The International Wine Review


The International Wine Review
The International Wine Review
June/July 2013
Report #37: The Wines of Sicily
Sicily is one of
the most exciting
wine regions in
Italy. In recent
decades, Sicilian wines have
greatly improved
in quality. While
Sicily is renown
for its outstanding dessert wines
such as the world-famous Marsala, today there are a
growing number of wineries throughout Sicily, large and
small, producing world class premium wines from unique
indigenous varieties like Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese,
Frapatto, Grillo, Caricante, and others.
In our previous 2007 report The Wines of Southern Italy:
from Quantity to Quality, we noted that most of southern
Italy including Sicily had a long history of wine production
focused on quantity. Instead of producing wines of quality for the international market, the south of Italy became a
producer of cheap bulk wine, and Sicily was the leading
producer. Indeed, the structure of the wine industry in Sicily was built on the production of cheap wine by cooperatives, which in turn stifled private investment and innovation in the wine industry. While Sicily’s cooperatives and
private companies continue producing a vast quantity of
innocuous wine, there are today many outstanding family
and commercial wineries producing world class wines
that deserve the attention of the trade and serious wine
consumers. These wines are the focus of this report.
In this report we provide a brief history of Sicily’s wine
industry and identify its major wine growing regions and
their different soils and climate. We then identify the
improvements which have taken place in the vineyards
and the wineries throughout the island that help explain
the emergence of Sicily as a producer of premium wine.
A unique characteristic of Sicilian wine is its indigenous
grapes, so we focus the next section on the different variet-
In this Issue
A Brief Wine History............................................... 3
Geography............................................................ 4
Improvements in Viticulture and Winemaking............. 7
The Vineyard................................................... 7
The Winery..................................................... 9
The Grapes and Wines......................................... 10
Sicilian Food and Wine Pairing.............................. 12
The Market for Sicilian Wine.................................. 14
Tasting Notes and Ratings...................................... 16
ies and styles of wines being produced and identify the
best producers. We also take a close look at the special
cuisine of Sicily and make recommendations on the pairing
of Sicilian wines and food. Lastly, we examine the global
market for Sicilian wines and recommend measures for
promotion of Sicilian wines in the United States. In the
final section we provide tasting notes and ratings on more
than 200 wines tasted for this report. Some of the artisanal
wines we review are produced in small quantities and are
difficult to find outside Sicily, but the persistent consumer
who seeks out these wines will be amply rewarded.
The current market for Sicilian wines in the US should grow
in the coming years. The quality of the wines is excellent
and the prices are competitive for most wines. The big
challenge for the Sicilian wine industry and its importers
is to educate the public about the quality and uniqueness
of Sicilian wines. This is one of the missions of Assovini
Sicilia, the trade organization which represents most of the
quality wine producers of Sicily in international markets.
Acknowledgements. The preparation of this
report was made possible by the generous support
and collaboration of Assovini Sicilia and its member
We are especially appreciative of the
encouragement and support given to us by Antonio Rallo
and Alessio Planeta. We also want to thank Giuseppe
Longo, Assovini’s Director, for his outstanding assistance
in organizing our visit to Sicily. We were warmly
welcomed by all of the wineries we visited and were
extended special hospitality by the following: Caruso
& Minini, Donnafugata, Planeta, Tasca d’Almerita,
COS, Valle dell’Acate, Zisola, Setteporte and Tenuta
delle Terre Nere. We also appreciate the wine samples
and information provided by the many US importers of
Sicilian wines. We also owe a great deal of gratitude to
Bill Nesto MW and Frances di Savino for their superb
book, The World of Sicilian Wine, which was published
just prior to our visit to Sicily. The book is a tour de
force on Sicilian wine and was extremely helpful to us
during our visit to Sicily and in writing our report. We
are most indebted to Bill and Frances. Finally, many
thanks to Dana Rubsam Penso, our Italy correspondent,
who contacted wineries on our behalf
Mike Potashnik and Don Winkler with Joel Butler,
Contributing Editor
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A Brief Wine History
were plentiful and cheap. The fact that in 1805 Thomas
Jefferson purchased a barrel of Marsala is evidence of
Woodhouse’s success in marketing Marsala. In the ensuing
years other British entrepreneurs followed Woodhouse and
invested in vineyard development, winemaking, and transport of still wines in and around the town of Marsala.
Sicily has a long and colorful wine history beginning withancient times. It acquired worldwide renown in the 19th
century with the discovery of vino perpetuo by an English
merchant, who fortified the wine and marketed it to the
world as Marsala. The popularity of Marsala eventually
faded, to be replaced the middle of the last century by the
production of bulk wine by community cooperatives. But
towards the end of the century, quality growers began bottling their own wine, following the viticultural and enological advice of the Sicilian Wine Research Institute (IRVV)
and gaining success in export markets1. Today, there’s a
renewed emphasis on the indigenous varieties of Sicily accompanied by continued improvements in growing grapes
and making wine.
During the second half of the 19th century, following the
unification of Italy under Giuseppe Garibaldi, British influence in the wine industry waned, and more Sicilians
entered the Marsala trade, producing wine for local consumption and exporting it to France, England, and other
countries. Indeed, the wine industry flourished during
this period with vineyard plantings reaching their highest
point in history—over 321 thousand hectares. The boom,
however, did not last; phylloxera hit Italy in 1880 and took
a major toll on vineyards and wine production until the
middle of the 20th century when wine cooperatives came
on the scene and transformed Sicily into a major bulk wine
Ancient Times
The Greeks and Phoenicians were the first to grow vines
and produce wine in Sicily in the 8th century B.C. According to Homer Sicily was a wild yet fertile place and
that with a little industry it could become a land of plenty.
In the centuries that followed, other outsiders (Romans,
Muslims, Normans et al) exploited Sicily’s natural wealth
but failed to create an indigenous wine culture. Under
the Romans, the island became the breadbasket of the
Roman Empire, and Sicily’s grapes and wines were prized
on the Roman table. The Muslims introduced a variety
of new crops on the island beginning in the 9th century
and continued the cultivation of wine grapes although not
to the same degree as in Greek and Roman times. The
Norman kings brought wealth to Sicily and protected its
natural resources but contributed little to the development
of the island’s wine culture. Indeed, up to the end of the
18th century foreign rulers and the landed nobility which
arose with them continued to exploit Sicily’s natural wealth
without developing an indigenous culture for wine production.
The Rise of the Cooperatives
During the second half of the 20th century, cooperative
wineries became the major producers of wine in Sicily.
These cooperatives produced grape juice (must) and wine
in bulk from grapes purchased from their members—small
farmers. Responding to the growth in demand for cheap
wine in Europe and aided by favorable EU trade policies,
Sicily rapidly became a major producer of bulk wine and
its cooperative wineries expanded rapidly. The wine
boom of this period also enabled cooperatives to provide
essential income to small Sicilian farmers, especially those
in the West who had been hard hit with the down turn of
the Marsala industry in the 1960s. From 1970 the number
of cooperative wineries in Sicily increased from 73 to 197
by 1980. As of 1987, 78 percent of Sicilian wine was produced by cooperatives, and 97 percent of that was sold
in bulk. One cooperative—Settesoli—located in Menfi
on Sicily’s southwestern coast was exceptional. Formed in
1958, it started bottling wine in the mid-1970s under the
leadership of Diego Planeta and today is highly successful
exporting good quality value wines.
The Age of Marsala
Sicily’s wine
industry began
to emerge in the
late 18th century
with the invention
of Marsala by
the Englishman,
John Woodhouse.
Woodhouse landed on Sicily’s west
coast near the
city of Marsala (see map) in 1770, tasted the local wine
called Vino Perpetuo (a wine aged in cask more than 40
years and drawn directly from cask) and realized he could
fortify the wine to better withstand shipment and make a
less costly version of Madeira since both labor and grapes
In 2011 the IRVV was replaced by the IRVOS (Istituto Regionale Vini e Oli di
Sicilia) to promote Sicilian olive oil in addition to wine.
identify promising international varieties and supported the
travel and study of young enologists to become acquainted
with developments in other countries. Also during this
period, Giacomo Tachis, one of Italy’s finest enologists
from Tuscany, and a follower of the famed Emile Peynaud
of Bordeaux, became a consultant to the IRRV. For more
than a decade Tachis helped give direction to Sicily’s quality revolution, promoting the adoption of Nero d’Avola as
Sicily’s red grape, prescribing the growing of international
varieties, introducing techniques to improve the quality of
Zibibbo (Muscat Alexandria) and Moscato Bianco dessert
wines and helping develop barrel fermentation techniques
for Chardonnay and indigenous whites.
The Palmento: Traditional Winemaking
Prior to the
introduction of
modern enology,
winemaking in
Sicily took place
in palmentos.
A precursor to
today’s wineries,
the palmento
was a building
constructed of
stone where freshly harvested grapes were crushed
and where the juice underwent alcoholic fermentation.
The walls of the palmento were very thick, to buffer
rapid temperature changes. Palmentos were frequently
built to make use of gravity—the reception area was
elevated, and subsequent processes occurred at lower
elevations. Typically, harvesters dumped grape bunches into shallow stone basins where a team of crushers
trod the grapes, the juice of which then flowed through
stone gutters to stone tanks where it fermented and
then to another level where it was transferred to large
chestnut or oak barrels, like the chestnut barrels that
we saw in the old palmento preserved at the Barone
de Villagrande winery on Mt. Etna (see picture). The
introduction of modern winemaking equipment and
more hygienic conditions in the cellar have made the
traditional palmentos obsolete for winemaking today.
Many sit abandoned, surrounded by the vineyards they
used to serve. However, they are interesting tourist attractions.
In recent decades, producers in Sicily have focused their
attention on producing high quality wines from their own
indigenous varieties. Some of the most notable examples
are the group of producers on Mt. Etna in eastern Sicily: Marco de Grazia of Tenuta delle Terre Nere, Andrea
Franchetti of Passopiscaro, Federico Curtaz of Tenuta di
Fessina, Alberto Graci, Barone de Villagrande, and others who are crafting stunning wines from the indigenous
grapes of Nerello Mascalese and Carricante. In Vittoria
in southeastern Sicily, the winemakers at COS, Arianna
Occhipinti, and at Gaetana Jacono’s Valle delle Acate are
producing exciting Cerasuolo di Vittoria, and Frappato.
Indeed, in virtually every growing area of Sicily there has
been exciting progress in the quality of Sicilian wine.
Sicily is a geographically diverse wine growing region
with unique soils born from underwater volcanoes, strong
winds that attack from the south and the north, and sites
suitable for growing grapes on the coastal plains, the hilly
interior, and the mountains and volcanoes of the island. In
this section we examine this terroir and how it varies across
the major growing regions of the island.
The Quality Revolution
Beginning in the 1980s a small number of Sicilian wine
producers began producing high quality wine that ultimately led to today’s quality winemaking revolution. These
producers were by no means the first, as a couple of
decades earlier, Giuseppe Tasca and his wife took over
management of Tasca d’Almerita and began producing
wines of quality as did the team at Duca di Salaparuta
under the leadership of the brilliant Piedmontese consulting
winemaker, Franco Giacosa. Also in 1971, the Frenchman Hugues Bernard began producing quality wine at
the Rapitalà winery at Alessandro di Compareale near
Palermo. These early pioneers were followed in the 1980s
by Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti and Cirino Strano,
the founders of COS winery, by the Rallo family of Donnafugata, by Salvatore and Vinzia di Gaetano of Firriato, by
Marco De Bartoli, who revitalized the making of quality
Marsala, by Diego Planeta and others. These were just a
few of the producers who, with the help of other industry
leaders and consultants, would transform Sicily into a quality wine producer in the decades ahead.
The Island
The largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily also has
the tallest (3320 m), active volcano (Mt. Etna) in Europe.
Shaped like a triangle, the island’s apex is Marsala on the
west, and its base lies to the east, running from Messina
in the north to Siracusa and Noto in the south with Sicily’s
second largest city, Catania, located in between. The
northern side of this triangle is mountainous (the Peloritanis)
as is its southeast corner (the Hyblaeans), while the southern and western coasts are home to seaside plains that rise
to the hills that dominate the island. Less than 15 percent
of the land is classified as littoral plains.
In the late 1980s and 1990s, most of the leaders of Sicily’s
wine industry looked beyond Sicily for help in developing
their industry. In 1985, Diego Planeta, head of the Settesoli cooperative and the new President of Sicily’s Regional
Institute of Vine and Wine (IRRV), funded research to
Excluding the northern mountains, Sicily was born under
water, the product of underwater volcanoes (like the active
volcano Ferdinandea located 6m under water just west of
Agrigento) and the violent clash of continents as the African plate slid under the Eurasian plate pushing Sicily out
of the sea. As a result, much of the island’s soil is calcareous in nature, with limestone especially prominent in the
southeast. The absorptive capacity of the soils helps vines
survive the long, arid summer. Both active volcanoes like
Mt Etna and dormant ones like Monti Iblei in the southeast
have contributed rich basalt to the soils2.
The plains, hills, and mountains and their different exposures create numerous, distinct areas for growing vines. For
purposes of exposition, we simplify and divide Sicily into
five principal regions—the West, the Center, the Northeast,
the Southeast, and the Islands.
The West
The West is mostly comprised of the province of Trapani
(one of nine in Sicily) and includes two major urban areas,
Marsala and Trapani. As with other coastal areas, soils
near the sea include the mineral salts of ancient lagoons.
Many of the soils, both along the coast and on the hills further inland, are calcareous red clay.The Grillo grape does
especially well in the hot, dry coastal climate, while Catarratto, the most widely planted variety, is mainly grown on
the inland hills, which rise as high as 600 m. The Trapani
area grows 58 percent of all wine grapes in Sicily and an
astounding 70 percent of all white wine grapes. Some of
Sicily’s most prestigious producers have vineyards in the
West, including Caruso & Minini, Firriato and De Bartoli.
The Climate
Sicily lies in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, and its
climate is warm with rainfall concentrated in the winter
months. Average rainfall is about 600 mm but varies considerably, as shown in the map. Milo on Mt. Etna receives
about double the average for the island; rainfall is also
higher than average in the mountains south of Palermo. As
with many parts of the Mediterranean, rainfall in Sicily has
declined in recent decades3. Average temperatures and
diurnal variations also vary by altitude and proximity to the
sea, which serves as a moderating influence, warming in
the winter and cooling in the summer. Diurnal temperature
variations are greatest in the interior at high elevations like
the Regaleali estate near Sambuca located northeast of
The Center
This includes a large area covering the land between the
Tyrrhenian Sea on the north to the Mediterranean on the
south and extending from the Belice River on the west as
far east as the Salso River. It corresponds approximately
to the provinces of Palermo, Agrigento, Caltanissetta, and
Enna and has 36 percent of Sicily’s grape vines. The
major wine producing areas are the highlands south of the
seaside city of Palermo, the plains and hills near the southern coast called the Terre Sicane, and the highlands in the
very center of the island.
Strong winds from every direction buffet the island the
year round. The hot, dust-laden scirocco that comes out
of the Sahara can reach speeds as high as 100 km/h and
snap green shoots in the spring and dry out grapes in the
autumn. It’s especially persistent and severe on the island
of Pantelleria.
Palermo. Much of the Palermo area is hilly with mediumhigh altitude (400+ m) vineyards of calcareous clay soils
and a benign climate, including moderate average rainfall (600 mm). Both indigenous (Catarratto, Inzolia) and
international varieties are grown. Wineries with vineyards
For a detailed analysis of Sicilian soils, consult Venturella, Giuseppe. “Climatic
and Pedological Features of Sicily.” BOCCONEA (2004).
Arnone, E. (2013) Rainfall statistics changes in Sicily, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci.
Discuss., pp 2323-2352.
in the Palermo highlands include Duca di Salaparuta and
Terre Sicane. The Terre Sicane is arid and hot and frequently buffeted by the African scirocco. The soils are
typically sedimentary and calcareous, and the vineyards
are typically planted at 250-500 meters altitude. White
grape varieties (Inzolia, Catarratto, Chardonnay, Viognier)
dominate, but French red varieties (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah) have also gained in popularity. Important,
large wineries in the Terre Sicane include Donnafugata,
Planeta, and Settesoli.
Central Highlands. In the very center of Sicily, one finds
vineyards planted on mountainous hillsides at high altitudes
(up to 900m). While days during the growing season can
be hot, especially when the scirocco blows, temperatures
plummet at night, resulting in large diurnal temperature
variations. Like most the rest of Sicily, even these highlands
were at one time under the sea, reflected in the calcium
carbonate content of the sandy and clay soils. Arguably
the most important producer here is Tasca d’Almerita with
over 400 ha of vineyards near Vallelunga. Catarratto,
Nero d’Avola, Perricone, and Cabernet Sauvignon are
among the varieties grown in the central highlands.
Mt. Etna DOC
continuing eruptions of ash and pumice and periodic lava
flows, the most recent large one occurring in 1991-1993.
The soils are, of course, basaltic but of widely varying textures, from fine sand to basalt rocks the size of potatoes.
Since Mt. Etna is active, falling ash and lapilli (small, light
volcanic pebbles) are not uncommon, especially towards
the east and southeast, due to prevailing winds, and contribute to soil fertility. The soils are loose and well-aerated,
allowing the roots of vines to easily penetrate the basaltic
substrata in search of water in the dry-farmed vineyards.
The Southeast
This historic area lies between the Salso River on the west
and the Ionian Sea on the east and includes important
urban centers like Vittoria, Ragusa, Noto, and Siracusa. It
is where Franco Giacosa discovered Nero d’Avola, and
where several growers, including the Zonin-owned Principi
di Butera, have planted that variety near Butera. Aside
from Butera, the most important wine growing regions are
around the city of Vittoria and south of Noto. The Southeast has only about 4 percent of all Sicilian vineyards.
The terroir of Etna varies greatly depending on altitude
and vineyard location, with higher rainfall, cooler temperatures, greater diurnal variation, and more basaltic soils the
higher the altitude. Below 400m the soils tend to be sandy
clay of alluvial and basaltic origins, and the slopes are
gentle enough to permit modern, wire-trained vines. Widely differing mixes of basaltic rocks and sand predominate
at altitudes between 400 and 900m (essentially, between
two parallel roads, the Quota 600 and the Quota Mille,
where Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, and other
indigenous red grapes grown alberello (individually staked
bush vines) style, often on terraced vineyards. White
grapes, mostly Carricante, grown best above 900 m, the
altitude helping preserve the grape’s natural acidity. Red
varieties dominate Mt. Etna, representing over 90 percent
of all vines planted, but the white variety Carricante is predominant on the southeastern slope, especially in Milo.
Vittoria. Vittoria is coastal plain of sandy, sedimentary
soils, often with a calcareous hardpan, and a hot, dry
climate. It is the home of the delicate Frappato grape
and the Cerasuolo di Vittoria blend of Frappato and Nero
d’Avola. Important wineries include COS, Occhipinti, and
Valle dell’Acate.
Noto. While Vittoria is near the southern shore and the
Mediterranean, Noto is nearer the eastern shore and the
Ionian Sea. Here the highly calcareous, clay soils can be
almost white, which reflects the heat and helps keep soils
cool. As the hottest part of Sicily, fruit can get very ripe,
as we found in our tastings there. Moscato Bianco and
Nero d’Avola are two important varieties grown here. Well
known wineries include Feudo Maccari and Zisola.
Rainfall varies not only by altitude but, also, by location on
Mt. Etna. Precipitation is greatest (1200 mm, annually) on
the eastern and southeastern slopes, which receive a direct
hit from winter storms coming in off the sea. The northern
slopes receive less direct rainfall but benefit from runoff
from the summit that is absorbed by the volcanic substrata.
The Northeast
Quantitatively, the Northeast is Sicily’s least important wine
region. However, it compensates for its lack of size by producing some of Sicily’s most exciting wines. While grapes
are grown on the coastal plain bordering the Tyrrhenian
Sea to the north, the main growing area in the northeast
is Mt. Etna, especially its northern and eastern sides. Mt.
Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in the world with
Numerous wineries are producing high quality wines from
Etna. Some of the better known are Barone di Villagrande,
Cornelissen, Graci, Passopisciaro (Andrea Franchetti’s
estate), and Terre Nere (Marc de Grazia’s estate).
the quality of its wines, unique varieties and a variety of
terroirs, reflecting its strikingly diverse climate and topography.
The Islands
There is evidence that Sicily’s producers are paying heed
to Professor Scienza’s comments. The quality of Sicilian
wine has improved immensely over the past two decades,
resulting from numerous changes in the vineyard and
the winery. These changes have had diverse sources—
research and experiments carried out by the IRVV, the
Università di Milano, Università di Palermo, and forward
thinking growers and wineries; advice from world-famous
Italian enologists; EU regulations and subsidies; and the incentives provided by higher prices and the critical acclaim
and recognition of Sicily’s best wines by the wine trade
and consumers.
Sicily has numerous offshore
islands. In terms
of wine production, the most
important is the
largest island,
which lies directly east of Tunis
and just 60 km
from the Tunisian
coast. With volA Zibibbo Vine on Pantelleria
canic soils, high
summer temperatures, almost no ground water, scant precipitation and in
the direct path of the fierce scirocco winds, the island is
famous for its Passito di Pantelleria, made from the Zibibbo
grape. Most vineyards are located near the sea, which
helps moderate the summer heat and provides essential
humidity. Vines are head trained (alberello pantesca—see
photo) and planted close to the ground in depressions for
protection from the wind.
The Vineyard
The Sicilian vineyard has undergone numerous changes in
recent years—better plant material, different planting practices, new vineyard sites, and improved vineyard management, including increased use of sustainable and organic
Improved Indigenous Clones
Increasing research into grape improvement via clonal selection and identification of old, indigenous vines of quality
has grown strongly in the last 10 years. Since 2003, the
Regional Agricultural Assessor for Sicily has carried out a
large-scale project aimed at genetic improvement of the
island’s ampelographic foundations, in collaboration with
the Universities of Palermo and Milan, along with Rome’s
CRA-PAV (Centro di Ricerca per la Patologia Vegetale).
From this research has come the first organized clonal
selections of key varieties like Frappato, Inzolia and Nero
d’Avola, along with the identification of over 50 indigenous
varieties, many previously unknown. These discoveries
have led producers to replant better vine material according to site. Simultaneously, producers like Marco Nicolosi
of Barone di Villagrande continue to replant their vineyards
from a careful selection of cuttings from their own vines,
thus preserving genetic diversity.
Closer to Sicily and just 15 km from the Trapani coast near
Marsala lie the Egadi Islands, including the largest and
most important, Favignana, where Firriato has an experimental vineyard located just meters from the sea.
The Eolian (Lipari) Islands are a volcanic archipelago that
lies at the opposite end of Sicily just off its northeastern
shore. Commercial vineyards can be found on the largest
island, Lipari, as well as on Salina. The islands receive
moderate rainfall and have sandy, volcanic soils. The
principal grape variety is Malvasia di Lipari which has traditionally been used to make sweet, passito wines. Tasca
d’Almerita has a 5 ha vineyard on Salina for making a
passito style Malvasia. Carlo Hauner and Colosi also are
important producers of this wine.
At Donnafugata this desire to increase diversity and quality
led to their planting 33 biotypes of Muscat from all over at
their large vineyard on Pantelleria, famous for its ancient
sun-dried Zibibbo (Muscat Blanc). In a joint effort with
Giuseppe Tasca at Regaleali, both properties have planted
some of the 50 nearly extinct varieties noted above in
order to further Sicily’s stature for quality wine and protect
a precious cultural heritage.
Improvements in Viticulture
and Winemaking
“Sicily has a heavy responsibility to European viticultural
history, that of maintaining the sensitivity to history which
is inherent in the island’s traditions, of keeping alive the
relationship between the universality of myth and local
traditions, where the tangible signs of symbols are found
in those ancient grapes and in those places where they
come alive again.” These words by noted Viticultural
Professor Attilio Scienza, from the Istituto Agrario di San
Michele all’Adige, echoed in our minds as we travelled
around the island and inspected the diversity of vineyards.
From ancient times until quite recently, Sicily was noted for
Better Vineyards
Growers are searching out better locations for vineyards,
partly in response to global warming, partly the result of
changes in consumer preferences, and partly to simply get
better fruit. Increased temperatures as well as the modern
preference for delicate and crisp white wines has encouraged producers to plant at higher elevations, above 600
meters. The demand for fresh
white wines as
opposed to the
old, oxidized
style typical of
the Marsala
and Alcamo
area propelled
Cusamano to
plant their Piano
Villagrande’s High Density, High Altitude, Massale
degli Albanesi
Planted Vineyard at Milo
vineyard near
Ficuzzi at 700 meters. Likewise, most people consider the
best Etna white wines to come from around Milo on the
volcano’s eastern slopes above 700 meters where there is
more rainfall and cooler temperatures (Barone di Villagrande), or the drier north slopes above 850 meters (Terre
Nere, Passopisciaro).
Guyot when it replanted to international varieties in the
1990s. Both trellising systems allow for mechanized harvesting and drip irrigation, and cordon-spur also permits
mechanized pruning. The high cost of manual labor in
Sicily requires mechanized viticulture in order to produce
wine at internationally competitive prices. However, growing numbers of growers are resuscitating old alberello
trained vineyards, especially on Mt Etna, and some (e.g.,
Feudi Maccari, Tasca d’Almerita) are even planting new
alberello vineyards. In some cases (e.g., Pantelleria) alberello is the only feasible system. The high costs of rebuilding terraces (on Etna) and maintaining low-yielding, old
alberello vines on tiny plots makes this financially feasible
only for high-end wines. Today the distribution of vines by
type of training is: alberello (8%), trellised/spalliera (82%),
and pergola/tendone (9%).
Alberello. Translated as “little tree”,
alberello is the
age-old traditional
method of vine-growing still widely used
in many parts of
Sicily. Low-growing,
often pruned in a
goblet-style, circular
form, alberello vines
are typically low in
vigor, ideally suited
to warm areas and
rocky, well-drained
Century Old Pre-Phylloxera Nerello
soils where the leaf
Mascalese Alberello Vine in Terre Nere’s canopy shades the
Don Peppino Vineyard in Contrada
clusters from sunCalderara Sottana
burn, and the porous
ground allows deep
root penetration. This allows older vines especially to
avoid undue stress as they can take advantage of a
deep water level. Older alberello vineyards are especially common where phylloxera cannot survive, like on
Mt. Etna due to its sandy, low clay content soils. Yet at
properties like Feudi di Maccari near Noto, producers
have planted newer vineyards in the traditional manner,
citing the benefits above, the less expensive planting
costs (no fancy trellising), and the self-limiting vigor
achieved as the vine’s roots go deeper.
The search for better vineyard sites includes the rediscovery of old sites. Etna is perhaps the best example of the
resuscitation of historic growing areas, but the practice
extends beyond Etna. Planeta has been especially active
in developing new vineyards in historic areas like Vittoria,
Noto, Mamertino, and, of course, Etna. Old vineyards in
Etna and elsewhere are located on what were at one time
large wine estates called contradas, and some producers (Terre Nere, Passopisciaro) started several years ago
putting the names of the contradas on their wine labels.
Marco de Grazia advocated identifying and defining the
contradas of Etna, and as a result in 2011 a ministerial
decree established 133 of them and legalized putting the
contrada’s name on wine labels when the grapes come
from a specific one.
Vineyards are also being planted more densely than a decade ago in order to limit production per vine while maintaining overall production levels4. The Planeta vineyard in
Ulmo has increased density from 3800 to 5000 vines per
hectare, while Villagrande’s vineyards are planted 7000
vines/ha. Andrea Franchetti at Passopisciaro on the high
slopes of Mt Etna (above 800 m) has recently planted
Cesanese and Petit Verdot vines to 12,000/ha, an inordinately high density designed to focus these vines to better
concentration considering the marginal, cool climate at this
Cover cropping is increasingly used by some (Planeta,
Donnafugata, Regaleali and others) to divert some energy
from vines so that they do not grow as vigorously, thus
achieving lower sugars and hopefully better alignment of
flavour development. By tilling under these grasses and
legumes, they also maintain a healthier soil and lower the
need for fertilizers.
Improved Vineyard Management
For newly planted vineyards, Sicily made the conversion
from the traditional alberello (see box) or pergola style
training to Guyot and and cordon-spur (cordone speronato) training several decades ago. Cottanera on Etna,
for example, used to be pergola trained but converted to
More recently, producers are returning to more traditional
pre-industrial era vineyard management practices of a
century ago, when everything was farmed “organically”.
Sicily’s overall dry and benign climate, often windy,
permits a more hands-off approach to farming that producers find less capital intensive, more consumer-friendly and
quality enhancing. At Regaleali, Giuseppe Tasca said his
Increased planting density is another way that Sicilian growers are returning to
the past. As Salvo Foti in La Sicilia del Vino (Maimone, 2005) states (JB translation): “Fifty years ago, the normal vine density in Sicily was about 10,000 vines/
ha; today, while there are isolated examples like this, they have become the exception… types of trellising have so modified the traditional systems that they
have cut to 1/10 the number of vines per hectare.”
father started to reduce chemical treatments beginning in
the 1980’s, including sulphur treatments. From four years
ago, Tasca no longer uses any copper or sulphur, and
is effectively organic. Other growers (Valle dell’Acate,
Feudo Maccari) are following organic practices, and a
small number of producers (e.g., COS) have converted to
biodynamic farming.
Franco Giacosa: Pioneer of Sicily’s Nero
Franco Giacosa played a key role in Sicily’s quality wine revolution
by helping to revive Sicily’s
indigenous wine varieties
like Nero d’Avola. In 1974,
several years after obtaining
a diploma at the School of
Enology in Alba, Giacosa
joined the winemaking
team of Duca di Salaparuta
where he worked with Italy’s
famed enologist Ezio Rivella. At Duca di Salaparuta
he experimented using 120 small vats ( 100 liters) for
microvinification. This became essential for comparing
and understanding the different varieties, soils and microclimates of Sicily, which up to that time was known
exclusively for its wine sold in bulk. In the early 1980s
he started production of a red wine using 100% Nero
d’Avola, which received world wide accolades. He
later incorporated Nero d’Avola into the blend of Duca
Enrico, which was Sicily’s first varietal Nero d’Avola.
In 1997 Giacosa left Duca di Salaparuta and became
Technical Director for Zonin. He encouraged Gianni
Zonin to purchase the 310 ha property that later became Feudo Principi di Butera. As technical director
at Zonin, Giacosa continued work on the development
of Italy’s indigenous grape varieties until he retired in
The Winery
In the winery, Sicilian producers are crafting wines using
modern equipment and new techniques introduced since
the 1990s. Most of the old palmentos have been replaced
with new facilities, and well-trained enologists and consulting winemakers are at the helm in many of the top wineries. Some noteworthy improvements in winemaking from
the harvest to barrel aging are noted below.
The Harvest
Meticulous vineyard
management and
steady ripening of
grapes enable Sicily’s
wineries to harvest
healthy grapes by
machine and by hand.
The top wineries like
Donnafugata are picking their grapes for
acidity and freshness
and harvesting by hand
Harvest at Donnafugata
and sorting to remove
debris before fermentation. Because of high daytime
temperatures, top producers also harvest at night to better
preserve the aromas of the fruit.
Sicilian producers of quality red wine are using oak barrels for maturation, especially small barriques (225L) and
slightly larger tonneaux (350-500L). However, many
producers are using less new oak than they did even five
years ago and are also using only older barrels. Producers like Villagrande and Passopisciaro in Etna are using
larger oak (even chestnut, the traditional wood for Etna red
wines) vessels from 3 hl to 15 hl for aging their wines.
The use of controlled cold fermentation and cyromaceration in neutral tanks has contributed to white wines with
fresher fruit, improved aromatics, stability of taste properties and better overall balance. Carricante, Inzolia, and
Grillo have been the main beneficiaries. The use of cold
maceration before alcoholic fermentation is also helping
produce more concentrated color and softer tannins in
Sicilian red wines.
Producers like Alessio Planeta and Marco de Grazia cite
two reasons for dialing down the oak. As vines have matured the wines have greater fruit and structure and don’t
need the “crutch” of new oak. Also, the increasing importance attached to the expression of terroir dictates that oak
influence be reduced. Perhaps another reason is the delicate nature of some of Sicily’s best varieties, like Frappato
and Nerello Mascalese, which are easily overwhelmed by
too much oak.
Most Sicilian producers are also now doing relatively
shorter and cooler fermentations to avoid overextracting
tannins and to retain more fruit. Some, like Marco de
Grazia at Terre Nere, have adopted roto-tanks to do fairly
quick macerations to gain color and fruit with little seed
tannin extraction. Winemakers are also using gentler
fermentation techniques to capture the floral, gamey and
red fruit character of delicate varieties such as Nerello
Mascalese and Frappato. These more controlled methods
have contributed to the development of the unique style of
wines like Cerasuolo di Vittoria, which exhibits freshness
and delicacy in wines from producers like COS, Occhipinti
and Valle dell’ Acate. They have also softened the tannins
in the “rossos” of Mt. Etna.
Cement vats are also being used for fermentation and for
aging lighter red varieties like Frappato. Cement vats were
used for aging well before the introduction of French oak,
and they offer several advantages. They breathe like oak
and diffuse oxygen without adding oak character, and
they retain and exchange heat well, so that refrigeration is
usually not needed, although glycol tubing can be embedded for precision temperature control.
White Grapes
Creative winemaking and experimentation in
the cellar are taking place across
Sicily today. Two
Sicilian producers are looking
backwards to
their Roman past.
COS is crafting
wines fermented
and aged in clay
amphora jars
with indigenous
yeasts, kept
Amphora Sunk in Gravel at COS
to moderate heat build-up during maturation and bottled
with little or no added sulphur dioxide. However, only
modern scientific knowledge and understanding allows
this low-tech approach. Franc Cornelissen is using clay
amphorae for producing natural wines. He is an extreme
naturalist, avoids any treatments of the soil, either organic
or biodynamic, and uses amphorae lined with epoxy resin
to reduce volatile acidity in his wines.
Grillo. Grillo was
historically the most
important variety in
quality Marsala. Grown
alborello style and
harvested late, the
grape gives both good
acidity and the high
levels of alcohol desired
in Marsala. However,
in recent times it was
largely forgotten as
growers replaced it with
the consistently high
The Grillo Grape
yielding Catarratto.
Marco De Bartoli rediscovered the variety in the 1980s,
producing a cold-fermented, dry wine that today is widely
Grillo is grown mostly in the western province of Trapani.
It is a spontaneous crossing of two other Sicilian varieties
discussed here—Zibibbo and Catarratto. It is frequently
blended with the more aromatic Inzolia grape. Today
Grillo represents about 6 percent of Sicily’s planted vines.
Grillo table wines are made in several styles. The most
frequent is fermented in stainless steel and reveals aromas
and flavors not unlike those of Sauvignon Blanc with good
acidity and freshness. Good examples of this style are
offered by Caruso & Minini, Valle dell’Acate, and Tasca
d’Almerita. Grillo is also sometimes aged in oak for up
to 12 months. The Duca di Salaparuta makes a good
example of this style. And Grillo is also often frequently
blended with other grapes, especially the more aromatic
Inzolia; Firriato makes an excellent example.
The Grapes and Wines
A large number of both indigenous and international
grape varieties are grown in Sicily. However, a relatively
small number are important for premium wine production.
White grape varieties represent 64 percent of the total,
with 36 percent of plantings being red varieties. As shown
in the graph, indigenous varieties like Catarratta, Nero
d’Avola, and Inzolia are a high percentage of all plantings,
with Syrah, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon
together representing less than 17 percent of the total.
Some of Sicily’s most interesting indigenous varieties—Nerello Mascalese, Carricante, Frappato, Zibibbo, and others
barely register on a graph of hectares planted.
Inzolia. An old native variety, Inzolia (also spelled Insolia)
is the third most planted grape in Sicily with 6,800 hectares mainly in western Sicily. Inzolia is blended into many
other wines and is used with Grillo and Catarratto to
produce Marsala. Light straw in color and low in acidity
it was historically blended with Catarratto to make white
wines. Prior to the onset of powdery mildew (to which it
is especially susceptible) in the 19th century, this was the
most widely planted grape in Sicily and, also, made up the
largest share of the Marsala blend.
Like Grillo, Inzolia is very productive and needs to be
planted in low-fertility soils to lower yields and give quality fruit. Inzolia is mildly aromatic and does best in high
altitudes, which bring out its spicy floral character and
increases its acidity level. Good examples of fresh Inzolia
made in stainless steel are offered by Firriato and Caruso
& Minini. Cusumano makes an excellent, wood fermented,
lees stirred wine. And several producers blend Cattarato
with Inzolia, Grecanico, Cattarato, and even Viognier; recommended producers include Cottanera, COS and Caruso
& Minini.
Cataratto. This is the most widely planted of all varieties in
Sicily (and the second most widely planted in all of Italy),
Red Grapes
representing more than a third of all planted vines. It is a
high yielding variety that has been written about since the
17th century, but it came to the fore in the 20th century
when it replaced Grillo for the production of Marsala. It
accounts for 34% of total plantings in Sicily with 38,000
hectares. It makes subtly flavored wines of moderate alcohol and high acidity, especially when grown in the hilly
interior. As a dry wine, it is frequently blended with Inzolia, which contributes both alcohol and fragrance. There
are three phenotypes of Catarratto—Comune, Lucido, and
Extralucido. Comune is the most widely planted and yields
the highest sugar and lowest acidity of the three.
Carricante. Almost all of the Carricante in Sicily (just 146
ha) is found on Mt. Etna. At high altitudes (1000 m) Carricante seems to be a sponge for the minerals of Etna, and
its wines are invariably described as subtle, chalky and
mineral-like with high acidity that gives them long life in
bottle. It’s the principal grape in Etna Bianco (at least 60%
of the blend) and Etna Bianco Superiore (at least 80% of
the blend). Etna Bianco Superiore is only produced in the
commune of Milo near Catania. Barone de Villagrane
makes an excellent example of this wine.
The Nero d’Avola Grape
Nero d’Avola. This is Sicily’s
most important red grape with
16 percent of total plantings. While grown all over
the island., it is the dominant grape in the southeast
vineyards of Butera and Noto
and in much of the province
of Caltanissetta in the central
highlands where it represents
63 percent of total plantings.
Because of the wide variety of
growing conditions and differences in wine making Nero
d’ Avola takes on a variety of
The most common characteristics of Nero d’Avola are dark
fruit aromas, hints of herbs and rich earthy flavors. These
characteristics are found among grapes grown along the
coast and anywhere else that grapes are allowed to ripen
longer. Good examples of this ripe style are Princip di
Butera, Cusumano, Tasca d’Almerita, Duca Salaparuta,
Duca Enrica and Feudo Maccari.
Carricante is fermented in stainless steel to preserve its
aromatic qualities and is usually blended with other varieties, although Tenuta di Fessina makes an outstanding,
oak-aged, 100 percent Carricante. Firriato and Graci
make excellent blends of Carricante and Catarratto, while
Planeta blends Carricante with Riesling, and Terre Nere
blends it with Inzolia.
Since Nero d’Avola ripens relatively early growers need to
take care to avoid over-ripe, high sugar grapes. Where
grown at higher elevations with cooler growing conditions
in the middle of the island, Nero d’Avola yields redder,
fresh fruit. However, at 500 meters, it has difficulty ripening and produces light, astringent wines. The top producers of well-balanced, spicy dark red fruited Nero d’Avola
include Tasca d’Almerita, Planeta, Caruso & Minini, Duca
di Salaparuta, Valle dell’Acate, Occhipinti, COS, Morgante and Principi di Butera.
Zibibbo. This exotic sounding grape is none other than
the familiar Muscat of Alexandria. Its name is derived from
the Arabic “zabib” for dried grape, and became the name
for this grape variety when the island of Pantelleria was
under Arabic control. Originally from Northern Africa,
the Muscat of Alexandria is one of the oldest genetically
unmodified grapes in existence and is the base of many of
the world’s special sweet wines: Beaume de Venise in the
Rhône, Vinho Moscatel in Portugal’s Setúbal region, Hanepoot in South Africa, etc. Indeed, the Vitas International
Variety Catalogue lists 199 different names for this grape.
Only 2 percent of Sicily’s vineyards are planted to Zibibbo,
but it is far and away the most important variety planted
on the island of Pantelleria. While Zibibbo is best known
as the variety used to make the late harvest Moscato di
Pantelleria and the sweet Passito di Pantelleria, today
many producers also make dry and sparkling Zibibbo from
grapes grown both on Pantelleria and on Sicily itself.
Nero d’Avola is frequently blended with international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Cusumano,
Donnafugata, and Mazzei blend with Bordeaux varieties,
while Valle dell’Acate blends with Syrah.
Frappato. Grown almost exclusively in the southeast,
Frappato has only 1 percent of total plantings in Sicily.
However, its popularity is increasing due to its unique rose
petal and red berry fragrance and delicacy. In Vittoria it
plays a key role with Nero d’Avola in the blend Cerasuolo
di Vittoria, one of Sicily’s finest wines, which is now produced by about 20 wineries. Frappato is mainly grown
in sandy soils, and its bunches are tight and compact.
Fermentation is usually done in stainless steel quickly and
gently at low temperatures to preserve aromatics and fruit
flavors. Frappato easily oxidizes and is usually overwhelmed by barrel fermentation and aging, so concrete
vats and Slavonian botti are more commonly used. While
Frappato lacks anthocyanins and is light in color, it is flavorful with red berry and pomegranate fruit flavors. Frappato is clearly not for cellaring and should be consumed
within two to three years, akin to fine Cru Beaujolais.
Chardonnay. Several international white varieties are
planted in Sicily. The most important is Chardonnay,
which was widely planted on the island beginning in the
late 1980s and early 1990s. Today it is the most planted
international variety and occupies five thousand hectares
or more than 4 percent of all plantings. Tasca d’Almerita
produced the first varietal Chardonnay and Planeta
released its outstanding ripe, barrel-fermented Chardonnay in the mid-1990s. Today, 98% of all Chardonnay in
Sicily is planted in the provinces of Trapani, Agrigento and
Palermo. Other producers of excellent Chardonnay-based
wines include Cusumano, Donnafugata, Firriato, and
The percentage of Frappato in Cerasuolo di Vittoria varies
between 30 and 40 percent. Top producers include COS,
Planeta, and Valle dell’Acate. Excellent, single varietal
Sicilian Food and Wine
Frappatos are made by COS, Occhipinti, and Valle
Nerello Mascalese. Nerello Mascalese is the prized
grape of Mt. Etna, producing some of Sicily’s most authentic and unique wines. It is primarily grown on Etna’s north
slopes, but is also planted on the east and south slopes.
Nerello Mascalese is a late ripening grape, usually harvested in mid-October, with large clusters and berries and
thick skins. Like Pinot Noir, the grape is highly sensitive to
its terroir and in the case of Etna reveals the unique characteristics of the different contradas (crus) where it is grown.
It is often blended with another important variety indigenous to Mt. Etna, Nerello Cappuccio. Neither variety is
widely planted outside of Mt. Etna, although the tiny Faro
DOC that overlooks the strait of Messina also uses these
varieties. Plantings of Nerello Mascalese are just over 3
percent of all Sicilian plantings, while Nerello Cappuccio
is under 1 percent. There are many fine producers of Etna
Rosso including Girolamo Russo, Le Vigne, Passopiscaro,
Pietradolce, Tenuta delle Terre Nere, Tenuta di Fessina,
and Graci.
Sicilian cuisine is just as exciting as its wines. It is exotic
and bears the imprint of the different peoples that have
occupied the island over the centuries: Greeks, Romans,
Normans, Spanish, Arabs, French and northern Italians.
Homer’s Odyssey describes the island’s bounty of fresh
apples, pomegranates and grapes. The Normans introduced fish curing with salt, while the Spaniards brought
tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables. But it was the
introduction by the Arabs of almonds, eggplant, couscous,
saffron and sugar cane that defined much of Sicilian cooking as it is today. During our visit to Sicily we had the
good fortune to taste a wide variety of dishes at lunches
and dinners around the island.
Perricone. One of Sicily’s oldest grapes, Perricone used to
be important in western Sicily, but today only occupies less
than 400 hectares in all of Sicily. It almost became extinct
after phylloxera devastated Sicily in the early 1900s.
Perricone is a vigorous vine and needs green harvesting
to achieve a balance between the foliage and the fruit.
Depending upon where it is grown, Perricone can be deep
in color and bitter or light in color and less astringent. A
majority of producers use oak to ferment and age Perricone, but some like Caruso & Minini use stainless steel and
produce lighter style wines.
Perricone is used both as a blending grape and a single
varietal. It is frequently blended in small amounts with
Nero d’Avola to increase palate texture and reduce high
acidity. Both Firriato and Tasca d’Almerita blend Perricone
with Nero d’Avola. Excellent single varietal Perricone is
made by Caruso & Minini and Firriato.
In this section, we identify many of the key dishes of Sicily
from antipasti to desserts and offer suggestions on pairing them with wine. Sicilian dishes are usually simple
and savory, and Sicilians value fresh ingredients. They
also like to roll and stuff different foods. Rolled meats like
Farssumagru, rolled fish like Involtini and, of course, Cannoli. Sicilians also like fried foods, stuffed fried dough,
fritters, and Arancine, of course.
Syrah. Like other international varieties, Syrah was only
introduced into Sicily in the mid-1980s. Since its introduction it has become the second most planted red variety
in Sicily after Nero d’Avola and currently accounts for 5
percent of all plantings. Because of its adaptability to
warm climates and sandy soils, most of it is grown in western Sicily. Stylistically, Sicilan Syrah has been considered
similar to Australian Shiraz with ripe, dense, and alcoholic
traits. Top producers of Syrah include Caruso & Minini,
Cottanera, Principi di Butera, Rapitalà, Valle dell’Acate,
Planeta and Passopisciaro.
Sicilian appetizers
are a wonderful
prelude to the main
meal, but can also
be a meal all by
themselves. Marinated mushrooms,
prosciutto di parma,
Sicilian olives,
carciofi (marinated
artichoke hearts),
peperoni ripieni
(baked yellow and red
peppers) frittata, omelets of all kinds, carmelised onions,
cheesy arancinette (miniature rice ball croquettes) and
polpette di melanzane (fried and braised eggplant fritters)
Bordeaux Varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and
other Bordeaux varieties are also planted in Sicily. Like
the other international varieties in Sicily they were actively
promoted for use by the IRVV in the mid-1980s and early
1990s. Both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are mainly
blended with Nero d’Avola to add color or structure. They
are also combined with each other to produce Bordeaux
blends. Excellent examples of Nero d’Avola and Bordeaux
variety blends are made by Ceuso, Cusumano, and Donnafugata. Planeta makes an interesting blend of Bordeaux
varieties only.
e Zacca (green cauliflower and squash) or Spaghetti con
Verdure di Campo e Ricotta (Spaghetti with Wild Greens
and Ricotta) This simple and delicious dish in the creation
of Anna Tasca of the famed family of Tasca d’Almerita
are among the appetizers we enjoyed for antipasti during
our travels in Sicily.
Wines: Red and white wines pair well with most antipasti.
For most of our meals in Sicily we drank both reds and
whites for starters. Fuller bodied whites work well with
spicy olives and marinated vegetables. Light-bodied reds
are ideal for just about all antipasti, especially fried foods
like arancinette or dried cured meats like proscuitto.
Wines: Because of the wide variety of pasta sauces in
Sicily, pairing them with wine requires attention to the main
ingredients. Red wines are usually paired quite successfully with pasta with tomato sauces. While visiting Etna we
found the high acidity and fresh flavors of Etna Rosso pair
magnificently with fresh tomato sauces. Big reds work well
with more complex and earthy pasta sauces.
Fish and Seafood
Fish and seafood
are widely available in Sicily. One
of the most popular
fish dishes is Involtini di Pesce
Spada, swordfish
roll-ups stuffed with
pine nuts, raisins,
bread crumbs, and
anchovies. Sicilians
also love the taste
Involitini de Pesce Spada
of anchovies. Fresh
and canned anchovies are featured in local dishes such as
Spaghetti con Acciughe e Mollica Rossa (spaghetti with
anchovy, fresh tomato sauce, and toasted breadcrumbs).
Fresh sardines are also very popular and are usually fried
or grilled but can also be stuffed and baked or featured
in the popular pasta dish Pasta con le Sarde. Fresh tuna
is plentiful in late spring and is cut into thin steaks, grilled
and served with fresh tomatoes or other vegetables. Tuna
is also preserved as in Tonno Sott’Olio and eaten sparingly
as an antipasti or in salads.
In our travels in Italy we seldom ate meat. However, there
are some wonderful meat dishes
in the Sicilian culinary repertoire.
Farsumagru (rolled steak, stuffed
sicilian style) is perhaps the most
celebrated meat dish in Sicily.
It is a steak stuffed with meats,
cheese, eggs and vegetables and
then rolled to look like a roast.
Other tasty meat dishes are rolled
up Braciole alla Sicilian, veal
cutlets or scaloppini filled with
olives and capers and grilled over
coals, and Involtini di Carne, emat
roll-ups stuffed with ham, cheese
and pistachios. Spezzatino di
Agnello con Patate (lamb stew with
potatoes) is one of many savory
stews served in Sicily. Another is Spezzatino di Vitello, or
veal stew made with onions, tomato paste and vegetables.
Wines: Sicily produces a variety of white wines that are
ideal for pairing with fish and seafood. Young, unoaked
Inzolia, Grillo, Catarratto, and Carricante are all good
choices for simple fish dishes and seafood. For richer fish
and seafood dishes, anchovies and tuna, we recommend
blends of these traditional grapes with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and perhaps Viognier. Other good choices
would be barrel fermented single varietals like Chardonnay
and Inzolia and barrel fermented blends of these wines or
red fruit forward wines such as Frappato or darker more
complex wines such as Cerusolo di Vittoria.
Wines: Big, flavorful reds are ideal for pairing with meat
dishes such as steak and lamb. Nero d’Avola is an excellent choice for most meat dishes, especially the darker
riper styles that offer blackberry and earth flavors. However, blends of Nero d’Avola with Cabernet Sauvignon and
Syrah also work well. Syrah by itself also usually pairs
well with beef and lamb dishes. We couldn’t resist ordering veal Marsala at a fine restaurant in the city of Marsala
and enjoyed it with a red-fruited Nero d’Avola.
Doci (Desserts)
Sicilian meals always feature a sweet ending. Desserts
made with fresh ricotta cheese are regularly served at
lunches and dinners and are often
the high point of a
meal. Cannoli con
Crema di Ricotta is
very popular in Sicily,
and during our visit,
we tried many different recipes. The best
ones have crisp shells
and are filled with
Cannoli con Crema de Ricotta
freshly made ricotta
There are many distinctive pasta dishes served throughout
Sicily. Pasta con le Sarde (pasta with sardines) is one
of Sicily’s most famous pasta dishes. It is made all over
Sicily, but the traditional recipe of Palermo is reputedly
the best. Spaghetti alla Siracusana is another heavenly
sauce of crunchy breadcrumbs, sardines, and parmesan
cheese served with plain olive oil. An equally popular
and delicious pasta dish is Pasta alla norma, which we
ate at small restaurant in Etna. It consists of slowly cooked
eggplant chunks with spices tossed into a basic tomato
sauce and then tossed with ricotta and pasta. Pasta is
often blended with vegetables such as Pasta con Broccoli
cream. Cassata is Sicily’s magnificent Arabian -inspired
sponge cake with sweetened ricotta cream, marzipan and
candied fruits. It is a specialty of western Sicily, especially Trapani, but is a big production to make at home.
Casatelle are ricotta-filled, fried turnovers stuffed with
sweetened ricotta. These decadent sweet pastries are also
common in Trapani and served with coffee in the morning
or as a dessert. Tarts of almonds, figs and other fruits
are also popular desserts and are usually made with Pasta
Frolla, a flaky pastry dough sweetened with sugar and
grated zest of lemon. Sicilians also often have plain fruit
for dessert, and there are wonderful choices like yellow
melons, figs, persimmons, blood oranges, kiwi fruit and
dates. There are also mild local cheeses like caciocavallo,
a semisoft cow’s milk cheese.
(45%), Carlos & Menini (85%), Feudo Principi di Butera
(60%), Valle dell’Acate (70%), Cottanera (40%), and Barone di Villagrande (55%).
In 2011 Sicily produced 4.8 million hectoliters of juice
from grapes, of which 1.5 million hectoliters, or 31% of
the total, was bottled in one form or another on the island
itself. While the percentages vary year by year, about 65
percent of Sicilian wine is sold in bulk or as table wine, 30
percent is sold with an IGT appellation, and 5 percent is
sold with a DOC or DOCG appellation. Total exports (in
2009) are 460 thousand hectoliters, 74 percent of which is
bottled. In the decade 1999-2009, bulk wine exports plummeted while exports of bottled wine more than doubled.
Sicily’s Appellations. Today, there are 24 Sicilian
wine appellations (23 DOCs, 1 DOCG (Cerasuolo di
Vittoria), and IGT), of which the most widely used is
Sicilia IGT (indicazione geografica tipica), which was
created in 1995. The flexibility the Sicilia IGT allows
producers, including higher yields than DOC appellations, permitting the variety name on the label, sourcing
fruit from anywhere on the island, and bottling outside
Sicily, quickly made it the most popular of all appellations. However, as of the 2012 vintage, the Sicilia IGT
appellation ceased to exist and is instead replaced by
two other appellations—Terre Sicilia IGT and Sicilia
DOC, both of which allow fruit to be sourced from
anywhere on the island and the wine to be bottled
outside Sicily. It will be challenging to clearly explain
to consumers what these appellations mean, aside from
“grapes grown in Sicily”. Meanwhile, only a few of the
other 23 appellations are commonly used, mostly for
wines that already have a clear identity, like Pantelleria,
Etna and Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Given that the generic
classifications Terre Sicilia IGT and Sicilia DOC are
likely to be the appellations most consumers will find on
bottle labels, it’s important that quality producers begin
putting more detailed technical information on back labels as to the grape sources, production methods, and
locations of processing facilities so that interested wine
consumers can begin learning more about the diverse
terroir of Sicily and its impact on wine quality.
Wines: Sicily’s sweet wines, known as Passitos, pair
beautifully with desserts. So long as they are sweeter than
the desserts themselves and have adequate acidity, passitos are excellent accompaniments to many of the desserts
listed here. Marsala also pairs well with some desserts
like cannoli and cheeses like Pecorino. A bold tasting
Parmesano will go best with a bold Nero d’Avola.
The Market for Sicilian
Sicily has made significant improvements in the quality
of the wines it produces and exports. As a result, foreign
demand has increased, and exports of bottled wine more
than doubled between 1999 and 2009. As shown in the
graph, the most important market is the UK, followed by
Germany, and the US. Other major importers of Sicilian
wine are Switzerland, Sweden, Canada, and the Netherlands.
Export Promotion
The current market for Sicilian wines in the US should grow
in the coming years. The quality of the wines is excellent,
and prices are competitive for most wines. One challenge
for the Sicilian wine industry is to educate consumers and
the trade about the improvements made in the quality of
Sicilian wine in recent years. Another is to use the appellation system and improved wine labeling to market Sicilian
wine more effectively (see box).
Marketing organizations like Assovini Sicilia are playing
an important role in promoting Sicilian wine exports. Since
Assovini’s 67 members produce 80 percent of the wines
actually bottled on the island (as opposed to Sicilian wines
bottled on mainland Italy, mostly by larger, more commercially oriented producers), it is in a unique position to
promote the Sicilian wine industry in international markets.
Assovini organizes an en Primeur, which since 2004 has
While exports have increased, they are still a small
percentage (about 10 percent) of total (bottled plus bulk)
wine production, which was 4.8 million hectoliters in 2011.
However, exports are mostly bottled wine, and exports of
bottled wine are about 28 percent of the total 1.5 million
hectoliters of bottled wine produced in 2011. Furthermore,
the producers of especially high quality wine export a
much higher percentage of their production: Firriato
presented the new vintages to the Italian and international
press, but it needs to compliment this with other educational activities and industry tastings in key international
Export promotion activities in the U.S. should include media and education campaigns in major US wine markets
and tastings for the trade and consumers. The media and
educational campaigns should be done in both print and
online with target groups identified with the assistance of
the Institute for Foreign Trade, the Italian Embassy, and key
importers. Sicily has exciting wines to promote in the U.S.
market and a good story to tell. Wine enthusiasts would
be keen to learn about the authentic, indigenous wines
that are being produced in Sicily. Furthermore, the US
wine media, including bloggers, need to be encouraged
to write more about Sicilian wines, and the Sicilian wine
industry itself needs to use social media such as Facebook
and Twitter more effectively in generating excitement about
Sicilian wines.
Lastly, wine industry leaders need to take action to clarify
Sicily’s appellation system so that its fine wines are better
understood and appreciated by consumers and the trade.
Presently only a few of Sicily’s appellations are commonly
used on labels and in the marketing of wines. These
include Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Etna, Malvasia delle Lipari,
Marsala, and Pantelleria. Each of these refers to specific
grape varieties and unique terroir, which conveys valuable
information to consumers, but in total they account for just
a tiny percentage of Sicily’s total production. The recent
ministerial decree allowing Etna producers to put the name
of the contrada from which grapes were sourced on the
bottle label is a useful step forward in helping consumers
identify high quality wines. Hopefully, other DOCs in Sicily will soon follow suit in specifying the grape sources and
production methods that account for their quality.
Tasting Notes and Ratings
tion about a wine than a simple number. We do not rate
wines tasted in barrel and often do not give final ratings of
wines that are newly bottled. We mark these wines with a
All tasting notes and ratings for this report also appear
in the i-WineReview‘s Tasting Notes Archive at www. Subscribers may use the i-WineReview
Search function to locate all reviews of individual producers and their wines. Our tasting notes also include profiles
of the producers who may be unfamiliar to our readers.
Abraxas is a small company
located on the island of Pantelleria. The company was founded
in 1999 by former Agricultural
Minister, Calogero Mamini and
Attilio Tripodi. Abraxas has 26
hectares of vines farmed organically in vineyards at 120mt and 400mt. It produces
80,000 bottles of outstanding passito and unique red
wines of very good quality annually. Two reds are reviewed here. Importer: Wine Emporium, Brooklyn, NY
The wine reviews and ratings for this report include more
than 200 Sicilian wines. They consist of both indigenous
and international varieties and blends grown throughout
Sicily. Although Sicilian wines are increasingly popular in
the US market, many of the wines we tasted in Sicily are
still not available in the US. This is especially true of some
of the lesser known indigenous varieties and of Marsala.
Notwithstanding the fame of Marsala, very few of the better wines such as the Marsala Vergine are being imported,
which is most unfortunate. Hopefully, in time, when Sicilian wines are better known and appreciated, restaurants
and consumers will have greater access to the full range of
premium wines being produced in the country.
Abraxas 2009 Rosso Sidereus Sicily ($15) 89 A blend of
Cabernet Franc and Nero d’Avola, the Sidereus is a rustic
wine revealing aromas of dark and spicy red berry fruit
with high acidity. It has good structure, youthful firm tannins and a pleasant finish. Sourced from a 360m vineyard. Abraxas 2008 Kuddia del Moro Sicily ($30) 91 A
more substantial wine than the Sidereus, this Nero d’Avola
exhibits an attractive dark ruby color and aromas of plum
and black cherry. It is a big rustic somewhat earthy wine
although soft on the palate with dark spicy fruit flavors and
tannic grip on the finish. Planted at 836m on volcanic soil
at the foot of the ‘Montagna Grande’ on Pantelleria.
Our program of tastings was organized by Assovini Sicilia
and other partners in Sicily. Most of the wines reviewed
here were tasted during our visit to Sicily in May 2013.
Wines we couldn’t taste during our visit because of time
constraints, we tasted at our offices in McLean VA and
Washington, DC. We provide tasting notes, ratings and
prices for virtually all the wines tasted. Those not imported in the US, with some exceptions, are listed under Other
Wines Tasted; tasting notes for these wines are provided in
our Tasting Notes Archive
Barone de Villagrande
estate, one of the very few located
on the eastern slopes of Mt. Etna
at Milo, is situated at an altitude of
700m above sea level. It is family owned and operated; co-owner
Marco Nicolosi Asmundo serves as
winemaker. The wines produced by
Barone de Villagrande are virtually
all of indigenous grapes sourced
from their Mt. Etna vineyards, which
range from 15 to 75 years in age.
Over the past 10 years the company has also been
managing a project on the island of Salina to produce
passito from sun-dried grapes of Malvasia delle Lipari.
The quality of Barone de Villagrande wines is very
high. Unfortunately only two wines of this producer
are currently imported. Importer: Ominiwines, Flushing, NY
The International Wine Review rates wines using the 100
point system. We do not write up wines that receive a rating below 85 points. The ratings are:
95 and above 91-94 89-90 87-88 85-86 84 and below A wine of distinction
A wine of outstanding or superior quality
A wine of very good to excellent quality
A wine of good quality
A wine of fair or acceptable quality
Not recommended
We commonly add a + to a point score to indicate our
judgment that a wine is deemed to be of higher quality
than its point score but is not at the next quality level. That
said, we urge our readers to look at our comments that
help explain our ratings and provide more useful informa-
Barone de Villagrande 2011 Etna Bianco Superiore Sicily
91 Yellow-green gold color. Herbal-olive and slightly nutty
bouquet reflects some lees contact and a cool site. Very
good acidity, bright and less heavy than most Carricante.
The 5-8 months sur lie aging provides excellent depth and
good body to support the fine acidic structure fresh fruit
and real pretty, even floral character of the wine. A very
long fine-boned wine. Barone de Villagrande 2010 Etna
Bianco Legno de Conzo Sicily 91+ The name of this wine refers to the lengthy, lever beam of a Roman-style press. Full
gold-green color. Rich, leesy aromas with overt herbal, nut
and white peach scents. Quite fresh, lively flavors, even
with the evident oak. Distinguished, balanced and richer
in texture than the above wine, if a trace less elegant.
Barone de Villagrande 2008 Etna Rosso Lenza di Mannera Sicily 92 Unique because it was aged in traditional
manner (chestnut barrels) for two years. Ruby-garnet color.
Rich, black cherry, with slightly roasted plum and coffee
aromas. Medium full bodied, with rich sweet, yet firm flavor reflecting some oak tannin. Quite harmonious, earthy
and nuanced flavors, with a hint of balsamic. Very stylish,
long and lightly herbal finish. Barone de Villagrande
2011 Fiore Sicily 90+ Fiore is a blend of 90% Carricante
and 10% Chardonnay that is fermented and aged in
French oak for 10 to 12 months.. Medium straw, it reveals
aromas of orchard fruit, herbs, minerals and toast. These
are mirrored on a full-bodied palate with a. crisp finish.
grapes: Inzolia, Catarratto and Grillo. It is fruity with a
nose of white peach and Muscat. The palate is off-dry and
clean with a hint of bitterness on the finish. Colosi 2012
Nero d’Avola Sicily ($16) 87 Medium dark ruby. Bright,
fruit forward with a Beaujolais-like nose. Medium-body,
fresh, red fruited showing plum and raspberry on the
palate. A pleasant and very drinkable style. Colosi 2010
Rosso Sicily ($16) 88 Medium-red ruby. Red raspberry
and cherry aromas on the nose. Very quaffable and fruit
forward, with good flavor concentration and firm tannins.
A good pizza wine.
Caruso & Minini Located
in the City of Marsala,
Caruso & Minini owns 120
hectares in the hills between
Marsala and Salemi at
350 meters in elevation.
The operation is owned by
Mario Minini who managed
a winery in northern Italy and Stefano Caruso whose
family had been growing grapes and selling them to
merchants for the past 100 years. The winery is located in a late19th century “baglio” in the heart of the
traditional wine-cellar area of Marsala. The wines are
well-made, of excellent quality, and offered at bargain
prices. Importer: Vinifera Imports, Ronkonkoma, NY
Other Wines Tasted: Baronet de Villa Grande 2008 Ciara
Sicily 91 Baronet de Villagrande 2010 Passito Malvasia
di Liparí Sicily 91, Barone de Villagrande 2011 Etna Rosso
Sicily ($20) 89
Caruso & Minini 2012 Inzolia Terre di Giumara Sicily ($15)
88 The 2012 Inzolia has a medium straw hue and fresh
aromas of pear and melon. It is full and round on the
palate, fresh, friendly and un-complicated. Caruso &
Minini 2012 Grillo Timpune Sicily ($16) 90 Timpune means
‘summit’ in Sicilian dialect; the ‘top’ both in altitude (here
400m) and also best of class. Pure, strong, lemon and
floral (broom) nose. Not too fruity, but with a fine chalky
texture, medium full body and somewhat similar to good
Greco di Tufo, but with less finesse. This is a very good
and fresh wine, with more length than many. Caruso &
Mini Insula 2012 Sicily ($18) 89 This is an attractive blend
of 50% Inzolia, 15% Catarratto and 35% Grecanico. It is
fermented in stainless steel and in Acacia and oak barrels and kept on the lees for 6 weeks. It is very fragrant
with aromas of flowers and passion fruit and flavors of
sweet light peach with a hint of almond. Caruso & Minini
2011 Cutaja Nero d’Avola Sicily ($15) 90 Deep ruby
purple. A lovely style of wine, with nutty-toasty aromas
(but not oaky), dark red plum and black cherry fruits,
with a touch of balsamic adding spice tones. Sappy,
spicy flavors with good acidity and well-defined tannins
showcase medium body. Caruso & Minini 2009 Sachia
Perricone Sicily ($18) 91 The traditional black grape of
the Marsala region. Sourced from a two hectare plot, the
wine shows a fine dark ruby color and vivid floral, black
cherry aromas accented by anise and herbal scents with a
touch of earthiness. Firm acidity, not too tannic compared
to Nero d’Avola, and no oak. Fine, elegant and lightly
grippy flavors with floral and spice notes. Caruso & Minini
2011 Nero d’Avola Terre di Giumara ($15) 89 This Nero
d’Avola is a delicious fruit forward wine offering notes of
The vineyards of Calcagno are located in
Passopisciaro in Mt. Etna and are planted on ancient
lava flows. The winery produces wines from Nerello
Mascalese and Carricante. Marco de Grazia assists
with the winemaking and the quality is very good.
Importer: unknown
Calcagno 2011 Arcuria Sicily 88 This is a pleasant tasting
“rosso” of Nerello Mascalese, sourced from Mt. Etna. It reveals aromas of red strawberries and plum with a soft and
fruity attack, a flavorful palate, with firm tannins and a dry
finish. Calcagno 2010 Arcuria Sicily 89 The medium-ruby
colored 2010 Arcuria is a step up from the 2011 vintage.
It is light and elegant on the palate with red berry fruit and
a touch of earth and vanilla. It is more flavorful than the
2011 vintage and finishes dry with a bitter note.
Cantine Colosi Since 1987
Cantine Colosi has been producing indigenous Sicilian wines on
the small island of Salina in the
Aeolian archipelago. Its vineyards
consist of about 10 ha situated on
volcanic soils. Colosi wines are
produced by enologist, Piero Colosi
in collaboration with his father Pietro. Importer: Vias
Imports, New York, NY
Cantine Colosi 2012 Dry White Sicily ($12) 87 Very pale
straw, this wine is a blend of three indigenous white
wild weeds and earth on the nose with a hint of huckleberry. It has an attractive earthiness on the palate with soft
gentle tannins. 1/3 of the wine gets just a bit of oak aging
in 3 year old barrels. Great value.
wine for everyday drinking offing attractive cherry flavors that are also Pinot Noir-like in character. Corvo 2012
Irmana Grillo Sicily. ($12) 88+ This Grillo offer fresh citrus
aromas with a light banana note. It is full and round on
the palate with light flavors and a mineral edge. Pleasant
and refreshing. Corvo 2012 Irmana Nero d’Avola & Frappato Sicily ($12) 89 This wine is a blend of 80% Nero
d’Avola and 20% Frappato. Fresh red plum and cherry
on the nose, it is big and soft on the attack with freshness
provided by Frappato. The wine offers bright red fruit on
the palate and is very easy to drink and is not unlike a
good Cru Beaujolais.
Other Wines Tasted: Caruso & Minini 2009 Syrah Riserva
Delia Nivolelli ($24) 89 Caruso & Minini NV Marsala
Superiore Riserva Secco Sicily 90, Caruso & Minini 2011
Tagos Grillo Vedemmia Tardiva Sicilia IGT 90+
This winery owned by the Melia
brothers began operations in the early
1990s as “ garagistes. Today, the
winery operates out of a restored
“baglio” near the famous temple of
Segesta in western Sicily. It produces
four wines from 50 ha of vineyards
and the quality is excellent.
Importer: Vias Imports, New York, NY
COS Founded by three
school friends, Giambattista (Titta) Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti and Cirino (Rino)
Strano in 1980, COS is
a natural winery in the
Vittoria region that started
off with three hectares and
today owns 30. The name derives from the first letter of
their last names. Fascinated by ancient wine methods,
they work with 400 liter clay amphorae jars called
Pithos, similar to those used by the ancient Greeks to
make wine . They make nine different wines, including
a sweet moscato. The COS wines are innovative and
out standing. Importer: Domaine Select, New York, NY
Ceuso 2011 Scurati Nero d’Avola Sicily ($15) 89 This Nero
d’Avola has a dark ruby color and youthful aromas of
ripe plum, blackberry and earth. On the palate it is fruit
forward with a hint of smoke, soft round tannins, good
balance and a long finish. Aged for 8 months in cement
vats and three months in bottle. Ceuso 2010 Fastaia Sicily
($27) 88 Fastaia is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon,
40% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot. It has a dark ruby color
and aromas of ripe black prunish fruit, smoke, herbs and
licorice. Aged in old cement vats for 18 months and in
bottle for 4 months before release, it reveals a ripe mouth
feel, firm round tannins, good structure and a long finish. Ceuso 2008 Ceuso ($38) 91 A blend of 50% Nero
d’Avola, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot.
Opaque ruby. Black and dark red berry aromas followed
by concentrated and earthy black fruit and roasted flavors
on the palate. Lush with soft full mouth feel, round firm tannins and a lingering finish.
COS 2011 Ramì Sicily ($30) 90 A 50-50 blend of Inzolia
and Grecanico, co- fermented in concrete vats with 10
days skin contact, Ramì has a deep gold color, with
strong acacia and dried herbs bouquet. Low yields contribute to a rich, nutty mid-palate accented by full, dried
fruit flavors and a chalky texture. Distinctive and full flavored, made in an “earthy” style, there is good acidity and
deep character which suggests keeping a couple of years
will reveal more detail. COS 2010 Cerasuolo di Vittoria
DOCG Sicily ($35) 92 Made using co-fermentation which
helps to fix a deeper color, (dark ruby-violet), the wine
showcases a deep lovely black cherry, lightly gamy and
definite raspberry-fresh bouquet. Chalky, rich texture, fresh
but earthy flavors and good length highlight this denser
than usual Cerasuolo. While a bit oaky on the finish, there
is excellent freshness with fine tannins and length.
2007 Contrada Sicily ($85) 92+ A pure Nero d’Avola aged
two years in large oak botti (large casks usually 10 to 40
hl) and from a 60 year old vineyard. Contrada has a
medium dark ruby-garnet color, indicating some maturity.
Intense aromas of plum, black licorice, dark berry and
some gaminess are framed by medium plus body and fine
tannins. Solid yet with some elegant acidity on finish. Delicious and multi-layered. COS 2012 Frappato Sicily ($30)
92 Medium ruby-violet; the color of cru Beaujolais!. Lively
cherry, raspberry and floral aromas lead to medium bodied lovely deep berry flavors. Elegant and nervy with fine
tannins and fresh finish, there is real length to this wine,
and good dry finish. COS 2011 Nero di Lupo Sicily ($30)
90 This 100% Nero d’Avola is fermented for 12 months in
cement tank and no wood. It is dark and spicy, peppery
The Corvo Winery is one of
Sicily’s oldest and best known
wineries. Originally founded in
1824 by Giuseppe Alliata, duke
of Salaparuta, Corvo became
one of the best -selling Italian
wines in the US in the 1970s
and 1980s. It is currently owned and operated by
ILLVA di Saronno, a northern Italian drinks company
which also owns Duca di Salaparuta and Florio. One
of the largest wineries in Sicily today, Corvo purchases
grapes from growers all over the island and produces
close to a 1 million cases of good quality low-budget
wine annually.
Corvo 2011 Bianco Sicily ($12) 88 The Corvo Bianco is an
easy drinking wine made of Inzolia and Grecanico. Fermented in stainless steel, it shows good acidity and freshness on the palate and on the finish. Corvo 2011 Rosso
($12) 88 The Corvo Rosso is a blend of Nero d’Avola and
Nerello Mascalese. It is a delicious light and flavorful
and elegant. Medium weight. Round tannins. Young vines.
COS 2011 Pithos Bianco Sicily ($40) 93 100% Grecanico.
Made in the ancient style using amphorae, Pithos Bianco
has a full gold color, and a rich dried apricot, apple-skin
and nutty nose and flavor. Dry, with a sherry-like hint of
savory nuts and vanilla, but not oxidized, it reveals elegant, just slightly tannic flavors which confer fuller texture
and length and suggest the wine can age a few years
too. A very distinctive complex wine. COS 2011 Pithos
Rosso Sicily ($40) 91 A 60-40 blend of Nero d’Avola and
Frappato crushed into, fermented and aged 8 months in
amphorae. Medium ruby color. The bouquet is lovely,
with hints of cedarwood, mineral/graphite, and black fruit.
The palate shows fine but– firm tannins, good acidity and
enough dry extract to buffer the other components. Lovely
yet different with definite gamy notes, there is still pretty
strawberry/clove and black pepper flavors on the finish.
One of the best “ancient” wines being made today.
Other Wines Tasted: Cottanera 2012 Etna Bianco Sicily 88
Cottanera 2009 Sole di Sesta Syrah Sicily 90 Cottanera
2008 Nume Sicily 89
Cusumano is one of the
larger family owned and
operated wineries in
Sicily. It has a diverse
portfolio of wines from
indigenous and international grape varieties.
Its vineyards consist
of: Ficuzza a 189 ha
property at 700-800 m
in the district of Palermo used mainly for the production
of its white wines; San Giacomo, a 140 ha vineyard in
Butera used for its flagship Nero d’Avola; and Presti e
Pegni, a 70 ha estate in Alcamo used for its red blends,
Noà and Benuara. Brothers Diego and Alberto Cusumano manage the operation. The wines produced
here are generally of a very high quality. Importer:
Vin Divino, Chicago, IL
The Cottanera company
was started in the early
1990s by Guglielmo
Cambria (deceased) and
his brother Enzo. Located
on the northern slope of
Mt. Etna in Castiglione di
Sicilia, the estate, consists of 55 ha planted to vineyards at 700 mts. Initially planted with international
varieties, the vineyards now include native grapes like
Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio and Carricante.
Enzo runs the company with children of Guglielmo. The
wines are well-made and stylish. Importer: Banville &
Jones Wine Merchants, New York, NY
Cusumano 2012 Alcamo Sicily ($12) 89 The 2012 Alcamo
is a blend of 60% Catarratto, 30% Grecanico and 10% aromatic grapes. It has light fragrant aromas and a creamy
palate of orchard fruit and melon. It spends 4 months on
lees in stainless steel and shows notes of light pepper and
bitter almond on the finish. Cusumano 2012 Insolia ($12) 89
The Insolia reveals aromas of ripe orchard fruit with a hint
of banana.. It is soft on the attack contact with the skins.
Cusumano 2012 Nero d’Avola Sicily ($12) 88 This dark
ruby Nero d’Avola is fresh and easy drink with flavors
of red berries and plum. 20% whole clusters, it is aged in
stainless steel with good fruitiness on the mid palate and
big tannins on the finish. Cusumano 2012 Cubìa Sicily
($21) 90 This 100% Insolia is fermented in 20 hectoliter
barrels and spends 6 months on the lees and 8 months in
barrel. It exhibits a golden yellow color with ripe tropical
fruit on the note with a hint of banana and mango and
oak. It has a silky texture on the palate with excellent acidity and freshness on the finish Cusumano 2011 Jalé Sicily
($30) 89 This 100% barrel fermented Chardonnay is rich
and creamy with aromas of tropical fruit, hazelnut and
toasted oak. It reveals lots of coconut and tropical fruit on
the palate with good acidity and a crisp finish Cusumano
2011 Benuara Sicily ($17) 91 A delicious blend of Nero
d’Avola and Syrah which complement each other well,
the color is solid ruby. The bouquet reveals ripe black
berry, with licorice accents. Very round and easy to drink
already, the flavors show good richness, fine tannin and
a hint of graphite minerality with real length. Cusumano
2010 Sàgana Sicily ($35) 91 This 100% Nero d’Avola is
a delicious wine. It has a dark ruby color and aromas of
blackberry fruit. Fermented in stainless steel and aged
in used oak barrels, it maintains it fruit flavors with lots of
earthy mineral nuances . It is tightly structured and elegant
on the palate with firm round tannins on the finish that
need time to resolve. Cusumano 2009 Noà Sicily ($42)
92 Noà is a blend of 40% Nero d’Avola, 30% Merlot
Cottanera 2012 Barbazzale Bianco Sicily ($16) 90+ Floral,
slightly lemony aromas with orange accents. Very pretty,
bright flavors with good minerality accenting the fresh finish. Quite lively Viognier adds some weight and tropical
notes, while the high acidity, fresh and somewhat saltymineral tang on finish may be the Inzolia’ s contribution to
this delicious blend. Great Value. Cottanera 2009 Barbazzale Rosso Sicily ($16) 90 Medium violet-ruby color. For
a freshly bottled wine, already very expressive with fresh
floral (rose), wild cherry and slight toasty accent from oak
aging. Pretty, delicate flavors with light tannins, classy,
nicely focused mid-palate black cherry and anise fruit with
a hint of mineral-earthiness. Very good especially at price,
and so easy to drink already! Cottanera 2009 Etna Rosso
Sicily ($50) 91 Medium ruby with just a hint of garnet.
. More roasted cherry and less floral, though a touch of
violet, than the Barbazzale. The flavors are also more minerally, with firmer tannins. Very good length; elegant, solid
and fresh with a lovely cherry finish. Cottanera 2009
Fatagione Sicily ($32) 89 The Fatagione is a blend of 85%
Nerello Mascalese and 15% Merlot and Syrah. Fermented
in stainless steel and aged for 10 months in French barriques, 40% new, it displays a dark concentrated red and
black fruit character with an earthy, spicy nose. It has a
refined palate with silky tannins on the finish.
and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark ruby almost opaque
in color it offers black fruit with earthy aromas and a
hint of licorice. Soft and elegant on the palate, it spends
12 months in French oak barriques and has round firm
tannins and a very long finish. Cusumano 2012 Angimbé
Sicily ($17) 89 A blend of 70% Insolia and 30% Chardonnay it reveals a ripe tropical fruit nose with hints of pineapple and passion fruit. It is soft and creamy on the palate
with attractive lemon-like acidity on the finish. Cusumano
2008 Moscato dello Zucco Sicily ( $32) 92 Dark gold
amber. This is a sweet wine with very high residual sugar
(240 g/l), but it comes off as fresh and not overly sweet.
It reveals a lovely rich mix of coconut, hazelnut, and dried
apricot on a viscous yet elegant palate. Fermented in 40%
new and 60% used barriques
The Donnafugata winery
is owned by the Rallo
family and was launched
in 1983. It is situated in
the town of Marsala and
sources grapes, both
indigenous and international, from a neighboring 642 acre- vineyard
at Contessa Entellina and 104 acres of Zibibbo vineyards on the island of Pantelleria. The winery follows
modern and environmentally responsible viticultural
prices and produces high quality wines, often blending
international and indigenous varieties. Importer: Folio
Fine Wine Partners, Napa, CA
Other Wines Tasted: Cusumano 2010 700 Vino Spumante
di Qualita Brut Sicily 89+ Cusumano 2012 Ramusa Sicily
Donnafugata 2012 Anthilia Sicily ($16) 88 The 20112 Anthilia is a blend of 55% Catarratto and lesser amounts of
Inzolia and Chardonnay. It offers aromas of flowers, citrus
and minerals on the nose. On the palate it exhibits fresh,
clean and uncomplicated flavors with crisp acidity on the
finish. Donnafugata 2012 Lighea Sicily ($20) 90 Very
floral-grapy aromas with a minerally back note. Dry fresh
and floral flavors with a chalky texture and taste finish with
crisp acidity and good length. 12.5% 90. Donnafugata
2009 Chiaranda Sicily ($44) 90 This Chardonnay displays
a yellow straw color and aromas of fresh yellow fruit and
a hint of mango. Aged for 5to 6 months partly in oak and
partly in cement, it is fresh and full on the palate showing
fruit that mirrors the nose with very light hazelnut, coconut,
mango and minerals on the finish. Very flavorful with a
persistent finish. Donnafugata 2011 Sedàra Sicily ($16)
88 A medium ruby red, the Sedàra is a blend of Nero
d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. It boasts
dark cherry and herbs on the nose that carry over to the
palate with a fresh light bitter note. Finishes with firm,
somewhat dry tannins. Donnafugata 2008 Tancredi Sicily
($44) 89 Tancredi is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and
Nero d’Avola . Semi-opaque in color it offers aromas of
black raspberry, cassis, and wood spice on the nose. It
is full and firm on the palate showing mostly dark fruit,
minerals, and dark loam. It finishes with ripe fruit and
astringent tannins. Donnafugata 2008 Mille e una Notte
Sicily ($85) 90 This bottling is a blend of Nero d’Avola
and a small percentage of other varieties. It offers lean,
dark fruit on the nose and a soft full palate. While nicely
flavored, it is showing astringent tannins and high acidity
at this stage of development. Donnafugata 2010 Ben Ryè
Passito di Pantelleria Sicily ($44) 93 Copper gold. This
Zibibbo-based passito shows intense fresh apricot and
blood orange aromas, followed by a lovely, soft attack
and viscous, lightly sweet flavor. Made from grapes dried
naturally in the sun and wind for 20-30 days. Aged in
stainless steel and bottle. A 2006 vintage of this same
wine was even more voluptuous and integrated
De Bartoli
Founded in 1978 by
Marco De Bartoli, this winery has
played a pioneering role in reviving Marsala as a fine, artisanal
wine. In addition, he raced cars
and served as president of the
IRVV research institute. Today his
son Renato makes what may be
Sicily’s finest Marsala, including
the only non-fortified one, the
Vecchio Samperi reviewed here. His brother Sebastiano
focuses on making the wines of Pantelleria. Importer:
Louis/Dressner, New York, NY
De Bartoli 2011 Bukkuram Passito di Pantelleria Sicily ($58)
94 This red amber, 100% Zibibbo is exceptionally good
showing an intense concentrate of sweet orange, apple
and rhubarb. It’s just off dry and perfectly balanced with
a pure focus, freshness, and excellent acidity. Half the
grapes dry on the vine, while the other half are picked and
air-dried for three weeks. The vine dried grapes are picked
and fermented and then the raisins are added to macerate for three months. Aged 30 months in 225 L French
oak. De Bartoli NV Marsala Superiore Riserva 10 Anni
Sicily ($65) 94 Dark amber in color, this is benchmark
Superiore with complex, dark aromas and flavors, complex
and perfectly balanced. Milk chocolate, burnt sugar and
caramel show on the nose, while the palate picks up more
subtle flavors of roasted nuts, white chocolate and dried orange. Finishes long and just off-dry. 18.5° alc. De Bartoli
NV Vecchio Samperi Ventennaie Sicily ($78) 95 Medium
amber. This non-fortified wine isn’t technically a Marsala
simply because it isn’t fortified, but it still carries 17.5°
alcohol. Its’ the best Marsala type wine we’ve ever tasted,
intensely aromatic and elegant, dry, and concentrated on
the palate with dry mineral extract on the finish.
palate with notes of lemon and a light honeyed accent.
Beautiful,and clean--not complex but beautiful.
Duca di Salaparuta is one
Sicily’s oldest and most illustrious wineries. Established in
1824 by Edoardo Alliata di
Vllafranca, the winery earned
a reputation for consistent
quality of its wines into the
modern era. From the late
1960s to 1997, the talented Franco Giacosa served as
technical director and he was followed by several other
excellent winemakers. Duca di Salaparuta is one of
three historic brands owned by ILLVA di Saronno, a
northern Italian drinks company, the other two being
Corvo and Florio reviewed elsewhere. The wines of
Duca di Salaparuta are mainly sourced from estate
vineyards in Butera and Vajasindi Estate at Castiglione
di Sicilia on Mt. Etna and as a group are excellent
wines. Importer: Corvo Wines USA
Feudo Maccari Established in
2000 by Antonio Moretti and
his daughter Monika, this 250
acre estate is located in Noto.
It was assembled from numerous owners and more that 50
separate plots on the southern
hillsides near the town of Noto.
Vines existed in some parcels
and in others they were planted to native varieties with
the advice of consulting winemaker, Carlo Ferrini. The
quality of the wines is very high. Importer: Kobrand
Corp., Purchase, NY
Feudo Maccari 2012 Grillo Sicily ($15) 90 Medium yellowgreen color. Classic Grillo nutty aroma is enlivened by distinctly floral-herb scents, which lead to sophisticated flavors
suggesting white peach, and mineral-oil flavors surprisingly
less herbal than the nose suggests. A sophisticated wine
produced from 10-year-old alberello vines. Feudo Maccari 2011 Nero d’ Avola ($15) 88 Fermented in stainless
steel, this Nero d’Avola displays a dark earthy color with
ruby highlights and blackberry fruit on the nose. It is very
ripe and densely flavored on the palate with a hot finish.
Feudo Maccari 2010 Saia Sicily ($30) 89 This 100 Nero
d’Avola from a ripe vintage spends 12 months in French
oak. It is ripe in style offering noses of black fruit, chocolate and tobacco on plate. A huge wine, extracted with
firm somewhat hard tannins. Over the top in extraction like
a ripe Zinfandel and hot on the finish.
Duca di Salaparuta 2012 Kados Sicily ($25) 91 Grown
in one of the best sites near Trapani on sandy-limestone
soils, this shows strong Grillo character. While recently
bottled, it already reveals nutty, peach-tropical fruit aromas
with fresh fruity and crisp flavors. Slightly chalky texture
from aging on fine lees for a few months adds weight and
interest, while the lemony finish is accented by some spicy
white pepper notes. A very clearly defined yet rich wine.
Duca di Salaparuta Passo delle Mule Sicily ($25) 91+ This
100% Nero d’Avola boasts a medium dark red color with
aromas of ripe cherry, vanilla and toasted oak. Sourced
from the high altitude Suor Marchesa estate in southern
Sicily, it reveals good acidity and freshness on the palate
with excellent structure and a long finish. Duca di Salaparuta 2009 Làvico Sicilia ($25) 91 Làvico is an attractive
bottling of Nerello Mascalese sourced from the Vajasindi
estate situated on the volcanic slopes of Mt. Etna at 700m
altitude. Dark red cherry in color, it is intensely flavored
with spicy red berry fruit. smoke and a light tobacco note.
Aged 12 months in small oak casks, it is elegant on the
palate with high acidity and a long satisfying finish. While
grown on Etna (Castiglione di Sicilila), this wine is bottled
at the main winery in Casteldaccia. Duca di Salaparuta
2010 Nawàri Pinot Nero Sicily ($40) 91 The Nawàri Pinot
Nero is also sourced from the Vajasindi estate on the
slopes of Mt. Etna. It is medium ruby red and offers aromas of red berry fruit and a hint of mint with lots of vanilla
oak at this point. Aged for 12 months in fine grained oak
barriques, it is soft and full on the palate with fine, firm
tannins and high acidity on the finish. Duca di Salaparuta
2008 Duca Enrico Sicily ($59) 92+ Duca di Salaparuta’s
vines grow on a limestone-sandy site. Deep colored, the
bouquet reveals rich, potent and quite dark fruit aromas
with hints of vanilla-oak and a hint of roasted fruit. Full
bodied and well-structured with fine tannins and good
acidity, this vintage will definitely benefit from 6-8 years
aging, though the kirsch-like flavors particularly notable on
the finish make it delicious now. Duca di Salaparuta NV
Ambar Moscato (.375L $12) 91 Yellow amber. Fresh, concentrated lemon with honeycomb notes. Gorgeous clean
Other Wines Tasted: Feudo Maccari 2008 Maharis Sicily
90 Feudo Maccari 2011 Sultana Moscato di Noto Passito
Sicily 91. Feudo Maccari Vino Spumante Rose Brut Sicily 89
Located in the province of Caltanissetta, Feudo Principi di Butera
consists of 360 ha, 180 ha planted
mainly with Nero d’Avola, Inzolia (40%) and other international
varieties (60%). The Zonin family
has been owners of this estate since
1997, once owned by Prince of Deliella, part of the Italian Royal family. The vineyards are
of calcareous and clay soils, have a density of 5,000
plants per hectare. and are irrigated as needed. A
low spurred cordon system is used. .Franco Giacosa,
who originally identified the property for Zonin, served
as winemaker until a couple of years ago; Antonio
Cufari serves as winemaker today. The high end
Deliella,100% Nero d’Avola, is the estate’s best wine.
Importer: Casa Vinicola Zonin USA, Charlottesville, VA
Principi di Butera 2012 Insolia Sicily ($14) 88 Quite pronounced fresh lemon blossom and green almond aromas
promise much, and the palate delivers with moderately
rich, tropical fruit flavors with just a hint of banana. Very
nicely done, with more depth than some other Insolia
wines tasted. Principi di Butera 2011 Nero d’Avola Sicily
($14) 89 The 2011 Nero d’Avola has a dark ruby color
and aromas of dark red plum with some wood spice
Aged in 50% Slavonian botti and 50% tonneaux, it is a
pleasant tasting wine and easy to drink with soft tannins
on the palate but finishing with firmness and good length.
Give the wine time for aeration. Principi di Butera 2011
Syrah Sicily ($14) 90 The 2011 Syrah offers dark plum fruit
and spice with hints of spice, tobacco, forest floor and
vanilla on the nose. The palate shows good balance with
dark plum fruit, chalky tannins, and a touch of astringency
on the finish. Shows northern Rhone earthy graphite.
Principi di Butera 2008 Deliella Sicily ($20) 92 This 100%
Nero d’Avola reveals a dark ruby color and aromas of
earthy blackberry and chocolate. It is ripe,and full flavored on the palate with prominent chocolate and caramel
notes and some pepper. It finishes with good length and
richness with hints of wood spice and soft tannins. Only a
touch of heat on the finish limits the wine.
ricante and 20% Catarratto and spends two months on
lees. It has a fresh crisp nose with a hint of citrus and is
bright, fresh and crisp on the palate with mineral notes.
Very pleasant. Firriato 2011 Etna Rosso Sicily ($19) 89 The
Etna Rosso is composed of 80%Nerello Mascalese and
20% Nerello Cappuccio. It spends six months in barriques
and reveals aromas of black cherry with lovely fruit purity
on the nose. It has a soft and expressive palate and. fills
the mouth with dark red fruit, cracked pepper, and a long
finish. Firriato 2011 Favinia Passulè Sicily ($42) 90 Dark
gold amber. This is a 100% Zibibbo from the Isola di Favignana, located about 7 km from the west coast of Sicily,
dried partly on the vine, partly in the sun. The wine shows
an intense, almost pungent nose of apricot. It’s soft, round
and very concentrated, showing honeyed apricot on a viscous palate, finishing dry despite its 200 g/l RS. Firriato
2010 Harmonium Sicily ($44) 92 Medium deep ruby-violet
color. Fine, black berry and some light peppered aromas.
Firm tannins, and sporting rich oaky flavors, the palate is
quite chewy though with solid dark berry-plum fruit lurking in the background. Firriato 2010 L’ Ecru Passito Sicily
($45) 93 Amber gold. This elegant, superbly balanced
wine is mostly Muscat with about 10% Malvasia. While it
shows high density of dried apricot and herbal rosemary,
it also has a bright, uplifting elegance. Finishes tasting dry
despite the 150 g/l RS. The grapes are partly dried on
the vine and partly picked and dried in the sun. Firriato
2012 Quater Sicily ($35) 89 The Quarter blends four
indigenous white grapes in one glass: Grillo, Catarratto,
Carricante, and Zibibbo. The blend spends 4 months in
stainless steel and offers floral, Muscat and lemon notes.
It reveals interesting, complex flavors with herbal and citrus
fruit notes with very good acidity. Firriato 2010 Ribeca Sicily ($38) 91 Made from the nearly extinct local variety Perricone, Ribeca shows a pretty medium-full ruby color. Dark
berry aromas are accented by definite vanilla-oak which
somewhat obscures. Firm and minerally black fruit flavors
with slightly lean tannins. Distinctive and inviting. Firriato
2011 Santagostino Sicily ($19) 90 This is a 50/50 Nero
d’Avola and Syrah blend that spends 8 months in French
barrique. It reveals black cherry, blackberry, with a loam
note. It is tight, firm but freshly flavored with a nice focus,
ripe gentle tannins and along pure finish.
Other Wines Tasted: Principi di Butera 2011 Riesi Sicily 88,
Principi di Butera 2006 Deliella Sicily 91
Created in 1987 by Salvatore and Vinzia di Gaetano,
Firriato is one of the largest
wine producers in Sicily. It
is located in Paceco just
east of the city of Trapani,
but purchases grapes throughout Sicily. It has four estates in the west and one on Mt. Etna (Tenuta Cavanera) of 11 hectares. Stefano Chioccioli of Tuscany is
consulting enologist. It owns 320 hectares (790 acres)
of vineyards and produces more than 5 million bottles
of wine annually. During late 1990s it had Australian
and NZ enologists. Importer: Soilair Selection, New
York, NY
Firriato 2012 Favinia La Muciara Sicily ($42) 92 From the
island of Favignano just off the coast from Trapani, this elegant, minerally-herbal scented blend of Zibibbo and Grillo
showcases chalky flavors, strong fruit extract and a fine
saline finish in a medium full-bodied and distinctly impressive package. Firriato 2012 Cavanera Etna Bianco ‘Ripa di
Scorciavacca’ Sicily ($37) 91 Delightfully sleek, minerally
and herbal nose with unique almond accents. Better than
average acidity for Etna white wines is complemented by
a fairly full chalky texture (Carricante speaking). Nicely focused and precise with good length, this is a fine example.
Firriato 2012 Chiaramonte Inzolia Sicily ($17) 89 Showing
a slightly reductive, but fresh, steely citrus-herbal aroma,
this zesty white does have enough pear-guava flavors to
yield a flavorful easy to drink wine for early consumption.
Firriato 2011 Chiaramonte Nero d ‘Avola Sicily ($17) 89
Vinified in stainless steel and aged in American oak for
six months.. Full in the mouth with good structure, it reveals
earthy herbal flavors with blackberry and a concentrated
slightly bitter note on the finish. Firriato 2012 Etna Bianco
Sicily ($19) 88 This Etna Bianco is a blend of 80% Car-
Florio This is Marsala’s most famous
winery, having been the first established by a Sicilian, Vicenzo Florio, in
1832. Today it’s owned by the big
ILLVA di Saronno drinks group. Its elegant Marsala wines are made using
only Grillo and are aged 8 years in
the barrels stored in Florio’s huge 164
m long, old warehouse. Giuseppe
Garibaldi began his quest to unify Italy in Marsala in
1860; he later returned to Marsala to celebrate his
victory at the Florio winery. Unfortunately, Florio’s best
quality Marsala wines are not imported to the US.
Importer: Banfi Vintners, NY
Florio Donna Franca Marsala Superiore Riserva 15 Anni
Sicily 93 Medium dark burnt sienna fading to gold at
the rim. This Superiore offers spicy, kahlua like aromas.
The palate is bright and fresh with excellent balance
between sugar and acid, although the flavors are deep
and dark—a concentrate of coffee, fits, and a hint of bitter
chocolate. 90 g/l RS Florio 2009 Passito di Pantelleria
DOP Sicily 91 Orange amber. This Passito is dried on the
ground for 20 days and aged in oak barrels for 8 months.
It shows scents of tangerine, apricot, and tangy raisins
that are complemented on the palate by flavors of dried
apricots, sultanas, and just a hint of burnt sugar. 14.5%
alc. Florio 2008 Passito Malvasia delle Liparí 92 Orange
amber. This passito made from Malvasia and Corinto
Nero grapes grown on the volcanic island of Salina is
like drinking liquid velvet with its viscous, soft texture and
sweet, long finish. It reveals gorgeous orange and apricot
marmalade accented by rosemary. The grapes on sundried for 20 days, then pressed and fermented slowly
until fermentation stops and aged 6+ months in 225 L
oak barrels. 140 g/l RS and 13.5% alc. Florio NV Targa
Riserva 1840 Marsala Superiore Riserva SemiSecco Sicily
91 Light brown amber. This semi-dry wine is made only of
Grillo grapes and aged 10 years in barrel. It’s soft, lightly
sweet with good acidity, showing date like aromas and
flavors. Not real complex but delicious nonetheless. 70 g/l
RS. Florio 2000 Terre Arse Marsala Vergine Sicily 92 The
just off-dry Terre Arse is a first rate Marsala Vergine made
only of Grillo with excellent integration of flavors and
excellent balance. It shows orange flowers, tea, apricot,
roasted nuts, and distinct rancio notes all interwoven on
a creamy palate, finishing with excellent length. The wine
comes from bush-trained vineyards facing the sea near the
beach, aged 8 years in old oak barrels. 19° alc.
Nerello Capucco. The wine is medium dark ruby garnet
and has a fresh nose showing fresh dark red plum, and
earth. Aged for12 months in used barriques, it has nicely
integrated flavors excellent balance, although the barrel
notes are somewhat prominent as this stage of development. Girolamo Russo 2010 Feudo Etna Rosso Sicily ($55)
92 A warmer but less concentrated vintage than 2011,
from a lower, more sand-pumice infused vineyard, this is
a wine to enjoy now for its immediacy. More ruby than
garnet to color Earthier nose, less floral, but clear Nerello
black and sour cherry notes (amarena in Italian). With
more minerality on the palate, less obvious fruit, firm tannins, yet a dense dusky, flavorful finish, it still shows aging
potential over the next 5 years. An excellent and quite
prototypical Etna Rosso. Girolamo Russo 2011 Ne Rina
Etna Bianco Sicily ($45) 92 Medium yellow color. Rich,
nutty-mineral yellow flower (broom, acacia) bouquet with
a touch of herbs, too; quite vivid,. Medium bodied, crisp
and firm flavors with a full texture, nutty peppery flavors
and a slightly bitter orange rind-like finish which contributes a nervy structure and adds to the length. Very strong
Etna Bianco.
Graci Alberto Graci is among the
top producers working the north
slope of Mt. Etna. His vineyards
are situated at Passopisciaro at an
altitude of 600 to 1,100 meters and
his vines are densely planted in volcanic soils ranging between 6,000
and 10,000 vines per hectare. Some
of the vines are on their own roots.
His Contrada Barbabecchi is situated at 1,000 meters and consists of 2 ha of pre-phylloxera Nerello Mascalese planted over 100 years ago.
His Contrada Arcuria consists of 25 ha, 18 planted to
vines, mainly Nerello Mascalese and small amounts
of Carricante and Catarratto. Part of Arcuria includes
ungrafted alberello (bush vines) planted at a density of
10,000 vines per hectare. Graci’s wines are excellent.
Importer: Massanois Imports, Washington, DC
Other Wines Tasted: Florio NV Ambra Secco Dry Fine
Marsala Sicily 88; Florio NV Ambra Dolce Sweet Fine
Marsala Sicily 88; Florio NV Moscato Sicily 88
Girolamo Russo
Giuseppe Russo makes the
wines at this tiny boutique
winery named after his
father Girolamo Russo. The
winery is located on Mt.
Etna in Passopisciaro and
produces about 12,000
bottles per year. Giuseppe, who is also a pianist,
took over the family business in 2004. The operation
has 15 hectares at 650 to 750 meters is divided into
three parcels. Giuseppi initially made his wine with
help from Marco de Grazia, and now has Emiliano
Farsini consulting . His wines consist of three labels.
‘A Rina, Feudo and San Lorenzo. All are made from
Nerello Mascalese grapes. The wines are first class
in quality. Importer: Pannebianco, New York, NY/
Oliver McCrum, Oakland, CA
Graci 2011 Arcuria Etna Bianco Sicily 89 Fine slightly
minty, herbal and nutty aromas showcasing the distinctive
Carricante character above all. Balanced, fresh, and not
too high in acid. Solid, green pear finish. Fresh. Graci
2011 Etna Rosso Quota 600 Sicily 91+ The Etna Rosso
Quota 600 is dark ruby red and shows fresh dark red berry fruit on the nose with hints of herbs and toast. Aged for
18 months in large format barrels. It is soft on the palate
with good freshness and acidity and a long finish. Graci
2011 Arcuria Etna Rosso 90 Solid, light ruby-violet color.
Fairly full on palate, with strong black cherry, floral (violet)
and graphite aromas. These are framed by structured, firm
tannins and a little less mid-palate density than the above,
as it originates from younger vines. Made under the guidance of Carlo Ferrini of Tuscany. Capable of aging 4-5
years, but not as much finesse.
Girolamo Russo 2011 ‘A Rina Rosso Sicily ($34) 90 The
‘A Rina is a blend of 95% Nerello Mascalese and 5%
Mazzei--Zisola This estate located just
outside Noto is owned and operated by
the Mazzei family from Tuscany, one
of Italy’s most renowned and respected
families. The 50 hectare estate consists
of 21 hectares of vineyards planted at
a density of 5,500 vines per hectare
trained in the traditional alberello style.
The vineyard is mainly planted with
Nero d’Avola and small amounts of
Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. The estate produces two wines, Zisola, a 100% Nero d’Avola
and Doppiozeta (ZZ), a blend of Nero d’Avola, Syrah
and Cabernet Franc. This estate produces high quality
wines. Importer: Palm Bay International, Boca Raton,
Cantine Intorica is a small family owned
and managed business established in
1930 that produces good to excellent
Marsala. Francesco Intorcia is the current
owner. Importer: Vinilandia, Kittery ME
Intorcia NV Marsala Vergine Riserva 1980 30 Anni Sicily
88 Medium brown in color, this reserve is made of wines
that have been in barrel at least 30 years. Showing notes
of dates, dark caramel and burnt sugar, it is well balanced
and dry on a lightly weighted palate. Intorcia NV Marsala
Vergine Soleras Sicily 87 Amber brown in color, this is a
straightforward Marsala showing notes of dark corn syrup,
honey, and molasses. It’s surprisingly dilute on the palate,
but pleasantly dry.
Mazzei 2011 Zisola Nero d ’Avola Sicily ($26 ) 92 Full
dark ruby color. From a cooler year, here the red fruit
(cherry, black raspberry) aromas predominate, along with
a loamy earthiness. The palate is quite rich yet fresh, with
some graphite-cedar flavors, fine tannins very forward
fruit with hints of plum and some subtle framing vanilla
oak (1/3 new French oak, but also partly aged in steel).
A quite poised example of Nero d’Avola from its original
area that doesn’t stray over into the chocolaty overripe
style. Mazzei 2010 Zisola Nero d ’Avola Sicily ($26) 89
The 2010 Zisola Rosso has a dark ruby hue and red fruit
aromas with notes of herbs, earth, and tar. It is fresh and
full-bodied on the palate with bright fruit notes, high acidity and a rich satisfying finish. Mazzei 2010 Doppiozeta
Sicily ($54) 93 The 2010 Doppiozeta is a blend of Nero
D’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. A
lavish and complex wine, it boasts a dark chocolate
cherry nose with assertive charred oak notes. Aged for 15
months in barrique, 50% new, it is fresh and bright on the
palate showing loads of lovely up front fruit and chocolate
with toasted oak notes and a long finish. Mazzei 2008
Doppiozeta Sicily ($54) 91 The 2008 Doppiozeta is
from a warm vintage and is a riper wine than the 2010. It
shows a touch of prune, chocolate, charred oak, and mint
on the nose. On the palate, it offers velvet black fruit,
lovely texture with graphite and minerals, and finishes with
ripe soft tannins.
Irene Badàla Etna Rosso 2011 92+ All from old vines at
Contrada Santo Spirito; 2000 bottles. Made under the
guidance of Marc de Grazia. Full deep ruby-violet. Ripe,
deep black cherry fruit on nose, with raspberry-violet accents like Chambolle Musigny. Quite full on palate, though
not especially mineral; high extract, and rich but fine
tannins. Quite stylish and long, this has real promise, and
can take 2-4 years aging.
Le Vigne di Eli These wines are made by Marc de
Grazia on his daughter’s behalf. The wines are moderately priced and offer outstanding values. A good
percentage of the income from the sales of the wines
is contributed to the pediatric department at Children’s
Hospital, Florence. Importer: A Marc de Grazia
Selection, Michael Skurnik, Syosset, NY and other
Le Vigne di eli 2011 Etna Bianco Sicily ($25) 90+ From a
vineyard on the eastern slope of Etna near Milo, prized
especially for its white wines. Made from old vines. Vibrant acidity combined with minerally herbal scents. The
flavors show the vibrant fresh and tangy character of white
wines from this section of Etna where it is high, more humid
and to some degree, cooler. Medium-bodied, stylish and
elegant, very invigorating wine. Le Vigne di eli 2010 San
Lorenzo Sicily ($43) 91 The San Lorenzo is medium ruby
in color and offers lovely fresh, dense and earthy aromas.
It is rich and lush in the mouth with red fruit and earth
notes, good acidity, finishing long with ripe tannins. 2010
Le Vigne di eli Etna Rosso($25) 93 The Contrada is Moganazzi. Most of Moganazzi is 700m in altitude. Medium
ruby-garnet color. Floral, lovely raspberry and cherry with
violet and darker berry aromas. Finely tannic, with deliciously juicy, yet graphite-minerally black fruit, anise and
cherry flavor with subtle violet tones. Very well balance,
and capable of improving over the next 5-7 years. One of
the classiest Etna Rossi tasted.
Mirabella This label is owned by Giuseppe Bianchi
Distillati, under the management of Pino Bianchi and
his son Claudio. The firm was started by Leone Bianchi
in Marsala in the 1950s. Mirabella makes a full range
of Marsalas, including egg-cream (cremovo), mostly
aimed at the broad consumer market.
Mirabella Marsala Vergine Riserva 20 Anni 90 Medium
topaz color. Aromatically complex and well balanced
on the palate, this Marsala shows notes of butterscotch,
tangerine marmalade, and orange pekoe tea. It has a
medium long finish and is quite delicious but rather lightly
weighted. Made of Catarrato and Grillo grapes. Mirabella 1989 Marsala Superiore Riserva 91 Brown topaz.
This is a delicious, easy drinking Marsala showing notes of
walnuts, figs, and dates. It’s soft and mellow in the mouth
with good balance and length and prominent notes of
walnuts and figs on the finish. While it doesn’t have the
complexity of the best Marsalas, it shows good depth.
tannic, with good acidity and lovely raspberry, mineral flavors, the wine shows good length and real elegance in an
earthy style. A very stylish, if “down to earth” wine that
is nearing its peak. Occhipinti 2012 SP 68 Sicily ($27) 89
Very fragrant, floral-herb aromas. Round, soft flavors, with
good length and delicacy that is quite distinctive, showing
intriguing overtones of rosemary, wild herbs (garrigue).
The Morgante Winery was established
in 1994 by Antonio Morgante and his
sons, Carmelo and Giovanni. It is located in southern Sicily near Agrigento
and has a little over 60 ha under vine
at 300 to 600 m. Winemaking is in
the hands of Ricardo Cotarella, one of
Italy’s finest winemakers. The winery’s
two wines are reviewed here: a standard Nero d’Avola
and the Don Antonio Nero d’Avola Riserva. Both
wines are outstanding. Importer: A Leonardo Lo Cascio Selection, Winebow, Montvale, NJ
Palari This tiny winery located in the
hills of the Straight of Messina, was built
by the Sicilian- born architect Salvatore
Geraci and his brother, agronomist
Giampiero. It consists of seven hectares
of old alberello- trained vineyards of primarily Nerello Mascalese and Nerello
Cappuccio with small amounts of little
known Italian varieties like Acitana,
Galatena and Calabrese. Since its first commercial
vintage in 1994 Palari has been highly acclaimed and
deservedly so. The winery also produces a Rosso del
Soprano and Santa.Ne’ not reviewed here. Importer:
Panebianco, New York, NY
Morgante 2010 Nero D’Avola ($18) 91 Medium dark ruby.
This Nero d’Avola displays a lovely nose of ripe black
cherry and plum with charred oak and spicy balsamic
notes. It is a very juicy wine, soft and round and packed
with fresh flavor. It has good acidity and structure with
sweet tannins on the finish. Morgante 2009 Nero d’Avola
Riserva Don Antonio Sicily ($42) 93 The Nero d’Avola
Riserva Don Antonio reveals a lovely powerful nose of
tobacco, charred oak balsamic, and a hint of bitter chocolate. It has a velvet textured palate with layered flavors,
showing dark red fruit with fresh, unctuous and earthy
nuances It has firm round tannins, think extract and a very
long finish.
Palari 2007 Faro Sicily ($65) 90+ Medium ruby red with
aromas of violet, black raspberry liquour, and gamey
notes. It’s soft and supple on the palate with dried herbs,
some notes of vanilla and firm round tannins. Aged for 12
months in Rocais oak barrels and 12 months in bottle. A
delicious wine and one of the classics of Sicilian artisanal
Passopiscaro Owned by Andrea
Franchetti of Tenuto di Trinoro in
Tuscany, Passopiscaro is located
on the slopes of Mt. Etna. The
estate consists of 200 hectares with
the vines averaging 80 years in
age. Franchetti has 8 hectares of
old vines at 650-1000 meters and
follows organic viticulture with no
herbicides or fertilizers. Franchetti
made his first wines in 2001 which were blends of
Nerello Mascalese with Merlot and Petite Verdot.
However, by 2003 he decided he could make stunning
wines without blending. The estate makes 2,300 cases
annually, and the wines are all first rate. Importer: T.
Edward Wines, Ltd. New York, NY
Occhipinti This small artisanal
winery is owned by the young and
talented winemaker Arianna Occhipinti. She launched her winemaking
venture in 2004 with only one hectare and today produces wines from
12+ hectares of vineyards in Vittoria
which are cultivated organically
without the use of chemicals either
in the cellar or in the vineyard. She
produces wines from Frappat , Nero
D’Avola, Muscat and Albanello, an ancient grape that
isn’t produced very much anymore. Arriana’s uncle,
who stimulated her interest in wine. is Giusto Occhipinti
of COS wines. Importer: Louis/Dressner Selections,
New York , NY
Passopisciaro 2010 Rosso Sicily ($45) 90 A blend of the
vineyards. Pale ruby-garnet (cooler year). Delicate floralmineral nose. Lighter flavors with slightly firmer tannins,
though quite elegant for drinking over the next 1-3 years.
Passopisciaro 2011 Guardiola Sicily ($40) 91 The first vintage for this wine. Medium ruby-violet. Grown at 800m.
Very pure black fruit, violet nose with graphite nuances.
Integrated tannins, fairly full mid-palate and real sense
of flesh make this a complete wine, based upon some of
the oldest vines, some pre-phylloxera, that Passopisciaro
owns. 2011 Passopisciaro Parcaria Sicily ($90) 93+ From
Contrada Parcaria, a south-facing vineyard at just 650
Occhipinti 2011 Frappato Sicily ($42) 92 This 100% Frappato is sourced from 50-year- old vineyards. Dark ruby
in color it offers earthy red plum and spicy aromas on the
nose followed by complex and layered gamey red fruit
flavors with considerable minerality on the palate. . Fermented in stainless steel and aged in 25 hl Slavonian Botti,
it shows beautiful balance and structure, finishing long and
pure with big tannic grip. Occhipinti 2006 Siccagno Sicily
($42) 92 Medium deep ruby violet color. Some gaminess along with cassis and violet on the nose, with a touch
of graphite and some animal notes add nuance. Finely
the palate and finishes with a light sweet note. Pellegrino
2011 Duca di Castelmonte Zibibbo Sicily 90+ Perfumed
Muscat like aromas with a marzipan note. Fresh and offdry with a light bitter almond note on the finish. Shows
good balance with excellent acidity. Pellegrino NV Duca
di Castelmonte Zibibbo Sicilia IGP 91 An attractive, fresh
off-dry wine showing a perfume of Muscat and a touch of
marzipan. It has great balancing acidity and a nice, light
bitter almond note on the finish with 16% alc.
meters. Medium ruby-violet. Richer dark cherry and
black berry nose shows less earthy-graphite scents. Deep
flavors, with firm tannins are balanced by good fruit, yet
this will need 5-8 years to soften and evolve, being a more
powerful wine. 2011 Passopisciaro Rampante Sicily ($60)
93 From Contrada Rampante at 950-1000 meters. Lovely
medium ruby-violet color. Lively, elegant black cherry,
lightly floral-violet perfume which adds an enchanting delicacy. High-toned elegant and fresh flavors, almost ethereal, though backed by firm tannins. The wine’s high-wire
balancing act between Pinot noir-like finesse of fruit and
bouquet and Nebbiolo-like tannin will reward a few years
aging, but perhaps better enjoyed now with roast duck.
2009 Franchetti Rosso Sicily ($150) 91. Labeled with his
own name, Franchetti Rosso is made from the distinctive if
somewhat unknown Cesanese d’Affile grape that Franchetti
brought in from its native area in the mountains about 25
miles east of Rome, with 20% Petit Verdot. An indigenous
Italian variety transplanted to a different mountain area
(1000m), the result is rich, fresh and distinctive, though
large-framed! Deep ruby-violet color. Dense potent black
fruit-cassis, and mineral-violet bouquet. Focused tannins
frame quite full, layered fruit flavors, with the alcohol somewhat noted on the finish, yet overall quite balanced.
Established in 2005, Pietradolce is in the town of Solicchiata
on the northern slopes of Mt.
Etna. The company has 11
hectares of vineyards located
between 600-900 meters
above sea level. The soil is
light and stony, full of minerals
offered by the volcano. The
vines planted are those typical
to the area- Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccino
and Carricante. They look to traditional methods of
grape growing combined with modern techniques
to provide the best wine possible. The quality of the
wines is excellent. Only the Etna Rosso is currently
imported. Importer: North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley,
Carlo Pellegrino Founded in 1880
by Paolo Pellegrino, the historical cellars of Carlo Pellegrino are located
in downtown Marsala with over 40
thousand hl in oak barrels and casks.
The winemaker is Gaspare Catalano.
Unfortunately none of the premium
Marsalas and passitos we tasted in Sicily are currently imported to the United
States. However, two basic Marsalas
not reviewed here, are imported. Importer: Frederick
Wildman, New York NY
Pietradolce 2012 Archineri Etna Bianco Sicily 90 The
Archineri is a Carricante-based wine sourced from 100120 year-old old pre phylloxera vines grown at 850 m
altitude. Fermented in stainless steel, it reveals an excellent palate of minerals, herbs and white flowers ripe with
good acidity and balance. Pietradolce 2011 Archineri
Etna Rosso Sicily ($34) 89 The Archineri Rosso is a 100%
Nerello Mascalese offering fresh red fruit, earth and a
note of tar. Aged for nine months in 500 L tonneaux, it is
well balanced with good acidity and is quite elegant with
a chalky mineral finis Pietradolce 2012 Etna Rosato Sicily
90 This rosé of Nerello Mascalese has a pale orange
pink color with aromas of anise peach and apple. It is
full of flavor with dense cherry and chalky minerals on the
finish. Pietradolce 2010 Vigni Barbagalli Sicily 92 This
wine combines power and elegance. It is a selection of
the best parcels of Nerello Mascalese vines 80 to 100
years old and spends 20 months aging in tonneaux. It
displays dried cherry aromas with a hint of vanilla and has
an elegant velvet palate with a hint of vanilla and a long
finish. This is the first year this wine was produced and it
was highly successful.
Pellegrino NV 1880 Marsala Superiore Riserva Sicily 90
This medium brown amber Superiore shows dried apricot and brown sugar with a light vanilla note. It’s richly
aromatic and of medium sweetness. Made of Grillo and
Catarratto aged in Slavonian oak. 18° alc. Pellegrino
1880 Marsala Vergine Soleras Secco Sicily 92 Amber
orange. Rancio perfume of baked apricot, nuts, and notes
of brown sugar and orange. Medium dry palate picks
these up as flavors with good acidity and a light bitter note
on the finish. Superb. 92 Fruit from Trapani--Marsala and
Mazara del Vallo. Fortified with 5 year old brandy and
spends 5 years in Slavonian oak of 50 and 80 hl. 19%
alc Pellegrino 2011 Duca di Castelmonte Centáre Bianco
Sicily 89 A blend of Chardonnay and Insolia. Fragrant,
ripe pear nose. Crisp and fresh with high acidity, pear
flavors. Steely in character. 89 Went well with a plate of
anchovies, finely chopped onion, and orange citrus bits.
Pellegrino 2009 Duca di Castelmonte NES Passito di Pantelleria 92 This red orange, lightly sweet dessert wine reveals
superb balance and incredible length with aromas and
flavors that cover the spectrum from dried cherry and tangerine to hints of almond and butterscotch. It’s creamy on
Planeta 2010 Santa Cecilia Nero d ’Avola Sicily ($ 43) 93
100 % Nero d’Avola. 14 months in Allier barriques (used).
Dark ruby red. Violets, black raspberry, a bit savory. Full
with flavors of exotic spices, note of dark chocolate, with
huge depth and persistence. Ripe, soft tannins. Made from
grapes in its native Noto area in extreme southeastern
Sicily near the coast. Medium strong ruby color More
red fruit aromas than black, with wild cherry and a pretty
touch of raspberry; quite different from Nero d’Avola
made further west. Firm acidity and very fine tannins.
Planeta Established in 1985,
Planeta is a large family winery
with operations in six estates
across Sicily. The estates include: Ulmo winery at Sambuca
di Sicilia with 93 ha, Dispensa
with 161 ha at Menfi, Dorilli with
34 ha at Vittoria, Buonivini at
Noto, 51 ha, Feudo di Mezzo
at Mt. Etna, 16 ha, and La Baronia at Capo Milazzo
with 8 ha. Each estate produces different international
and indigenous varietals and blends according to their
location. Planeta is a highly successful winery that
produces wines of outstanding quality and individuality.
The winery is jointly managed by Alessio, Francesca
and Santi Planeta. Importer: Palm Bay International,
Boca Raton, FL
Other Wines Tasted: Planeta 2012 Alastro Ulmo Vineyard
Sicily 91, Planeta 2012 Eruzione 1614 Carricante Sicily 92,
Planeta 2011 Plumbago Sicily 91, Planeta 2012 Moscato
Bianco Secco Sicily 91
Rapitalà is located outside
of Palermo near the town of
Camporeale in northwestern
Sicily. Established in 1971,
its vineyards consist of 225
ha (175 planted) of clay and
sandy soils, with some limestone, situated at an elevation
of 300 to 600 meters. The vineyards are divided into
180 parcels and grapes are vinified separately in a
new modern cellar, which holds French oak barriques
and large format barrels. Tenuta Rapitalà produces
indigenous and international varieties and blends with
consistent quality. Importer: Frederick Wildman &
Sons, New York, NY
Planeta 2009 Burdese Sicily ($42) 92 Burdese is a blend
of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Cabernet Franc.. It
is a big semi-opaque and well-structured wine with aromas
of blackberry, cassis, and smoke. Aged for 14 months in
new French oak, it is meaty in character and finishes on
an elegant, chalky note. Planeta 2011 Cerasuolo di Vittoria
DOCG Sicily ($23) 91 Medium violet-ruby. Fresh, grapyfloral light red fruit bouquet with a touch of graphite. Ripe,
fairly viscous medium-bodied flavors show good focus and
depth for the area. Lovely fruit and light tannins provide a
good sense of proportion and yield a wine of Cru Beaujolais-like style with meatier flavors. Planeta 2011 Cerasuolo
di Vittoria Classico DOCG Sicily ($33) 92 More purple-ruby
than above wine, likely due to higher percentage of Nero.
Fragrant, richer aromas with some cocoa-vanilla oak framing dark cherry and some pepper scents. More layered,
though less ‘fat’ than the above wine and with more fresh
acidity, this is altogether a firmer wine that shows both
excellent finesse, deeper structure and capability to age
2-3 years and improve. Planeta 2011 Chardonnay Sicily ($43) 91 This barrel fermented Chardonnay is one of
Planet’s finest wines produced from international varieties.
Dark yellow straw in color, it offers aromas of butterscotch,
vanilla, and pineapple on the nose with notes of coconut
that are mirrored on the palate. Aged in 50% new French
oak, the palate shows good weight, balance and persistence. Planeta 2012 Cometa Sicily ($43) 91 Made from
100% Fiano cuttings brought in from Irpinia (its homeland),
and planted on clay soils. Lively, floral-orange blossom
aromas enlivened by distinctive capsicum spiciness! Quite
rich, with glyceriny mouth feel, there is plenty of Fiano
orange blossom, peachy fruit balanced by medium acidity
to yield a long, focused wine. The touch of pepperiness in
the finish adds individuality to this Fiano seldom seen outside of Irpinia. One of the best white wines tasted in Sicily
this trip. Planeta 2011 Passito di Noto Sicily ($41) 92 Dark
straw. This air dried (for 45 days) 100% Moscato Bianco
passito shows saffron, tangy apricot, sultanas, orange and
a hint of earth on the nose. But it’s the creamy, rich ripe
pineapple custard palate that wins the stars here. The finish
is long and medium sweet. Just 9.5% alc and 180 g/l RS.
Rapitalà 2012 Grillo Sicily ($14) 89 Light yellow green.
Fragrant aromas of lime zest with a hint of banana and
herbs on the nose. Very pleasant lychee and tangerine
on the palate with a crisp lingering finish. Rapitalà 2012
Casali Catarratto Sicily ($21) 88 A blend of Catarratto
and Chardonnay the Casali displays a yellow straw hue
with waxy aromas and a ripe orchard fruit note. It has a
medium weight creamy palate with rather subdued fruit,
mostly ripe apple with a light spice note. Casali means
house of God in Arabic Rapitalà 2011 Grand Cru Chardonnay Sicily ($40) 91 Medium gold straw. Rich vanilla
oak nose but not overdone with hints of tropical fruit.
Lovely integrated palate, rich but with good acidity. Excellent balance, velvet mouth feel, long finish Fermented in
stainless steel and aged in oak 20% new oak for one yr..
Rapitalà 2010 Solinero Syrah Sicily ($55) 91 This Syrah
exhibits a dark ruby red hue and is richly aromatic. It is
ripe fruited with earth and cracked pepper notes and is
lovely on the attack, quite soft but with a richly flavored,
nuanced palate. Finishes clean, very flavorful, and with
good length. Rapitalà 2012 Cielo Daclamo Late Harvest
($40) 91 Medium dark amber gold. This blend of Sauvignon and Catarratto displays an almost pungent botrytis
and mushroom nose. Viscous and rich on the palate, it
reveals good complexity with a honeyed earthy character,
finishing clean and bright with good acidity. Fresh tasting
more than dried fruit tasting.
Other Wines Tasted: Rapitalà 2012 Syrah Terroir Sicily 87,
Rapitalà 2012 Sire Nero Sicily, Rapitalà 2012 Nero d’Avola
Campo Reale Sicily 88, Rapitalà 2011 Nuhar Sicily 22
89, Rapitalà 2012 Rosato Sicily 88
ripe fruit. It is nicely structured with good acidity on the
Tasca d’Almerita Founded
in 1830, Tasca d’Almerita
has been one of leaders of
Sicily’s quality wine revolution and the reference point
for ultra-high quality wine.
The winery is located on the
Regaleali estate in the scenic
rolling hills of the province
of Caltanissetta and is one of the most beautiful in
Sicily. Tasca’s vineyards across four separate estates
total over 500 ha and are planted with international
and indigenous varieties which are often blended in the
wines. The company is owned by Count Lucio Tasca, a
descendent of the original owners) and is managed by
himself and his sons Alberto and Giuseppe. Laura Orsi
is winemaker, and Tuscan winemaker Carlos Ferrini,
has served as consulting winemaker.
Santa Anastasia (Abbazia)
In 1980 this former abbey located in the province of Palermo was transformed into
a model wine estate with a
renovated winery and cellars
completed in 2003. The
vineyards consist of 80+ hectares at 200 to 400 meters
with a density of 3,500 vines per ha. Winemaker,
Vicenzo Nicoli produces wines from indigenous and
international varieties. Consulting winemaker Riccardo
Cotarella also lent a hand along the way. Importer:
Empson USA, Alexandria, VA
Santa Anastasia 2011 Nero d’Avola Contempo Sicily ($13)
87 Dark ruby red. Fruit forward with spicy dark red fruit.
Simple and soft on the palate, but rather one dimensional
with a hint of a tanky note on the finish. Santa Anastasia
2010 Passomaggio Sicily ($21) 88 A blend of 70% Nero d’
Avola and 30% Merlot. Sweet earth, dark red fruit, spice,
hint of balsamic on the nose. Slight bitterness on the palate
with somewhat firm dry tannins on the finish.
Capofaro on the island of Salina produces sweet Malvasia on 6 hectares of land. The Whitaker Estate on the
island of Mozia west of Marsala was once a colony
where the Whitakers from England came to make wine
similar to that of Marsala. There are 7 hectares of the
Grillo grapes. Tenuta Tascante in Mount Etna grows
the Nerello Mascalese grape with 12 hectares of
vines, 750 meters above sea level. Sallier de la Tour
in the northwest has 45 hectares and produces Syrah.
Importer: A Leonardo LoCascio Selection, Winebow,
Montvale, NJ
Setteporte is the brainchild of
Piero Portali, whose property
is one of the only ones on the
south slopes of Etna at Biancavilla. His family owns a fine
restaurant in nearby Catania as
well. He started making wine
from the family’s 16 hectare
estate about 30 years ago but
only started bottling in 2002
on the advice of his friend, Michele Satta of Bolgheri in
Tuscany. The vineyards lie between 650-800 meters,
and he only bottles about 2000 cases of wine a year,
the balance sold off in bulk. Marco de Grazia is currently making Portali’s wine. As Piero puts it: “I just
want to drive my tractor in the vineyards and tend my
babies.” Importer: Martin Scott Wines, Lake Success,
Tasca d’Almerita Regaleali 2012 Regaleali Bianco Sicily
($15) 88 The Regaleali Bianco is an easy-to-drink- blend of
three varieties--Inzolia, Catarratto, and Chardonnay. It has
a floral bouquet and a clean fresh palate of orchard fruit
and citrus that is well balanced with a crisp finish. Tasca
d’Almerita Regaleali 2011 Nozze d’ Oro Contea di Sclafani
DOC ($30) 90+ 60% Inzolia and 40% Sauvignon Blanc.
Quite fine fresh, herbal slightly appley and tropical aromas
and flavors. The bright Sauvignon Blanc herb character
and crisp acidity adds distinctive vivacity to the richer,
mineral-nutty flavors from the Inzolia. Nicely done. Tasca
D’Almerita 2010 Tasca d’Almerita Regaleali 2010 Chardonnay Sicily ($60) 89 This Chardonnay has a yellow gold
color and aromas of tropical fruit and toasted oak. Aged
for nine months in 350 L barrels, it offers ripe tropical fruit,
smoky, sweet oak; and a fruity alcoholic finish. (15% alc).
Tasca d’Almerita NV Diamante d’Almerita Sicilia IGT ($60)
90 Medium gold. Made from 60% Moscato Bianco and
40% Gewürztraminer, this wine is pure, sweet ripe stone
fruit, both aromatically and in terms of flavor. Clean flavors
and excellent acidity lend charm to this wine. Tasca
d’Almerita Regaleali 2011 Le Rosé Regaleali Sicily ($15) 90
There aren’t many better rosés in Sicily that this one. It is
made from 100% Nerello Mascalese and fermented like
a white wine. It is clean, fresh tasting, and lightly fruited
Setteporte 2010 Etna Rosso Sicily ($22) 89 Medium light
ruby with red cherry fruit and earthy notes. Fermented in
stainless steel, it is fruit forward, easy drinking with gentle
tannins. Simple, flavorful, and correct. Setteporte 2011
Nerello Mascalese Sicily ($40) 89 This is an earthy dark
fruited wine that is quite fresh and fruit forward with and
herbal, balsamic nose. It is ripe and fleshy on the palate with a touch of bitterness on the finish. A fine single
varietal wine. Setteporte 2012 N’ Ettaro Sicily 89+ This is
a blend of 65% Carricante and 35% Catarratto. It is crisp
with good varietal character and reveals chamomile, herbs
and yellow flowers on the nose with an earthy palate of
Tenuta delle Terre Nere 2012 Etna Bianco Cuvée de Vigne
Niche Sicily ($31) 91+ Full yellow gold color. 12 hours skin
contact in the press contributes a richly nutty, dried applepeach aroma. Full-bodied and firmly textured flavors show
earthy nuances, with hints of yellow fruit, and a glyceriny
finish. Slightly oxidated notes reminiscent of mature Meursault contribute to the wine’s overall character and unusual
length. Tenuta delle Terre Nere 2012 Nero Mascalese Etna
Rosato Sicily ($18) 91 Shows minerals and red berries on
the nose and palate. Superbly balanced with excellent
acidity, one of the best rosés we’ve tasted this year. Made
with one vat that undergoes malo, which gives roundness
on the palate, and one that does not, which provides an
uplift. Tenuta delle Terre Nere 2011 Etna Rosso Sicily ($20)
91 Pretty medium ruby-violet. Lovely floral black cherry
and violet aromas; classic Nerello! Crunchy, red fruit and
mineral-graphite flavors with firm tannins and some earthiness with aeration. Chewy finish, yet soave and elegant,
so should age well and soften over 4-6 years handsomely.
Tenuta delle Terre Nere 2011 Etna Rosso Calderara Sottana
Sicily ($39) 95 Made from 60-70 year old vines, showing
a rich dark red cherry nose. Soft, velvet like with gorgeous,
refined flavors. Feminine, rich and seductive Perhaps the
most delicate of de Grazia’s reds, the flavors show lovely
florality and the finest tannins. Yet a firm core of darker
berry fruit balanced by good acidity and fine graphite
flavors yields the best balanced wine of the group. Very
classy. Tenuta delle Terre Nere 2011 Etna Rosso Santo
Spirito Sicily ($39) 94 “My Ava Gardner wine”, says de
Grazia, referring to the curvy actress of the 1940’s-50’s.
Full ruby color. Subtle, floral-cherry bouquet. Mature,
soft tannins enrobe blackberry flavors, with a more meaty
center, yet the fruit has a feminine, Chambolle-Musigny-like
suppleness. The soils here are deep ash. A more forward
plush wine that will be better yet in 3-5 years. Tenuta delle
Terre Nere 2011 Feudo di Mezzo Sicily ($39) 92 Dark ruby
and dark fruited. From 60+ year-old vines, the wine has a
powerful, concentrated nose showing dark cherry and a
hint of balsamic that are reflected on a big, velvet textured
palate. A big, powerful wine with a lot of grace. Tenuta
delle Terre Nere 2011 Etna Rosso Guardiola Sicily ($39) 93
Spicy, with notes of dark red fruit. Linear and focused on
the palate, refined with violet and cherry a hint of vanilla
and a chalky texture. Firm tannins. Tenuta delle Terre Nere
2011 Etna Rosso Prepylloxera le Vigne di Don Peppino Sicily ($84) 94 Produced from a century-old plus one hectare
section of Calderara behind the winery. Don Peppino is
named after the old owner/caretaker who taught de Grazia so much about Etna’s potential for great wines. Very
stony soils. Pretty, ruby-violet color, with a touch of garnet.
Dark black cherry, baking spice aromas from the oak and
distinctive spicy accents provide a great introduction to the
thick, chewy black berry/cherry flavors.
with lovely red berry notes on the nose and crisp acidity
on the finish. Regaleali Tasca d’Almerita 2010 Lamuri ($20)
92 Lamuri is a delicious 100% Nero d’Avola aged for
12 months in French oak. It reveals spicy dark raspberry,
violet and red currant fruit typical of the area. Lamuri is
the local Sicilian dialect for ‘l’amore’- love! Tasca’s love for
the Nero grape is evident here. The palate shows good
length, with gamy-graphite fruit accented by fine tannins
and elegant medium-bodied, suppleness on the finish, yet
good strength in the mid-palate. Some wood smoke adds
to the finish. Made from younger vines in the Rosso del
Conte vineyard parcels, this will reward 3-5 years aging.
Tasca d’Almerita Regaleali 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Contea di Sclafani Sicily ($65) 91 The Cabernet Sauvignon displays rich aromas of cassis, cedar and smoke on the nose.
Aged for 18 months and a minimum of one year in bottle,
it offers rich ripe fruit with a touch of herbs and brambles,
soft round tannins, and a long finish. Tasca D’Almerita NV
Capofaro Malvasia di Liparí Salina IGT ($60) 90 A beautifully fragrant, floral and herb-accented bouquet shows fine
freshness and Malvasia nuance. Spicy, orange zest and
lightly Muscat-like grapy flavors are balanced by good
acidity. Very complex, but light on its feet as well for a
passito-style wine. Tasca d’Almerita Regaleali 2008 Rosso
del Conte di Sclafani Sicily ($70) 93+ Aged 18 months in
new French oak barrels, Regaleali’s flagship wine shows a
full ruby-purple color this vintage. Lively, black raspberry,
wild cherry aromas are enveloped by subtle smoky-oak
scents. Fine acidity supports lovely fruit flavors: blackberry, violet, graphite. Firm yet silky tannins surround all,
and provide a racy, mineral edge. Balanced for aging
6-8 years, this is a handsome wine which shows old vine
structure, finesse and power.
Wines Also Tasted: Tasca d’Almerita Regaleali 2012 Grillo
Sicily 91 Tasca d’Almerita Regaleali 2010 Ghaia Nera
Sicily 91 Tasca d’Almerita Regaleali 2012 Tascante Carricante Buonora Sicily 89
Noted Italian wine exporter
Marco de Grazia has 21
hectares of his own vineyards
on Etna and produces at
least eight different wines. He
owns property between Solicchiata and Randazzo and
has 11 hectares at over 650
meters in Calderara Sottana.
He also has a one hectare vineyard, with many prephylloxera vines by the winery called Don Peppino and
vineyards in Contrade Guardiola, Feudo di Mezzo and
Santo Spirito. All of his wines are DOC Etna. He has
helped fledgling winemakers in Etna such as Russo,
Cavaliere and Terre di Trente produce their wines. He
also houses and makes the wines for young winemakers such as Binoche, Moganazzi and Vulkaanreizen,
among others. Importer: A Marc de Grazia Selection,
Michael Skurnik, Syosset, NY and other importers
Valle dell’Acate 2012 Zagra Sicily ($19) 90 The Zagra is
100% Grillo and exhibits yellow green-gold color and
floral aromas with a hint of herbs. On the palate it has
very fresh fruit flavors, good balance, and a layered spicy
finish with notes of bitter almond. A complex wine for
this grape. Valle dell’Acate 2012 Il Frappato Sicily ($20)
89 The Il Frappato has a perfumy nose of red berries and
rose petals. It is very fresh and fruit forward with nice firm
tannins, no cloying sweetness and. good acidity. Simple
flavors but very clean without that candied Beaujolais
character. Fermented in stainless steel and left on the skins
for 15+ days. Valle dell’Acate 2009 Cerasuolo di Vittoria
DOCG Sicily ($23) 92+ This extraordinary Cerasuolo is a
blend of 70% Nero d’Avola aged in 350 liter tonneaux
for 10 months; and 30% Frappato aged in stainless steel
tanks. After blending, the wine is aged in bottle for an
additional 12 months before sale. Medium ruby garnet
color, it offers a lovely black cherry and floral bouquet,
showing freshness and real individuality. It has well structured, elegant red berry flavors with discrete tannins and
baked cherry/raspberry compote nuances. The finish adds
some savory earthy tones. Valle dell’Acate 2010 Il Moro
Sicily ($23) 92 Il Moro is 100% Nero d’Avola fermented
and aged one year in Stainless steel and one year in the
bottle. It is elegant and red fruited with notes of earth
and dark red cherry, quite sweet and ripe in character.
Soft and lush on the palate, it has gentle ripe tannins and
a long velvet finish. Valle dell’Acate 2010 Tane Sicily ($50)
91 Tane is a blend of 85% Nero d’Avola and 15% Syrah.
It spends 12 months in barriques, 50% new. Dark ruby.
rich toasted oak, violets, dark red cherries, with a hint of
framboise on the nose. Big, soft, lush on the palate showing lots of dark cherry fruit and garden herbs. Finishes with
a sweet balsamic note.
Tenuta di Fessina Property
of Federico Curtaz, one
time agronomist for Angelo
Gaja, and an old friend of
Marco de Grazia, who suggested he buy this property
in Rovitello, which is cooler
than Randazzo to the west,
and thus produces a quite different, more floral and less
weighty style of Etna Rosso that is refined and elegant.
Importer: A Leonardo Lo Cascio Selection, Winebow,
Montvale, NJ
Tenuta di Fessina 2010 A Puddara Bianco ($37) 90 This
100% Carricante displays a pale straw color and aromas
of minerals and honey with a hint of acacia, Aged for
nine months in French oak, it is rich on the palate and fills
the mouth with exotic flavors and has a chalky finish. Well
done. Tenuta di Fessina 2011 Etna Rosso Erse Sicily ($35)
91 Medium ruby-garnet color. Pretty, subtle black fruit,
mineral-tar and floral spicy aromas showcase pure Nerello
Mascalese character. Elegant, and firm at once, the wine
shows a solid moderately intense core of fruit. A very
good base level Etna Rosso, it has good acidity and finishes clean with firm tannins. Overall, very pleasant. Tenuta di Fessina 2010 Il Musmeci Etna Rosso Sicily ($65) 92
Medium light ruby-garnet color. Deeper brighter perfume
of both sour and dark cherries (amarena and marasche in
Italian),accented by delicate violet florality. Lovely fruit on
the palate, medium bodied, chewy yet sweet cherry-mineral flavors. While the acidity is somewhat high, the tannins
are rounder and more complete. This is a fine delicate
wine with real length and deeper textured than the Erse,
but also requiring 3-4 years aging to soften and integrate.
Tenuta di Fessina 2010 Ero Rosso Nero d’Avola Sicily ($25)
91 Medium dark ruby. This Nero d’Avola displays a lovely
nose of dark red plum with a hint of spicy balsamic. It
reveals typical red fruit characteristics for this variety, but
is a very juicy wine, packed with fresh flavor and sweet
tannins. Tenuta di Fessina 2011 Laeneo Nerello Cappuccio
Sicily ($25) 89+ Dark ruby. Black raspberry and red plum
with note of dark cassis. Pure, juicy and savory on the attack and palate, showing dark fruit with blue notes. Hint of
bitterness with firm tannins on the finish. A terrific blending
Other Wines Tasted: Valle dell’Acate 2012 Insolia Sicily 89
Valle dell’Acate 2010 Rusciano Sicily Valle dell’Acate 2011
Bidis Sicily 91
Valle dell’Acate Located in
southeastern Sicily, Valle dell
Acate is owned and operated by
Gaetana Jacono whose family has
been producers in the area for
six generations. Their vineyards
total 100 hectares and have been
replanted since 2001 They grow
indigenous and international
varieties on sandy-clay soils.. The
winery bottles 33,000 cases annually and has a large
and diverse portfolio. The quality of the wines is outstanding. Importer: Polaner Selections, Mt. Kisco, NY
Previous Wine Reports
Issue 1
California Petite Sirah
Issue 2
Red Table Wines of Portugal
Issue 3
Grenache Wines
Issue 4
Issue 5
Malbec: Argentina’s Magnificent Malbec
Issue 6
The Wines of Southern Italy: From Quantity to Quality
Special Report Portugal: The Douro Boys and Barca Velha
Issue 7
New Zealand’s Exciting Pinot Noirs
Issue 8
The Wines of Ribera del Duero
Issue 9
Issue 10
Unoaked Chardonnay: It’s More Than Wood
Issue 11
2005 Bordeaux Crus Bourgeois
Issue 12
California Petite Sirah - Syrah Update
Issue 13 The Wines of Rioja: Classical and New Wave
Special Report Introduction to Sherry
Issue 14 The World of Sparkling Wines and Champagne
Issue 15
Issue 16
The Wines of Chianti Classico
Issue 17
Sauvignon of the Loire
Issue 18
Wines of Navarra
Issue 19
Wines of Greece: Assyrtiko and Santorini
Issue 20
The Santa Lucia Highlands
Issue 21
The Chilean Wine Revolution
Issue 22
Grapes and Wines of the Western Loire
Issue 23
Ribera del Duero Revisited
Issue 24
The New Wines of Portugal Double Issue
Issue 25
The Wines of Austria
Issue 26
The Diverse Wines of Argentina Double Issue
Issue 27
Sweet and Dessert Wines of the World
Issue 28
The Wines of Priorat
Issue 29
The Wines of Monterey County
Issue 30
The Wines of South Africa Double Issue
Issue 31
Brunello di Montalcino
Issue 32
The New Wines of Israel
Issue 33
The Wines of Paso Robles
Issue 34
Champagne Revisited
Issue 35
The Wines of Soave
Oregon Pinot Noir
Special Report South African Chenin Blanc
Issue 36
The Wines of Santa Barbara
Issue 37
The Wines of Sicily
These reports are available online at