Despite my obsession with Sicilian culture, their wines are relatively new to me. I am excited to report that the wines surprised me in both quality and in style. Like most Americans, I had thought that Sicilian wines are most often red, relatively big, and a bit rustic. That was not at all the experience that I had in Sicily last week. It is great to learn new things, be surprised, and find new passions. The wineries I am most excited about:
Denute delle Terre Nerre & Munjebel, both from the north of Etna, where a lot of exciting wine is being made, and both well worth finding a bottle or two. Wines from this area that are fresh, fragrant, and compelling; they are well balanced, nuanced and powerful, yet not overpowering. The primary grape is in the reds is Nerello Macaslese and Norello Cappuccio. The wines remind me of Barolos and Burgundies in their character, though not flavor profile. The are surprisingly delicate for a full flavored wine with acidity that compels you to eat, and tannins that suggest ageablity.
Frank Cornelissen at Munjebel was kind enough to welcome my Dad and I for a long talk about his wines, his process, his commitment to natural wine making, and the care that he takes in producing the wines. Frank has a lot of experience in the wine business and has taken all of that knowledge and applied it to producing really interesting wines that are supremely surprising and delightful in that unique expression. His wines are not easy to understand, but I like that, and ultimately they taste really good! They are, admittedly, a little weird, but if I wanted the same experience in every glass, I would pick another job. Frank's wines are worth seeking out and giving them your time...you will want to enjoy and contemplate.
Also from Etna, we tried a couple of whites that were wonderful. Okay, who am I kidding, we were there for ten days, we had a bunch, but I had a few that really stood out!
Vigna di Milo Carricante, Bianco, which was suggested to us by Sandro the owner of Cave Ox, a fantastic restaurant that is off the beaten path and well worth the trip. This wine was spectacular, so ban aced, fruit, savory notes, herbal qualities. It was perfect with the house antipasti--yes, another "light lunch," but also it was great with my pasta con asperigi, which to my surprise was basically a rustic carbonara with big crispy bites of pancetta and cream, oh, yeah, and asparagus. (I love these language mistakes when they turn out this good.
Milazzo, Maria Costanza, a delightful and fresh Chardonnay from Zafferana Etna, a small community that is a gateway for travelers to see Mt Etna...see my earlier post about a light lunch for a suggestion of where to eat. I don't know a lot about this wine, nor do I have it at the shop, but it was delicious. I think a bit of oak, though it was smoothly integrated, it was fresh, crisp, and refreshing, with a touch of salty parm on the finish.
Cancicatti, Grillo, Aquilae. This is a relatively new grape for me, and I have to say, I want more of it. It is light and fruity, a soft sweetness on the nose, like honey suckle in early summer on the cliff walk, and then on the palate it is both fruity and then savory. Great with antipasto, which I also could not get enough of:)
Our last wine excursion took as a bit more south and inland, to Lamoresco, where Filippo Rizzo and his cousin make truly remarkable wines. His property is far from anyone elses...in fact, at Cave Ox, Sandro said of Filippo that his wines are great, but he is out there, "either crazy or clever." I don't know the answer to that, but I can say that his wines are so damn good and he is a super nice guy. When I asked why he grows where he does, he answered simply as he looked over the horizon, "because this is where I want to be."
He is located in the southern most corner of the province of Catania, about 450 meters above sea level. The earth is like a course sand, though it looks more clay like in color. It is arid, but still very green. His old vines are a mixture of nero d’avola, grenache and nerocapitano (frappato) for the reds, and the extremely rare vermentino corso and some roussanne for the white. All of his farming is done by hand and without the aid of any pesticides or herbicides: all natural. His process is simple...he self identifies as a farmer and believes the work of the wine happens in the field.
It was a great day! We picked asparagus that grows wild under the cultivated cactus that grows on the farm next door, we harvested some fava beans from Fillipo's garden, and we enjoyed a dinner in his home. He made us feel like we were old friends, we talked politics, wine, food, cities, and enjoyed a great meal with his Etna Bianco and a bottle of his Mascalese, mostly nerello with a little frappato and delicious, complex, contemplative.
I need to work harder at my job, as many of these wonderful wines are available in the US; in fact, I have many of them now at the shop, but we need access to more great wines like these, naturally made and delicious.