Having started in Friuli, in the North-East corner of Italy, last week it seems unusual that we would suddenly jump to the furthest southern point by discussing Sicily. These far flung states share almost nothing in food, culture or history. What they do share is that they are both technically autonomous states under Italian statute.
This is a little known fact as I discovered while talking to an American who lived in Sicily for some time. Of the twenty Italian states, five share in a special mandate (article 116 of the Italian constitution) special autonomous status. This was done in order to take into account the vast cultural differences and linguistic minorities of these regions. Case in point, when you talk to someone from Sicily, they are Sicilian before they are Italian. That would be akin to someone saying they are Coloradan before saying they are American, a concept that can be a little hard for someone with a strong national identity to grasp.
These autonomous regions also share another interesting feature. Each regional capital is closer to a foreign national capital than they are to Rome. Palermo is two hundred and sixty three miles from Rome yet only two hundred miles from Tunis, the capital of Tunisia. Some parts of Sicily are on the same latitude as North Africa which explains the vast climactic differences between this southern-most Italian Island and the rest of the nation. In other words, it is hot, North Africa hot.
This heat can be mitigated by vineyard location such as high upon the sides of the longest continually erupting volcano in the world, Mt. Etna. Talk about extreme viticulture! All of the same vineyard pest as the rest of the world, fungus, mold, insects, grazing animals plus pyroclastic flows. Woohoo!!! It is at these higher altitudes that some world class grape production can occur.
It is thanks to the warm days due to latitudinal location and the cooler nights affected by altitude that Sicily can now produce such big fruit wines with some racy acidity that can be enjoyed with a wide range of foods. Nero d’Avola which can be compared with a brighter fruit shiraz, Grillo with its full body and lower acidity would appeal to Chardonnay drinkers and Inzolia with its crisp mouth feel and delicate fruit can pair perfectly with your Feast of the Seven Fishes (Traditional Christmas Eve dinner in Italy).
In 1990 it was estimated that there were around three dozen wine producers on the Island of Sicily mainly producing Marsala. This fortified wine’s creation is attributed to English trader John Woodhouse who realized that this fortified wine could travel as well as Port or Sherry and might be used to slake the unending thirst of his countrymen. Now, I am as big a fan as any of chicken Marsala, but this is the extent of most American’s familiarity with the vinous produce of Sicily. If I am making wine, I don’t want to be known as just being able to make a great sauce with my product.
This is turning around. If one were to look today the landscape in Sicily has changed dramatically. While it is still the third largest wine producing region of wine in Italy, there are now almost three hundred separate wineries focusing on well made wines from grapes that were once destined to be thrown into mass marketed Marsalas to be enjoyed at Olive Garden. Finally we are seeing good examples of wines such as Nero d'Avola, Grillo and Inzolia.
Our Sicilian wine and food pairing class is full this Friday, but you can still try some of these Sicilian beauties between the hours of 4 and 6.
Caruso & Minini Nero d’Avola: Terre di Giumara is the name of our country estate and we, proudly, gave the same name to our single variety of wines. It renews year after year the indissoluble bond between extraordinary grapes and their unique soil. For years the Nero d’Avola have been cultivated in the vineyards of the Caruso family, so long before it became the nowadays ‘king of the Sicilian wines’. In the vineyard of Giumarella we intend to renew the tradition of the indissoluble bond between an extraordinary wine and its unique soil. Just 16.99!!!
Feudi San Nicola Grillo: Grillo, also known as Riddu, is a white wine grape variety which withstands high temperatures and is widely used in Sicilian wine-making. Its origins are uncertain, but it may have been introduced into the island of Sicily from Puglia. It was already widely planted in the Province of Trapani by 1897; today it is grown throughout Sicily and also in the Aeolian Islands. This wine is 100% organic. It is crisp and weighty with notes of pear, and tropical fruits. An excellent everyday value wine, this bottle pairs to a large variety of food. Only 10.99!!!
Florio Fine Sweet Marsala, 88 pts Wine Enthusiast: The Florio Sweet Marsala is redolent of maple syrup, brown sugar, almond, pine resin and dried fruit; there's a prominent vein of exotic spice that carries over to the mouth. Only 12.99!!!
~ Randy Freeland ~
Prices good through 3/12/14.