A little ray of sunshine from Sicily: Richard Esling November 24
The land of Inspector Montalbano is a sun-drenched island off the tip of Italy’s boot. An island steeped in history with a centuries old wine industry and the most fabulous climate for growing grapes. On a cold, grey day in late November, a glass of Sicilian wine can perhaps bring a little sunshine with it, the ripe fruit from which it is made just oozing the warmth of the island.
Although clearly part of Italy, Sicily has an identity all of its own, with its own customs and language, proudly maintained by the local population. Recently in the news due to the desperate immigration from the nearby African continent, it is a region of beauty with wild hills, craggy beaches and even its own active volcano. Known also for its ‘Godfather’ connections, it has become one of the best-known regions of Italy for its wines.
With a legacy of winemaking going back 3000 years, the Sicilian wine industry has gone through ups and downs, as with wine regions everywhere. Much production in the latter part of the 20th century concerned bulk, everyday wines, but more recently emphasis has been on quality, sustainability and wines with individual character. Many of the best wines are made from ancient, indigenous vine varieties, making a welcome change from the international varieties seen the world over.
One of these is the white variety Catarratto Lucido, a relatively rare grape. Azienda Agricola Cortese based in Vittoria, makes an elegantly fruity and refreshing wine from this variety, with tropical and white peach flavours. Certified as organic, it sits alongside a red wine from the same producer, made from Nerello Mascalese of volcanic origins. Deliciously light and fruity, yet with underlying richness and minerality. Both wines are interesting, elegant and characterful, available from independent wine merchants on-line such as slurp.co.uk, streetwines.co.uk at around £12 per bottle.
One of the more often encountered white grape varieties from Sicily is Grillo, found on many a wine list as the house white. One wine, however, stands head and shoulders above the rest, yet is available at a very competitive price. Called Black Gold, or Nero Oro to give it its Italian name, it is made by the Appassimento method, using partially dried grapes in the fermentation, rarely used for white wines. This gives the wine additional depth of flavour, complexity and richness, whilst maintaining a fruity, dry finish. Great value at £8.99, the mix 6 price from Majestic.
Although appassimento production has been used for centuries in Sicily for making sweet, mainly red, wines, using the method for a dry white from Grillo grapes, is entirely new and a great innovation. An aromatic, very Italian variety, this wine has notes of honey, sultanas and pink grapefruit, yet with a delicious dry finish.
Time to cosy up to a glass of Sicilian sunshine.