July, 2022 – Sicily
Sicily is big and small. About the size of Massachusetts, Sicily is Italy’s largest wine growing region. The densely populated pivot point of the Mediterranean– located just off the boot tip of the mainland and 100 miles from Northern Tunisia – Sicily spent its early history as a pawn of conquest and empire. Control ping ponged between major forces of the moment–the Greeks, Romans, Byzantine, Normans, Arab rule from North Africa – until Sicily joined Italy in the 1860’s and gained regional autonomy in 1947. The history of winemaking in in the area goes back to those earliest conquests. Sicily has pretty much always grown grapes, made wine – from the sweet Mamertine prized by Caesar, to natty Nerello’s prized by contemporary wine hipsters. Until the later decades of the twentieth century, Sicily’s wine growing focused on bulk, chuggable table wines and, more than that, large production high alcohol concentrations that were sent to other Italian regions and abroad for blending. An emphasis on quality was prioritized between 1992 and 2002 and wine production by volume dropped by forty percent.
Sicily is a tiny continent – with coasts on three bodies of water, hillsides, archipelagos, a chain of mountains with Etna – the active volcano – rising above it all. The wine that grows here is wild in its breadth and contrast as you’d see in the terroir – sunny hot and almost arid to the steep cool mountainsides (that even see snow in the winter) – from bold almost spicy reds, to sharp cool mineral whites, to dessert wines that taste like sunshine or dusk. So let’s play!
Duca di Salaparuta ’20
Grape: 100% Frappato
The Duca di Salaparuta Group umbrellas three projects highlighting Sicilian wine production in the modern era – Corvo (focussing on classic wines for the everyday), Florrio (historic marsala producer, more on that later), and the stylish and meticulous wines of Duca di Salaparuta. Having been producing wine since 1824, Duca group contributed early on in the transition from bulk to bottled wine production, focussing their estate on growing less yield grapes and focussing on quality. Committed to better growing practices, they are the first estate on the island to attain VIVA and Equalitas sustainability certifications. (Though it is worth mentioning, Sicily is no stranger to incidentally organic wine production– rumors are that the fertilizer companies wouldn’t play ball with the mob;) )
Frappato generally is a lighter bodied and flirty red, best served with a little chill, and holds up well with roasted red peppers and pork. The ‘20 Duca di Salaparuta Frappato offers dark berries, violettes and a hint of white pepper. A dream for ducking back into the kitchen from the backyard grill.
Grape: 100% Insolia
“where the land is white, and the sun shines twice”
Classically a blending grape, known for its relatively low sugar content and modest acid, Insolia is a rising star in Sicilian white wines. Thought to be native to Sicily – it’s possible it could be a progine of vines brought by the Greeks –a grape that goes by the name “Irziola” is mentioned by Pliny the Elder in “Naturalis Historia.”
The Cusumano is a family-owned wine producer, known for its collection of varietal wines. They prize sustainability as a commitment of love to Earth and land.
Cusamano’s Insolia opens with a pretty white-flower and honey notes, delivers clean under ripe fruits and sunflower on the palate with a slightly heavy mouthfeel and finishes like a SweetTart.
Isola del Satiro Rosso, 2020
Grape: 70% Nero d’Avola, 30% Perricone
“Each vintage always shows emotions”
Gianfranco Palladino and his family are making honest, organically farmed wines from indigenous grapes in the Marsala region. After working in the wine industry for generations, the family completed the construction of their own winery in 2002 and produced their first vintage the following year. Certified organic, grapes are harvested by hand and undergo fermentation and aging in stainless steel.
Nero d’Avola is one of the most popular and prolific reds of contemporary Sicily. Here it is blended with Perricone, a less common, but intriguing varietal. It leans in with rose, plum, dark sugar on the nose – following through with a fresh, nice structure – a bright and playful expression of the grapes.
Tascante Etna Rosso ‘Ghaia Nera’ DOC, 2019
Grape: 100% Nerello Mascalese
The Tasca d’Almerita family, one of Sicily’s oldest and most esteemed wine families, is now led by seventh generation Alberto Tasca. In 2006 Tasca founded Tascante on Mount Etna (Tasca + Etna backwards = Tascante 😉 ) – the third of Tasca’s estates.
The project offers Tenuta Tascante’s demonstration of the possibilities for Nerello Mascalese from young vineyards – offering softer tannins and a distinctive freshness. It’s enhanced by a lighter touch with oak aging. Ghiaia Nera means “black gravel” – named for a feature of the mountainside vingard. The wine sees 20% malolactic fermentation and is aged in Slavonian oak barrels. Lively, almost effervescent, on the palate with tart red fruit, hint of button mushroom.
Tasca d’Almerita ‘Regaleali Le Rose’ 2020
Grape: 100% Nerello Mascalese
“The blessed hills of Regaleali”
1200 hectares in the Regaleali contrada are purchased by the brothers Lucio and Carmelo Mastrogiovanni Tasca, introducing the most modern agricultural technology available into the Sicilian backcountry
This rosé, produced using Nerello Mascalese grapes planted in 1974, combines the savory notes of white wines with the fruity elegance of reds. The name recalls the floral hints of this variety and the roses that grow at the Regaleali Estate. Savory and refreshing, this lovely rosato has aromas of rose and wild berry.–the bright palate features crushed raspberry, tart cherry, Mediterranean herb and star anise before a saline finish with tart acidity.
Firriato Etna Bianco DOC, 2020
Grape: 50% Carricante, 50% Catarratto
Firriato is in the province of Trapani, one of the most magical parts of the wine region of Sicily, where centuries of vine growing have given this area a natural ability to produce wines with a strong sense of identity. Firriato’s strength lies in the consistent choices it has made. Especially those that focus on nature, biodiversity, protecting the landscape and innovation. Clear straw yellow with greenish shades. Powerful with distinct hints of yellow flowers like mimosa and broom exalting fruity aromas of white peaches and ripe pears. Crisp, sharp, cool and mineral the Firriato is an excellent representation of the whites of Mt Etna.
Cantine Colosi, 2020
Grape: 100% Grillo
In Salina, in the volcanic archipelago of Aeolian island, the grapes are grown organically with low environmental impact. Cantine Colosi has been part of the wine industry for three generations. The winery’s bottling is done in Giammoro (Messina), Sicily. With the help of his father, Piero Colosi oversees all aspects of the wines, from vinification to bottling and plays an active role in the marketing of the Colosi name at home and abroad.
The grillo is aged in Acacia barrels for four months, giving an elegant vanilla-sh aroma and roundness while preserving the aromas of the vineyard.
Certified vegan, this bright, savory white offers aromas of lime, white spring flowers and Mediterranean herbs. On the refreshing, tangy palate, crisp acidity accompanies fragrant white peach, pear, kiwi, and lime blossom.
Cantine Colosi Rosso, 2019
Grape: 70% Syrah, 30% Nerello Mascalese
Syrah could be an import – or may be a more ancient grape of the island. Some think Syrah is from Sicily, named for “Sira” In Siracusa, rather than “Shiraz” in Persia. Also it is thought that Nero d’Avola is a not so distant cousin.
Intense, dark ruby red color. The bouquet on the nose is full of red and black fruit, like blackberry and strawberries, together with flowers, herbs. and a slight smoky sensation. On the palate it is fresh,
dry and full-bodied, with soft tannins and a long savory finish
Vecchio Florio Superiore
Grape: Grillo & Catarratto
Founded in 1833 by Vincenzo Florio, the Florio Winery in Marsala looks out towards the bright sea of western Sicily. The dessert wine starts with the careful over-ripening of grillo & catarratto. It is fortified with light brandy and aged in oak barrels for 30 months – well above the requirements of its DOC specification – in the tranquility of the centuries-old vaults of the Florio Wine Cellars.
Englishman John Woodhouse is credited with the invention of Marsala – wanting another dessert wine to export back home, where there was a market for ports and sherries.