According to Greek Mythology, it was the God of pleasure and wine, Dionysus himself who first brought grape vines to Sicily. As we all know, there is always some basis to both legend and folklore. Archeological evidence places Mycenaean traders, as early as 1500 BCE, cultivating grapes on Sicily’s Aeolian Islands. By the 8th century BCE, the Greeks began to settle Sicily. They brought with them a myriad of varietals that flourished throughout the island. The Greeks immediately realized Sicily’s potential as a significant center of viticulture. The island is blessed with abundant sunshine, balanced rainfall, and hilly terrain and soils that are rich in Mount Etna’s volcanic ash. Add to that such Greek innovations as pruning, varietal selection, and low vine training, large quantities of wine began to flow all over the island.
Today, I am joined by long-time friend and fellow sommelier, Serena Dutto. We have ventured to the city of Messina. Since antiquity, Messina has been renown as one of Sicily’s premier 9 wine regions.
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Not only do vineyards dot the island’s landscape, Sicily reigns as Italy’s most prolific producer of wine. Most wine enthusiasts are familiar with Sicily’s fortified wine, Marsala. In recent years Sicily has been exciting the wine world with a bevy of quality wines.
As our first selection, Serena chose a Bentani Pietramarina Etna 2007. The wine is 100% Carricante grapes. This is an ancient white-wine grape variety from eastern Sicily. Serena was quick to point out that this varietal has been thriving on the volcanic slopes of Mt. Etna for some 1000 years. Carricante grapes are well- adapted to high altitude and can be found as high as 3050 feet. In the glass, the 2007 is straw yellow in color. On the nose, the bouquet is scented with citrus aromas dominated by lemon, lime, and grapefruit. On the palate, the wine is well- structured with a good balance of acidity and minerals. The flavors of apricot, peach, and apple roll across the tongue, and concludes in a short finish that is fresh with whispers of honey. The alcohol content is 12.5% with a price tag of $45.
“Sublime, a pure expression of Carricante,” Serena openly displayed her pleasure. “The 2007 is elegant and food friendly.”
“Perhaps the best Sicilian white I have tasted for some time. What would you pair with the Bentani Pietramarina?
“All seafood, particularly shrimp accompanied by linguini with tomato cream sauce immediately come to mind,” Serena smiled softly
Our next selection, Cottanera Etna Rosso 2007 is made mainly with Nerello Mascalese grapes. This dark-skinned grape variety is native to north eastern Sicily. Filled with earthy nuances, its wines often have an aromatic character of a Barolo or a Burgundy. In the glass, the 2007 is medium ruby in color. The nose is dominated by intense dark fruit and in the vein of Pinot Noir notes of berry and red cherry, lifted by white pepper. On the palate it is earthy with nice mineral notes and light acidity. The finish was vibrant, fresh, and pleasantly accented by strawberries. The alcohol content is 13.5% with a price tag of $60.
“What I like about this wonderful wine is its versatility,” Serena’s eyes crinkled as she smiled.
“What would you pair with the Conttranera?”
“Actually,” pausing to collect her thoughts, she chuckled lightly. “Swordfish for one.”
“Interesting, because the Cottranera is definitely my palate.” I nodded in approval. What’s our next wine?”
Serena selected a Benanti Serra Della Contessa 2004. This wine is made primarily from century-old vines from Etna. It is 80% Nerello Mascalese and the remaining 20% is Nerello Cappuccio. The Cappuccio grape is quite similar to Mascalese, however, Cappuccio is typically used for blending. The 2004 is fermented in oak vats, then racked into French Oak barrels for aging. In the glass, it is a clear brick red. On the nose, their are pleasant cherry notes accented by oak and raisins. On the palate, it is medium-body, with smooth tannins, and very dry. The flavors of sweet-sour cherry fruit and rose hip are very present. The finish is long with nice acidity. Over all, this different style of wine proved to be quite interesting. The alcohol content is 14% with a price tag of $40.
This wine would pair nicely with a tomato based pasta sauce and sweet Italian sausage,” Serena was quick to add.
“Definitely a wine to serve with pork,” I agreed. “However, I believe this wine will show best in another 3 years.”
Our last selection, COS Pithos 2008 is from Sicily’s most renowned winemakers. It is a blend of 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato and aged in terracotta amphorae. These cement vats with temperature control, are known in Italy as “Giare.” Let’s begin with Nero d’Avola.
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It is not only the most important red wine grape in Sicily, it is also one of Italy’s most important indigenous varieties. It is a dark-skinned grape that has been used since the Middle Ages to add color and body to lesser wines on the Italian mainland. Frappato is light-bodied and is often added to give a distinct grapey aroma. In the glass, the 2008 Pithos is Garnet and slightly cloudy which is often typical with amphorae wines. The nose is earthy, smokey, and woody. It is permeated by notes of cedar and dark cherries, licorice, coffee and spice. On the palate it is smooth with hints of minerals. It is a medium body wine, with medium tannins, and medium acidity. It is rich in dark fruit with black cherry and raspberry dominating. The finish is supple with just a slight alcohol kick. The alcohol content is 13% with a price tag of $55.
“As much as I like amphorae wines,” Serena paused to collect her thoughts. “I would suggest the 2008 is in need of further aging.”
“Agreed,” I nodded in agreement. “Whenever an amphorae wine finishes with an alcohol kick, regardless of how slight, It suggests the wine is in need of further aging.”
You are the expert on amphorae wines,” Serena gave me a quick wink. Did you learn that in Georgia?”
“Are you ready to make a move?” Serena inquired.
“The Conttranera Etna Rosso is definitely my palate,” I paused to collect my thoughts. “How do you think it will go with red shrimp?”
“Fresh water shrimp,” Serena’s eyes brightened as she smiled. “Chinese restaurant for dinner?”
“Giddy-up,” I exclaimed jubilantly. “But that my friends is a different story … ”