There are many things to like about Italy, not the least is the broad
selection of wines this sunny peninsula offers wine drinkers.
wine drinkers can chose cool climate white wines from the north, warm
weather red wines from the regions around Rome or more robust reds from
the sunny area of Naples. Except for the mountainous east-west Italian
Alps and the north-south Apennines, the Italian boot is literally
overflowing with wine.
tourism tends to be centered in Tuscany, with the occasional venture
north to sample the famed Piedmont reds Barolo and Barbaresco and even
rarer forays south to Latium to sip the refreshing Frascati vino bianco.
For many wine tourists, Italy’s well-traveled la strada del vino (wine
road) ends at Naples, rarely continuing south to the tip of the boot and
on to Sicily.
for simple, often overripe, red and white table wines, mostly from large
cooperatives, and sticky-sweet dessert wines like Marsala, Sicilian wine
was mostly an afterthought for many wine drinkers. Not anymore.
white wines have probably made the most dramatic leap forward in
quality, mainly because the whites of the past were heavy, sometimes
oxidized and lacked freshness. Today, they are fresh and fruity with
good balancing acidity, many made from the native catarratto grape and
from inzolia, an aromatic variety commonly found in regional table
wines. Sicilian white wines are the perfect foil for the fish and
seafood-based cuisine of much of Sicily.
white wines are scarce in Sonoma County wine shops; Terre della Baronia
Cataratta, $18 being one of few I found. Red wines from Sicily on local
shelves are another matter, one that is especially good news for those
wine drinkers who hold that the only good wine is red.
of Italian wine grapes, a few years ago, listed more than 800 distinct
varieties used to make wine somewhere in the country. Only a small
percentage of that number is grown on the island of Sicily.
core of Sicilian wine is bright, distinctive red wines, made from a
variety of indigenous grapes, like nero d’avola, frappatto, nerello
mascalese and nerello cappuccino, occasionally supported by
“continental” varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah
and pinot noir.
speak Italian and have a good memory for trivia, Sicilian grape names
are hard to remember. An easy way to keep Sicilian red grapes and wines
in order is to match specific grapes with specific regions, aided by a
basic understanding of Italian wine labeling.
2011, Sicilian wines were divided into two categories: regional wines
known as Sicilia IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) and DOC
(Denominazione di Origine Controllata), plus DOCG (DOC-Garantita) for
the highest-quality wines. In late 2011, Sicilia IGT was promoted to DOC
status with the regional wines now known as Terre Siciliane, a term you
will see on the labels of many Sicilian wines.
23 DOC zones in Sicily, the most important being Etna DOC, Eloro DOC and
Siracusa DOC. In terms of prestige, the small Vittoria region also makes
the list, based mainly on Cerasuolo di Vittoria, the only DOCG wine in
Sicily. Other DOC zones from the western part of the island include
Salaparuta, Alcamo and Menfi.
handful of indigenous grapes dominate red winemaking in Sicily, with
nero d’avola at the top of the list, an impressive fact since nero has
been grown on the island for centuries but didn’t come into its own
until the beginning of the 21st century. Nero d’avalo is an important
grape in Etna red wines and accounts for more than 25 percent of the
island’s total acreage. Nero d’avola is deep colored, with high-tone
sweet cherry fruit and firm tannins. It does well blended with syrah and
merlot and gives body and structure to frappato, another native Sicilian
grape. Nero d’avola is also primary in the reds of Alcamo DOC and
is a light-bodied red grape grown mainly in the southeast of the island
that is becoming a favorite of winemakers building interesting red
blends. Often blended with nero d’avola, frappato is found in the reds
of Eloro DOC and is the main grape, along with nero, in Cerasuolo di
following Sicilian reds found in Sonoma County shops are either straight
nero d’avola or nero and frappato blends: Tami Nero d’Avola IGT,
Ottomarzo Tami, Occlipinti SP68, Palo Cali “Jazz.”
there is more nero d’avola grown in the Etna DOC, the most important
red grape for upscale red wine is nerello. There are two nerellos:
nerello mascalese, which makes firm long-lived wines with herbal notes
and the less-widely planted nerello cappuccino, a softer variety most
often used in Etna blends with nerello mascalese.
wines are blends of the two nerrello grapes, occasionally with a dash of
nero-d’avola, or some other complementary red grape: Benanti Etna
Rosso, Girolama, Don Michelle, Bonavita and Tenuta Terre Nere.
red wine prices are reasonable compared to other Italian red wines, like
pricey Barolo and Barbaresco from Piemonte and Tuscany’s over-exposed
Chianti Classico. The range is $18 and $28, with a couple (Tami Nero
d’Avola and Palo Cali) at $14 and Bonavita, $36 and Tenuta Terre Nere
Santo Spirito, $45.
Sicilian red wines with any foods that you would pair with other red
wines, like merlot or syrah. Don’t get bogged down in the label
terminology. It’s meant as a guide and a way to keep an otherwise
confusing system in order. Salute!
Boyd is a Santa Rosa-based wine and spirits writer.