Category Archives: Sicily

Tasting Sicily and Firriato Wine at Norma Gastronomia

I have a long history with the wines of Firriato from Siciily, and Salvatore Fraterrigo, chef/owner of Norma Gastronomia Siciliana. I first tasted Firriato wines when I was the wine director for I Trulli restaurant in NYC, and shortly after, Salvatore became the restaurant’s chef.

When Michele and I went to Sicily, we visited the Firriato estate near Trapani. We were treated to a typical Sicilian lunch paired with their wines and learned to appreciate them even more.

Salvatore with a cuscus bowl

Both Salvatore, known as Toto, and I are Sicilian and we became friends. He would come to our apartment to cook and we traveled in Sicily with him. Salvatore once had owned a restaurant in Trapani and he told me that he had the Firriato wines on his wine list. He even knew the owners of the winery Salvatore and Vinzia Di Gaetano.

When Daniela Pugliesi asked me to host a lunch for journalists with the wines of Firriato I suggested we hold it a Norma Gastronomia Siciliana, Salvatore’s restaurant. I knew we would have Sicilian food like we had in Sicily.

Federico

The speaker for the event was Federico Lombardo di Monte, the COO of the winery. He said that Firriato is a family run business. The president is Salvatore Di Gaetano and the CEO is Vinzia Novara Di Gaetano. Irene Di Gaetano Lombardo di Monte Iato is the Chairman.

Federico said that Firriato is comprised of 6 estates, four of which are near Trapani: Baglio Soria, Borgo Guanini — the largest with over 140 hectares of vineyards, Pianoro Cuddia and the Dagala Borromeo. On the east coast near Mount Etna is the Cavanera estate that has 11 hectares of vines. The Calamoni estate is on the island of Favignana, one of the Egadi Islands off the coast of Trapani.

Glasses of Gaudensius NV Blanc des Noirs Metodo Classico Brut Etna DOC greeted the guests as they entered the restaurant. It is made from 100% Nerello Mascalese from the Northeastern slopes of Mt. Etna at 650 meters. The soil is sandy with good drainage. There are 3,500 plants per hectare and they are cordon Royat trained. Harvest is by hand the last week of September.There is a soft pressing of whole grapes and fermentation is at a controlled temperature. The second fermentation (Classic Method) is in the bottle. The juice is in contact with the yeast for 32 months with frequent “Coup de poignet” to enhance the complexity of the bouquet and taste. Sugar is 8g/l on average. This is an elegant and complex spumante with hints of berries, brioche and currants with a long finish and a touch of almonds in the aftertaste.

One of the journalists, Ed Mc Carthy, author of Champagne for Dummies praised this wine so much he was given a bottle to take home.

The Firriato wines that I will discuss in this post are those that I did not write about in a previous post. For more information see:https://charlesscicolone.wordpress.com/2017/10/02/firriato-sicilian-wine-at-its-best/

Le Sabbie dell’ Etna Bianco DOC 2016 made from Carricanti and Catarrato. 

This wine was an accompaniment to Arancina Al Nero Di Seppia – Deep-fried squid ink risotto rice balls filled with spicy shrimp ragu. These were moist and flavorful inside with a crusty brown breadcrumb coating.

Altavilla DOC Sicilia 2016 made from 100% Grillo from the Trapani countryside at the Borgo Guarini estate. The soil is of medium mixture mostly clay. The exposure is westerly and at 250 meters. The vines are cordon trained and spur pruned/guyot and there are 4,500 to 5,000 vines per hectare. Fermentation lasts for 15 to 18 days at a controlled temperature. The grapes are soft pressed and remain on the lees for 3 months with daily shaking. The wine remains in the bottle for two months before release. The wine has hints of tangerine, grapefruit, melon and sage and a touch of almond.

Crocchette di Baccala Con Salsa Ali-Oli — Salt cod coquettes in sesame crust were served with aioli sauce. The cod filling was creamy and delicate and the sesame seeds made a crisp coating, perfect for dunking in the aioli.

Jasmin IGT Terre Sicilane 2016 made from 100% Zibibbo from the Trapani countryside at the Borgo Guarini Estate. The soil is mid-mixed, mostly clay. The exposure is west at 300 meters and there are 4,500 to 5,000 vines per hectare. The vines are cordon trained, spur pruned/guyot. Harvest is by hand the last week of August.Fermentation lasts for 20 days at a controlled temperature. The grapes are soft pressed and then spend 3 months on the lees in stainless steel tanks with daily shaking. The wine remains in the bottle for 2 months before release. This is a highly aromatic and dry wine with hints of citrus, both yellow and red fruit, jasmine and a touch white flowers.

Federico pointed out that zibbibo usually is grown in Pantelleria and used to make sweet wines. This version is dry and the grapes were grown in Trapani. This is the first time I had a dry version and was very impressed by it.

Cus-Cus Trapanese Ai Frutti Di Mare – Salvatore makes the cus cus grains from scratch from semolina that he brings in from Sicily. It is a painstaking process and the results are quite different from the quick cooking variety you find elsewhere. He cooked the cus cus in a delicious sea food broth that contained clams, squid, mussels and several types of fish in a lightly spiced broth.

Le Sabbie dell’ Etna Rosso DOD 2015 made from Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Capuccio

Caponata Palermitana Con Panelle, Caprino E Mandorle – Salvatore’s sweet and sour eggplant stew is cooked “Palermo style” and served with chick pea fritters, goat cheese, and toasted almonds.

Chiaramonte Terre Siciliane 2015 IGT 100% Nerod’Avola

Pizza “Rianata” This spicy pizza is a specialty of Sicily for lovers the flavors of garlic, anchovies, cherry tomatoes, and oregano.

Santagostino Rosso, “Baglio Soria” Terre Siciliane IGT 2012 made from Nero d’Avola and Syrah

Pasta Alla “Norma”– Salvatore uses imported durum paccheri, a large tubular pasta, and sauces it with fresh tomatoes, eggplant, basil, ricotta salata cheese.

Ribeca DOC Sicily 2013 made from 100% Perricone

Anelletti Alla Palermitana in Casseruola – Tiny ring shaped baked pasta are baked in a casserole with beef & pork ragu, green peas, Italian ham, eggplant, primo sale and ricotta salata cheeses, and basil.

Harmonium Sicily DOC 2013 100% Nero d’Avola

Involitini Di Arista Alla Siciliana – Pork loin slices stuffed with a mixture of cured meat, smoked mozzarella and roasted tomato and roasted.

“L’Ecrù” Passito IGT Sicily 2008 made from Moscato and a small amount of Malmsey.

Cannoli – House made cannoli are filled with sheep milk ricotta and pistachios.

I was very pleased by the food and wine combinations chosen by Salvatore and Federico. The pairings were perfect and it was like eating and drinking in Sicily.

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Firriato: Sicilian Wine at its Best

I have a long history with the wines of Firriato from Sicily. When I was the wine director for I Trulli restaurant in NYC, I was introduced to them by one of the wine salespeople. Knowing my taste, he believed that I would like the wines and he was right.

Next, Michele and I went to Sicily where we visited the Firriato estate near Trapani. We were treated to a typical Sicilian lunch paired with their wines and learned to appreciate them even more. Then, a few years ago I attended a lunch at Il Gattopardo Restaurant in NYC where I enjoyed the more current vintages.
Recently, I was asked if I wanted to taste a number of samples from the winery and I accepted gladly.

The winery

Firriato is a family run business; the president is Salvatore Di Gaetano, the CEO is Vinzia Novara Di Gaetano, the COO Is Federico Lombardo di Monte Iato, and the Chairman is Irene Di Gaetano Lombardo di Monte Iato.

Firriato is comprised of 6 estates, four of which are near Trapani: Baglio Soria, Borgo Guanini — the largest with over 140 hectares of vineyards, Pianoro Cuddia and the Dagala Borromeo. On the east coast near Mount Etna is the Cavanera estate that has 11 hectares of vines. Off the coast of Trapani are the Egadi Islands. The Calamoni estate is on the island of Favignana.

The Wines

Le Sabbie Dell’Etna Etna Bianco DOC 2016 made from Carricante and Catarrato from the territory of Castiglione di Sicily (Catania) at the Cavanera Estate. The soil is loamy-sandy of volcanic origin with good drainage. The vineyards are on the northeastern side of the volcano at 720 meters. The soil is loamy-sandy of volcanic origin with good drainage and there are 4,000 to 4,500 vines per hectare and the vines are cordon royat trained(trellises). Harvest is the second week of October. Fermentation lasts for 15 days. Vinification: soft pressing and fermentation at a controlled temperature. The wine remains for 3 months on the  lees in steel tanks with daily shaking and remains in bottle for two months before release. This is a fruity wine with hints of white peaches and pears.

Favinia “La Muciara” Bianco 2014 IGT Sicily. Made from Grillo, Catarratto and Zibibbo. The grapes were grown on the Island of Favignana off the west coast of Sicily. They are grown at the Tenuta Calamoni estate, which is two meters from the sea. The training system for the vines is alberello and there are 5,000 vines per hectare. Harvest is by hand during the first week in September and the grapes are placed in small baskets. In the winery soft pressing is followed by fermentation for 20 days in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. The wine is aged for 6 months in stainless steel and for 2 more months in bottle before release. The heat during the day and the ocean breeze make for a wine with a mineral character and good acidity. The vineyards are 10 years old.

Ribeca DOC Sicily 2013 made from 100% Perricone from the Pianoro Cuddia Estate in the Trapani countryside. The soil is clayey and the vineyards have a south/southwest exposure and are at 200 meters. The training system is guyot and there are 5,000/6,000 vines per hectare. Grapes are hand picked the third week of September and the first week of October. Fermentation is for 14 days at 26/28 degrees C. in temperature controlled steel tanks in to red wine tradition. The wine is aged for 10/12 months in French durmast barrique. The wine has hints of cherries and blueberries with a touch of prune and juniper.

Le Sabbie Dell’Etna Etna Rosso DOC 2015 made from Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio from the Cavanera Etna Estate at the Northern side of the Volcano at 700 meters. The soil is loamy-sandy of volcanic origin with good drainage and the vines are cordon royat trained and there are 4,000 to 4,500 plants per hectare. Gapes are hand picked the 2nd and 3rd weeks in October. Fermentation lasts for 14 days. Vinification is carried out according to tradition. The wine is aged in durmast barriques for 6 months and in bottle for 2 months before release. The wine has hints of black cherry, prune with a touch of licorice.

Cavanera “Rovo delle Coturnie” Etna Rosso DOC 2013 made from Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio from the Cavanera Etna Estate. The soil composition is loamy-sandy of volcanic origin with good drainage. The vineyards are on the northeastern side of the volcano at 750 meters and there are 3,000 to 4,000 vines per hectare. Harvest is by hand the 2nd and 3rd weeks of October. Fermentation is for 18 days. Vinification in frustum of cone shaped wooden, according to tradition. The wine is aged for 9 months in French barriques and for 6 months in Slovenian durmast. The wine has hints of red fruit, peach a hint of black pepper and good minerality.

Santgostino “Bagio Soria” Terre Siciliane IGT 2012 made from Nero d’Avola and Syrah. The vineyards have a south/south westerly exposure and are at 200 meters. The soil is calcareous-clay and the vines are cordon trained, spur pruned/guyot and there are 5,000/6,000 vines per hectare. Hand harvest the first week of September for the Syrah and the second week of September for the Nero’d Avola.
Traditional vinification in temperature controlled steel tanks.
The wine is aged for 8 months in American Durmast barriques and 6 months in bottle before release. The wine has hints of wild berries, cherries and a touch of prune, clove and licorice.

Chiaramonte Terre Siciliane 2015 IGT 100% Nero d’Avola from Tenuta Dagala Borromeo in the Trapani countryside. The vineyards have a south/south-westerly exposure and are at 230 meters. The soil is mid-mixture, mostly clay, vines are cordon trained, spur pruned/guyot and there are 5,000 to 5,500 vines per hectare. Harvest takes place the third week of September. Fermentation lasts for 10 days. Vinification in temperature controlled stainless steel tank according to tradition. The wine is aged for 6 months in American durmast barrriques and in bottle for 3 months before release. The wine has hints of black cherries and blueberries with a touch of black pepper and cloves.

Harmonium Sicily DOC Sicily 2013 100% Nero d’Avola from the Borgo Guarini Estate. This is a “cru” from 3 vineyards: Ferla cru with a north-east exposure, Beccaccia cru with a south exposure and the Lepre cru with a south-east exposure. They are at 300 meters. The soil is calcareous-slime, there are 5,000/5,500 vines per hectare and the vines are cordon trained and spur pruned. Grapes are hand-picked the third week of September. Vinification in temperature controlled steel tanks according to tradition. The wine is aged for 12 months in French and American durmast barriques. This is a well-structured wine with hints of cherry, blueberries, prunes and a hint of pepper and nutmeg.

Passito IGT Sicily “L’ECRÙ” 2008  made from Moscato and a small amount of Malmsey from the Tenuta Borgo estate in the Trapani countryside. The soil here is of medium texture; mostly clay and the vineyards have a north-south exposure at 250/400 meters. There are 5,500 vines per hectare and the training is cordon spur pruned/guyot.
The harvest takes place the first week of September and the most mature grapes are hand harvested. The rest remain on the vines until they reach full maturity. Soft pressing of the grapes and the fermentation at controlled temperature lasts for 4 weeks. The wine is aged in bottle for 4 months before release. This is a very elegant dessert wine with aromas of candied orange peels, dried figs and dates. It has a clean but long finish and wonderful aftertaste.

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Tenuta Gigliotto: Sicilian Wine The Way I Like It

It is very rare that I go to a tasting where all of the wines reflect the terroir and the grapes they are made from. This was the case when I tasted the wines of Tenuta Gigliotto at I Trulli restaurant in NYC last month.

The Gigliotto winery is 9 Km from Piazza Armerina (famous for its Roman mosaics, 360AD) in Sicily.

At the tasting and lunch there was not one wine that was international in style or “made for the American market”, which I appreciated very much.

Elio Savoca

Elio Savoca

Tenuta Gigliotto is a family business managed by Elio Savoca, who hosted the tasting. Elio spoke about the winery and how they now welcome paying guests on their property at their agriturismo.

He told us that for the last 20 years the winery has been under organic management. Organic for them is the result of a natural and spontaneous process and above all a respect for nature. Elio is also very interested in the history of Sicily and the wines are named after persons or places of historical importance. One wine is named for Count Ruggero, later Roger I of Sicily, who is credited not only for driving the Arabs from Piazza Amerina but also from all of Sicily.

Angelo Alescio

Angelo Alescio

The wine maker, Angelo Alescio, spoke about the wine. He said there are 20 hectares of vines and the soil is generally sandy. All the vineyards have a southern exposure and are at 400 meters. There is a strong wind, which comes from the sea 25km away and has a strong influence on the vines. The training system is Guyot.

He said vinification is carried out under inert gas using cross-flow filters for filtering the wine. It is a less invasive and more effective method. They use French oak barrels and chestnut barrels. Angelo made the point of saying that the use of chestnut was the way wine was processed and aged in the past in Sicily because it was readily available.IMG_9400

Santa Chiara Dry Moscato made from 100% Moscato. This is a very interesting wine. On the bouquet and on the palate it has all the slightly sweet fruity flavors of the Moscato grape but the finish and aftertaste is dry so that it is a wine which can go with food.IMG_9403

White Wine IGT Sicily “Venere” 100% Chardonnay. There are 4,800 plants per hectare and the grapes are picked by hand the second half of August. The grapes are softly pressed by using a pneumatic press. The must ferments in steel tanks with the traditional cold method and temperature control system. About 30% of the wine is fermented in wooden barrels. The wine is then aged in the bottle for several months before release.IMG_9404

Rose Wine IGT Sicily “Kanzir” made from 100% Nero d’Avola. There are 4,000 vines per hectare and the grapes are hand picked in the second and third weeks of September. Traditional white wine vinification, after the grapes are slightly pressed. The must is fermented in stainless steel tanks at a controlled temperature with the yeast that is on the skins. The wine is aged for 6 months in stainless steel tanks and 3 months in bottle before release. It has nice red fruit aromas and flavors with hints of raspberries and a touch of almonds.IMG_9392

Red Wine DOP Sicily “San Michele” made from 100% Frappato. There are 5,000 vines per hectare and harvest takes place the last week of September. Traditional fermentation at controlled temperature. The wine is aged at least 12 months in stainless steel and barrel. This is very aromatic wine with fresh red berry flavors and aromas and a hint of spice and notes of roses.IMG_9391

Red Wine IGT Sicily “Vossia” made from 100% Nero d’Avola. There are 5,000 vines per ha and the harvest takes place the second and third weeks of September. The wine is fermented and macerated under controlled temperatures for 10 days. Aged in casks for 6 months. This is an aromatic wine with hints of red berries, violets, spice and a touch of almonds.IMG_9396

Red Wine Sicily IGT made from 100% Nero d’Avola this is a more intense version of the wine above.IMG_9388

Red Wine IGT Sicily “Conte Ruggero” 100% Petit Verdot. There are 4.500 plants per hectare and the harvest takes place the second and third weeks in September. Vinification is the same as above. The wine is aged for 12 months in barrel. The wine has hints of raspberries and cherries with a nice finish and pleasant after taste.IMG_9395

Merlot “Campione De Vasca 2014” made from 100% Merlot. This is vinified like the wine above. It was one of the few times which I have tasted merlot that was so true to the grape.IMG_9386 

Patrisano Dessert Wine made from 100% Zibibbo (White Moscato) There are 5,000 plants per hectare and the harvest takes place in November. It is a late harvest and the grapes are picked after they wither on the vines. Traditional wine vinification takes place at a controlled temperature. The wine is aged in steel tanks and French oak barrels. It has hints of mature fruits along with honey and a touch of spice with a long finish and very pleasing aftertaste.

 

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Filed under Dry Mosacto, Frappato, Gigliotto Winery, Italian Red Wine, Italian White Wine, Italian Wine, Nero d'Avola, Sicilian Wine, Sicily

A Sicilian Family Winery

Benedetto Alessandro, the oenologist of the Alessandro di Camporeale winery in Sicily, was the speaker at a tasting I attended recently of his company’s wines.

IMG_8823

Benedetto Alessandro

This is a fourth generation family-owned and operated winery located in the small farming town of Camporeale, close to Palermo. The estate is at the foot of a hill overlooking the Mandranove Plain. There are 35 hectares of vineyards at about 400 meters. The climate is mild and the fertile clay and limestone-based soil are ideal for producing a wide variety of different grapes. He made a point of saying that the approach in the vineyard follows the overall values of tradition, experience and knowledge of the land. All vine related activities are carried out by hand, following organic farming principles such as biodiversity to combat parasites and using green manure to promote soil fertility.

The wines of Alessandro di Camporeale IMG_8816

Catarratto “Benedè” DOC Sicily 2014 100% Cataratto. The vines were planted in 1990 and are at 420 to 470 meters. The soil is clay and sand, the training system is guyot and there are 3,500 plants per hectare. Harvesting is by hand starting the 10th day of September. The grapes are destemmed and cooled, then a soft pressing takes place. Fermentation is in stainless steel at a low temperature for 15 days. The wine undergoes malolactic fermentation. It is aged for 6 months in stainless steel and another 2 months in bottle before release. The wine has hints of apricot and white peach with a hint of almonds in the aftertaste. $19IMG_8817

Grillo “Vigna di Mandranov” DOC Sicily 2013. 100% Grillo. The vineyard was planted in 2009. It is at 450 meters, the soil is clay, the training system is guyot espalier and there are 4,000 vines per hectare. Harvest is by hand starting in the beginning of September. After destemming, the grapes are cooled and gently pressed in an oxygen free environment. Fermentation is in stainless steel at a low temperature for 15 days. The wine is aged in stainless steel for 6 months and in bottle for 1 to 2 months before release. The wine has hints of citrus fruit with touches of flint and herbs. A very nice example of this type of wine. $29IMG_8818

Nero d’Avola “Donnatá” Sicily DOC 2013 100% Nero di Avola. The soil is rich in clay, limestone and potassium. The vines were planted in 2000. The vineyard is at 380 meters. The soil is clay and sand, training system is spurred cordon espalier and there are 4,400 vines per hectare. Harvest starts by hand, the first week of September. Maceration is for 12 days at a controlled temperature. The wine is aged in stainless steel and a small part in big oak casks. The wine remains in the bottle for 2 months before release. This is an aromatic wine with hints of blackberries and cherries with a very pleasing finish and aftertaste.

Benedetto said that Nero d’Avola was the most important red grape variety in Sicily. $19IMG_8821

Syrah Kaid l IGT Sicily 2011 100% Syrah The soil is clay and chalk with an alkaline reaction. The vines were planted in 1989, the training is spurred cordon espalier and there are 4,400 plants per hectare. The grapes are picked by hand in the morning the first 20 days of September. Maceration is for 12 days at a controlled temperature. The wine is aged for 12 months in barriques and tonneaux and 6 months in bottle before release. This is a big wine, alcoholic with hints of cherry and black currants with a lot of vanilla, toasty oak and coconut. One of the wine writers present said that he likes the first 3 wines but this wine was out of balance and much too international in style. Benedetto agreed and said that starting with the next vintage 2012 they are using less barriques and more tonneaux and big oak casks .$25

He also said that Syrah is considered the “most Sicilian of the international grape varieties”.IMG_8822

Kaid “ Vendemmia Tardive” Late Harvest 2014 IGT Sicily 100% Syrah from a 1.5 hectare plot. The vineyard is at 400 meters and the vines were planted in 1989. Fermentation is for about 12 days at a low temperature. The wine is aged in Allier oak barriques for 15 months and in bottle for 6 months before release. This is a dessert wine with nice rich forward fruit with hints of cherries, black currants and a touch of chocolate. It has a very pleasing aftertaste and a very long and complex finish. $35

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Quality not Quantity from Sicily

Vinzia and Salvatore Di Gaetano, owners of Firriato Winery in Sicily, chose the perfect setting to introduce their wines — the Leopard at Café des Artistes.  Not only is it one of New York’s most beautiful and historic restaurants, it also serves some of the city’s finest Italian food.  

Mural at The Leopard at Cafe des Artistes

At lunch the other day, Vinzia said that Trapani has more grapes planted than any other place in Italy.  However, at Firriato, they are interested in quality not the quantity of their wines.  Above all, they love Sicily and Sicilian grape varieties.

Firriato is comprised of 7 estates, four of which are near Trapani:  Baglio Soria, Burgo Guanini — the largest with over 140 hectares of vineyards, Pianoro Cuddia and the Dagala Borromeo. On the east coast near Mount Etna is the Cavanera estate that has 11 hectares of wines.  Off the coast of Trapani are the Egadi Islands.  The Calamoni estate is on the island of Favigana.

Vinzia Firriiato

Asked how it is possible to keep quality control with so many different estates, Vinzia replied that each one is operated independently with its own enologist. They also employ two agronomists who take care of all of the vineyards.

She said that wood is not used for their white wines since it hides the character of the wines and is the reason why so many wines taste alike. I could not agree more.

She said that wood is not used for their white wines since it hides the character of the wines and is the reason why so many wines taste alike. I could not agree more.

There were nine wines at the tasting, four white and four red.  I will write about the red wines another time.
Chiaramonte IGT Sicilia 2011 100% Inzolia from the Tenuta Dagala Borromeo estate in the Trapani countryside. The soil is of medium mixture, mostly clay and the vineyards have a southwesterly exposure and are at 310 meters. The training is cordon spur pruned/guyot and there are 5,000/5,500 vines per hectare. The grapes are picked by hand during the first two weeks of September. There is a soft pressing of the grapes and fermentation takes place at controlled temperature in stainless steel tanks. The wine spends 3 months on the lees with daily shaking and two months in bottle before release. This is a fresh fruity wine with aromas of pineapple and lime with a hint of almond. $ 18
Etna Bianco Etna DOC 2011 60% Carricante and 40% Catarratto. The grapes come from the territory of Castiglione di Sicily (Catania). The soil is loamy sand of volcano origin, with good drainage. The exposure is the northeastern side of Etna, 500/600 meters. The vine training is freestanding espalier with permanent bilateral rod and spur pruning (cordon de Royat, 5 spurs of two buds each). There are 4,000/4,500 vines per hectare and the harvest is the second week of October. Vinification is the same as the wine above. This is a fragrant wine with fresh fruit scents and hints of white peaches, pears and a touch of lime, with nice acidity. $ 20
These were served with a tender grilled octopus and this was an excellent match.  

Favinina “La Muciara” 2011 IGT Sicily. Made from Grillo, Catarratto and Zibibbo.  The grapes were grown on the Island of Favignana off the west coast of Sicily. They are grown at the Tenuta Calamoni estate which is two meters from the sea. The training system for the vines is alberello and there are 5,000 vines per hectare. Harvest is by hand during the first week in September and the grapes are placed in small baskets. In the winery soft pressing is followed by fermentation for 20 days in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. The wine is aged for 6 months in stainless steel and for 2 more months in bottle before release. This is the first vintage of this wine and it has to be one of the best white wines of Sicily. Vinzia said that they had to break up the surface soil to bring up the rich soil below. The heat during the day and the ocean breeze make for a wine with a mineral character and good acidity. The vineyards are five years old and Vinzia said that she feels as if she “grew up with them.”

Bucatini alle Sarde

Bucatini alle Sarde was matched with this wine and the combination could not have been better. I noticed my glass was empty and asked the waiter to pour me some more; I like this wine a lot!

Passito IGT Sicily “L’ECRÙ” 2008
Moscato and a small amount of Malmsey From the Tenuta Borgo estate in the Trapani countryside. The soil here is of medium texture; mostly clay and the vineyards have a north-south exposure at 250/400 meters. There are 5,500 vines per hectare and the training is cordon spur pruned/guyot.

The harvest takes place the first week of September and the most mature grapes are hand harvested.  The rest remain on the vines until they reach full maturity. Soft pressing of the grapes and the fermentation at controlled temperature lasts for 4 weeks. The wine is aged in bottle for 4 months before release. This is a very elegant dessert wine with aromas of candied orange peels, dried figs and dates. It has a clean but long finish and wonderful aftertaste.

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Touring Sicily: Your Business Island in the Sun

It is always a pleasure for me to visit Sicily. All of my grandparents were born there and Michele and I first went there on our honeymoon. It is such a beautiful and enchanting Island that I will use any excuse to go there. My excuse came in the form of an invitation to spend five days in Sicily tasting wine and food and visiting the sites. I had to accept!

 

The trip was sponsored by the regions of Trapani, Ragusa and Catania.  It was unusual because my fellow travelers included an international group of journalists, wine and food buyers, and travel agents from India, Russia, and Tunisia as well as the USA. I was travelling with my friend, Louis Coluccio owner of Coluccio and Son’s in Brooklyn, wholesalers and retailers of Italian food products.

The Opening Conference at the Hotel

 We arrived very late in Palermo and did not get to the Hotel Baglio Oneto, which is between Marsala and Trapani, until after midnight. There was a very nice light supper waiting for us when we arrived.

 The next morning after breakfast there was a short conference followed by a meeting with different producers of olive oil, wine, grappa, coffee, pasta, balsamic vinegar, and food products.  We went around to the different tables to sample the wine and the food products.

 I stopped at a table that had only one wine and one grappa. The producer was Natale Peraino and the wine is called Don Girolamo,  classified as a Vino da Tavola. It is a white wine made from, I believe, the Grillo grape and it is aged for 10 years in large barrels called botti made of chestnut and oak. It had a very deep orange color and itasted like Marsala, but much more rustic. It was one of the most unusual wines I have ever tasted.  It is the only wine that they make and it is not imported into the USA.

Mr. Galluffo

 

 In the afternoon we visited Frantoio Torredi Mezzo an olive oil mill located in Trapani where the very personable and knowledgeable Alberto Galluffo, an olive oil panel member, is a consultant.  Mr Galluffo also makes his own very good olive oil. This was a state-of-the-art factory and the production was all controlled by a computer. The olive oil I liked the best was made from three different types of olives–Cerasuola 50%, Nocellara 25% and Biancolilla 25%. It had grassy quality and tasted of tomatoes and artichokes. I believe the olive oil from both producers is available in the USA.

 That night we visited the Giuseppe Bianchi Distillery located in Marsala.  It not only produces grappa but also Amaro and Limoncello as well as well as sweet wine and Marsala.  We tasted a Marsala Superiore Riserva 1989 and a 20 year old Marsala Virgine Riserva which were excellent and went very well with the biscotti that they gave us. Their products are not imported into the USA.  I often wonder why it is so difficult to find Marsala of this quality here.  

Near Ragusa we visited another olive oil producer, Frantoi Cutrera, and had a long discussion about virgin olive oil with the son of the owner Sebastiano. The producer said that it must pass a government test to be labeled virgin olive oil and this is partly based on the acidity. He said that there was no such thing as light olive oil or extra light olive oil. When asked about his oil he said that they only press the grapes once and his oil always passes the government’s tests. Their oil is available in the USA.

On the way to Catania we stopped for a tasting at the Planeta winery  near the town of Vittoria. The one wine that I wanted to taste was the Cometa 2010 IGT Sicily. This wine is made from 100% Fiano, a grape that was brought to Campania by the Greeks and gained fame there as Fiano di Avellino.  The wine is vinified at the winery in Menfi at Ulmo and the grapes come from the Gurra and Dispensa vineyards.  Destemming is followed by gentle crushing and static settling at a low temperature. It is inoculated with select yeast when clear. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel for 20 days and the wine is aged in stainless steel. This is an elegant, full-bodied and aromatic wine. It has hints of citrus and tangerine with a nice mineral character and good acidity. When I tasted this wine in February 2010 at the winery I could not believe how good it was. They told me then that wine is no longer aged in barriques!  This is a great white wine.

At another tasting of wine and food products in Catania I met Rosario Greco, export manager of the Cantina Vivera winery and we had a very interesting conversation about Sicilian wine. I tasted the “Salisire” Etna Bianco DOC 2009 made from 100% Carricante, one of the best white grapes from the Etna region. The vineyards are at 600 meters and the soil is volcanic with many rounded stones. There are 5,500 vines per hectare and the training is spur pruned cordon. The harvest takes place the second week of October. The grapes are soft pressed without oxygen and are fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. The wine rests on its lees for 10 months and in bottle for six months before release. This is a very fruity up front wine with good citrus aromas and flavors, a mineral character and good acidity.

 A’ Mami Sicily IGT Bianco 2009 Made from 50% Chardonnay and 50% Carricante. The Carricante comes from Linguaglossa where the Mittinella vineyard is located at 600 meters on the northeastern side of Etna. The Chardonnay comes from Corleone where the Solicchiata vineyard is located at 450 meters. There are 4,500 plants per hectare and the grapes are picked in the middle of August. The wine has citrus aromas and flavors with hints of tropical fruits and mineral notes.

  They also make a wine called “Altrove” Sicilia IGT Bianco made from Catarratto, Insolia and Chardonnay from the vineyards of Muranna and Dagata in the hills around Corleone.  Rosario said the vineyards were organic and the winery “biological”.  These wines are available in the USA.

 

I asked Rosario if he know a good restaurant in the Catania fish market and he suggested a restaurant called M M. This was the best meal we had in Sicily. We ate crudo, followed by pasta with sardines, and a mixed grill including triglia (red mullet), swordfish, calamari, and octopus.  With the lunch we drank Pietranera 2009 made from 100% Zibibbo grapes from Marco de Bartoli. The grapes come from the island of Pantellleria, the closest part of Italy to Africa.  Zibibbo grapes are used to make desert wines for which De Bartoli is famous. The vines are on terraced hills at 350 meters, the soil is volcanic and the training system for the vines is alberello pantesco, very, very short vine.  This wine however was vinified dry. There was very nice fruit in the mouth but the finish was dry and it was a great combination with the fish we had for lunch.

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Sicily: The Wine and Tourist Island

 

 As I entered the large shower at La Foresteria the hotel/resort owned by the Planeta winery  www.planetaestates.com  I saw not one but three shower heads. One large one, which cascaded the water from above and two hand held ones in a slim cylinder shape, not to mention the very large tub and plenty of bubble bath– there was enough water pressure and the water was always hot. I was in heaven. This is a very comfortable first rate resort and I wish we could have stayed longer. Sicily has become a tourist’s paradise.

The Shower at La Foresteria

 Sicilian has also become a wine lover’s paradise. I tasted wines made from Fiano, Carricante, Nero d’Avola and Nerello Mascalese gapes that reflected the terroir of Sicily and could have held their own against any wines in the world. Sicily is no longer the California of Italy making only oaky, jammy, international style wines!

 I visited Sicily in March for the “Sicilia En Primeur”, a preview of the current releases and much more. The event is held annually in different parts of Sicily. This year it was in the Province of Agrigento at the Rocco Forte Verdura Golf & Spa Resort of Sciacca.  Once again, I could not believe my eyes. I had never seen a resort of this size in Sicily!  It could have been a resort in Las Vegas or Arizona.

 The event was organized by Assovini Sicilia, an association of Sicilian grape grows and producers. The president of the organization is Diego Planeta of the Planeta winery.

 The first night we stayed at La Foresteria, the new Planeta resort. That night we had a dinner based on the novel Gattopardo (the Leopard) by Lampedusa. The dinner was prepared by the resident chef, Angelo Pumilia.  The food was great and the highlight was a Timballo in Crosta del Gattopardo, which was delicious. Representatives from the wineries that we would visit the next day were there and they matched one of their wines with each course.

Chef Angelo Pumilia & the Timballo in Crosta del Grattopardo

The journalists were divided into eight groups to visit different wineries on different parts of the Island. I was in the Terre Sicane group of wineries and since Planeta was one of the wineries, I spent the first night at La Foresteria.

 The next day our first visit was to Cantina Barbera www.cantinabarbera.it.   This is a family run winery and we were given a tour and tasting by the very interesting and knowledgeable Marilena Barbera.  Ms Barbera was very proud of the fact that their wines had the very specific D.O.C. of Menfi. This she said “was our identity; we wanted to strengthen the special relationship between our vines and their place of origin”.

My grandfather on my mother’s side was born in Menfi, so I was especially interested in the wines. We sat in the tasting room overlooking the vineyards and the beautiful Sicilian landscape. She mentioned that some of the producers wanted to change from I.G.T. Sicily to D.O.C. Sicily designation.  She wanted to stay with the I.G.T Sicily and not go to the D.O.C.  Ms. Barbera felt that this gave her more freedom in the wine making. They export wine to Japan, China, Europe, and the United States.

Marilena Barbera

Among the wines we tasted were the 2009 Inzolia D.O.C. Menfi “Dietro Le Case” 100% Insolia. This white grape is common in the Menfi area. The wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks. The vines for this wine are 40 years old and come from an original clone planted in 1920. There was new grafting in the vineyard ten years ago.

The bouquet was rich and complex with hints of peach and melon and good acidity. In the finish and after taste there was citrus and a touch of herbs.  There was a mineral quality and it was bigger, fuller and rounder then most wines from this grape I have tasted.

 2009 Nero D’Avola Sicilia I.G.T. This wine, made from 100% Nero D’Avola is fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks. It is a very aromatic wine with red and black fruit aromas and flavors. On the palate, it is soft and fruity with a soft and fruity finish and aftertaste.

 2007 “Azimut”  Menfi D.O.C.2006  100% Merlot. This wine was a pleasant surprise!.  Ms. Barbera said that “Merlot grapes have adapted perfectly to the Sicilian territory and climate”.  Maceration on the skins lasts for two weeks and the wine is fermented in stainless steel. Now here comes the best part: The wine is aged for 12 months, 50% in stainless steel and 50% in big 26 hl casks of Slovenian oak. “We love it because it is not international style,” said Ms. Barbera. The wine was balanced with intense red and black fruit aromas and flavors. It was the best Sicilian merlot I have ever tasted and one of the best outside of France.

 I also tasted a Cabernet Sauvignon La Volta Menfi D.O.C. which is aged in French tonneaux and in one 30hl cask of Slovenian oak and a wine made of 40% Nero d’Avola, 40% Petit Verdot, and 20% Merlot called Coda Della Foce Menfi  2006 D.O.C. Both were very good. Ms. Barbera was very proud of her Menfi D.O.C. wines and I enjoyed all of them.

 Next was something completely different:    Feudo Arancio Stemmari www.feudoarancio.it  which is owned by Nosio S.p.A.- Gruppo Mezzacorona from Nothern Italy. This was a new state-of-the-art winery using all of the natural resources of the Agrigento area of Sicily to produce their wines. We were taken to a hilltop high above the winery where we could view the vineyards and view the reservoirs, water a rare commodity in this part of Sicily! They are trying to be as true to the Sicilian terrain as possible. They were very proud of the fact that they were only the second winery in Italy to receive the EMAS 2 (EcoManagement and Audit System) certificate, a voluntary certificate of environmental quality. They use reservoirs, rain water and precision irrigation systems to put less stress on local water supplies.  We were very high up and the wind was going through all of us! The use of “sexual confusion” and “positive insects” drastically reduces the use of chemicals. Two solar panel installations produce most of the energy to run the winery and they maintain native plants in the vineyards to prevent erosion.  They place different kinds of plants in the rows between the vines depending upon the type of grape. 

 Among the wines we tasted was a 2009 Grillo Sicilia I.G.T 100% Grillo. This white varietal is typical of the Marsala area where it was used as the principal grape to for Marsala fortified wine. The Grillo grape should not be harvested too early. This wine was a blend of grapes from different estates.

  2008 Nero d’Avola  2008 Sicilia I.G.T.  100% Nero d’.Avola (Black grape from Avola). This  red varietal, first cultivated in the area of Siracusa within the village of Avola, is now grown all over Sicily. The wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel. It was very aromatic with a fruity character and aromas and flavors of cherry and blackberry.

 Hedonis 70% Nero d’Avola and 30% Syrah 2006 I.G.T. Sicily   The winemaker felt that Syrah, like the native Sicilian grapes, can take the warm dry Sicilian climate.  Many producers in Sicily make wines with this combination.  I think Nero d’Avola can stand alone and does not need Syrah. This wine is aged for 16 months in new French barriques. The oak was there but is not overdone.

 The barriques are kept for seven years and a wine may find itself in many different barrels depending on the vintage and what style the winemaker wanted to make.

 Hekate 2007 Sicily I.G.T is named for the Greek goddess who bestowed kindness and wealth. This dessert wine is made mostly from Moscato and other white aromatic grapes. It is a passito wine. After ripening, the grapes hang for a month and a half  then they undergo a natural withering process of about 4-6 weeks. At the end of September/ beginning of October, the grapes are completely dried out and raisin- like. They are soft pressed and the must extracted is rich in sugar and very aromatic. It is fermented in stainless steel tanks for 7-8 months. The wine had aromas and flavors of peach, pineapple, honey and other dried fruits. What surprised me was the good acidity. It was a very enjoyable wine.

 Then we went to Donnafugata. www.donnafugata.it.  I have been here a few times before but only to the winery in Marsala. This is what they refer to as the “family’s ancient winery” built in 1851.  The wines come together here from the cellars of the winery at Contessa Entellina and the one on the island of Pantelleria, for aging and bottling. This time I went to Contessa Entellina and it was very interesting.

Jose Rallo

 The tasting and lunch was in the hands of Jose Rallo whose family owns the winey. The very personable Ms. Rallo is a jazz singer and along with her husband, percussionist Vincenzo Favara, has made a number of CD’s, the proceeds of which are donated to charity. A few years ago, I saw Ms. Rallo and her husband perform at the Blue Note in Greenwich Village. Ms Rallo sang in Italian and Portuguese. We had an excellent lunch, served in the garden.  It was the only sunny day of my stay. Sicilian specialties such as caponata and pasta con le sarde were served in little plastic cups!

Caponata

Among the wines we tasted were:

 Anthilia Sicily IGT 2009 Catarrato and Ansonica (Insolia) and other grapes according to the vintage. The wine was fruity with hints of peaches and floral sensations.

 Lighea Sicilia I.G.T.2009 Zibibbo (Moscato d’Alessandria and Catarrato. This was a very interesting wine that is very difficult to describe but I liked it!

 Sedara Sicily I.G.T.2008. Mostly Nero d’Avola with other local varieties. It is aged for nine months in cement tanks. It is an aromatic wine with good fruit aromas and flavors of blackberry and cherry with a spicy note.

 Mille e una Notte Contessa Entellina D.O.C. We tasted the ‘06, ‘03 and 1999. The geapes are vinified in stainless steel with skin contact for about 12 days.  The wine is aged in mostly French barriques for 14-16 months and another 12 months in bottle before release.

 They make two wines from the Zibibbo grape that are naturally sweet and were the highlight of the tasting: Kabir Moscato di Pantelleria D.O.C. and the Ben Rye Passito di Pantelleria D.O.C.

 The grapes for the Kabir are harvested at the end of September when they are very mature.  They are fermented and aged in stainless steel. This wine was very elegant and balanced with aromas and flavors of orange peel and honey. It is moderately sweet, not too alcoholic with a very pleasant finish and after taste.

 The Ben Rye. The harvest takes place in 11 different areas depending on the ripening. After August 15 the grapes are picked and left to dry naturally by the sun and wind between 20 – -30 days. In September other vineyards are harvested. During maceration the dried grapes are de–stemmed by hand and added to the fresh must. The wine is aged in stainless steel tanks for 4 and 6 months in bottle before release.   There are aromas of apricots and peaches, with hints of dried figs and honey on the palate.  It has a very long finish and wonderful aftertaste. We tasted the 2008, 2003 and the 2000.

For the 2008, the 20th harvest of the wine,  they have a new label for the “Son of the Wind”.

Ben Rye 2008

Then it was off to Cantina Settesoli www.cantinasettsoli.it , the largest cooperative in Sicily with 1841 members. It was founded in Menfi in 1958 and has grown to its present size under the chairmanship of Diego Planeta . They control 120,000 hectares of vineyards.  To give you some perspective, all of Australia has only 30.000 more hectares. Settesoli is very important for the economic well being of the area. I had been to Settesoli a number of times before and think they produce good wines for the money. We tasted a wine made from 85% Grecanico and 15% chenin blanc that was very nice.

Francesca Planeta

The last stop was Planeta www.planeta.it  and I could not have been more pleased with their wines.  They now have five wineries in different parts of Sicily. The whole Planeta family is involved in the winery but it is Alessio, Santi and Francesca who are the face and soul of the winery. Francesca was our host both at La Foresteria and for the tastings the following day. We tasted two new wines which I believe are very successful:

Carricante, Cerasuolo and Plumbago from Planeta

The 2008 Plumbago 100% Nero d’Avola this is an aromatic, easy drinking wine with aromas and flavors of red fruit and hints of pomegranate with a wonderful finish and aftertaste.

 2009 Carricante I.G.T. Sicily 100% Carricante. The grapes are soft pressed intact, not destemmed, the must is racked and inoculated with yeast and fermented at 15 degrees C for 20 days. The wine remains on the lees until February with continuous agitation

The wine had aromas and flavors of green apple, hints of minerals and mint and a very pleasing finish and aftertaste. This is a white wine that will age.  It is one of the two best Carricantes made in Sicily.

 The white wine that I could not believe was the Cometa 2009 .I.G.T. Sicily 100% Fiano. The current vintage of this wine is one of the best white wines made in Italy. They did away with the barriques and the wine is fermented for 20 days in stainless steel tanks and aged in stainless steel. It is aromatic with citrus overtones and hints of tangerine and mint with a touch of chamomile. The acidity is very good and there are mineral notes. One could taste the grape and the terroir in this wine. I drank the wine whenever I could find it.

Cometa at La Fotesteria

 Cerasuolo di Vittoria D.O.C.G. 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato. Eight days maceration on the skins in stainless steel tanks.  It is an aromatic, juicy wine with red fruit and hints of strawberry and cherry.  

 Then it was back to Verdura Spa for a day of tasting. In room #1 there was a tasting of wines on the market with the producers. Room #2 had a tasting of wines in the market with sommelier service and in Room #3 there was a vinem primeur ( wine preview). I prefer to taste with  the producers, so I stayed in room #1. Overall, I was very impressed with the wines. Here is a list of some of the wines that stood out by producer:

 Benanti, Bianco di Caselle ,100% Carricante Etna Bianco Doc 2008

Castellucci Miano ,La Massa 100% Inzolia 2008 I.G.T. Sicily

Cusumano Benuara  2008 I.G.T.Sicilia & 70% Nero d’Avola and 30% Syrah 

Etna Rocco d’Api  Le Moire  Enta Rosso D.O.C. 2007 80% Nerello Mascalese and 10% Nerello  Cappuccio.

Palari Faro – Faro D.O.C. 2007 and Rosso del Soprano 2007 I.G.T. Sicilia  Nerello Mascalese  and Nerello Cappuccio, Nocera and others.

Faro and Rosso del Soprano

Tasca d’Almerita, Nozze D’Oro Inzolia and Sauvignon Tasca 2008 Bianco Contea di Sclafani D.O.C.

Valle dell’Acate  Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2007 D.O.C.G. Classico 70% Nero d’Avola and 30 % Frappato    Il Frappato 2009  100% Frappato, Vittoria Frappato D.O.C.

The event ended in the town of Sciacca with a “debate” on “Sicily and the Global Market”.  Some interesting comments were made by both the participating producers and the wine press. It was moderated by the President of Assovini, Diego Planeta. One of the questions raised was should there be a D.O.C. Sicily. There were pros and cons on both side and the issue remained in dispute.

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Filed under Italian Wine, Sicily, Uncategorized