Time, because the area is spread out, not as concentrated as the Etna wine region. It’s flatter, warmer, not as sexy, and a bit more entrenched in the daily business of winemaking. As I have written elsewhere, Etna’s Golden Age is long gone, in terms of the influence and swath it once had in the western wine world. Not that we’re setting up funereal march, a “second line,” for Etna. Far from it. But the glory days of old are just that.
The area centered on Vittoria, where Sicily’s only DOCG is from, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, couldn’t be more different. Starting with the diet. Fish and food from the sea are readily available, and does that influence the kind of wine that is made to go with it? Perhaps. That is an evolving situation, even after so many thousands of years. The weather, not as influenced by the pernicious whims of the volcano, feels more like an African dominated climate. Already in early June the winds were whipping up, and at midday it was hard to be out in the vineyards walking the rows. It was warm, and that coming from one who lives in Texas where already the relentless heat of summer is upon us.
But there is an energy that emanates from the wine region of Vittoria that feels new and unblemished. Or rather I should say, without the cynicism one often finds in the larger production areas of western Sicily, where quantity is still a huge factor. I asked one winemaker after another about their production range and the most I came up with was one who said they made 400,000 bottles. Not cases. We’re in boutique production country, according to anywhere else in the world. Wines that we see plastered across Instagram and Delectable from the area are often made in such small lots that it is hard to understand how the producer will be able to satisfy the thirst of the somm-hipster crowd, let alone the rest of us. I went into my local Italian food shop here at home, looking for Arianna Occhipinti’s SP68, the white wine, only to be told the local distributor was out. Perhaps the wine is in the middle of a vintage change (it is) but it still denotes a certain rarity, even for a wine that is ever so affordable and one that I could happily consume as my daily house white.
What really caught my attention, though, was the level of sophistication with the global wine market that many of these producers have, large and small. I really shouldn’t be surprised though. After all, isn’t it Sicily where a myriad of cultures have made their cultural imprint? The flat, long plain can be rustic and in some ways, lost in time, but the confluence of those imprints combined with our 21st century connectivity (i.e. the internets) creates a rhythm and a continuum that seems natural.
And while wineries like Valle dell’ Acate and Cos, and even to a certain degree, Planeta, have been championing the wines of Vittoria for some time, in my opinion, the face of the region is Arianna Occhipinti.
I’d read lots about Arianna; saw her picture on so many social media sites. I began to wonder if she was what everyone was talking about or if there was just a tiny, little bit of hype. Call me skeptical. Yes, I’ve enjoyed her wines, from New York to Dallas to Los Angeles. But I had never come face to face with her.
There are those spirits who are brought into this world at a time in which the world needs them. Without sounding too overly gushy (which I’m sure that’s a shore I long crossed over), the exuberance and the passion, the commitment and the engagement of Arianna Occhipinti is something one witnesses all too rarely. I love everything she makes, even her experimental pét-nat. Her passito from Nero d’Avola, Passo Nero, recalls to me why Sicily is such a great area for “wine of meditation.” And her lineup of dry still wines from the SP68 red and white to the Il Frappato, the Siccagno and the Grotte Alte, are wines I want to drink, and some which I want to put in my little wine closet for another time in ten or so years. These wines excite me, not just for this one producer, and not just for the area, which would be enough. But they also complement the wines of their seething sibling up the hill, Etna. It would be wise for wine lovers to look down off the mountain, take the dangerous trek down the various strade provinciali and see for themselves. Vittoria and her enclave offer a compelling counterpunch - a friendly and formidable flag hoisted towards its sibling on the fiery mountaintop.
Strada del Vino del Cerasuolo di Vittoria
Consorzio Cerasuolo di Vittoria
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