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The "Rediscovered" Treasures of Sicily"
By ARA Content
(ARA) – Earlier than 500 B.C., Spartan, Athenian, Phoenician and Egyptian merchants all crossed the Mediterranean Sea to visit one island for possibly the most popular commodity in the ancient world -- wine. That island was Sicily, and the same wine that made it a hub of ancient culture and trade has once again attracted the eyes of the world.
Simply put, Sicilian wines are hot -- and although the brands and varietals may not be immediately recognizable to most consumers, it is only a matter of time before that changes. For years, Sicilian wines were synonymous with Marsala, a sweet wine often served with dessert or used for cooking. But recently some of America’s top wine experts have re-discovered Sicily and what they’ve found are good, world-class wines like nothing anywhere else.
Sicily, with its warm temperatures, hilly terrain, sea breezes and rich soil, is very similar to the growing conditions seen in the best wineries of California or Australia. With such perfect conditions, it should come as little surprise that the country has more area under vine than any other major winemaking region in Italy and produces more wine per-year than Australia, New Zealand and Hungary combined. And, while some Sicilian winemakers produce well-known varietals like Merlot, Chardonnay and Sangiovese, others believe that the world is ready to be introduced to such indigenous varieties as Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese, Inzolia and Catarratto. These grapes display the character of Sicily’s winemaking tradition and are ideally suited for the vibrant flavors of the island’s cuisine.
Of Sicily’s native varietals, Nero d’Avola (also called Calabrese) has gained in popularity the fastest in America, receiving rave reviews from such notable publications as Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, Condé Nast Traveler, Business Week and Time. Nero d’Avola is a bluish-purple grape with a delightfully ripe fruit flavor and earthy after-tones. Duca Enrico ($65) is a stunning example of the quality of wine that can come from this grape; a deep garnet colored wine with ruby highlights produced from 100 percent hand-picked Nero d’Avola. The 1997 vintage, which is currently available, has bold flavors of wild cherry, smoke and spice, with a slight trace of sea spray in the finish and can be stored under proper conditions for up to 10 years. So noteworthy is this wine that it was selected by the Italian Wine & Food Institute as one of the 12 Italian red wines that truly reflect the best Italy has to offer.
Duca Enrico is the flagship wine of Duca di Salaparuta, an esteemed and historic winery founded in 1824 by Prince Guiseppe Alliata. In the last several years, the winery underwent a modernization process under the guidance of renowned winemaker Carlo Casavecchia, which not only brought it into the 21st Century, but also raised the bar for other Sicilian wineries.
Nerello Mascalese (also called Nero Mascalese) is another indigenous Sicilian red that has gained recent acclaim. Usually grown at high altitudes in nutrient-rich soil, these grapes have a sweet-yet-dry, currant-like flavor. Terre D’Agala ($20), made from Nerello Mascalese grapes blended with a hint of Merlot, is an intense ruby-red wine with violet effects in the glass. The wine possesses a rich bouquet of red fruit and oak, and masterfully crafted flavors of raspberry and leather, with slight mineral traces from the volcanic soil. This wine is perfect for serving with pasta in red sauce, roast meats and tuna, and can be stored for up to five years.
Inzolia (also called Ansolia), possibly Sicily’s most promising white grape varietal, produces a delightfully light, dry, herbaceous wine that is usually blended with better-known whites like Chardonnay. However, Sicilian wineries have begun blending with other native grapes to produce world-class wines that must be tried to be believed. Blended from only choice Inzolia and Grecanico grapes, Colomba Platino ($20) is a delightful white wine that immediately presents an intense aroma of fresh fruit with a hint of herbs. When poured, it has a straw-yellow color with greenish effects and a fresh, harmonic taste that is intended to be enjoyed young and pairs excellently with shellfish, salads and light Mediterranean cuisine.
For everyday enjoyment, the well-known producer Corvo makes two wines, Bianco and Rosso, that present the best of Sicily’s indigenous grapes at a value price ($10). For many years Corvo was one of the most popular imported table wines in America. It seemed to disappear in the early ‘90s, but has made an astounding comeback due to quality upgrades at the winery and a new importer.
Corvo Rosso is a well-balanced blend of Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese and Pignatello (also called Perricone) and offers velvety flavors of red berries, oak, spice and a slight trace of chalk in the finish. Corvo Bianco is a blend of Inzolia, Grecanico (also called Greco) and Catarratto that has a clear, straw-yellow appearance when poured and displays dry, lively flavors of fresh fruit with a slight herbaceous character.
Most connoisseurs will tell you that table wines like Corvo are vital to truly enjoying Sicilian cuisine. A good majority of Sicilian foods come from the ocean (everything from sardines and octopus to swordfish and tuna) or from the lands in or around the vineyards that produce olives, rice, eggplant and tomatoes. In fact, most Sicilian recipes are meant to be enjoyed with wine or utilize it as an ingredient to bring out certain flavors in the food. And, whether it’s Sicily’s elegant reds or vibrant whites, these newer wines are must-try’s for anyone who appreciates great wines or Sicilian food. Besides, it’s hard to turn down a winemaking resume that boasts almost 4,000 years experience.