More Than Marsala: The Rise of Sicilian Wines
Like the mafia and volcanoes, another Sicilian icon is proving tumultuous: the region’s wine industry has undergone a seismic shift in sensibility, from industrial to artisanal. Though Sicily is still Italy’s foremost bulk-wine producer after Puglia, boutique winemakers have rediscovered the massive island’s native varietals and revolutionized its wines’ quality in the process.
Sicily has produced wine for four thousand years, and it seems at least half of them were spent making Marsala. You know it: the syrupy, fortified brew that suffixes “chicken” and “veal” on countless red-sauce establishments’ menus. But slowly, surely, quality white-wine grapes like Grillo and Inzolia are challenging Marsala’s Catarratto varietal’s monopoly. In the island’s western Trapani region, small, quality-oriented winemakers are yielding soft, aromatic, elegant wines. But the greatest upheaval has been in the east, where the Nero d’Avola grape has mobilized the revolution. Its assertive, tannic wine is redolent with dark-berry fruit. In the southeast, the Vittoria area’s Cerasuolo red was the first Sicilian wine awarded Italy’s strictest DOCG-appellation [JQ-WHAT DOES THIS ACRONYM MEAN?] status. More northward, the soaring slopes of Etna nurture the Carricante grape, which has set the bar for Sicilian whites.
As with all worthy revolutions, this one’s achievements have crossed borders, insinuating themselves on the shelves of local wine shops. “Sicilian wines are up-and- coming,” says Gary Ratner of Rye Brook Wine & Spirit Shop (259 S Ridge St, Rye Brook 914-939-7511; ryebrookwines.com), a big fan of Nero d’Avola. “It’s similar to Pinot Noir,” he adds, recommending both the Mirabile and Feudi di San Giuliano Nicasio ’06 bottlings for their lightness and ripe fruit flavors. And then there’s the price. “They’re so reasonable,” Ratner says in blatant understatement. The Nicasio will set you back $12, the Mirabile more of a stretch at $15. Ratner’s partner, A.J. Hoffman, citing Sicily’s “winemaking transformation,” lauds the Grillo grape as “a great alternative to Pinot Grigio,” suggesting the Fuedo Arancio ’06 ($10!) as the “perfect picnic wine; light and crisp.”
Bedford Wine Merchants’ (24 Village Green, Bedford 888-315-8333; bedfordwines.com) Arthur Wunderlich has also heeded the call. He likes the Nero d’Avola-based Ceuso Scurati ‘06 for its earthy, fruit-forward traits. “It’ll do well with BBQ because it has some spice,” he notes.
Post Wine and Spirits’ (2112 Boston Post Rd, Larchmont 914-834-2138) David Urrutia, too, lauds the Nero d’Avola for its medium body, soft tannins, and spice, recommending 2004’s Mediterranea Cerasuolo di Vittoria ($20) and Feudo Montoni ($18). “Sicilian wines,” he says, “are becoming more and more popular.” As far as this revolution goes, I say bring it on.
// Diane Weintraub Pohl