Thursday, July 04, 2013

Drinking My Way Through Sicily (and Rome)

Every day during this last trip to Sicily there were wines to be tasted. Fortunately most of the wines were tasted with food, although there were some official-like tastings as well. The following recaps some of the best wines I had while in Sicily and in Rome.

This takeaway. The wines of Sicily are so varied, I’m not sure people realize it. Sicily is its own country and the flavors, the terroir, the food and the wines are different. In the land of Tasca, Nero D’Avola is king, but Perricone, Catarratto, Pinot Noir and Syrah also hold their place at the table. On Etna, Nerello Mascalese is the dominant grape, but Nerello Cappuccio, Carricante, Alicante and Grenache have established themselves on the fiery mountain. On the Aeolian Islands, Malvasia tangos with the smoldering hills. Near Ragusa, with the blindingly white soils, Nero D’Avola also has established itself while Carricante, Albanello, Frappato and Chardonnay have dug in as well. All this to say Sicily isn’t just Nero D’Avola. And Nero D’Avola itself has many expressions, Gulfi winery being a fine example of the diversity of the grape from one Contrada to another.

One need only drive through the vineyard lands of La Muntagna — as the Sicilians call Mt. Etna, to see the clos-like walls of volcanic soil that remind me of Burgundy. The walls, not the dark stones. But there is a closed-system inside this world that makes for a concentration of greatness. I had to see it for myself, and now I am a believer. That Albana di Romagna is a DOCG and Etna isn’t is a travesty. This area is like the Valtellina, like Valle D’Aoste, like many extreme growing regions that produce radical flavors and delicious, tasty wines. Who needs France, who needs California? I daresay, who needs Italy? One could spend a lifetime alone with the wines of Sicily and never have the urge to get off the island. The bench is that deep. It’s just that these wines haven’t been coming to America for very long; it isn’t that the winemakers haven’t been plying their trade, albeit in a fashion of their own. They won my heart many years ago. And they won it again this last time. Sure, I’m not going to stop drinking Champagne or Barolo, but if I had to limit myself to a metodo classic brut made from Nerello Mascalese or a Nero D’Avola from Tasca, like the Rosso del Conte, or a red from Etna, I could easily make that sacrifice.

On to the wines ( and other libations)...

Tasted in Palermo

Nerello Mascalese metodo classico brut from Murgo

Benanti Biancodicaselle Etna Bianco

Nino Barraco's senza solfiti Grillo "Vignamare"

 Kellerei Kaltern Campaner Sudtiroler Gewurztraminer, why not?

Salvatore D'Amico Malvasia delle Lipari Passito

Zio Toto's  thirst quenching mandarini verdi di Sicilia in background
and granita di limone in front - photo by Manuele Laiacona

Cusumano Insolia

Tasted at Tasca D'Almerita's Regaleali

Regaleali Catarratto "senza solfiti"

Rosso del Conte  2008 ( and 1990)

The lineup at Regaleali tasting (four of the five properties)
100% Pinot Noir, metodo classico rosė
Corrado Maurigi's pet project on Salina, a dry Malvasia "Didyme"

Capofaro Malvasia
Tasted on Etna with Salvo Foti
Salvo Foti's I Vigneri wines

Tasted at Chiaramonte Gulfi ( in bottle and in barrel) with Salvo Foti
Azienda Agricola Gulfi organic wine lineup
Tasted at Dal Cesare al Casaletto - Rome
I Custodi Etna (illegal label) Carricante (70%), Minnella, Grecanico
Sfuso 12 from Corrado Dottori - Organic white from Le Marche

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


  1. There has been some serious tastings going on! Thanks for sharing your experiences with us :-)

  2. Your last post on Sicily and Rome food left me very hungry. Now all I can say is I'm very thirsty. In my only visit to Sicily in Sept 2011, we had nothing but great wines. These posts are pushing me to a return visit next year. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Bravo on so many levels, amico. Beware readers, there is DNA prejudice involved in the following comment. It's heartening to read that Sicily has reinforced its siren call on you through its people, food and wines. With a few photos and some well thought out words you have given Sicilian wines more PR per square inch than any flash-laden non-intuitive Sicilian wine website could ever hope for. You navigated the DOCG waters well and called a travesty a travesty. You also tactfully acknowledged the unique ways of Sicilian marketing. The Sicilian mentality has that certain autonomous streak that you deftly package into "who needs France, California, and I dare say Italia?" You also made me grin when you wrote that you would be content with Rosso del Conte. Who wouldn't?

  4. Sicily has long been a sleeping giant...on my last trip there in 2010 it was heartening to speak with winemakers around the island, most of whom were of the opinion that an exciting and productive future was possible. The other positive development that struck me was the co-existence of traditional approaches with the experimentation that signals where Sicilian wines may be a decade from now. This was especially evident around Mt. Etna - a healthy divergence of philosophies and methods to bring to fruition unique terroirs and varietals. My one concern is that Sicily doesn't become trendy in America, that wines from Persephone's island won't become the consumer "darlings" that lead to over-exposure and over-production, and the inevitable blasé attitude toward indigenous grapes we've seen elsewhere in Italy. And, yes, I have a cultural bias as both my wife and I have grandparents from Provincia Messina.