Monday, June 07, 2010

Sicilian Wine – It’s Complicated

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.


The Negociants USA gang said...

Great post! Yep - I agree Sicilian wine is alluring. The whole place is. I recall a wine press trip we put together in 1998 - a strange, surreal tour. Planeta was certainly a 'must visit' for the press we were hosting, along with Regaliali, Rapitala, etc. Throughout the trip, and even now, tasting Sicilian wines - there is the feeling that from all this dark mystery, Sicily hasn't shown us anywhere near what she can really offer. I had THE best meal of my life; vividly recall it was a restaurant in Palermo - honestly was scared for my life in the situation (longer story)- so with all senses on very high alert, the food and wine was a gastronomic salvation. Practically cried it was so good. Glorious - mysterious - unforgettable.

brian_in_gib said...

Hi Alfonso,
I love your blog! I cam across it looking at random foodie sites and was immediately sucked in by your excellent and evocative writing. It's inspirational.
As for Italian wines, well, I live in Gibraltar, in southern Spain, and I confess I rarely drink anything other than rioja. BUT, on the back of your blog, I think I'm going to have to explore some Italian wines. I will, of course, write about it too.
Greetings from Gibraltar,

Marco Zappino said...

You have people drinking Rioja reading your blog?;)
Maybe what you sense is that Sicily is volcanic and seismic, due for an eruption from its primordial well springs.

EdChampagne said...

Ironically, I just wrote an article on Sicilian wines (for Beverage Media)on the very same topic. I of course championed Sicily's indigenous varieties. I like that quote, the "Planeta effect." But Planeta is now seeing the light. They now have a winery in Mt. Etna region.

Ed McCarthy

Gemma said...

Like most of Italy, not only wine but the whole culture has shifted in to good/bad way.
good because introducing more commercial, well known 'products' (let's say for example chardonnay over grecanico in sicily) in to their final product (the wine) which gives the consumer familiarity and curiosity.
familiarity because of the popularity of the product it self and curiosity because of the different origin.
Thus making a COMMERCIAL product.

the negative side of it... is quite clear- losing the essence of the product it self. The standardization of our culture has significantly diminished characteristics, personality, originality to many things.

this change doesn't stand only from a culinary point of view but in our whole art scheme from fashion, architecture and so on.

I feel as though European countries are trying hard to act so much as a community that it's losing most of their very interesting differences.

Marco Pizzolungo said...

Segesta used to wrapped in burlap right? Very 70's.

Alfonso Cevola said...

@Negociants USA gang- Thanks for stopping by.

Brian- really appreciate your kind comments.

Thanks Ed, I saw that they are doing an Etna project lately. Wishing them well, Etna is such a hot area these days.

Marco - Not sure about the burlap, but they did the flip top in one of their issues, so burlap isn't a stretch especially when you crawl into '70's space

Gemma- thanks for your interesting comments - Sicily, and Italy is a work in progress, constantly regenerating itself.

Cellar Tours said...

Thought you and your readers would find this interview with Robert Camuto, author of a new Sicilian wine odyssey of interest
warm regards, Simona @ Cellar Tours

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