Goethe said in the 18th century that to have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything. Is that valid for Sicily’s wine? And how do you take a tour of Sicily during a wine tasting? That was the question I tried to answer in a tasting of Sicilian wine that I presented recently.
A tour of Sicily is by no means easy. Many refer to the largest island in the Mediterranean as a continent and you can see why when you are in the process of selecting the wines for such a tasting.
You can approach Sicilian wine in many ways. Maybe the simplest approach would be to focus either on Mount Etna as a region on its own or else look at some of Sicily’s indigenous grapes and showcase them specifically comparing the way the wineries work with the grapes and their terroir.
But I wanted to take a different approach which was that of showcasing the different styles of wines that you can find and also challenge stereotypes.
The number of Sicilian wineries has grown from a few dozen to over 300 in the past years. And given the terroir, many are also experimenting with biodynamic and natural wines.
No one is more extreme that Frank Cornelissen, a Belgian national who has created wines on the Etna which are 100 per cent natural and are not treated at all neither when the grapes are growing nor during the ageing process. We tasted the Munjebel 2013, a wine made from Nerello Mascalese (the grape most common in the Etna region) and which he subsidises with his top of the range wine called Magma which is produced in just over 500 bottles.
Among the stars of the evening and the wines which received the most votes from those present in terms of enjoyability were the Etna wines. The Benanti Pietramarina was the favourite white wine while both the Tenuta delle Terre Nere – Prephylloxera Rosso Etna 2013 La Vigna di Don Peppino and the Passopisciaro Rosso Terre Siciliane IGT 2012 were highly acclaimed together with the Rosso del Conte from Tasca d’Almerita.
Given this was a tour of Sicily, we also tried the ‘lighter wines’ from Azienda Agricola COS (Cerasuolo di Vittoria) and a 100% Frappato from Arianna Occhipinti which were extremely pleasant and drinking very well.
The following were the wines we tasted with some notes on each wine.
- Cusumano Jalé (Chardonnay) 2013: The flagship white wine of the Cusumano winery which comes from Tenuta Ficuzza, it is a well made Chardonnay. Less oak than in previous vintages, this was well balanced with a long finish.
- Benanti Pietramarina Bianco Superiore Etna DOC (Carricante) 2010: This could easily be considered a cult wine. Made from 100% Carricante, this white is extremely mineral and impressively fresh for its age. It is complex on the nose, well balanced but will continue to develop in the coming years. It is a wine with lots of ageing potential. This is one of my favourite whites from Sicily.
- Azienda Agricola COS Pithos Bianco Sicilia (Grecanico) IGT 2013: Not everyone likes ‘orange wines’ and you can see why. This wine is made in terracotta amphorae and is fermented with the skin, hence why it is orange. The winery is biodynamic and uses very low levels of sulphites to age the wine. I personally love the aromas of this wine, the bright acidity, the length and intensity of the wine despite its low alcohol. But not everyone will love this wine.We then proceeded to two wines from the South-East of Sicily.
- Azienda Agricola COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico (Frappato di Vittoria and Nero d’Avola) DOCG 2012: The winemaker hates to use oak. In this case, the blend is made of Frappato and Nero D’Avola which are fermented separately. This is different to your normal Sicilian wines. It has great aromas and an intense finish with lots of minerality. It also feels light but that is a characteristic of the Cerasuolo di Vittoria.
- Occhipinti Il Frappato Rosso Sicilia (Frappato) DOC 2013: The winemaker is the cousin of one of the winemakers at COS. This is a small winery where Arianna does everything together with the help of a handful of employees. She cultivates Frappato and Nero d’Avola and in this case makes a pure Frappato which is very elegant and rather unusual since the wine from this grape is normally blended. I loved this wine because it is the opposite of what you would expect from Sicily. It is medium bodied with very fine tannins and a very long finish.Wine maker Giachomo Tachis, who died only recently, had a huge influence on Sicilian wines and the following three wines were very indicative of his style.
- Planeta Santa Cecilia Noto DOC (Nero d’Avola) 2010: An important Sicilian wine. It is a well made 100 per cent Nero D’Avola which expresses the typicality of grape variety. It is a well balanced wine which is pleasant to drink but which may have suffered from the comparison to other wines during the tasting.
- Rosso del Conte, Contea di Sclafani (Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc) DOC 2010: The best wine in this flight of wines. It is an iconic Sicilian red made by Tasca D’Almerita. Complex but at the same time great balance, it has good ageing potential. A classy wine which could be considered as one of Sicily’s most important wines. It is a blend of Nero D’Avola with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
- Donnafugata Tancredi Rosso Contessa Entellina DOC 2011 (Nero d’Avola and Cabernet Sauvignon): A well balanced wine offering good value for money though less impressive than the Rosso del Conte in terms of finish and complexity.Our next flight of wines came from the Etna and in many ways these three wines proved to be the stars of the evening.
- Frank Corneillson Munjebel (Nerello Mascalese) 2013: A 100% natural wine this generated mixed feelings but that was to be expected. You need to approach this wine knowing the philosophy of the winemaker. Although it is high in alcohol (15%) this is barely noticeable and given it is a natural wine, it was evolving in the glass with every sip making it a really enjoyable wine to drink. This was of course rougher than the other wines we tasted but nevertheless extremely interesting given it is not treated at all.
- Tenuta delle terre nere – “Prephylloxera” Rosso Etna (Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio) DOC 2013 La Vigna di Don Peppino: This wine is made with extremely old vines and you can see why. It is a fantastic wine. Finesse, depth of flavour, balance you have it all. It is a wine with great ageing potential. It is a perfect expression of what the Etna has to offer. Is it worth its price? That is a question worth asking given it costs over 60 Euros though the prephylloxera label and the very small parcel of land from where it is made are the justification.
- Passopisciaro Rosso Terre Siciliane IGT 2012 (Nerello Mascalese): I left this wine for the end because it was 15.5% in alcohol. I served it slightly chilled and despite its high alcohol level, it was barely noticeable and what we experienced was great fruit, incredible balance and an impressively long finish that went on and on.
These are by no means the only wineries that are on offer in Sicily. In the coming weeks and months, I will profile some of the wines of each winery featured above given the research I have carried out for this wine tasting.