Big changes for Sicilian wines

Until about three decades ago, much of the wine from Sicily was bland and sold in bulk. That situation has changed.

Now Sicily produces almost a fifth of Italy’s wine, and Italy remains the globe’s largest producer.

Michele Shah markets wine for Sicily. She said quality had leapt since the 1980s, and benchmark vineyards like Planeta and Donnafugata had established the island’s reputation worldwide.

A major factor was the move away from international varieties like cabernet sauvignon or riesling, and a concentration on indigenous grape varieties.

“Over the past 15 to 20 years IRVOS [the regional institute for viticulture and olive oil] has contributed enormously – helping with vineyard management, research and clonal selection of indigenous varietals. Sicily’s current production focuses on elegance and quality.”

Dr Dario Cartabellotta, director of IRVOS, believes success came from focusing on local grape varieties. He organized a tasting from most of Sicily’s 24 regions.

“Indigenous grape varieties show the character of our wine,” he said. “Sicily is a continent and thanks to its diverse microclimate we are able to produce wines of market appeal, from easy drinking to the more structured and complex wines with a true Sicilian imprint.”

Sicily has such a range of climates that in some regions the harvest starts as early as July, while in others it does not end until November.

The Italian government is keen to let the world know of Sicily’s potential. Earlier this year it paid for 30 masters of wine to spend eight days in Sicily. Masters of wine are always busy people, and to get a tenth of all the MWs on the planet in one place was a remarkable achievement.

Michele Shah pointed out that different regions produced vastly different wines. Vineyards on the slopes of Etna, the famous volcano, gave us wines similar to Burgundy in France.

“Near Palermo in western Sicily we have sophisticated international blends as well as indigenous nero d’avalo, grillo, caratatto and inzolia. The cliffs of Erice Ottoventi produce mineral whites from zibibbo and inzolia [grapes].”

Sicily has almost 120,000 hectares under vine, with 65 per cent white grapes and 35 per cent red. Carricante is the most common white variety. It has a distinct mineral quality with citrus flavours. The most common red is nero d’avalo, also known as calabrese, and it makes hearty wines with soft tannins that can be drunk young, or cellared to reveal greater complexity.

These recommendations are based on what I managed to sample in half a day.

Planeta vineyard has been making wine since 1985 and its mature vines offer good value and high quality. The 2010 Plumbago, from 100 per cent nero d’avalo, has the colour and aroma of dark cherries, and could be drunk any time in the next decade.

Decanter magazine awarded a trophy to Planeta’s 2009 chardonnay, and lovers of this grape variety will appreciate it greatly. It tastes of tropical fruit and vanilla, the latter the result of some new oak treatment.

Donnafugata is another of the established vineyards, having been planted in 1983, and all of its wines are worth seeking. The Mille e Una Notte 2007 (translated as a 1,001 nights) red is 90 per cent nero d’avalo. Its concentrated flavours are the result of below-average rain that year.

Gulfi is a relative newcomer, having been planted in 1996. The 2009 Carjcanti made from 100 per cent carricante tastes of lemon and pineapple, with a mineral backbone, and an aroma of fresh mint. It would be an ideal summer wine.

Their best wine was the 2007 Nero Bufaleffj, from nero d’avalo. It was beautifully balanced, tasted of sun-dried blackberries, and had a velvet-like finish with light tannins. Decanter magazine gave it 96 / 100.

Tenuta di Fessina wines are grown on the slopes of Etna, the roots deep in the lava. The 2009 Erse looks and tastes like a red burgundy, and the 2010 Puddara is similar to a crisp chablis, though made from carricante grapes. Both are elegant and desirable.

Sicilian wines are available from Dimatique.

Published 28 June 2012, page 10, under the headline “Italians keen on promoting Sicilian wines” in China Post. Find a link here.

Categories: Not home, travels, wine

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