OK, so I can’t resist a bad joke. But it’s true: Sicilian wine is hot right now, especially in Italy, where for the past several years the wines of the three-cornered isle have been getting a lot of press attention and a great deal of consumer demand. In recognition of that, the New York Wine Media Guild dedicated its April tasting and luncheon to surveying Sicily’s highly varied bottlings.
Organized by co-chairs Pat Savoie and Charles Scicolone, with a little input from yours truly, the WMG tasting focused almost entirely on Sicilian wines vinified from indigenous grape varieties – a decision I heartily applaud. In my opinion, the two impediments to the growth and reputation of Sicilian wine have been the fad for international varieties – think about it: does the world really want a Sicilian Chardonnay or a Sicilian Cabernet? – and the influx of young Australian winemakers, some of whom assume (a) that Sicilians knew nothing about making wine until the Aussies arrived, and (b) that Syrah is the answer to all questions. So a tasting that concentrated on Sicilian wines made from native grapes – 25 wines in all – put the spotlight right where I think it belongs, on the wines that are unique to this beautiful island.
Here are the wines in the order of their presentation that day.
- Feudo Sartanna 2014 Zirito Grillo
- Tasca d’Almerita 2014 Grillo Cavallo Delle Fate
- Spadafora 2013 Dei Principi di Spadafora Grillo
- Cusumano 2014 Insolia
- Benanti 2013 Etna Bianco di Caselle (Carricante)
- Tenuta Rapitala 2014 Vigna Casalj (Catarratto)
- Tasca d’Almerita 2012 Nozze d’Oro Contea di Sclafani (Inzolia & Sauvignon)
- Planeta 2014 Cometa (Fiano)
- Tenuta Rapitala 2014 Piano Maltese (Grillo & Cataratto)
- Tasca d’Almerita 2015 Le Rose di Regaleali (Nerello Mascalese)
- Paternò di Vittoria 2013 Frappato
- Planeta 2014 Frappato
- Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2014 Frapatto
- Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2012 Paterno di Vittoria (Frappato & Nero d’Avola)
- Cusumano 2014 Nero d’Avola
- Morgante 2011 Don Antonio Nero d’Avola Riserva
- Tasca d’Almerita 2010 Rosso del Conte Regaleali Contea di Sclafani (Perricone & Nero d’Avola)
- Vivera 2010 Etna Rosso Martinella
- Benanti Etna Rosso 2013 Rovitello (Nerello Mascalese)
- Palari 2011 Rosso del Soprano
- Palari 2009 Faro
- Palari 2008 Santa.Nè
- Alessandro di Camporeale 2012 Kaid Syrah
- Florio Targa Riserva Marsala Superiore Riserva Semisecco
- Florio 2009 Malvasia
That is a pretty exhaustive sampling of Sicily’s native grapes, spread out over 9 whites, 5 rosés, 9 reds (one non-native Syrah slipped in there) and 2 dessert wines. The varieties covered there include the white Grillo, Insolia, and Catarratto, widely grown in the western two-thirds of the island, and the white Carricante, a specialty of the Etna region. The red Frappato is usually used to produce a charming rosé wine, delightful with Sicily’s great seafood cuisine – or just about anything else, for that matter. Nero d’Avola and Perricone are the favorite red grapes of the western chunk of Sicily, though a whole cluster of indigenous red varieties – Nerello mascalese and Nerello Capucci especially – replace them throughout the eastern piece of the island.
That kind of completeness has been characteristic of WMG tastings of Italian wines in recent years, and it is one of the most enjoyable and most useful aspects of those tastings: You come away from them with a good sense of an area’s production, quality, and styles, which is invaluable for a wine journalist and not at all harmful for a collector or consumer.
Needless to say, being the opinionated person I am, I have my favorites: I like especially the wines from Sicily’s eastern hills. It is a not sufficiently appreciated fact that, broadly speaking, Sicily has two distinct geologies. The eastern third of the island – think Messina, Catania, Etna – is part of the Italian geologic plate, a continuation of the same piece of land that is thrusting up into Europe, raising the Alps in the north and causing volcanic activity in the south. The western two-thirds of the island are a portion of North Africa that broke off from the mainland, drifted north, and got snagged by the Etna mass.
That eastern, Etna-anchored portion of Sicily, with its mineral-rich volcanic soils, makes the Sicilian wines that intrigue me most – the reds from Etna and from Palari (the Faro DOC), and the whites of Etna. All taste richly of their native grapes and of their roots in volcanic soil, which may well be a wine grape’s greatest ally.
Etna’s volcanic soils especially nurture richness and subtlety in the vines that grow there, so that red wines vinified from Nerello mascalese (Faro, Rosso del Soprano, Vivera, Benanti’s Rovitello) possess a richness and nuance that remind many fans of the beauties of Burgundy. The whites vinified there from Cataratto are in a league of their own: Some of Benanti’s are among the best white wines in Italy, though most of the market hasn’t realized that yet. Your gain, while it lasts, before tastings like this one spread the word.