Wine column for week of March 25

Wines from Sicily are attracting the world’s attention as the region emerges from a time when much of the wine was not much good.
Michele Shah, who organised a tasting for Wines of Sicily in Hong Kong, said until the 1980s the region primarily made vast quantities of bulk wine for blending.
Sicily is the largest island in the northern hemisphere. It is often described as the “ball” at the end of the “foot” of Italy.
A group of family estates such as Planeta, Donnafugata and Tasca d’Almerita changed the wine scene in the mid 1980s when they focused on quality, Shah said.
Sicily’s regional wine and olive oil institute, Instituto Regionale Vini e Olii Sicilia or IRVOS, has focused on promoting indigenous grape varieties and research into vineyard management.
Catarratto grapes represent almost 27 per cent of total production, followed by nero d’Avola with 16 per cent. The latter is also known as calabrese. More than 30 other grape varieties are grown in Sicily over about 113,00 hectares under vine.
Based on 2011 data, about two thirds of wine is white and the rest red.
Catarratto can be found in most blended white wines, and also as a single variety. It is straw yellow in colour when young but takes on a gold hue as it ages. It is quite acidic, though neutral in flavours.
Nero d’Avola is the king of Sicilian grapes. Like catarratto it is grown all over the island. The flavours vary depending on where the grape is grown.
I particularly appreciated a sparkling white made from this red grape, the 2011 spumante brut Luna y Sol, which translates as Moon and Sun.
The juice got no contact with the grape skins, which explains why it is white. Its high acidity and lemon zing would make it refreshing on a hot summer’s day. An ideal wine with light foods like dim sum.
The De Gregorio 2010 Enjambee shows what this grape can do as a red. It is blended with syrah and merlot to produce a dark cherry powerhouse of fruit. The astringency comes not from oak — the wine is made in steel tanks — but from the tannin in the fruit. Despite the lack of oak, this is a wine that needs to be consumed with meat, like a steak with a strong sauce.
This wine comes from the Monreale region in the north-west of the island. The name “Monreale” means royal mountain. Vines are planted about 200 metres above sea level, meaning they benefit from the Mediterranean climate: long, hot summers and short, mild winters.
One grape variety that I especially liked was nerello mascalese. It represents a mere 3 per cent of Sicily’s production but makes some compelling wines. Nerello mascalese is planted mostly around the Mount Etna area near Sicily’s east coast. Etna is Europe’s largest active volcano.
The larva from volcanoes, as it weathers, produces rich soils. The great Greek poet Homer and various Roman historians have celebrated wines from Etna.
The 2007 Benanti Rovitello from Etna is delicate despite the power of the grapes and the bottle age, with pleasant acids and a mid cherry colour. It would be lovely served with 8 treasures duck, or a highly-flavoured chicken dish.
The Benanti vineyard is located at the base of Mount Etna. The vines are planted 750 metres above sea level, on volcanic soils rich in minerals, which explains the acidity and long length. The vineyard has focused on planting native grapes that respond well to the terroir.
Footnote: Two wines from Bosco Agostino in the north of Italy offer good value for money. The 2009 barbera d’Alba is soft and easy to drink with low tannins. It smells of a field of thyme on a hot day with strawberry hints in the mouth. Ideal with a tomato-based pasta.
The company’s 2007 barolo is bigger and more powerful, with flavours of ripe plums and blackberries. It would be lovely with pecorino cheese or a powerful meat dish.
Words: 650

Categories: Not home, wine

1 reply »

  1. Stephen,
    This is a nice article about Wines of Sicily and thanks for coming to our Tasting too.
    Agnes

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