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2003 Azienda Agricola Ajello "Furat" IGT Red Blend, Sicily

ajello.gifI learn things drinking wine all the time, and some of what I learn is even the sort of stuff that I missed in history class. For instance, I had no idea that at one time Sicily was a part of the Islamic empire of that ruled north Africa for a few centuries. But here we have a wine, and a lovely one at that, whose name "Furat" speaks volumes of history.

Asad ibn al Furat was a Mesopotamian, but emigrated to what is now Tunisia in the beginning of the 9th century. He distinguished himself as a religious scholar of some repute, and eventually went on to become a judge. In this post, he made rulings that didn't exactly square with some of the viewpoints of those in power, and (according to some sources) they tried to get rid of him by sending him on what may have been a fool's errand.

"Here," said Aghlabid Emir Ziyadat Allah I (then the leader of the Kairuan state), "take these 100 warships and go get that island away from those bunch of infidels."

That island was Sicily, and the infidels in question were the resident Byzantines, as Sicily was part of the Byzantine empire in 827 AD.

We'll never know what Furat was thinking when he accepted the task -- maybe he had no choice -- but off he went. His force landed on the coast near a place which was then (and is still) called Mazara, where he quickly overcame the unprepared locals and took the town in the name of the Emir and in the name of Allah.

The rest of the island took 80 more years (no doubt a source of pride for the Sicilians -- Spain only took 3 years to conquer).

Of course Furat didn't get to celebrate the eventual domination of the island, as he was killed in a subsequent battle for one of the more fortified cities on the island. But perhaps he would take comfort that more than 1100 years later, his presence, and the nearly 100 years of Islamist rule of the island are remembered in the name of a wine (though he wouldn't likely be able to drink it).

About 1000 years after Furat's death, Salvatore Ajello's grandfather was bent over in the heat of the Sicilian sun planting his first vines into the rocky soil of the island his family called home. Today the Ajello family estate of about http://www.vinography.com/archives/images/ajello.vineyards-thumb.jpg50 acres contains those original vines on its south-eastern exposure along with some newer vines planted by the three generations of winegrowers and winemakers that have worked the land with the Ajello name.

Azienda Agricola Ajello lies on the western coast of Sicily at an elevation of 200 meters, where it gathers some protection from the weather that makes winegrowing a more dicey proposition on the other coasts of the island. The hilly landscape in which the Ajellos grow their vines is bordered by two streams (named Bucari and Fudeo) which are responsible for irrigating the wide variety of plant life on the estate, in addition to the vines.

The Ajellos have always been winemakers in some capacity, though they have gone through periods where their emphasis has been mostly on growing grapes rather than making wine. Today, they sell about 90% of their grapes (a mix of local varieties like Grillo, Nero d'Avola, and Insolia, as well as international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah) to other wineries, but increasingly they are holding some of their best fruit back to make their own wines.

The Ajellos produce five different wines, each of which takes its name from the ancient history of the island.

This wine is a combination of equal percentages of Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, and Nero d' Avola. After harvest and fermentation, the wine is aged in a combination of new French oak barrels for 12 months before aging another 6 months in the bottle before release.

I am unsure how many cases are produced.

Tasting Notes:
Dark ruby on color, this wine has a nice, earthy nose of leather, black cherry, and blackberry aromas, with light notes of vanilla and oak. In the mouth it is rich and full bodied with complex, dark fruit flavors that range from blackberry to cherry to mulberry. The acid balance is good, and darker flavors of leather and damp earth ground the fruit flavors with a nice foundation that includes very smooth tannins. The wine has a moderate and pleasant finish.

Food Pairing:
Why not stay with the old country? Try this wine with Mario Batali's Sicilian style veal shanks.

Overall Score: 9

How Much?: $17

This wine is available for purchase on the internet. It is imported by Classica USA.

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