want to get a sense of a vintage that is beginning to show the early signs of development in bottle. This is a remarkably harmonious and complete Rosso del Conte. 94. Drinking window: 2012-2026.

The 2003 Rosso del Conte is the product of a torrid year that saw the entire harvest finished by the end of September, an anomaly in these parts. The 2003 is a fat, opulent Rosso del Conte with plenty of density in its fruit and a mostly round, seamless personality that persists through to the finish. The hard tannins that are common in 2003 are a bit of an issue, but they are handled well as can reasonably be expected. Pretty suggestions of licorice and leather add complexity on the close. The 2003 remains a rather burly vintage of Rosso del Conte, and it is best enjoyed at the dinner table. 91. Drinking window: 2010-2020. The 2002 is another of the more virile, masculine Rosso del Contes in this lineup. Firm tannins frame a core of dark fruit, tobacco, earthiness and leather. The summer saw a period of cold, damp weather followed by five days or so of uninterrupted heat, which shocked the fruit and halted the ripening in many spots, leaving the grapes with tannins that weren’t fully ripe. Further time in bottle should help smooth the tannins to some extent. If that happens, this could turn out to be a surprisingly outstanding wine. 91. Drinking window: 2011-2021. The 2001 Rosso del Conte comes across as quite youthful in a style that marries elements of power and elegance. The tannins show considerable elegance but the oak still needs to integrate. For now, this remains a highly promising Rosso del Conte in need of further cellaring. 92. Drinking window: 2011-2021. The 2000 is a very complete, harmonious Rosso del Conte. Loads of perfumed, opulent fruit emerge from this medium to full-bodied wine, all supported by elegant, silky tannins. The 2000 is accessible and open for business but readers who prefer more tertiary complexity will want to let the wine spend another few years in the cellar. This is a terrific effort from Tasca d’Almerita. 93. Drinking window: 2010-2022.

Tasca d’Almerita’s 1998 Rosso del Conte is a soft, mid-weight effort with good aromatic and flavor development in its dark fruit, spices, licorice and leather. A blast of tar informs the long finish. The 1998 is an excellent choice for drinking over the near-term. 89. Drinking window: 2010-2016. The 1994 Rosso del Conte is endowed with super-ripe fruit and a soft, accessible personality that is the result of a very hot summer that year. This isn’t an especially complex Rosso del Conte, but the wine nevertheless impresses for its balance, poise and harmony. Early notes of gaminess are setting in, so the 1994 is best enjoyed sooner rather than later. 90. Drinking window: 2010-2014.

The 1991 Rosso del Conte, the product of a harsh winter and cold summer, is firm and austere, with unyielding tannins. Elements of rusticity pervade the wine and at this point further bottle age is not likely to make a difference. 89. Drinking window: 2010-2014. The 1989 is a wonderfully complete Rosso del Conte. Round, soft and harmonious, the wine offers up plums, prunes, spices and worn-in leather supported by firm yet polished tannins. The cold, harsh winter was followed by a very hot summer that led to a mid-October harvest. This is a remarkably complete Rosso del Conte, but it won’t last forever. 91. Drinking window: 2010-2014.

The estate’s 1983 Rosso del Conte is a decidedly rustic, old-style offering. Fully tertiary dried fruit, spices, roasted coffee beans, herbs and animal notes emerge from the glass. While this powerful, big Rosso del Conte may lack a measure of finesse it is still in great shape 27 years later, and that in and of itself is a quite an achievement. 90. Drinking window: 2010-2014. The 1981 stands apart from the rest of these Rosso del Contes as it is the only wine that it is past peak. Now full tertiary and oxidized, its balance is dominated by dried-out fruit and rustic, earthy aromas and flavors. 87. Drinking window: 2010. Tasca d’Almerita produced a gem of a wine in their 1979 Rosso del Conte. At 31 years of age, the wine is still perfectly intact, as can be seen by its sound color. The 1979 is a touch rustic, but the wine has developed far better than anyone could have reasonably expected. The fruit is soft and perfumed while the tannins remain firm yet well-balanced. It is fair to say that the 1979 is the biggest surprise in this entire tasting, as it has matured into a splendid wine. 92. Drinking window: 2010.

--  Antonio Galloni