Consider Sicilian wines a part of the ‘Mediterranean Diet’
The epitome of the “new normal” in the wine industry often is, ironically, sourced from the regions that make up the “old country.” Portuguese, Greek, Lebanese and obscure Italian wines have typified this rediscovery of winemaking’s antiquity. This was especially true during the worst recessionary years: A mixture of weary consumers and experimental imbibers embraced the fermented juice from these other shores via many distressed seas — from economic severity, to trophy-wine fatigue, or brand management artificially inflating many price points.
Rough waters, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean the harbor moorings were of a familiar shape, either. What was this Txakolina, Falanghina, and Agiorgitiko? Despite the seemingly obstinate traditionalism (some call it machismo) that perhaps engulfs much of the region, Mediterranean wines have made their way front-and-center in recent years. Yes, the time-honored viticultural wisdom is the same as many centuries ago, but tweaks in sensibilities, along with plum international markets, have made this region one to watch.
Specifically, wine enthusiasts should consider Sicily. Although American portrayals of Sicilian character are mostly just caricature, wines from the Italian-speaking Mediterranean island aren’t simply bombastic and harsh, banished to the dim corners of the liquor store. Their newfound recognition has, luckily, not led to a disproportionate rise in price; Sicilian wines are of a consistently good value.
“As more wine programs focus on balance and versatility, Sicily is a region that delivers both,” says Liz Mendez, a Chicago-based sommelier, and former co-owner of the wine bar, Vera Chicago. “Nerello Mascalese might be the Sicilian grape that delivers this versatility best, especially when it’s sourced from the volcanic soil and diurnal temperature swings of the Mount Etna region of the island.”
Other native Sicilian varietals, such as the white Inzolia and red Nero d’Avola, and blends made with grapes from abroad — Syrah and Merlot among them — have piqued the interest of younger, more experimental wine drinkers. Both indigenous and foreign fruit have adapted to the warm sunshine and low rainfall totals on the island.
Inzolia is a refreshing white that typifies the beginning of a relaxed alfresco meal. Sometimes, Catarratto, another indigenous white grape, is blended with Inzolia in certain wines, where the idea is to add a little more body.
Nero d’Avola is an approachable, medium-bodied red that can stand in very nicely for a Merlot. It’s a little rounder, and more easy-drinking red wine that doesn’t necessarily require a food accompaniment. It’s perhaps one of those conversation-piece wines — inspiring conviviality and not snobbery.
It’s hard to say whether modern Sicily’s tender love of grape will produce age-worthy wines that can stand with the more illustrious (and expensive) wines of the Italian mainland, such as Brunello and Barolo. Right now, however, the selection of Sicilian wines at many retailers offers a number of festive options, or quick impulse-buy purchases for a small dinner party. Here are a few tasty suggestions:
Cusumano Inzolia: Brothers Alberto and Diego Cusumano are part of the modern wine revolution in Sicily. A family-owned winery that’s now in its third generation, these visionary winemakers have created a crisp, citrusy white that’s great with light appetizers crisp salads and white-fleshed fish prepared with lemon-butter sauce. Average retail price: $10.
Tenuta della Terre Nere Rosso Mount Etna: A bit more body than the delicacy of Pinot Noir, the aforementioned Nerello Mascalese varietal is versatile enough to consider for both outdoor and indoor entertaining. It pairs nicely with herbed chicken, and has enough wherewithal to stand up to grilled pork and lamb. Average retail price: $16.
Colosi Sicilia Bianco: Made with a blend of Catarratto and Inzolia, the Colosi is a clean, mineral driven white wine, with an aroma of lemon zest and a dose of tangy green apple on the palate. The tartness is a nice foil for white clams and linguine. Average retail price: $12.
Baglio di Pianetto Ramione: A 50/50 blend of Nero d’Avola and Merlot, the “Ramione” is a classic, full-bodied wine that delivers the sophistication of fine Bordeaux and the power of Napa Valley Cabernet — for a fraction of the cost. Named after the previous owner of the estate — Baron Antonio Palizzolo de Ramione — the wine is aged in small French barriques for 16–18 months. It features both red and dark fruit, along with hints of vanilla and licorice. Average retail price: $25.