Everyone is in love with the wines of Sicily these days, in part because there is the feeling that the region’s winemaking is both ancient and modern, which, in many ways, it is. Nowhere is this new Sicily more apparent than with the family-owned Donnafugata winery, which both makes good wines and has keen marketing savvy as well.
Here are some notes of six that are now available:
2011 Donnafugata "Lighea" ($19). The next indigenous grape that we may all come to know is the white moscato, zibibbo — which, when said out loud, even sounds lively and fresh. This one is quite aromatic and floral with tastes of bananas, citrus, and white peach. Have it with some simply prepared scallops with citrus.
2011 Donnafugata "Anthilia" IGP ($15) is a fuller, rounder, more-tart white blend, mainly from catarratto, that has white pepper in the nose and tangy peach at the finish — an afternoon sipper.
2008 Donnafugata Chiarandà ($40) is an equal blend of chardonnay and ansonica, and it reminds me of an old-style East Coast chard — somewhat spicy, somewhat oaky, a little heavy on the palate with cheese-like whey tastes in the finish. Would match it with an oilier fish, roasted whole.
2008 Donnafugata "Tancredi" rosso ($40). A blend of international and indigenous red grapes, this is onne of those wines that is tart yet fruity in the same way balsamic is. Very lean, with flavors of tart cherries. Try it with spaghetti Bolognese.
2007 Donnafugata "Mille e Una Notta" rosso ($80). Similar to the Tancredi, but with darker notes and the earthier tones of nero d’avola with more finishing acidity and tannins. Pair it with rare steak.
2010 Donna Fugata "Ben Ryé" passito di Pantelleria ($35 for 375 ml.) A sweet wine made from dried grapes, it reminds me of a young Tokaji, with lots of fresh and dried fruits — again straddling the sweet/tart line. Unfortunately, it would be even better with more acidity and structure. Sip it while you nibble very ripe figs.
The Rallo family has made wine in Marsala, Sicily since 1851, and their ancient cellars tunnel beneath the city. They were one of the first families to begin making high quality table wine when sales of traditional sweet Marsala started to decline, launching the Donnafugata label in 1983, and championing the region
Dec 2015 - Monica Larner - The 2014 Sicilia Grillo Sur Sur is a fresh and carefree white wine that shows the informal and food-friendly side of Sicilian wine. The bouquet is simple and streamlined: It just offers the basics. There is bright freshness here followed by sharp aromas of citrus, lime and white flower. This is not a complex wine by any measure, but it is one of those wines that you will thirstily drink on a hot summer day
Vinous/Antonio Galloni (2014) - 87 pts
Green-tinged yellow. Subdued citrus and stone fruit aromas are complicated by menthol and balsamic nuances. Juicy and fresh but also a little sweet and simple, with flavors of apricot, pepper and mint dominating. Shows decent weight and verve on the moderately persistent finish. -- Ian D'Agata
JancisRobinson.com (2012) - 16.5 pts
Tasted Apr 2013 - Grillo. Cask sample. Brilliant straw. Subdued nose of breadcrumb and grapefruit. Compact lemon fruit palate with great focus and length and a mouthwatering finish. (WS)
Wine Spectator (2014) - 87 pts
Stone and smoke notes underscore flavors of Asian pear, slivered almond and lemon curd in this light-bodied, lively white.
James Suckling (2014) - 90 pts
A fruity white with sliced apple, lemon and celery aromas and flavors. Full body, bright acidity and a clean finish. Outstanding crisp Grillo. Where is the seafood? Drink now.
Wine Enthusiast (2015) - 91 pts
Vibrant and savory, this opens with lovely aromas of spring flower, citrus, herb and white stone fruit. The round, juicy palate offers ripe white peach, juicy grapefruit, pineapple and mineral alongside fresh acidity. A saline note backs up the finish.
Sicily Land of Delights: Etna
Hope fully you enjoyed my piece about Sicilian food and your appetite was suitably whetted to hear some more about the wines from this wonderful island. I wrote about Donnafugata, one of the leading Sicilian estates here, but this article focuses on one of the leading quality wine regions on the island – Etna.
Views of Etna dominate the landscape.
The first couple of days of my Sicily trip were spent around Etna and although this wine region is a mere D.O.C. – rather strangely the only D.O.C.g.on Sicily is Cerasuolo di Vittoria. I found Etna to be the most consistently high quality region that I experienced on Sicily. Other areas have some great producers making very good wines, but to me Etna appeared to be Sicily’s most consistently reliable region for making good and interesting wines. The natural conditions seem to lean towards excellence and excitement whereas perhaps the other places need to work that bit harder for really exciting wines? Of course the fact that it is Sicily’s smallest region might help keep the quality up too as it means that by and large Etna is a land of boutique producers and small estates.
Wine map of Sicily – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.
Etna is an amazing area and although wine is produced all over the volcano’s lower slopes and surrounding hillsides, the D.O.C. only covers the northern, eastern and southern slopes – see my map. This can mean that some very good Etna wines only have I.G.P.on the label, as does the fact that the D.O.C. does not cover the very highest slopes – yet.
The soil is a fine volcanic dust – see the bird in the sky, look 2 photos down.
That bird again, as close as I could get it, it looks like an eagle to me. Anyone know what it is?
Altitude varies enormously here from 450m to 1100m above sea level and the eastern slopes enjoy much more rain than the other sides. This tempers the heat and dry conditions, so together with the height making it cooler and the rich mineral, volcanic soils this area is really good for white wine production. Certainly three of my favourite whites from the trip were grown around the village of Milo on the south eastern slopes of Mount Etna – if your Etna Bianco is labelled Superiore then it can only come from Milo.
I really liked a great many wines from around here, but the whites led the pack for me – perhaps because they suited the cuisine so perfectly, but possibly because they were really very good. The secret weapon of the area is their own indigenous white grape called Carricante. It does not seem to be grown anywhere else, but it responds superbly to the local conditions to produce elegant dry white wines with high acidity and wonderful minerality – so can put the drinker in mind of Assyrtiko from Santorini.
The beautiful Tenuta di Fessina, the site of an ancient lava flow, blocks of volcanic stone are used to build the retaining walls.
Diletta Lavoratorin, our animated and informative host. Like most of our Sicilian hosts she hardly ever stayed still enough for me to get a decent photo! I did wonder about a caption competition for this, so feel free to send ideas in!
This beautiful estate is the brainchild of Tuscan wine producer Silvia Maestrelli and Piemontese Federico Curtazand is just 10 hectares pieced together by buying up old bush vine vineyards.
Tenuta di Fessina wines are available in the US through Winebow.
Benanti’s Sera de la Contessa vineyard.
I was greatly looking forward to visiting Benanti. I had tried a couple of their wines beforeand knew they were good, so eagerly anticipated trying them in situ and learning about this impressive producer. Technically it was established in 1988 by Giuseppe Benanti, but actually his family had farmed this land for generations and what he did was to really focus it on wine production. Not just any old wine either, right from the start he wanted to produce fine wine. As recently as 1988 no one else was trying to make top quality wine on Etna, so Benanti was the trend setter. He saw the potential in his land and sought outside advice from experts in Burgundy and Piemonte on what to grow and what to do he set off trying to turn Etna into a great wine region.
Antonio Benanti – the only photo I have of either of them even vaguely in focus as they would not keep still, even when posing for pictures!
Today the place is run by Giuseppe’s twin sons Antonio and Salvino and they really do seem to do a wonderful job. They exude charm and confidence and a real love for their land, although they have both had other careers before joining the family firm.
What fascinated me was their belief that Etna is totally unlike the rest of Sicily, they claimed to never even talk about Sicily, just Etna. They regard their wines as mountain wines, Alpine like Austrian or Friulian wines rather than Sicilian Mediterranean wines. I can see what they mean too, their wines – the whites anyway – have a purity about them that seems very unlike the Mediterranean. Although the history of Benanti wines is not long they have come a long way since 1988 and now exclusively champion the native grapes of Etna over the international varieties they started with.
Again I thought all the wines were good, but the stand out wines for me were:
This is a delightful sparkling wine made from Carricante grapes, grown at between 950 and 1200 metres above sea level, plus some other local grapes to add a little richness to the acidic, taut and mineral citrus notes of Carricante. It was quite delicious and hit the spot rather well before climbing up into the vineyards. A small portion of the wine is barrel fermented and it is aged on the lees over the winter before the second fermentation takes place the following Spring. After bottling it was aged for 18 months on the lees before disgorging. An attractive and enjoyable sparkling wine of excellent quality and finesse, if not great complexity – 87/100 points.
D.O.C. Etna Bianco Superiore
For me this is the standard bearer wine for Sicily – or Etna anyway. Pure Carricante grown in Milo at over 950 metres above sea level, most of the vines are over 80 years old and many are ungrafted. The wine is unoaked, but released after ageing in bottle, 2009 is the new release. This age means that we still get the taut, nervy minerality and high acidity, but it is balanced by some creamy waxy richness that makes the whole wine more complex and interesting and introduces richer orange notes and nuts in to the flavour profile. This is a wonderful wine – 93/100 points.
Yet again it was the whites that really thrilled me and again they were just perfect with the food, but everything Benanti made seemed very good including 2 of the very best Etna reds that I tasted on the trip:
Castiglione di Sicilia where Rovittello’s grapes are grown.
Castiglione di Sicilia from afar with vineyards in the foreground.
The hillsides around Castiglione di Sicilia.
Elders of Castiglione di Sicilia.
D.O.C. Etna Rosso
80% Nerello Mascalese– the dominant black grape in these parts – and 20% Nerello Capuccio. Masacali is a village on Etna which lends its name to the Nerello Mascalese. This wine is made from a 80 year old vines on a single vineyard site in Castiglione di Sicilia at 750 metres above sea level and aged in cask for 12 months.
This is a delicious red wine, rich with black cherry characters and iron-like minerality, silky tannins and earthy, mushroomy, leathery, tobacco together with dried fruit and gently rustic and baked Medierranean flavours. The finish is very long and with a wonderful savoury character – 90/100 points.
2006 Il Monovitigno Nerello Cappuccio
100% Nerello Capuccio,also from Castiglione di Sicilia, grown at 700 metres above sea level and aged in cask for 8-10 months. This is simply an I.G.T. as the D.O.C.rules only allow up to 20% Nerello Cappuccio in Etna reds. This is because it is not so widely grown and is very much the junior partner historically.
I did like the Rovittello very much, but this really stood out, everything about this wine is a delight. The colour is intense, the nose is lifted and aromatic with rich red fruit and savoury leather and herbs. On the palate there’s a supple, mouthfilling and velvety texture with soft tannins and intense sweet red fruit, ever so slightly cooked and reminiscent of rich Pinot Noir, especially as there is some freshness of acidity. There are herbs, iron, earth, rich cherry, salami, tobacco and mocha, some of which implies a sort of rustic memory somewhere in this wine’s DNA, but it isn’t rustic at all. A glorious wine – 93/100 points.
I should also point out that the 2006 Il Monovitigno Nerello Mascalese is rather lovely too, but the Cappuccio totally thrilled me that bit more.
Beyond Brunch: The Realities of Mother-Daughter Winemaking Teams
Kim and Margo Longbottom, the mother-daughter winemaking team at Australia’s Vintage Longbottom, are planning a Champagne brunch for Mother’s Day.
“There’s a great little restaurant that we frequent with a plant nursery attached out back,” says Kim.
Margo is looking forward to it. “Their philosophy is whatever they don’t grow, they source locally,” she says. “Mum and I are big fans of supporting local businesses.”
On Mother’s Day, many people will spiritually or physically raise a glass to the matriarchs and maternal figures in their lives. How, though, do multigenerational winemaking families handle collaborations all other days of the year? Are there challenges to working alongside your parent or child in the cellar, vineyard or CEO’s office?
Margo and Kim Longbottom / Photo by Matt Wenk
Kim and Margo believe their closeness is an asset.
“It strengthens our business,” says Kim of their relationship. “We make sure we both stick to roles where we add the most value.”
Margo agrees. “We both find that we benefit from using each other as a sounding board, getting another perspective is integral to our growth,” she says.
Are there challenges to working alongside your parent or child in the cellar, vineyard or CEO’s office?
Growing up in the Padthaway region of South Australia, Margo spent a lot of time in the vineyards. Kim and her late husband, Mark Longbottom, released the first wine from their label Henry’s Road in 1998, the year Margo was born.
Kim and Margo launched Vintage Longbottom in 2018. They produce classic South Australian style wines from McLaren Vale and Adelaide Hills.
Their relationship is useful from a marketing perspective, too.
“Being a mother-daughter business gives us a unique story to tell,” says Kim.
Christina and Christine Netzl / Courtesy Weingut Netzl
Austria’s Netzl winery also began as a husband-and-wife operation. In the 1980s, Franz & Christine Netzl took over a farm in Austria’s Carnuntum region. In 2007, Franz and Christine’s daughter, Christina, finished her studies in oenology and wine management in London and joined her parents at the winery.
Sustainable farming was already a part of Netzl’s mission, but it was Christina’s influence that led to organic farming.
Christina has embraced some of the challenges of working with family.
“Each generation has its own opinion, and it is our job to bring them together and keep everybody happy,” she says.
Working with family has its benefits, too.
“It is easier to work with people you’ve known all of your life,” says Christina. “You don’t have to explain certain things and ideas, because we understand each other’s minds.”
This year, the family’s Mother’s Day celebration will be multigenerational.
“We are celebrating Mother’s Day with all of the mothers in our family together: my grandmothers, my mother, my mother-in-law and, of course, my daughters,” says Christina.
Gabriella and Josè Rallo / Photo via Donnafugata by Beatrice Pilotto
Josè Rallo, CEO of Sicily’s Donnafugata wines, also hopes to bring her extended family together for Mother’s Day.
Her parents, Giacomo & Gabriella Rallo, founded Donnafugata wines in 1983. Gabriella is a founding member of the Associazione Nazionale Donne del Vino (National Association of Wine Women).
“Working together with my mother Gabriella has always been very inspiring for me,” says Josè. “To see her so resourceful, dynamic and determined, it’s motivation to go ahead and give the best of me.
“We do not always agree on everything, but I certainly recognize her great intuition and ability in both vineyard and design of our labels,” she says.
Gabriella is honored to have her daughter helm Donnafugata.
“I am proud and thankful to see that the values of equal opportunities continue through the passionate work of my daughter in the family business,” she says.
For Mother’s Day, Gabrielle and Josè plan to have traditional Sicilian dishes for lunch.
“If possible, a third generation may join us on this occasion: my daughter, Gabriella, who bears the name of my mother,” says Josè. “The wine for that special occasion will be a Cerasuolo from Vittoria, Floramundi, fruity and very soft. The perfect wine for us.”
Moira, Roisin, Angelica, Me-Z, Brigid O’Reilly / Courtesy of Distaff
In Oregon, Angelica O’Reilly launched Nomen wine with her three eldest daughters: Brigid, Moira and Me-Z. If her name sounds familiar, it’s because O’Reilly and her husband, David, are the founders of Owen Roe Wines.
To celebrate the women in the wine industry and in her family, Angelica created Distaff Wine Company in 2019. Nomen is its first project.
The name, Nomen, is more than a fun play on words. It’s also Latin for “surname.”
Brigid believes her family’s dynamic makes for a “more fun and creative environment” than other wineries. “We already know each other so well and are aware of each other’s strengths that we are able to encourage each other and work towards the same goal more effectively,” she says.
“One of our goals with our company is to highlight and support other women, and we will be doing just that on Mother’s Day,” says Brigid.
The O’Reilly women plan a special outdoor event for mothers and their families with live music, a brunch food truck and, of course, wine.
“Our mom will be relaxing at her own table with a glass of rosé, and we have plans to finish off the day with a family dinner for her,” says Brigid.
Donnafugata wines from Mount Etna, a very particular place in Sicily | Britt on Forbes
The spotlight is on Etna at the moment. Making wine on an active volcano must be special and, at times, even adventurous. Lava came pouring out of Etna earlier this year. Donnafugata, a well-known Sicilian wine producer, started making wine here in 2016. They discovered an incredible variety of soils, microclimates and growing conditions. Etna is a small but fascinating wine region. We met the team from Donnafugata on Zoom to hear their story.
A Donnafugata bottle is easily recognizable. On each label there is an image of a woman’s head with windblown hair. The figure fuses into an image of a volcano. Colours are sparkling. Donnafugata means escaping woman. The inspiration for the name comes from the novel The Leopard (Il Gattopardo) by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa that takes place in Sicily in the 19th century. A story of an old world that is disappearing and a new and different world coming. “For us”, says José Rallo, the daughter of the founder, “it symbolizes a winery looking forward, towards the future.” The book was turned into a block-busting film by Luchino Visconti, starring Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon.
This is a longer version of an article published on Forbes.com.
Giacomo Rallo created Donnafugata in 1983 in Marsala, on the west coast of Sicily. Now, the company has 410 hectares, and the family has vineyards and wineries in five locations: in Marsala, in Vittoria in the south-east part of Sicily, on the island of Pantelleria, in Contessa Entellina in the inland, south of Palermo, and on Mount Etna, the volcano.
“We started investing in Etna in 2016”, says Antonio Rallo, Josés brother, “and we now have almost 21 hectares, all on DOC Etna land and all on the northern slopes of the volcano. It rains less here than on the other sides of the mountain slopes, and we are protected against cold winds from the north, which favours a regular ripening.”
Etna, at 3,326 metres, is the highest active volcano in Europe. It erupts regularly the most recent one was in March. Etna DOC was established in 1968 as the first DOC in Sicily. The vineyard area on Etna is around 1000 hectares and covers the north, east and south slopes of the volcano.
It is a mountain area, and the climate differs substantially from other vineyards in Sicily it rains more, and there’s snow in the winter. But the spring is mild, and the summer is warm, however with important day and night temperature differences which gives the wines both freshness and finesse.
The soil is, of course, volcanic but very varied, composed of lava from different eruptions over a long time. The mineral composition and the texture differ a great deal. In general, it is sandy, porous soil with good drainage. The vines, often trained as bush vines (alberello), are planted with high density. Some vineyards are on terraces with drystone walls built with lava stone. “It is a labour-intensive viticulture”, says Antonio.
“There is an incredible degree of diversity inside the vineyards”, says Pietro Russo, oenologist at Donnafugata. This diversity has given rise to specific plots called contrada or cru you could call it single-vineyard wines. Donnafugata makes two prestigious contrada wines: Marchesa in Castiglione di Sicilia, and Montelaguardia, situated in the commune of Randozza, at the far west of the northern slope.
These two contrada wines from vintage 2018 will be released after the summer (2021). 2018 was a challenging year, colder and rainier than usual. The grapes needed to be sorted carefully. The quality was high nevertheless, and the upside of a cooler year is the more pronounced freshness.
Etna Doc Rosso Contrada Marchesa 2018, Donnafugata, Sicily
It is a superb and complex wine with concentration, elegance and length. It has nuanced aromas of tobacco, raspberries and fresh herbs. The tannins are smooth, and you can drink this wine with pleasure already. The acidity is refreshing and adds to the structure. It is fermented in stainless steel tanks during 10-12 days at 25 degrees C and aged in 2–3-year-old oak barrels for 14 months. It stays 18 months in bottle before being released.
In 2018, Donnafugata made 5,336 bottles and 208 magnums of Contrada Marchesa from a plot of 2 hectares. The grapes grow in Castiglione di Sicilia at an altitude of 750 metres, in lava soil with a sandy texture. The vineyard is formed like a natural amphitheatre. It is sunny but breezy. (
More about Marsala wine
Marsala was traditionally made from Cataratto grapes with some aromatic Inzolia grapes added. Today a substantiantial amount of the higher-yielding Catarratto grapes is added to Grillo grapes along with up to 15% Inzolia grapes. Cataratto and Inzolia grapes can also make a good base wine if grown with much care. While Inzolia is much more aromatic, it cannot be the a base wine on its own as it cannot reach high levels of alcohol. Grillo grapes (a cross between Catarratto and Muscat of Alexandria) are an astringent variety which are prolific so the dry climate keeps them in check. Grillo grapes make a full-bodied wine which needs very little alcohol added to create Marsala. Other less common grapes used in making Marsala are Damaschino and the red grapes added to rubino Marsalas (see below).
Mosto cotto / vin cotto (cooked grape must) is now only in allowed in the inferior ambra Marsalas. Traditional mosto cotto (unlike the vast majority of caramel being marketed as mosto cotto today) was a slow process of reducing the must and if done properly, could be a valuable ingredient in Marsala. Other Marsala producers may use sifone (must of late-picked, overripe grapes mixed with 20 to 25% pure alcohol) instead of the more expensive mistella used by De Bartoli.
It should be highly aromatic with caramel notes (except the Vergine). The alcohol ranges from 15-21% or higher. It is classified according to typology and aging.
Gold (oro)- made with white grapes
Amber (ambra)- made with white grapes and the darker colour comes from the added cooked grape must
Ruby (rubino)– a rare red Marsala: the colour comes from the red grapes added, typically nerello mascalese, perricone or nero d’avola but up to 30% are white grapes
Sweet (dolce)– over 100 gms/litre residual sugar
Semi-sweet (semi-secco)– 40 to 100 gms/litre residual sugar
Dry (secco)– 40 gms/litre residual sugar
Fine is aged for a minimum of 1 year and has a minimum of 17% alcohol. It can be anywhere from sweet to dry. It is good for cooking.
Irreverent Artist David Shrigley, Dolce & Gabbana Design Labels National Rosé Day Festivities Are Here
The worlds of fine Champagne and fine art may have a reputation for being a little stuffy, but both have been letting loose lately. In recent years, whimsy and irreverence have been popping up all around the fancy fizz, from Pop Art labels to cork-cap murals to—in the case of Champagne house Maison Ruinart—enough art to fill a gallery. The winery recently worked with British artist David Shrigley to create an array of drawings, neon sculptures, new packaging and more as part of their aptly named “Unconventional Bubbles” collaboration.
Ruinart hosts an annual “Carte Blanche” project, inviting a contemporary artist to design new works inspired by the house’s wines, vineyards and overall je ne sais quoi. Past collaborators have included Brazilian artist Vik Muniz and Chinese performance artist and photographer Liu Bolin. “The choice was guided by David Shrigley’s talent and how he can connect and relate to the values of Ruinart,” Frédéric Dufour, president of Maison Ruinart, told Unfiltered via email. “His works make satirical comments on everyday situations and human interactions.”
When Ruinart invited the artist to visit the winery in Reims, he was happy to take them up on the offer. “I’ve worked with a lot of brands over the years and I realized it is quite important to work with a [product] you like. And it’s not difficult to like that Champagne!” Shrigley told Unfiltered. “I listened to people, especially to Frédéric Panaïotis, the cellar master. I took note of what I saw and what I heard," said Shrigley. He even carved some fresh designs into the winery's famed underground labyrinth of chalk caves.
After his reconnaissance, Shrigley put together 42 pieces for the collaboration, as well as a new typeface design for Ruinart. The works include drawings, huge ceramic jars, a doorway installation and neon sculptures. And yes, for the fans, there are bottles—signed boxes of 30 jeroboams of Ruinart’s blanc de blancs.
Shrigley is also an environmentalist whose work, including the Ruinart stuff, features wry commentary on the theme one painting is accompanied by the sentiment "Worms Work Harder than Us," and he liked the maison's commitment to earth-friendliness. “Obviously, we have a big problem right now that the world has presented us with, but you just have … to think of ways to [take] better care of the planet. I think Ruinart has a very sustainable approach. Nurturing the soil is so important to them.”—C.D.
Pride of Sicily: New 'Rosa' Rosé Coming from Dolce & Gabbana and Donnafugata
The world of fashion knows its way around shades of pink—fabric, that is. But one haute couture house decided it wouldn’t stop with scarves and sandals, and is releasing a pink wine, too, an in-vogue look these days. Last month, Italian designer Dolce & Gabbana announced that it's releasing a rosé called Rosa with Sicilian winery Donnafugata, with D&G themselves crafting the label. "For the label and the packaging, we wanted an immediately recognizable graphic, close to our creativity," cofounders Domenico Dolce, a Sicilian himself, and Stefano Gabbana, told us via an email response provided to Unfiltered. "We have designed its graphic in soft colors, close to those of our rosé."
Donnafugata has been collaborating with the fashion house since 2017, and last year, Donnafugata and D&G decided to stitch together the new bottle of wine to share Sicily’s culture, history and local flavor with the world. Rosa’s label was inspired by the island’s colorful donkey-drawn wooden carts. "We took inspiration from the iconic Sicilian cart, which represents Sicilian craftsmanship, culture and tradition all over the world," explained Dolce and Gabbana. “We are Italian. We love eating well and drinking good wine, like Rosa."
For Rosa, Donnafugata, which has vineyards all over the island, blended indigenous grapes Nerello Mascalese and the less-often-seen Nocera, sourced from Mount Etna and from the hills of Contessa Entellina, near Palermo. The 2019 arrives in the U.S. in August, so we haven't tasted the bottle yet, but Dolce and Gabbana are certain it will deliver the Sicilian flavor they love. “It is like savoring the colors and scents of our region and reliving its atmosphere.”—C.D.
National Rosé Day Festivities Underway
Rosé knowers are also looking forward to #NationalRoséDay tomorrow, June 13, and plenty of wineries are eager to put pink bottles on their tables. Two top names in the south of France—and in this space recently—are preparing celebrations to creatively toast while social-distancing restrictions are still in place.
Provence Rosé Group, founded by billionaire and coworking space entrepreneur Mark Dixon, encompasses four rosé-focused estates in the south of France, including flagship property Château de Berne, and they'll be hosting a virtual fête of wine and song. "While it’s difficult during these times to enjoy the day together in person, we thought it would be inspiring to hold this virtual event in honor of the rosé lifestyle and the special day on June 13,” PRG CEO for North America Bob Gaudreau, said in a press release.
At 4 p.m. ET, a Zoom party hosted by Emmy-winning actor Vincent De Paul will feature sommelier Jon McDaniel, Château de Berne winemaker (and friend of Post Malone) Alexis Cornu and others taking the mic, with a musical interlude from Grammy winner Paulina Aguirre.
Rosé rocker Jon Bon Jovi and his vintner-partner son Jesse Bongiovi are also getting into the spirit, launching the weekly #HamptonWaterPicnic (Hampton Water is the name of the wine) with New York's Versa restaurant. As rooftop revelry is not yet permitted at Manhattan restaurants, the picnic is being served in to-go baskets including wine, lobster rolls, charcuterie and cheese, fruit, antipasti—and sanitizer and facemasks. Bongiovi and a friend from Versa will also be hopping on Instagram Live tomorrow at 5 p.m. ET for a virtual happy hour. To support the fight for racial justice and equality, the picnic partners are donating a portion of proceeds to Black Lives Matter and the National Bail Fund Network.—G.S.
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Have a Sicilian Summer with Donnafugata Wine
How would you like to spend the remainder of your summer in Sicily? I know I would! If you are not able to hop on the next plane headed to the beautiful Italian island you are not completely out of luck. Donnafugata is bringing their wonderful Sicilian summer to you! Summers in Sicily are filled with white sandy beaches, sailing around the coastline, hiking Mt Etna, and eating great Sicilian food paired with great Sicilian wine. By adding Donnafugata wines to your summer you are adding a slice of Sicily.
Donnafugata has four delicious new releases perfect to pair with your summer, where ever you may be. All four of these wines are crisp, clean and refreshing. In typical Donnafugata style these wine are not only elegant and delicious but each label is a beautiful work of art, offering a multisensory wine enjoyment experience. I am blessed to have received these four media samples for the kind people at DonnaFugata and I am thrilled to share them with you.
Donnafugata Anthilia 2014 Bianco Sicilia DOC: This wine was crafted predominately of Catarratto, blended with Ansonica and other autochthonous and international varieties. It poured a soft yellow into the glass vibrant aromas of green apples, pears, a touch of lemon zest and fresh cut grass envelope the nose. It was mouth-coating with a slight creamy texture and mouth-watering acidity. It felt crisp and clean on the palate with slight cedar and mineral notes that linger on the back of the palate upon swallowing. SRP $17.
Production information: vineyards in South-western Sicily in a hilly altitude of 200 – 600m above sea level soil is clam loam with a sub-alkaline reaction, rich in nutrients fermented and aged in stainless steel can be consumed upon uncorking drink within first three years. Serve 48-52 F. 12.5% alcohol.
This is an excellent wine for every day enjoyment as an aperitif or paired at lunch or dinner with a light seafood or poultry summer salad, grilled seafood, mussels, and shellfish linguine.
Art & Wine: The label displays the face of a woman, mysterious and fleeting, like the Elymian civilization. Anthilia is the name, given in the Roman period, to the city of Entella on the top of the Rocca. Today, Anthilia is also the name of a wine that is identified with the ancient territory where it originiates. It is the first wine to have been conceived at Donnafugata and it still remains in the hearts of many fans!
Donnafugata SurSur 2014: This wine was crafted of 100% Grillo. This wine poured a delicate gold into the glass. Picture a large basket filled with fresh pineapples, papayas, apples, white peaches, grapefruits and lemons that was the aroma of this wine. It was crisp and clean with a well rounded acidity and notes of fresh cut grass joining the fruits on the palate. It had a tart, lime zest finish that lingered on the palate. SRP $ 23
Production information: Vineyards in Western Sicily in the hilly hinterland between Marsala and Salemi at an altitude of 100-200 meter above sea level soils is silty clay loam rich in nutrients fermented in stainless steel then aged in stainless steel vats for a few months before aged an additional 2 months in the bottle before release can be consumed upon uncorking drink within first three to four years. Serve 48-52 F. 13% alcohol.
This wine will make a perfect aperitif to serve with cheese, dried fruits, nuts and cured Italian meats such as prosciutto and salami.
Art & Wine: Grillo is an ancient autochthonous variety from Sicily, but it is also a cute little animal (the cricket) that brings good luck. The name sur sur, that means cricket, comes from the Arabic language which was once also spoken in Sicily. The voice of spring, with its scents and colors, is depicted on the label. It shows Gabriella as a girl in flight, running barefoot through the flowers and fresh grass, following the singing of crickets that sounds sweet to her ears, like a thousand “SurSur…”
Donnafugata Lighea 2014: This wine was crafted of 100% Zibibbo (Moscato d’Alessandria). It poured a soft golden yellow into the glass and offered a dazzling bouquet of lychee, ripe melons, and bushel of white peaches, with a touch of citrus and jasmine notes. This wine was very well balanced. It offered round acidity with a creamy mouth-feel, a soft sweetness followed the acidity and lingered on the palate, creating a mouth-watering finish. SRP $23
Production information: Vineyards on island of Pantelleira (South-west Sicily) Khamma, Mulini, Mueggen, Ghirlanda, Serraglia, Gibbiuna, Barone, Bukkuram, Favarotta, and Monastero at an altitude of 200 – 400 meters above sea level soil is volcanic, sandy, originating from lava mostly cultivated on terraced slopes, deeply fertile fermented in stainless steel then aged in stainless steel vats for a few months before aged an additional 2 months in the bottle before release can be consumed upon uncorking drink within four to five years. Serve 48-52 F. 12.34% alcohol.
This wine is sunny and bright. Serve as an aperitif or with fresh summer salad, seafood, baked pasta with a creamy sauce or with cheeses for dessert. Donnafugata recommends this wine for a first date!
Art & Wine: “From the disheveled tresses the color of the sun, seawater flowed over the green, wide-open eyes.” Thus Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa describes Lighea, the bewitching siren and principal figure in his novel. She has inspired the creation of a complex and innovative wine and an equally original label. “It wasn’t easy to print this label,” Gabriella Rallo recalled, “and preserve the thousand shadings of the original colors of the drawing.”
Donnafugata Sedàra 2013: This wine was crafted predominately from Nero d’Avola, along with Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and a small percentage of other grapes. It poured a bright ruby into the glass and offered inviting aromas of cherries, strawberries, blackberries and plums, along with Asian spices, notes of violets, and licorice. It was beautifully balanced with round acidity and soft tannins with medium body and a clean finish. A deliciously easy drinking red wine. SRP $17
Production information: Vineyards in Southwestern Sicily, Contessa Estellina Estate and nearby at altitudes 200 – 600 meters above sea level soil is clayey with limestone and rich in nutrients fermented in stainless steel with maceration on the skins for about 10 days in moderate temps, after malolactic fermentation the wine was fined for 9 months in cement tanks then almost 6 months in bottle before release can be consumed upon uncorking drink within four to five years. Serve 61-64 F. 13.2% alcohol.
This wine can easily be enjoyed as a meditation wine but also will pair with red meats, barbecue and even seafood. It is sure to be a crowd pleaser so invite some friends over.
Art & Wine: “This wine carries in its heart the concreteness and sweetness f Angelica Sedara, the charming Claudia Cardinale, protagonist of the film “The Leopard” directed by Luchino Visconti. The label refers to the cellars at Contessa Entellina and the land in which the roots of this wine are deeply planted in the foreground the green of the vineyard, on a white background, communicates the freshness and pleasantness of this wine and its most recent evolution.”
As you know from my previous article featuring Donnafugata, “Celebrating Sicily on #Italianfwt” that Donnafugata is a fantastic winery producing high quality wines authentic Sicilian wines. Not only does Donnafugata embraces their Sicilian heritage through their wines but also through food, art and music for a full multisensory experience. It is fantastic! I cannot wait for the day I visit Donnafugata.
What’s in a name?
The name Donnafugata, literally ‘woman in flight’ refers to the history of Queen Maria Carolina, wife of Ferdinand IV of Bourbon, who fled Naples in the early 1800s on the arrival of Napoleon’s troops, seeking refuge in the part of Sicily where the winery’s vineyards now stand. This event inspired the Donnafugata logo, the effigy of a woman’s head with windblown hair found on every bottle. It was Sicilian author Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa in his novel Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) who gave thename Donnafugata to the country estates of the Prince of Salina. The estate was where the queen stayed, and it now holds the winery’s vineyards.
Donnafugata Contessa Entellina vineyard
Donnafugata is committed to the environment through practices such as: sustainable agriculture practices, night harvest, architectural construction of low environmental impact, use of solar panels for energy and a focus on maintaining the smallest carbon footprint possible. I encourage you to visit Donnafugata’s web site to learn more about the winery, view their entire portfolio of wines and listen to their great music. Please share your Donnafugata wine moments on Twitter using #DonnaFugataTime and #FromWhereIStand and enjoy a little slice of Sicily wherever you are!
My Song Selection: In true Rockin Red style, Donnafugata pairs a song with each one of their wines. Therefore, it is hard for me to select one song to pair with all four of this delicious wines. I have chosen a performance by José Rallo at the Masters of Wine Symposium 2014. The audio is not great but who better to pair with Donnafugata than José Rallo herself!
Get your own glasses of Donnafugata wines before the summer ends and let me know what song you pair with them. Cheers!
Just Released: 6 Wines From Sicily’s Donnafugata - Recipes
I am sitting in my rather comfortable hotel bed in Marsala, reluctant to rise since once I do, my stay here in Sicily will soon end. I have been here for roughly forty-eight hours as a guest of perhaps the best Sicilian wine producer, Donnafugata.
After landing on Monday morning in Palermo, I made the hour and a half drive to Marsala, the Sicilian city that lent its name to the fortified wine that has been made there for centuries.
In the early 1980s, one of the better producers of Marsala wine, Cantine Rallo, saw the declining interest in Marsala and decided it needed to make the switch over to non-fortified, dry wines. Thus, they sold their brand and created a new brand, Donnafugata. The name, meaning “woman in flight” comes from the novel Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) by Tomasi di Lampedusa. The story is of a queen who flees and takes refuge in the Marsala region of Sicily.
After a quick nap, I met Baldo Palermo, Director of Communications, who whisked me off to the Donnafugata winery…
…which started with a tour of the facility, including the particularly captivating barrel room.
We then tasted through the impressive line of Donnafugata wines…
…which culminated in a couple of vintages of the iconic Ben Ryé passito of Zibibbo.
Then it was off to the coast for a wonderful dinner adjacent to an historic salt farm.
The following morning, it was off to Pantelleria, another island, considered part of Sicily, but only a few dozen kilometers from Tunisia.
A prop and a prayer to get there under somewhat ominous skies.
After a short stop downtown, we headed off on the Perimentrale which circumnavigates the island and featured photo opportunities at literally every turn.
We stopped at the Donnafugata winery, which seemed to have been built in a corner of Eden.
A typical house on the island, called a dammuso, made of volcanic rocks and with a unique domed roof to catch rainfall.
Lunch was on the water, of course, with many wines from Donnafugata, of course.
We continued on our tour of the island including “Elephant Head Rock.”
Did I mention I like palm trees?
The most amazing aspect of an amazing island for me were the multi-centuries-old terraces. The walls were hand-built without any mortar.
Perhaps the most spectacular scene of a spectacular island was this terraced mountainside. It is a farm for capers.
Sadly, I said goodbye to Pantelleria and Sicily this morning. I was headed for the Veneto and the home of the best Prosecco in the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG (which would include a stop in Venice, of course).
Sicily is a paradox. The largest island in the Mediterranean is the most familiar of Italy’s 20 regions, thanks to Cinema Paradiso, Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s The Leopard, horse’s heads, Marlon Brando and the Corleone clan, but also its least typical. To people who know the fashion houses of Milan, the frenetic bustle of Rome or the undulating, cypress-dotted hills of Tuscany, Sicily feels like another country: hotter, wilder, slower and a little more dangerous.
This isn’t a region, the locals will tell you: it’s a continent with its own history, language and customs, a sense of difference that is proudly, even willfully, maintained. Trapani is closer to Tunis than it is to Naples. So close, in fact, that you can see Africa on a clear day and feel the dry heat of whispering Saharan winds. Sicily is Italy’s Andalusia, a region on the fringe of Europe, looking south as much as north, physically and culturally detached from the rest of the country.
Sicily has been heavily influenced by other cultures over the centuries – from the Sicanians (from whom the island takes its name) to the Phoenicians, the Greeks to the Romans, the Arabs to the Normans, the Germans to the Spanish. Its wine culture is ancient, too. In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus gets the cyclops, Polyphemus, drunk on wine before blinding him in his single eye and escaping. In Roman times, the Sicilian wines of Mamertinum, Tauromenitanum and Populatum were all celebrated for their quality, as was Marsala in the late 18th century by the British admiral Horatio Nelson.
Those glory days are long past, however. Today, Sicily is one of the bulk wine centres of Italy, a significant contributor to Europe’s wine lake, bottling less than 20% of what it makes. It shares with Puglia, the so-called boot-heel of Italy, the distinction of producing the largest percentage of Italy’s basic wines: mostly white and what the Italians call “bianco carta” or white paper, with little or nothing in the way of flavour or aroma. If Sicily is known as the “isola del vino”, it is mostly for all the wrong reasons.
When Franco Giacosa, an oenologist from Piedmont, arrived to work at Corvo in 1968, he was shocked by the poor quality of the local wines. “Rustic, strong, heavy and oxidised,” is how he describes them. There was little temperature control, next to no investment in technology and even less interest in changing the status quo. More than three quarters of Sicilian wine was made by co-operatives, mostly from bland white grapes such as Cataratto and Trebbiano, and the climate was considered too hot to make good quality wines.
If anything, things got worse after that: higher yields, more planting of ill-suited white grapes, continuous presses, lazy winemaking. So bad, according to Giacosa, that “we would avoid saying our wines came from Sicily because the image of the place was so awful”. But then, it began to look up. Marco de Bartoli started to revitalise Marsala, campaigning to ban Marsala “speciale” (a euphemism for a wine pre-mixed with coffee, strawberries or almonds), Corvo made its super premium Duca Enrico from Nero d’Avola, and Tasca d’Almerita (Regaleali) released its first really promising wines.
Just as significantly, Diego Planeta set up his own eponymous winery, while continuing to work as chairman of Settesoli, a huge co-operative whose 2,300 members own 5% of Sicily’s vineyards. Planeta persuaded them to plant new grape varieties, both from Italy and France, to show the growers that “there was a world beyond Catarrato and Inzolia”. To date, the man has put 150 different varieties in the ground – everything from Aglianico to Vermentino, Fiano to Merlot – some of which have been extremely successful.
Sicily’s wine revolution really got underway in the 1980s, inspiring fresh plantings on Etna, the active volcano in the island’s north-east corner, as well as in Siracusa, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Menfi, Palermo and elsewhere. Significantly, new or revitalised properties like COS, Donnafugata, Planeta and Benanti made their first modern wines, inspiring others to believe in quality.
Twenty-five years later, no one would argue that Sicily has put all of its problems behind it, but it is now one of the most exciting wine regions in Europe, blessed with a combination of abundant sunshine, varied terroirs, good indigenous grapes (and as the ability to grow just about anything well), investment in technology, two dozen or so dynamic estates and even celebrity endorsement in the shape of singer Mick Hucknall, who makes a wine called Il Cantante on Etna, and the actress Carole Bouquet, whose Sangue d’Oro is a suitably expensive sweet wine from Pantelleria.
What’s the best way to approach Sicily? The first thing to understand is that it’s a big place – if you choose to drive across the island be prepared to spend a lot of time on bumpy, potholed roads – that is much more complex than its bulk wine, point-me-in-the-direction-of-the-nearest EU-subsidy image would suggest. One of the many remarkable things about Sicily is that its harvest lasts for over three months, beginning in the August heat of Trapani and ending on the snow-peaked slopes of Etna in mid-November. As the author Nicolas Belfrage argues in his book, “Brunello to Zibibbo”, Sicily has the potential to be “California, Australia, Chile, southern France, Jerez and middle Italy all rolled into one”.
Enlightenment can take one of three paths, all of which lead to the same rewarding destination. The first is to gen up on Sicily’s five best “indigenous” grapes. Sicily, as I’ve already said, can grow a wide variety of French varieties, too, but you will be familiar with those already. As Zibibbo is a synonym for Muscat I have excluded that from my list, too.
Despite the fact that Sicily makes much more white than red, most of it in the north-west corner of the island, its whites are far less exciting. There are two exceptions: Grillo (mostly used to make high-end Marsala, in preference to Catarratto) can also produce superb dry whites: flinty, yet savoury like a good Grenache Blanc, while Caricante (almost entirely grown on the slopes of Mount Etna) is crisp and tangy with a lemon zesty bite. The latter can be almost Chablis like if it’s given lees contact and allowed to go through malolactic fermentation, and may also develop toasty, Riesling style notes as it ages.
Of the three interesting red grapes (Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese and Frappato), the most significant in terms of plantings (16.23% of the island’s vineyards) and, at the top end, quality is Nero d’Avola. The grape may have originated in Avola in the south-eastern corner of Sicily near Syracusa, the area which still grows more than half of the island’s production, but is made by the majority of Sicilian wineries today. Not having one is a bit like an Aussie producer choosing to exclude Shiraz from his portfolio.
Nero d’Avola is also deeply coloured and flavoursome, with some spice and good structure. There are lots of different styles, from soft, juicy and immediate to dense and serious. Salvo Foti, one of the island’s top consultants as well as a producer on Etna in his own right, says that the grape needs careful handling. “It has some of the highest acidity levels in Italy and it’s very reductive, so it needs a lot of air during fermentation and ageing. That’s why it works well in barriques.”
It’s also the main grape in Cerasuolo di Vittoria (where it has to constitute at least 50% of the blend with Frappato but no more than 70%), where its colour brings depth and backbone to its softer, more fragrant partner. Frappato is also made on its own, producing gentle, easy-drinking wines with supple tannins and a floral perfume that wouldn’t look out of place in a white wine.
Sicily’s second best red variety is Nerello Mascalese, which tastes like a cross between Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo, but is probably related to Sangiovese, according to Professor Attilio Scienza of the University of Milan. Frank Cornelissen, one of the leading Etna producers, underlines the illegal link with Nebbiolo. “Before this place started to get famous, the main buyers of Nerello Mascalese were the Barolo producers.”
Today the grape is mainly grown on the volcanic soils of Mount Etna, where it is often blended with Nerello Cappuccio, a grape that is considerably more rustic and may well be the same thing as Carignan. Some producers choose to make IGT Sicilia wines, subject to less strict rules than Etna Rosso, to enable them to make pure Nerello Mascaleses. And quite right too, because this is a grape with enormous potential, yielding delicate wine that have the ability to age and, at their best, a delicious minerality and freshness.
The second route to vinous enlightenment is to study Sicily’s 23 DOCs (Denominazioni di Origine Controllata) and one DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), but this is arguably less useful. The main reason is that they account for only 5% of the island’s overall production, most of which is Marsala. Some of these DOCs are little known, even within Sicily. Anyone heard of Riesi, Salapuruta or Alcamo?
The DOC(G)s that are famous are correspondingly few: Etna, Marsala, Pantelleria and Cerasuolo di Vittoria. This may explain why many producers prefer to use the catch-all IGT Sicilia (25% of the island’s production) rather than a DOC, although this may change with the introduction of the new DOC Sicilia from the 2012 vintage. According to the Conzorzio Vini Sicilia, requests have already been received to register 33,000 hectares. Move over IGT? Possibly, although the new DOC is more likely to affect bulk sales as the wines will have to be bottled at source. Whatever happens, IGT Sicilia will change its name (to IGT Terre Siciliane) later this year.
Even with these changes in prospect, it makes more sense to consider Sicily as a series of zones (the third pathway to understanding) than DOCs. Geographically, Sicily can be divided into four macro areas: east, central, west and, finally, the islands of Pantelleria and Favignana. This isn’t a failsafe guide – Sicily delights in undermining generalizations – but here goes.
The east consists of Etna (the coolest and greenest part of Sicily with vineyards at altitudes of up to 1100 metres), the south-east corner (the province of Siracusa, which is mostly hot and windy) and the province of Ragusa to the west, producing the rather more elegant wines of Cerasuolo di Vittoria. All told, the east accounts for a mere 7,374 out of 120,000 hectares and is generally speaking a high quality zone, particularly for reds.
The centre is made up of the provinces of Enna, Caltanissetta, Agrigento and Palermo. The last two are by far the largest of the quartet, with 20,973ha and 16,625 ha respectively. There are some very good wines made here by the likes of Planeta, Settesoli, Regaleali, Abazzia Santa Anastasia, Donnafugata, Cusumano, Morgante and Feudo Montoni, but the majority of what is produced is fairly unmemorable, whether from local or international grapes, or a cuvée of the two.
The west is also a mix of the good, the bad and the indifferent. The province of Trapani grows more than half of the island’s grapes (68,780ha) and is the source of a lot of very bland white wines, although there are some decent wines made in Erice, particularly from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and, of all things, Müller-Thurgau.
By far the best wines in the west are produced in the port of Marsala, even if this historic DOC has had as many downs as ups in the last 50 years. Today, Marsala has reclaimed some of its former lustre. The best producers only use Grillo (not Inzolia or Cataratto) and do not add caramel or concentrated must. The top wines are made, like Sherry, in a form of solera system, using fractional blending to make a consistent style over a period of decades. As Renato de Bartoli puts it: “The key to great Marsala is patience.”
The fourth Sicilian zone is the islands of Favignana (a brief, if choppy ferry ride from Trapani) and the more celebrated and semi-detached Pantelleria (45 miles from Tunisia and 58 miles from Sicily). The former has only one producer (Firriato planted grapes here five years ago, but have yet to make a wine because of bird damage and the effect of sea breezes), while the latter produces some of the best sweet wines in Italy, made from dried grapes. What the two have in common is Muscat of Alexandria, or Zibibbo as it is known locally.
Pantelleria, like Marsala, is Sicily’s link with the best of its past: Muscat was brought here by the Arabs in the 9th century, probably to make raisins, as the names of two of the best local wines, Donnafugata’s Ben Ryé and De Bartoli’s Bukkuram, confirm. It’s an appropriate place to end our tour of Sicily. Not so long ago, Pantelleria and Marsala were its only outstanding wine styles, but that is no longer true. Today, there are very good and even great wines in almost every region of Sicily. The transformation has barely begun, but not before time the “isola del vino” is starting to live up to its name.
Total vineyard area: 112,000ha (64% white, 36% red)
Total wine production: 5.6.m hl of wine and must
Bottled wine: Around 19% Climate: Mediterranean, but large differences between regions and picking times based on altitude and proximity to the sea
Number of DOCGs: 1 (Cerasuolo di Vittoria)
Number of DOCs: 23 (Alcamo, Contea di Sclafani, Contesse Entellina, Delia Nivolelli, Eloro, Etna, Erice, Faro, Malvasia delle Lipari, Mamertino, Marsala, Menfi, Monreale, Moscato di Noto, Moscato di Pantelleria, Moscato di Siracusa, Riesi, Salapurata, Sambuca du Sicilia, Santa Margherita Belice, Sciacca, Vittoria and, from 2012 onwards, Sicilia)
Best known DOCs: Etna, Marsala, Moscato di Pantelleria Main white grapes: Cataratto, Trebbiano, Inzolia, Grecanico, Chardonnay, Grillo, Viognier, Caricante, Zibibbo Main red grapes: Nero d’Avola, Syrah, Merlot, Nerello Mascalese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Frappato, Nerello Cappuccio Leading producers: Abbazia Sant’Anastasia, Benanti, Ceuso, COS, Corvo (Duca di Salaparuta), Cottanera, Cusumano, De Bartoli, Donnafugata, Feudo Montoni, Firriato, Florio, Frank Cornelissen, Gulfi, Il Cantante, Morgante, Occhipinti, Palari, Passopisciaro, Planeta, Sangue d’Oro, Regaleali, Tenuta di Fessina, Valle dell’Acate.
You can eat extremely well, and inexpensively, in Sicily especially if you buy fresh ingredients and cook them yourself. The cuisine is Mediterranean and shows the influence of Spain, Greece and North Africa as well as Italy. The diet here is based on fresh fruit and vegetables, olive oil, pasta and fish, although Sicilians have a sweet tooth and are famous for their desserts.
Many of my favourite restaurants are in Palermo – try Premiata Enoteca Butticé (www.enotecabuttice.com), Quinto Canto (www.quintocantohotel.com), Ai Tetti (www.astoriapalacehotelpalermo.com) and Vinoveritas. Elsewhere on the island, I have eaten very well at the Trattoria San Giorgio Il Drago in Randazzo (near Etna), La Madia (www.ristorantelamadia.it) in Licata near Agrigento, Ristorante Torre d’Oriente in Modica near Ragusa (www.ristorantetorredoriente.it), Al Duomo (www.ristorantealduomo.it) in Taormina.
TEN WINERIES TO VISIT
This is the largest winery on Etna – which is not saying a lot – but it still owns 55ha of vines. It’s a family-run affair which started out in 1999 specialising in rather oaky, high alcohol wines made in a ponderous, international style, but has switched to finer things in recent years. The reds are the star turns here, especially Fatagione, which uses French grapes to add a little gloss to local Nerello Mascalese. Also look out for the pure Merlot Grammonte and L’Ardenza, a spicy, varietal Mondeuse that was planted by mistake, but is really delicious.
Frank Cornelissen www.frankcornelissen.it
Even by the standards of the natural wine movement, Frank Cornelissen is a controversial figure, producing small quantities of Etna reds that divide critics and consumers alike. Cornelissen works without sulphur or cultured yeasts and it has to be said that his high alcohol wines do not always age consistently. But the silver-haired Flemish expat is an engaging winemaker: opinionated, talented and self-taught. His vineyards are immaculate, especially his Vigna Alta at 850m, and the resulting wines can be elegant and almost Burgundian when young.
Located on the tamer, more touristic south side of Etna, Benanti sources grapes from three of the volcano’s slopes. Regarded as being the family that revitalised the area and its indigenous grapes since 1988, the Benantis have lived in the area since the 1820s. The focus here is on Caricante (under the Pietramarina label) and two red “crus”: Serra dell Contessa and the lighter Rovitello, both of which are made from mostly Nerello Mascalese with 20% Nerello Cappuccio. The wines are comparatively light bodied, but age remarkably well.
Passopisciaro is the Sicilian outpost of Andrea Franchetti, better known for his Tuscan property, Tenuta di Trinoro. He owns some of the highest vineyards on the north slope of Etna (up to 1000m) and sometimes picks as late as mid November. Franchetti grows Chardonnay, Petit Verdot and (surely a one-off in Sicily) Cesanese d’Affile, but his real love is Nerello Mascalese, unblended with Nerello Cappuccio. The “basic” wine is an excellent introduction to the four red “contrade” (crus): Porcaria, Chiappemacine, Sciaranuova and Rampante.
COS is one of the leading producers in the Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG in south-east Sicily. Created in the 1980s, it now and produces some of the best natural wines, not only in Italy, but the world. Giusto Occhipinti ferments some of his reds and whites in clay ampohorae and these are the most interesting wines. The range here is characterised by balance and elegance, with little or no oak intrusion. The pure Frappato is a lovely expression of the grape, but the best wine is the amphorae-fermented Pithos, made from Frappato and Nero d’Avola.
Feudo Montoni www.feudomontoni.it
Based in Agrigento province in the centre of Sicily, this traditional inland winery is surrounded by wind farms, olive trees and fields of wheat. Grapes have been grown here since the 16th century and owner Fabio Sireci claims to have the oldest pre-phylloxera Nero d’Avola clones in Sicily, all farmed organically. Understandably perhaps, Nero d’Avola is the focus, especially age-worthy examples sold under the Vrucara label. A vertical tasting is fascinating if you get the chance, proving the variety’s ability to develop gracefully in bottle.
Better known by the name of its leading brand, Regaleali, this beautiful, family-owned estate in the middle of the island is home to a cookery school as well as a modern winery. Brothers Giuseppe and Alberto Tasca run the property, growing everything from Sauvignon Blanc and Inzolia to Cabernet Sauvignon and Nero d’Avola, depending on the altitude and aspect of the vineyards. The best wines are Nozzo d’Oro (a blend of Inzolia and Sauvignon Blanc), a majestic Cabernet Sauvignon and Rosso del Conte (a blend of Nero d’Avola, Syrah and Perricone).
Planeta is the most dynamic producer in Sicily. The winery’s home is in Menfi, close to the south coast, but it sources grapes from five different zones, making a sizeable range of stylishly packaged wines at facilities all over the island. Alessio Planeta is one of Sicily’s best winemakers, equally adept at working with indigenous and international varieties. My favourites Planeta wines are the Cerasuolo di Vittoria, the Syrah (Maroccoli) and their entry point white, La Segreta, but quality is consistently high. They also make a divine olive oil.
Marco de Bartoli, one of the giants of the post-war Italian wine scence, may have died last year, but the fourth generation, in the shape of his son, Renato, carries on the family tradition in Marsala. Almost alone, this 20-hectare estate has long championed the cause of great wine in Sicily. De Bartoli is best known for its sweet and fortified wines – the 2007 Bukkuram Pantelleria, Marsala Superiore 10 Anni and 1987 Marsala Superiore Riserva – are truly wonderful wines, but don’t miss out on the dry whites made from Zibibbo (2010 Pietra Nera) and Grillo (2009 Grappoli del Grillo).
This historic family-owned estate, based in Marsala, but with vineyards an hour’s drive away in western Sicily (the Contessa Entellina estate has its own DOC) and closer to Tunisia on the island of Pantelleria, is run by the brother and sister team of Antonio and Josè Rallo. The average quality of the wines is high here, but my favourites are Tancredi (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Nero d’Avola and Tannat), Mille e Una Notte (mostly Nero d’Avola with a little Petit Verdot) and Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria, made from dried Muscat grapes.
2008 Benanti Pietramarina, Etna Bianco (13%)
There’s a saline, almost oyster shell character to the white wines from this top Etna estate, best drunk after a year or more in bottle to allow their flavours to open out. Lime and citrus fruit notes are underpinned by steely, refreshing minerality here with no oak influence.
2010 Tasca d’Almerita Nozze d’Oro, IGT Sicilia (12.5%) A blend of mostly Inzolia with 25% Sauvignon Blanc, this comes from a vineyard that was planted in the early 1970s for a golden wedding present (hence the name). Grapefruity and complex with a tangy, bright finish, it’s a wine that resembles a top Pessac-Léognan with age.
2009 Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria (14.5%)
Like drinking liquid baklava, this has notes of raisins, spices and honey. It’s very concentrated and unctuously sweet, but it’s balanced by acidity and sea breeze freshness. Concentrated, intense, yet very drinkable, you can almost taste the flavours of north Africa in the glass.
1987 De Bartoli Marsala Superiore Riserva (19%)
1987 was the year of fortification, not production, as this is a blend of vintages, aged in old wooden casks in a rancio-like style. It’s quite sweet, with 50 grams of residual sugar, but the sugar is balanced by savoury, mature notes of old churches and incense. It tastes even better in the cellar.
2010 Cottanera Fatagione, IGT Sicilia (13.5%)
A stylish blend of mainly Nerello Mascalese with 15% Merlot and Syrah, this is a perfumed, elegant, finely crafted Etna red with aromas of orange peel and spicy red fruits, a touch of oak, grainy tannins and a fine tapering finish. Makes you wonder if international grapes are better partners than Nerello Cappuccio.
2009 Passopisciaro, IGT Sicilia (14%)
Grown on Etna but labeled as a Sicilian IGT because it is made entirely from Nerello Mascalese (rather than blended), this is a quintessential example of the grape in its lighter, more Burgundian guise: delicate and floral, with supple red fruits and suave, mouth-coating tannins.
2010 COS Pithos, IGT Sicilia(13%)
A blend of 60% Nero d’Avola with 40% Frappato, this unfiltered, wild yeast red was fermented in clay amphorae and partially oak-aged. The result is spicy, light yet very focused with red cherry fruit and a nip of tannin on the finish. If only all natural wines tasted as fresh and appealing as this one.
2010 Occhipinti Il Frappato, IGT Sicilia (12.5%)
Arianna Occhipinti makes one of the most graceful Frappatos in Sicily. But it’s daring, too: unfiltered, wild yeast fermented and left for 50 days on its skins before ageing in large oak barrels. It’s silky and scented, but has more guts and depth than many Frappatos, lingering satisfyingly on the palate.
2008 Feudo Montoni Rosso (14%) An unusual interpretation of Nero d’Avola (maybe it’s those old clones) with some notes of mint and wild herbs on the nose and a touch of smoky reduction. The palate shows flavours of plumskin and subtle oak with firmish, well structured tannins. A wine to cellar for at least another five years.
2008 Planeta Maroccoli Syrah (14.5%)
It might be an international style – you could almost mistake it for a Victorian Shiraz – but it’s brilliantly done, showing balsamic, savoury aromas, well integrated sweet oak and a hint of black pepper. Like most of Planeta’s wines, it’s polished, well crafted and beautifully balanced.