Category Archives: Sicily

Italian Indigenous Varieties: Malvasia di Lipari

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This week’s indigenous variety is Malvasia di Lipari. Like all of the other Malvasia varieties, this ne is also part of the Malvasia family. Lipari is a beautiful island in the Aeolian Islands. Malvasia di Lipari is usually made into a sweet wine. The grapes are harvested late and usually dried for a brief period on mats before being made into a sweet wine. The wine is golden and fascinating and exquisite.

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Florio, part of the Banfi portfolio makes this particular Malvasia di Lipari and is widely available in the US.

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I spent an amazing week sailing around the Aeolian Islands some years ago. It was an incredible experience. These volcanic islands are fascinating for their beauty, beaches, wines and food. I loved it and will always remember it. I can’t wait to go back some day.

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Winery of the Week: Cos From Sicily

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I had the opportunity to taste through the Cos wines last month at the Domaine Select tasting. One was better then the next. I loved all of them but today will just mention the ones in the picture. My favorite was their Pithos Rosso DOC. Made from a blend of Frappato and Nero d’Avola, it purred at me with waves of flavor and depth. I loved its unique cherry flavors and its enveloping floral aromas and nuances. It was pure and perfectly clean. Reading through the website, I learned why. They pay enormous attention to every detail in their wine making and are biodynamic and organic. They also vinify and age their wines in amphora. I love this 30 year history of making wines in this way, very unique for Sicily and at the time, the only one doing so. That takes guts and drive.

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The winery was founded by three friends in 1980: Giambattista Cilia, Cirino Strano and Giusto Occhipinti. The acronym of their last names is where the name for the winery – COS – comes from.
Giambattista Cilia’s father Giuseppe Cilia gave them an old winery and the nearby vineyard of bush trained vines, a total of less than 4 hectares in the town of Bastonaca. The winery follows the principles of biodynamic faming in order to help the vines find and maintain a balance with nature in order to be able to express their true character and that of their terroir. For vinification, they decided to use terracotta vases that left no traces or aromas on the wine but were completely neutral vessels. In 2000, Pithos was created, a Cerasuolo di Vittoria that ferments and ages in amphora. Cerasuolo di Vittoria is the only Denominazione d’Origine Controllata e Garantita (D.O.C.G.) wine in Sicily thus far.

I also loved the shape of their bottles. I wondered how it works on the shelves in wineshops but was told it isn’t a problem. I have never visited this part of Sicily but have a dear friend from Ragusa. Growing up, my neighbor who used to make wine with my father in our basement was also from Ragusa. I often credit them for getting me started in the wine industry. I sense a pattern here. Perhaps it is time for a trip to this part of Sicily.

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Italian Indigenous Varieties: Malvasia Bianca B.

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This week’s variety hails from Southern Italy. It is called Malvasia Bianca B and is a biotype that is not related to other Malvasias. This one grows in Sicily, Calabria, Campania and Puglia, specifically in the provinces of Brindisi, Catanzaro, Cosenza, Crotone, Lecce, Siracusa, Vibo V., Avellino, Caltanissetta, Catania, Enna, Reggio Calabria, Salerno, and Trapani. It is used in the DOCs from Donnici, Savuto, Pollino, S. Anna di Isola di Capo Rizzuto, Melissa, Leverano, Biferno, Cilento, Castel San Lorenzo, Scavigna, Lamezia, San Vito di Luzzi, Verbicaro, and Bivongi. It is also usually blended with other grapes and brings a pleasing roundness and freshness to the blend. Low in alcohol, it does however, retain good acidity.

I am having a hard time writing a wine blog in this period I confess when the news is so fast moving and for me, upsetting. Luckily this week’s grape hails from a place that I wanted to write about anyway. Sicily. Why do I want to write about Sicily? Because of the number of refugees that they are rescuing on a daily basis from the sea. While our government has shut it’s doors and officials appear to have handcuffed a five year old girl, the Italian coast guard off the coast of Sicily have been doing their job and trying humanely to rescue people. Certainly this was unexpected for them and surely not what they want to be doing on a daily basis but when confronted with the level of despair they see, they are going above and beyond. Would that our government had a 100th of the humanity these people are showing. There are so many articles that I could post and videos of people being saved from the sea. Men, women and children who are desperate. Many do not end up with better lives in Italy or Europe so you can imagine how bad it is where they are fleeing from. Those who seem unmoved by the refugee crisis I guess think that could never happen to them or their families or people they love. While that is of course not true as anyone who has lived through a war, a hurricane or other natural disaster can tell you, the ability to put yourself into someone’s shoes even for a moment should be enough. There I have said my piece for today. As the grandchild of refugees from Nazis and pogroms in Russia and Poland, I cannot and will not stay silent.

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Wine Wednesday: Centuno From Viticultori Associati Canicatti

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Canicatti speaks of Sicily and a hot arid climate. It also brings one to think of the Valle dei Templi. It would not necessarily be the first place where I would think a quality wine would come from. I would be wrong however as two wines that I tasted during Italian wine week showed me. I met two lovely gentlemen from this large cooperative, CVA Canicatti, which has 480 growers, 60 vineyards and 1000 hectares of vines. I was very pleasantly surprised at the elegance and depth I found in the Centuno, made from Nero d’Avola. Often I find wines made with this grape overwhelm my palate and attack me with both fruit and alcohol. This one did not. The cooperative was created in 1969. They use cement tanks as well as other aging vessels and have adopted refrigeration techniques that help them preserve the fruit in their torrid climate. The name Centuno is a reference to a literary work by an Italian author. I thought it was Pirandello but now I can’t find the correct reference.

I was surprised at the restrained nature of these wines compared with many I have tasted from Sicily. Additionally I have visited the Valle dei Templi and I remember how hot it was, over 40 degrees Celsius in the shade or 104 Farentheit when I was there many years ago, before climate change wreaked the kind of havoc we are seeing now. It was a beautiful part of Sicily but I remember feeling as though I might melt into the car. It is, however, one of the great archaeological sites in the world and should be on everyone’s bucket list. Luckily now after a long visit, you can sip wines from this interesting cooperative cellar. Apparently they also have retail sales points in the area. It’s good to revisit one’s assumptions about terroir.

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Giacomo Tachis: Mille e Una Notte

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When I learned of Giacomo Tachis‘ passing earlier this month, I was reminded of how many of his wines I have tasted. Yesterday on Valentine’s day in fact I was just thinking about one of these special wines as one that I consider romantic and sexy as every good Valentine’s day should be: MIlle e Una Notte from Donnafugata. This Nero d’Avola blend is lovely. I haven’t been to Sicily in many years but I have had the occasion to drink Donnafugata wines the world over. The first time I had a wine made with Nero d’Avola I remember being surprised at both its alcohol level as well as its acidity. It’s generally a big full bodied wine with firm tannins and serious aging potential. I’ve had Nero d’avola that has been aged in wood, aged in stainless steel or not aged at all. I like many of the wines made by Donnafugata with Tachis’ help including both Tancredi, and Mille e Una Notte, wines made of blends of Nero d’avola and international varieties that soon became some of my favorite wines. I must confess that I also love their Ben Rye. These three wines hold a special place in my heart as does Sicily in general. Perhaps it’s the link to Il Gattopardo, a book and a movie that I love, but something about Donnafugata stays with you.

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Italian Indigenous Varieties: Grecanico Dorato Bianco from Sicily

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Back with our latest Italian indigenous variety, this week’s grape is Grecanico from Sicily. The grape is often blended with Grillo and/or Catarratto. It is part of a host of D.O.C. wines from Contea di Sclafani, Contesa Entellina, Menfi and others.

I recently had a lovely one at Vinitaly from Tasca d’Almerita. The one I tasted was a wine made without the addition of sulfites, an experiment that Tasca had undertaken. Tasca is very conscious of its carbon footprint and is heavily involved in sustainability initiatives in Sicily. I will write about them tomorrow though. Today is about this grape variety. Grecanico has aromas and flavors of lemon and citrus.

A wine without the addition of sulfites still has some sulfites in it because they are produced during fermentation. This wine spends four months on its lees which is a natural level of protection for the wine. As we know, sulfur is added to wines as an anti-oxidant and to stabilize the wines.

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Wine of the Week: Faro from Palari (Sicily)

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This week’s wine pick is Faro from Azienda Agricola Palari from Sicily. I first tasted this wine at a Tre Bicchieri event in New York some years ago. I was impressed with its unique blend of indigenous Sicilian grapes including Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Nocera, Acitana, and Jacche’.

The wine was ruby red in color with loads of berry fruits, spice and a hint of vanilla. It was velvety and harmonious on the palate with juicy tannins. A great wine to age, I was very impressed with this beauty.

I’m having a Sicilian thing this summer with many memories of a couple of wonderful trips I took to Sicily years ago. This winery is located near Messina. Faro is a very ancient wine that was produced in this area for many years. Production was then interrupted both because of production issues and because of Phylloxera. The wine is made in a very particular area with a great micro-climate and on a series of vineyards that change dramatically in terms of their altitude from sea level to 1,475 feet with an eight mile range. The vines grow on very steep slopes and are bush trained requiring hand harvesting.

The wine is fermented in stainless steel but ages in new French oak and then in the bottle for at least 18 months before release. This is a big Sicilian wine and needs hearty dishes to support it. A land of contrasts, this is one side of Sicily – big, passionate and intense.

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