by Jenny Benzie, Advanced Sommelier of Épernay
Being on Nantucket during the month of August has its ups and downs. While the water temperature is just right and the days of sunshine outnumber those of any other weather combined, there is a tremendous amount of traffic to navigate on this little island; it’s hard to get dinner reservations for a large group; and your house feels more like a bed and breakfast.
If you had to choose another island to be on during this time of summer, Sicily would be the answer. This largest of the Mediterranean islands has much to offer a summer traveler. From the history in Palermo to the beaches of Taormina, this island is also home to a plethora of wineries producing quality wines from indigenous grape varieties. Here is a selection of Sicilian wines that will take your mind away from the hectic antics of summer to the peaceful serene place you want to be.
Located on the northeastern part of the island, Mount Etna is situated between the cities of Messina and Catania. Who would have thought that grapes would flourish so well near an active volcano? The cooling sea breezes and high elevation in this area help to preserve the acidity in wine, along with enhancing the structure and complexity with the influence of the volcanic slopes where the grapes are grown. The volcanic soils are both fertile and well drained, making the region ideal for viticulture.
Tornatore Etna Bianco Doc comes from a family-owned winery in the town of Castiglione di Sicilia. While the family is somewhat new to winemaking, they have been growing grapes in this area for decades. This premium white is produced using local Carricante grapes, an ancient white grape variety from the region. The variety is known for its marked acidity and high yields, hence its name where carica means “load” in Italian. Hints of ripe grapefruit, tangerine, and white peach on the nose are complemented by earthy herbal notes, a backbone of minerality, and vibrant acidity on the palate. Look out Sauvignon Blanc, a new white is in town!
This afternoon delight will pair perfectly with Piave Vecchio, a deliciously nutty, pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from the Veneto in northern Italy.
Family-owned Planeta Wines has sustainable vineyards all around the island, concentrating on five different locations that are specific to their climate and terroir of that part of the region. Their Sciaranuova vineyard is located at the base of Mount Etna.
Of the history of the historic eruptions of Mount Etna, that of 1614 is most legendary, lasting ten years and the longest ever recorded. Their Cru wine from this region is aptly named Planeta Carricante “Eruzione 1614” Sicilia Doc in homage to this history. This wine is made from 90% Carricante with a small addition of 10% Riesling to add a floral component to the wine. The high altitude black soil of the region creates a fresh, savory, mineral style to the wines grown on this estate. Crisp, dry, and refreshing, this wine is a perfect summer sipper.
Enjoy a handful of Marcona Almonds with Rosemary with this aperitif wine.
Grapes have been grown on Sicily for centuries, including pre-phylloxera days when many vineyards where decimated on the mainland in Europe. Feudo Montoni, a certified organic winery, has been producing top-quality wines on its historic grounds since 1469. (Yes, THAT long ago!) Having such depth of experience, they employ a “cru concept” of bottling a wine from the best grapes from a single vineyard.
Feudo Montoni Nero D’Avola “Lagnusa” Sicilia Doc is a delicious lightstyle red wine made popular by its appealing black cherry and plum fruit backed by relatively smooth tannins. Lagnusa is the name of the cru from which the grapes hail. In Sicilian, “lagnusa” means that which is lazy and produces small quantities. Therefore the vineyard was named this as it produces less quantity of grapes, yet a higher quality of wine. Think similar to Cru Beaujolais for this red wine!
Enjoy this wine paired with Matiz Bonito, tinned in olive oil, as your lunch
Bellus is a socially and environmentally conscious wine company that makes organically-grown, terroir-driven wines in collaboration with partner wineries around the globe. While they may not own their own vineyards, they are able to source quality fruit that meets their high standards and produce a wine that is typical of the region that they want to represent.
Bellus Frappato “Scopella” is one such wine, made from grapes grown organically in Vittoria in southern Sicily. Frappato is a light-bodied, highly aromatic red. It has flavors of tart strawberry mixed with floral undertones and spice. The name Scopello refers to the seaside rock formations along the island’s coast near this area. A great substitution for Pinot Noir lovers.
A sip of this wine and a Divino Pitted Kalamata Olive are the perfect pairing.
Drinking a bottle of wine is akin to reading a summer best seller while relaxing on the beach. Both can take your mind away into a world of its own, making you feel as if you were on vacation without the travel.