Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sicilian target practice without a license (or a seatbelt)

One of the intriguing aspects about winemaking in Eastern Sicily, especially around Etna and Vittoria, is how tradition has very little to do with it. While Tuscany is foundering with Chianti and their traditions, and Piedmont is riding a wave of popularity, Sicily, especially Eastern Sicily is in re-invention mode. Oak. No oak. Nerello. No, Pinot Noir. Chardonnay. No, Carricante. Moscato, sweet, no dry. Cement tanks. Inox, Amphora. For those who look at it, Eastern Sicily very much resembles the landscape in which it sits. Busy. Cluttered. Fast. But also in this confluence of things that don’t necessarily harmonize with each other, there is a spark of creativity that Tuscany and Piedmont could find inspiration from.

The problem of prejudice, that of the North looking down at the South, is still a roadblock, although I don’t see the younger generation wrestling with this issue as earlier generations have. I once was talking to a wine merchant, a Barone, from Tuscany. This was thirty years ago. He was concerned that the business the company I worked for was being diluted by too many importers. One especially, from the Marche/Abruzzo area, bothered him to the point that he mentioned it to me. “You know, Alfonso, it’s the problem of the South. The people, the way they go about their day, isn’t always so good for business.” I took it as a warning. I also felt the sting, as much of the DNA material that made me up came not only from the South, but from the Deep South. But I kept my hurt hidden, locked it up in a vault, to mull over for another day.

Over the years, I have seen more of what he meant, albeit it through my personal lens. In places like Campania, where earlier this year a group of us drove through the Triangle of Death, where for years toxic dumping has resulted in elevated levels of cancer among those living in and near the area. And one could see trash strewn recklessly on the highways and the back roads. Here we were in one of the beautiful places on earth and people were treating it like a dumpster.

As well, in Calabria, on the back road to the Comune di CirĂ², we almost couldn’t drive the car, for there was so much trash, broken concrete and potholes. Again, a place of beauty, once upon a time.

Sicily is not unblemished in this aspect. For years, I have witnessed minor and major transgressions against Mother Earth. On Etna, people systematically dump plastic bags filled with trash on the roads leading up to the mountain. And they extend reckless behavior in their driving habits – not wearing seatbelts, ignoring warning road signs, not stopping at intersections. As if the cornicello around the rear view mirror (or the neck of the driver) was all that was needed to stave off incidents.

I know I’ve gone off a little from my earlier thoughts, but the two are related, intertwined. After all these years, I do see that Southern Italy, and Sicily is in danger of losing more of their talent, because the changes in the modern world are developing so rapidly that it is much more comfortable to stick with what one knows. Some don’t wear the seat belt, and they are proud of their rebellious acts, as if they are a kind of 21st century Salvatore Giuliano for not wearing them. Large producers stick with their over cropped Nero D’Avola. And some chase trends, wasting valuable years planting “international” varietals, following a market that far too many other countries have already conquered. Who is going to beat the French when it comes to reliable and often affordable Pinot Noir? Maybe California can give them a run for it, especially for those wine drinkers who like their Pinot Noir a little darker and chunkier. Thankfully, we are seeing small swaths of Chardonnay (and Pinot Grigio) in Sicily being grafted back over to Catarratto, Grillo and Insolia. And while the jury is out as to whether these wines will ever be capable of producing a wine as great of the Chardonnays from France, thirsty wine drinkers, who just want a glass of wine to go with their fritto misto, are happy to participate in emptying the large Inox and concrete storage containers.

So, how does this all fit into the original thought about the contention that Eastern Sicily is experiencing a moment of creative burst? The wines are already in America, in Australia, in the Scandinavian countries and Northern Europe. Even the British Isles (for now). Restaurants and wine consumers who are plugged into the worldwide web are on to these wines – for their wine lists and for their dining tables at home.

Over the period of the last week, in my house, we ate steak, tacos, salmon, Greek salad, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, quesadillas and loads of fruit. When it was a meal where wine was appropriate, there were many options to choose from Sicily, from Frappato with tacos to Carricante with quesadillas. And with the garden preparing to launch so many eggplants into this kitchen, there will be more options for Sicilian wine on the table, from Etna rosso and rose to Cerasuolo di Vittoria and even a well-made Nero d’Avola.

What Sicily needs to do is get their home in order. Fix those stop signs that have fallen down and have caused their share of needless accidents. Start a conscious campaign of getting people to slow down when they drive on small country roads, many of which have fallen into disrepair. Pick up your trash, for God’s sake. You’ve turned Paradise into a pig sty. And then think about the time and the investment you (and the EU) are making in Sicilian wine and getting them out to the world. We’re ready for your wines, have been for some time. But we’d also like you - and I’m speaking to all my Southern brothers and sisters, not just the converted – to take your blinders off and look at the world you are living in, both abroad and home. And make it right.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
Real Time Analytics