Sicily - December 2019


About the Region

Italian wine has long been a favorite of industry professionals and consumers alike. What’s not to love? From the emerald hills of Tuscany to the truffle-laden forests of Piedmont, Italy truly has something for every palate out there. To round out this year’s edition of The Grand Tour, I want to take us on a journey to one of the country’s most dramatic, delicious, and downright badash viticultural regions. Welcome to Sicily, the island that does it all.

Viticulture in Sicily dates back more than 2,500 years, making it one of the oldest and most influential growing regions in the Mediterranean. Although known in the past for its fortified and sweet wine production (which still exists today), the island’s viticultural scene goes much further than that.

Sicily is characterized by a slew of microclimates, but the overall climate conditions are ideal for grape growing. The weather is sunny and warm year-round, and salty sea breezes naturally ventilate grape clusters, making the need for herbicides and pesticides basically obsolete. Because of this, much of the island’s viticulture is done organically. Couple that with abundant sunshine and low disease threats, and you’ve got yourself the optimal conditions for a vineyard. Though, if not managed properly, Sicily’s near-perfect growing conditions can lead to excessive yields and lower-quality vineyard is imperative. 

Numerous soil types exist across Sicily’s vineyards, but the island is most famous for its ashy, volcanic=influenced soil, particularly around Mount Etna. Mineral-laden vineyards produce smoky, terroir-driven fruit that is insanely reflective of the place it comes from. One of the producers featured in this month’s box, Dr. Giuseppe Benanti, was so taken by these unique soils that he abandoned his career in the medical field to dedicate his life to better understanding and cultivating these mind-boggling vineyard sites.

Sicily’s vineyards are also characterized by their proximity to the sea and high elevations. The island’s soaring hills are most dramatic on its eastern side, whereas lower lying coastal vineyards are more common in the west. Sicily’s viticulture is also defined by its array of indigenous grape varieties. For whites, Catarratto, Carricante, Grillo, and Inzolia are the most common, and the former is commonly used to create the famed fortified wines of Marsala. For reds, Nero d’Avola and Frappato are key players, as well as the two Nerellos (Mascalese and Cappuccio), which create the island’s famed Etna Rosso wines.

Sicily is also home to a solid production of Muscat, which is cultivated on the small island of Pantelleria, though here, the grape goes by the name Zibibbo.

Sicily is home to just one DOCG, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, which creates bright and easy-drinking reds from a blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato (“Cerasuolo” here refers to “cherry,” which the wines are known for showing flavors of). Many of the island’s wines are designated with the generic ‘Sicilia DOC,’ though the island is home to 23 designated appellations, as well as seven IGPs.

With a few chilly months of winter ahead of us, I hope that this month’s edition of TGT transports you to the sun-soaked vineyards of one of Italy’s most exciting wine producing regions, if only for a moment. From our Verve family to yours, we wish you a happy and healthy holiday season.

Cheers! (¡Salud!)

Dustin Wilson, Master Sommelier

The Wines

Riofavara Terre Siciliane Bianco ‘Marzaiolo’

Riofavara’s vineyards are deeply rooted in the rocky limestone and marl soils of Sicily’s Noto Valley. The winery has been owned and operated by the Padova family since 1920, though it wasn’t until 1993 that they began bottling wine under their own name. Today, the estate produces six different wines from 16 hectares of vines, all of which are farmed organically. Marzaiolo is a hand-harvested blend of Inzolia, Greganico, and Moscato. Fruit is destemmed and fermented with indigienous yeasts in steel tanks, followed by nine months of aging in a combination of tank, barrel, and bottle. This crisp and aromatic white shows flavors of tangerine, lemon skin, and jasmine, marked by zingy acidity and a lingering finish.

PAIRING IDEAS: This lively and easy-drinking white blend is perfect for pairing with equally zesty recipes, such as lemon chicken, spaghetti al limone, or goat cheese and citrus salads.

Portelli Vittoria Frappato

Alessandro Portelli represents the fifth generation of his family’s winemaking legacy. Their estate was originally founded in 1863 by Basilio Portelli, who was one of the first locals to produce and export wines in Vittoria. Today, the family cultivates just two varieties, Frappato and Nero d’Avola, as they only believe in crafting wine from fruit that excels in their soils. Grapes for this bottle of varietal Frappato hail from a four-hectare plot planted in 1982. Fruit is hand harvested and fermented in steel with indigenous yeasts for 16 days, followed by nine months of aging on fine lees. The wine is insanely quaffable and shows notes of juicy strawberries, currants, and freshly cut herbs.

PAIRING IDEAS: The high-acid and fruit-forward nature of this varietal Frappato makes it the perfect match for seared tuna, grilled poultry, or margherita pizza. Serve slightly chilled.

Valle dell’Acate Cerasuolo di Vittoria

Valle dell’Acate is one of Sicily’s largest organically farmed estates, and is comprised of 80 hectares of Nero d’Avola, Frappato, Grillo, and Chardonnay. The winery is now headed by Gaetana Jacono, an outspoken advocate for Sicilian wines and indigenous varieties. Cerasuolo di Vittoria was the first Sicilian red to receive DOC status back in 1973, and was finally elevated to DOCG status back in 2005. Valle dell’Acate’s expression is a 60/40 blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato, both of which hail from 10- to 25-year-old vines. Fermentations are done with native yeasts in steel tanks, followed by one year of aging in large oak barrels and tonneaux. The wine is light, bright, and insanely easy-drink- ing, marked by notes of tart cherries, white- pepper, and red flowers.

PAIRING IDEAS: No food needed here! This lively and energetic bottle of red is perfect for sipping solo after a long day at work. Serve slightly chilled for an insanely easy wine sipping sesh.

Benanti Etna Rosso

Dr. Giuseppe Benanti, a Catania native and pharmaceutical entrepreneur, started producing wine from his family’s vineyards more than 30 years ago. In addition to farming his own land, Dr. Benanti also became highly involved in getting the Etna DOC on the map, as well as on consumers’ radar. Today, Giuseppe’s sons Antonio and Salvino spearhead the estate and continue to focus on traditional Etnean varieties, which they believe best reflect the appellation’s uniquely ashy terroir. Their Etna Rosso is a traditional Nerello Mascalese dominant blend rounded out with 15-20 percent Nerello Cappuccio, The wine is loaded with volcanic-influenced flavors of savory red fruit, white pepper, and scorched earth. Firm acidity and gritty tannins make this wine perfect for serving alongside an array of hearty winter fare.

PAIRING IDEAS: The robust red fruit flavors and ashy, soil-driven undertones of this Etna Rosso bring out the best in game, grilled meats, and red pasta sauces.