This article was originally published in “John Mariani’s Virtual Gourmet.”
By Geoff Kalish
Discovered in the United States by more than just the wine cognoscenti, a number of excellent, sensibly priced Sicilian reds, whites and rosés are now widely available across the country. In fact, while just a few years ago many restaurant wine lists lumped bottles from Sicily into a “Southern Italian” grouping or as “other,” these same eateries now provide far more than meager selections of vintages in a separate “Sicilian” category. And retail shops that once rarely carried more than a token bottle of Nero d’Avola, now offer shelves devoted to selections from the island. To gain insight into what the market has to offer, the NYC-based Wine Media Guild recently held a tasting of more than two dozen of these wines with lunch. The following are which I thought were the six best.
In general, I’m not a big fan of Italian white wines, feeling that many of them are very bland, one-dimensional products made so as not to offend the palate of even the least discerning consumer. On the other hand, of the nine whites offered, I found the 2014 Tenuta Rapitala Vigina Casalj Alcamo Classico DOC ($17) extremely enjoyable. Made from 100% Catarratto grapes (the most widely planted white varietal in Sicily), the wine showed a bouquet and taste of ripe peaches and pears with undertones of sage and a crisp finish, perfect to pair with grilled tuna and pasta with seafood.
With so many too sweet, low-acid rosés (rosati in Italian) on the market, the 2015 Tasca d’Almerita Le Rosé di Regaleali Terre Siciliane ($13) was a welcome find. Made from 100% Nerello Mascalese grapes, the wine had a salmon pink color, a fragrant bouquet of ripe cherries and strawberries, with a fruity taste that was crisp and dry on the finish. This wine makes an excellent aperitif, but it also mates well with salmon or pork.
The four standout reds were from totally different Sicilian locales. The 2014 Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria ($23), from vineyards outside the town of Vittoria, showed a bouquet and easy-drinking taste of ripe plums and apricots, with a long pleasant finish. This wine goes well with a wide variety of fare ranging from steak tartare to grilled veal chops to pasta with red sauce.
The 2011 Palari Rosso del Soprano ($59) hailed from the Messina area and is a blend of primarily Nerello Mascalese grapes (60%) and smaller amounts of five other indigenous varietals. Albeit pricy, the wine is amazingly Burgundian in style with a bouquet and taste of plums and spice and a bit more oomph than many reds from the Côte d’Or but not as overwhelmingly fruity as a number of California Pinot Noirs. Try it with grilled beef or lamb.
A well priced 2014 Cusumano Nero D’Avola ($13), from vineyards in San Giacomo, exhibited a very fruity bouquet and concentrated taste of ripe blackberries and raspberries with a long pleasant finish. Pair this wine with hamburgers or pizza as well as dark-veined cheeses.
A 2010 Vivera Etna Rosso “Martinella” ($40), from the northest side of Mt. Etna —a blend of 80% Nerello Mascalese and 20% Nerello Cappuccio–-shows the great aging potential for this category of wine. It has a bouquet and soft taste of plums and strawberries interlaced with exotic spices and a smooth finish with a touch of tannin. Mate this wine with grilled pork chops, ripe cheeses or rich pasta Norma.
And those consumers who view Marsala as merely a cooking wine should try the Florio Targa Riserva Marsala Superiore Riserva Semisecco ($35 for a 500ml bottle) for a rich, sweet treat with flavors of dried figs and apricots and a vibrant acidity in the finish to enjoy with chocolate or mild cheeses.