Looking back over the days and years, I find myself mystified by what Sicilian wine means to me. I go back to 1981, in the business sense, when there were inexpensive wines like Bonifato in 1.5 liter bottles that we sold to restaurants for $2, and 1 liter flip-top bottles of Segesta that we also sold for ridiculously low prices. The wines were cheap and fresh and even though they were made in an industrial manner, back in those days industrial was a little less involved. There was no need for chapitalization, not in Sunny Sicily. Perhaps acidification. Most likely to cover rushed winemaking. Oak? At those prices it was 100% concrete. Which is now raging back into fashion. No, what we got, at that level, was a wine with a short shelf life, but a wine that was straightforward, basic, and serviceable. No epiphanies, but wine as they drank everyday in Sicily.
And then something happened. I call it the Planeta phenomenon. Grapes like Catarratto and Insolia took a backseat to Chardonnay. Nero’s and Nerello’s also were left at the altar for Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. Sicily took a leave of absence from its winemaking soul. It was time to show the world they could play on the international stage. And did they. But was it all a ruse?
You visit Planeta today and the buzz is all about their indigenous grapes and wines. Sure they make their killer Chardonnay (for Italians more than Americans, I wonder?) and they pump out Cabernet and Merlot and Syrah. Others follow. But along the fringes, in Licata, in Passopisciaro, in Noto, there have been awakenings. The Sicilian soul is stirring.
Has Sicily really found the grape that will define her wines? Is it really Nero d’Avola? What’s fomenting up on Etna? Where is Sicily going?
In the following months I am going to be taking on these questions and talking about them on these pages. I think Sicily is looking to re-connect with their primordial forms when it comes to wine. I will be thinking a lot about this. Something awakened inside me when I was in Sicily. It will not go back to sleep. We will dig deeper.