Welcome to the last of our Italian Wine Series! Today we are going to take a look at Sicily. I know what some of you are thinking- Sicilian wines suck. Falso, falso, falso. Allow me to debunk this myth. Sicily is one of Europe's oldest viticultural regions, however, despite it's historical significance, Sicilian wine history has primarily been defined by fortified Marsala (now more well known as a cooking wine) and cheap, blended, mass produced, dull wines. What changed? Sicily has been experiencing somewhat of a wine Renaissance over the past twenty years as winemakers have come to embrace the indigenous grapes to their region and focus on quality rather than quantity. While Sicily produces many of the worlds most well known grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon), I want to focus on a few of the more esoteric and lesser known varieties that have turned me into a Sicilian wine enthusiast. Today we'll explore Grillo, Nero d'Avola, and (my personal favorite) the wines of Mt. Etna.
Grillo- Grillo is a white Italian grape that is most commonly used for making fortified Marsala wine, however, more recently it has gained popularity for its use in white blends and also produces 100% Grillo IGT wines. The grape produces wines that are light, crisp, aromatic and somewhat nutty in flavor. I've personally found that wines made with 100% Grillo are very complex and can take on very interesting flavor characteristics. The best example of this is the Feudi del Pisciotto Grillo. This wine is crisp and refreshing but is also creamy with hints of vanilla bean and honey on the palate. It can be found at Bond Street Wines for $29.
I also found a great blend called I Versi Bianco at J. Emerson's for just $9.99. It is equal parts Grillo, Grecanico and Inzolia. This blend will be lighter, more acidic and more fruit forward than the 100% Grillo wine. While it does maintain some toastiness on the palate, it also has the flavors of citrus and tropical fruits. I would enjoy this wine with tangy goat cheese, grilled white fish, spaghetti alle vongole or any shellfish..and of course it would be great on its own! You'll notice the range of prices for these wines. Depending on the producer, these wines will be anywhere from $7-$40. Try these wines if you enjoy a White Burgundy or even a Viognier.
Nero d'Avola- Nero d'Avola is actually one of the most widely grown red grapes from Sicily, however, I thought it deserved some love because it's really quite delicious and has gained a lot of recognition over the past ten years. There was a time when Nero d'Avola was most commonly used in blends but as of recent, you'll find some great varietal Nero d'Avola wines available. Similar to Syrah, this grape thrives in a hot Mediterranean climate and produce highly tannic, full bodied wines with medium acidity. This wines will also vary in price depending on the producer. Feudi del Pictiotto also makes a Nero d'Avola wine for $29 (sold at Bond Street as well). This wine is a great representation of the bold style of Nero d'Avola. It has dark fruits, spice and a bit of nuttiness on the palate. This wine has the body to stand up to beef, lamb, cured meats and hard aged cheeses. Try this if you enjoy a California Syrah.
J. Emerson's also sells a more moderately priced Nero d'Avola for $14.99. This wine is a great example of a younger style of Nero d'Avola with ripe red fruits, spice and good acidity. I would pair this wine with grilled meat, pork, game or soft cheeses. Try this if you enjoy a French Syrah.
Etna Rosso- Mt. Etna is an active volcano on the east coast of Sicily and is booming in the wine industry these days. The 45 degree slopes combined with the fact that, um, it's an active volcano, presents some pretty insane conditions for winemakers, however, oddly enough, the volcanic, rocky, nutrient rich soil also creates a very hospitable environment for the grapes. The wines are truly remarkable. Not to sound super crunchy, but you really can taste the vibrancy of the soil in the wines. They are soft and elegant with awesome acidity and minerality. I was first introduced to these wines in culinary school and have sort of been bouncing off the walls about them ever since..can you tell?!
Etna Rosso wines are blended red wines that are 80 percent Nerello Mascalese, a grape variety indigenous to the Etna region. I found a great bottle for $17.99 at J. Emerson's. It has ripe red fruit, good balanced acidity and firm tannins. This wine drinks similarly to a young Red Burgundy wine. I enjoy these wines on their own but also think they would be a great pairing with duck breast, roasted chicken and cured meats. Enjoy!
Well kids, that's a wrap on out Italian series. As always, feedback and questions are always welcome! Stay tuned for next weeks post!