Italy has always been my playground in the wine world. With a spine of mountains running down the length of country, Italy offers the oenophile an opportunity without parallel to explore a plethora of wine from varying aspects, altitudes and microclimates. Exciting times are ahead for the Italian wine industry, and Sicily stands at the forefront.
The weather here is warm and cosy, and the moderating winds that blow from the Mediterranean ensure optimal ripeness of fruit without the risk of rot or disease. The soil of the rolling volcanic mountains that cover the island are chock-full of minerals and the wines at their best are defined and ethereal.
It also seems that, historically, Sicily has more to offer than we first thought. Findings detailed in Microchemical Journal several months ago from the University of South Florida show that pots found in a cave in southwest Sicily contained residue from wine more than 6000 years old. Originally it was thought that winemaking on the peninsula began about 1200BC, but this discovery pushes back that date by close to 3000 years. It’s a fascinating revelation and one that could change our preconceived notions of Italy and wine in general.
But you don’t need a degree in archeology to unearth a few Sicilian gems. Here are a few I recommend.
Nino Barraco – Vignammare Bianco 2015
Grillo is the grape and Marsala, way over in the most western part of the island, is the town where it is grown. Young winemaker Nino Barraco has plantings almost at the water’s edge, and the romantically minded say you can taste the sea in his wines. The grillo is a striking, fleshy yellow the colour of cider, while the nose is fresh and invigorating, full of crunchy green apple skin and citrus. The palate is fine, with a mineral salinity and a sweet-sour tanginess reminiscent of yuzu. A glass of this and you will feel as though you’ve been splashed with sea spray. But who needs glasses? The Australian importer, Giorgio di Maria, recommends you drink it out of an oyster shell.
Tenuta di Castellaro – L’ottava Isola Etna Rosso 2014
Nerello mascalese has been cropping up more and more on wine lists in recent years. Its home is on the volcanic slopes of the imposing Mount Etna, and the detailed aromatics and intricate structure of wines made from the grape have led to it being hailed as Sicily’s answer to nebbiolo. I prefer to think of it in its own right, however. This example also contains about 20 per cent of the grape nerello cappuccio, added to give the wine a little more oomph. Think black cherry skin and pit, toasty cinnamon, dried fig and pressed mountain herbs. A dry and savory palate just begs you to drink it with some hard cheese.
Alessandro Viola – Note di Rosso 2016
We can’t discuss Sicily without mentioning nero d’avola, one of Italy’s most recognisable wines, and this example by winemaker Alessandro Viola offers everything you can want out of the grape and more. Imagine biting into a ripe plum: the fruit here is plump, deep and red, while the acidity is juicy and almost trickles out of your mouth. Viola also blends with a little syrah to give a peppery elegance to the wine. The label is worth a special mention. It’s a hand-drawn image of the winemaker punching the cap of a barrel while his dog prances around him. It’s adorable.
The article is here: Heroes of the Sicilian wine expedition (The Australian)