Oh My Godfather
For some the name Sicily evokes images of James Gandolfini-like figures conducting mafiosa affairs worthy of a Sopranos episode (although yes, Sopranos geeks, T. Soprano is actually from Campania). If Sicily has developed a reputation for survivalist business techniques, it’s no wonder. One of the Mediterranean’s largest islands – and certainly one of its most centrally located – Sicily has had its share of marauding invaders since the beginning of time. Situated just off the tip of Italy’s boot like a freshly kicked soccer ball, the southern shores of Sicily lurch as far south as Tunisia. Over the centuries, the Byzantines, Arabs, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and Catalans have all had their way in strategically positioned Sicily.
Sicily is Italy’s largest wine region, comprising 10,000 square miles, exceeding Tuscany by a whopping 1,000. Throughout the European Union irrigation – viewed as the purview of upstart new world producers – is much reviled, but in Sicily irrigation is de rigueur. Sicilian days can be exceedingly hot, especially on the western side of this large island where the unfaltering hot winds from northern Africa evaporate the earth’s moisture like a blow-dryer. Surprisingly the inland landscape, an extension of Italy’s Apennine range, can be quite green, hilly and moist, with the northeast mountains remaining snow-capped many months of the year.
With such diversity of climate, a wide range of indigenous grape varieties thrives on the island, but most are destined for a lower-shelf position in EU super-markets. Bog-standard wines are not economical to ship to Asia, so the few Sicilian selections in Hong Kong are generally of high quality.
Nero d’Avola is the Sicilian red grape captivating the wine trade. This dense, mulberry scented variety is also known as the Calabrese, which is not surprising given Sicily’s proximity to Italy’s southern Calabrian region. Expect full-flavoured wines with a robust structure that is distinctly Italian in character, which is not something the vehemently independent Sicilians would be pleased to hear. Though Sicily’s red wines receive the lion’s share of the attention, the island also has significant plantings of white varieties, the finest of which are Grecanico and Inzolia. It is tempting to assume Grecanico is a migrant variety from nearby Greece, but DNA evidence suggests otherwise.
While most of Italy’s finest wines sport a DOCG classification and an official pink collar around their bottle necks, don’t expect the Sicilians to conform. Even the DOC ranking was slow to be accepted in Sicily, though the number of DOC wines has more than doubled during the past couple of decades, with 21 the current total. Sicily’s most exciting wines are simply classed as Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) or even the lower Vino da Tavola (Table Wine) level. The bulk of the DOC wine designation in Sicily is reserved for their dessert specialty, Marsala, now a fairly neglected wine style.
Sicily’s finest vineyards are primarily in the western Trapani, Palermo and Agrigento provinces. Not surprisingly, some of the island’s finest wine is from mountainous central Sicily, such as Contea di Sclafani, which is home to the Regaleali winery – for many years the only credible modern producer in Sicily. Owned by the prestigious Tasca d’Almerita family, the late Count Giuseppe Tasca d’Alermita had set out to prove to the world that Sicily can join the world stage when it comes to producing top-class wines. And they have.
Sicily’s ultra-modern winery Duca di Salaparuta – one of Italy’s largest wineries, more readily known under the brand name Corvo – produces what is possibly Sicily’s finest red wine, the powerful, concentrated Duca Enrico. Also keep an eye out for Abbazia Santa Anastsia, Planeta, Cusumano to name a few.