To say that the north and the south in Italy don’t always get along is an understatement. The country’s different regions can be as disparate and discordant as warring tribes. And the very south, Sicily, is sometimes seen as a separate nation altogether. Unsurprisingly, its wines are unlike many of Italy’s most iconic wines. A world apart from Super Tuscans and Barolos, Sicilian wines are making waves.
What’s so exciting about Italian wine is the breadth of the country’s indigenous varieties. While other countries are busy making Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, Italians are relying on their Sangiovese, Montepulciano and Nebbiolo. On the Mediterranean island of Sicily, where grapes have been grown since as far back as the 8th century B.C., the varieties are even more obscure: Nerello Mascalese, Carricante, Inzolia. Sure, you can find Syrah and Viognier there, but these aren’t as common (or fun) as all the Nero d’Avola.
Sicily grows more grapes than anywhere in Italy. For generations, it was more concerned with quantity over quality. The focus shifted some 20 years ago when a handful of producers started working with smaller yields and more artisanal winemaking methods. Once synonymous with Marsala, the fortified wine most people associate as an ingredient in a saucy chicken dish, Sicily now produces wines ranging from fresh and mineral whites to elegant and refreshingly un-manipulated reds. (Marsala is still made in Sicily, of course, and you may be surprised to learn that several expressions of it are too good to consider cooking with. See below.) The soil composition, which includes the volcanic earth surrounding Mount Etna, combined with more sunshine days than any region in Europe and a healthy biodiversity make for excellent growing conditions. A number of wineries experiment with organic and natural methods simply because they can: in such an agricultural paradise, no pesticides are required.
Here are six Sicilian wines to try now:
1. Fondo Antico I Versi Bianco 2010: This lush, fruity blend of Grecanico, Inzolia and Grillo has zesty citrus aromas that mingle with salty seabreeze ones. In the mouth, it’s creamy and rich, as weighty and sumptuous as a Chardonnay. ($10)
2. Viticultori Associati Canicattì Aquilae Grillo 2010: Bursting with floral aromatics, this white boasts peachy and grassy flavors — a great alternative to your usual Pinot Grigio. It’s made by a cooperative founded in 1969. ($10)
3. Planeta La Segreta Rosso 2010: An incredible value from one of Sicily’s best-known producers, this red blend is light and juicy, full of ripe berry fruit. Made up of Nero d’Avola, plus Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc, it emits hints of chocolate and eucalyptus. ($10)
4. Frank Cornelissen Rosso del Contadino 2009: This cultish natural producer blends indigenous white and red grapes for this earthy, mineral wine. The cloudy raspberry-colored wine starts with a pleasant funk and blooms with juicy fruit and floral notes. ($26)
5. Azienda Agricola Arianna Occhipinti SP68 Rosso 2011: Named for the road going past the winery, this red blend is from another natural producer. Ripe fruit flavors are draped over a stony backbone. The winery is certified biodynamic. ($25)
6. Marco de Bartoli Vigna la Miccia Marsala NV: There is a ton of Marsala out there that you probably only want to cook with. This producer has been cited as the last true Marsala artist, making a beautiful dry, oily fortified wine. Nutty and sherried notes dominate. ($40)
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