The long ride from the old center of Palermo to Rapitala took us through a labyrinth of winding roads going towards the newer parts of the town. Past the English garden, where an affluence rivals ones seen along the coastal towns of Southern California.
On the main highway, after 30 minutes, towards the airport, a plaque commemorates a terrible bombing near the town of Capaci where the Mafia dons blew Giovanni Falcone, his wife, a judge and three police escorts to kingdom come.
Within the hour we were in the country. Cliffs jutted out of the ground with dramatic simplicity. We could have been in Capetown South Africa or some part of California. Sicily was weaving her web around my imagination once again.
Before we reached Rapitala we started seeing windmills. In this place where there are so many influences, I thought of another don, Quixote, and the simple sincerity that this land promised without the muddle of the human dealings. So much opportunity. So many squandered years.
Once inside the estate, Rapitala is a universe of terroirs. And with it one finds the indigenous grapes, the Catarratto, the Nero D’Avola, in proximity to Chardonnay, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc. At first I thought how odd to see all of those grapes. So I asked our host, Laurent, “Why? How can this happen?”
“This is Sicily!” Laurent exclaimed. Indeed. The land that is conquered, by people, by grapes, eventually who wins out in the race against time? We already know with invading peoples who prevails on this island. Sicily. And the grapes? These French grapes? I am asking a man whose father was French and who came here 40 years ago with his native vines.
Laurent is a bit of a transplant. The ultimate outsider, looking in to a culture and looking out from it. His wife is Sicilian. His children are Sicilian. His Father-in-law is from a Sicilian family who have been here since the Normans. He looks like Sean Connery, tall and handsome. His interests; photography, his palace and the patrimony of Palermo, one only needs to talk for a few minutes to see this family is stitched into the fabric of Sicilian and Palermitan culture, at the deepest levels. And even with Laurent being half French. But Sicily was the prototype for America in the melting pot creation of her people. And we are seeing, because the land is so fecund, these grapes assimilated and the wines that come from them as an expression of this prolific land.
This marriage of France and Sicily, between a man and a woman and between a grape and the earth, follows the traditions of Palermo in her lean towards French sensibilities. Not exclusively, but an inclusion upon the palimpsest that makes Sicily and Palermo so exotic and beguiling.
Later in the day, back at the house for an al fresco meal, Laurent and I sat together and talked about butter. “It is not uncommon in cooking of Palermo is it?” I knew this because my Sicilian grandmother used butter, and oil. “No, you are right; it is part of the French influence of the French chefs, the Monzu (Monsieur).
Over a glass of late harvest Sauvignon Blanc and a stunning duo of ice creams from Antica Gelateria Ilardo, one of jasmine and cinnamon and the other of straw berry, pistachio and decorated in the style of a cassata cake, we talked about this French influence. Funny because we were now tasting food from the influence of the Arab culture.
I thought of dear old Lampedusa, who lived in this neighborhood, and wrote one of the great Italian novels of the 20th century. I feel his spirit in my bones, I am a son of Lampedusa, of Palermo, of this whole swirling mess we call Sicily.
The Rapitala Wines – notes under the windmill
"Piano Maltese" Bianco 2009 - 50% Grillo, 50% Catarratto – smooth mellow light acidity- creamy finish.
"Casali" Catarratto Chardonnay 2009 - 70% Catarratto, 30% Chardonnay – buttery nose, spritely flavors, spicy.
"Grand Cru" Chardonnay 2008 – oak nose right up front, nice balance. While the oak is evident in the aromas, the flavors seem well integrated. The alcohol levels are in check and the wine is balanced. I like this wine.
"Campo Reale" Nero d'Avola 2008 - Buttery, fruity spiciness; cherry. An entry level red for casual sipping.
“Altonero” Nero d’ Avola 2008– something new from Rapitala. Wood treatment, 5 month in barrique, another 18 months in large oak tanks. Peppery, perfumed – delicate – still a bit tannic from the oak.
"Nuar" Nero d'Avola Pinot Nero 2008 70% Nero d'Avola, 30% Pinot Noir.
"Hugonis" Nero d'Avola Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 – coffee, oak, spicy. I see a thread, through the reds, of spice. This family blend is pleasant.
“Nadir” Syrah 2008 – Orange aromas, spun sugar. Not at all tight or bitter. Again, a mellow red.
“Solinero” Syrah 2007 – more classic syrah notes with pepper. A buttery flavor too.
Cielo Dalcamo 2004- 50% Sauvignon Blanc, 50% Catarratto. Dessert white. Botrytis. We had this wine after dinner with classic Sicilian desserts. Went surprisingly well with ice cream (jasmine-cinnamon and straw berry, pistachio and decorated in the style of a cassata cake).