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I have discovered Sicily! Granted, an erroneous statement to make, as history shows many people got there before me. What I meant was this…Sicily, as an outstanding wine region-island, came into my line of sight this week.
I’ve always been very familiar with Nero d’Avola, probably my favourite Italian varietal. I knew a little about Catarratto and Grillo too. That was about as far as I got. What I discovered at London’s Wines of Sicily tasting at Millbank this week was so much more. When you walk in to a tasting and the first wine you sample ignites the metaphorical light bulb in your head, you know the signs are good. I’ll come back to this one later.
Sicily sits in the Mediterranean Sea and has a land mass of 9,927 square miles, the largest in the Med. The island currently has 23 DOC areas and one DOCG, Cerasuolo di Vittoria. With 112,725ha (hectares) under vine, it’s the white varieties which dominate occupying 71,967ha. The two leading varietals on the island are Catarratto Bianco comune, 30,368ha and Nero d’Avola, 18,296ha. As well as these two grapes Sicily has further 16 indigenous varieties, nine white, seven red. Like the rest of Europe the Sicilians do produce international varietals but it’s the native grapes that were the focus of my attention.
Angela Muir MW hosted three seminars during the course of the day. The mornings talk was on Nero d’Avola, too early for me but the other two seminars, more my cup of tea. My first event was on native whites. The talk began with a brief chat about the island itself, geography, topography, climate and areas of production. Fifteen wines were chosen to sample. First out of the starting block was Zibibbo (aka Moscatello d’Alessandria). A wine delivering soft, light orange aromas, as you might expect from the Moscato family but dry, light and fresh. Two Insolia wines were up next followed by a couple of Catarratto, one Chardonnay, two Carricante/Catarratto blends, a single varietal Carricante, five Grillo’s and finally a sweet Moscatello d’Alessandria.
Carricante became a grape I found very interesting, in particularly the wine chosen for our seminar. A native variety exclusive to the Etna area, Pietramarina 2008, Etna Bianco Superiore DOC felt as clean and fresh as the day it was bottled. Produced from 80-90 year old vines the wine showed fresh, light, very delicate orange citrus and grapefruit aromas. A touch of minerality on the palate with again, soft citrus, grapefruit flavours, great acidity. This wine hasn’t even begun to hit its peak.
Up next came the reds. 12 wines were shown through a range of blends, native varietals and some international grapes. The tasting began with a blend of Nero d’Avola/Nocera followed rapidly by a luscious Frappato, three Nero d’Avola/Frappato blends, an interesting Nero d’Avola/Perricone/28% local varieties blend, two Nerello Mascalese, one Nero d’Avola/Cabernet Sauvignon, a Syrah/Nero d’Avola lastly finishing up with two varietal Syrah’s.
I could go on and talk quite happily about the native reds; I will leave that for another time though. Like Carricante was my highlight white, Frappato was the red equivalent. This could be used as a blend to give some freshness to a wine but, on its own, it can stand up very well as a varietal in its own right. A wine which can be drunk slightly chilled; has some very juicy, succulent red berry, summer fruit; easy on the palate, fresh with great acidity.
The wine I mentioned at the top that really got me into the swing of things is from Vigneti Zabù SRL, available via Liberty Wines. Il Passo 2010, IGT Sicilia – RRP £13.99. 90% Nerello Mascalese, 10% Nero d’Avola, barrelled for 6 months in oak barriques (not that you would notice). Big, rich chocolate and black cherry fruit, all I need to say really.
A winery that showed class, consistency and incredible value for money across their four wines came from Cantine Nicosia, the first three are available through The Wine Society; Fondo Filara Frappato 2011, Sicilia IGT – RRP £8.50; Fondo Filara Nerello Mascalese 2009, Sicilia IGT – RRP £8.50; Fondo Filara Etna Rosso 2009, Etna DOC – RRP £10.95 and finally Fondo Filara Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico 2009, Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG – N/A. All well balanced, showing a mix of black fruit, spice, juicy acidity, minerals.
Sicily is the place to watch. The days of producing bulk wine could be coming to a close. Angela Muir stated that in all her years travelling the globe, Sicily never came up on her radar until she visited the place earlier on this year. Keep a particular eye out for the wines from Etna, yes, the volcano! There is something special going on here. Watch this space!
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