Nopa Staff Picks: Sicily

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Each week, Nopa’s Staff gathers for a thematic hour of wine tasting and education. Below are the notes from the prior week’s host, Harrison McArtor. 

When it comes to learning about wine, one of the first and scariest things I learned was just how big the winemaking world is.  I beagn to realize how many styles, regions, producers and grapes there were not just in France, (foundational for most wine education)  but throughout Europe, California, etc. Nopa’s list is both regionally balanced and expansive, but we certainly lean French. I can say the same about my own knowledge. This is how a Sicilian-focused lesson and tasting came to fruition.

SiciliaSicily is a rather large island on the southwestern tip of Italy. It is the largest grape growing region in Italy, with over 330,000 acres planted in roughly 10,000 sq mi. For a sense of scale, California, which has 495,000 acres planted — that’s only 33% more acres planted, even though California is nearly sixteen times the size of Sicily.

Of the wine produced, only about 5% actually makes it into bottle. One might ask why so much wine is made here, and so little sold for drinking? Well, historically the island shipped most of their wine out to be made into neutral spirits, vermouths, or other distillates. As a result, the island wasn’t particularly well known for quality wines. But like France’s Languedoc, there has been a resurgence of quality and young producers with big ideas. Our list currently features two Sicilian producers.

2005 Calabretta Nerello Mascalese

Calabretta, a 4th-gneration family run winery, has historically only sold their wines out of cask to restaurants, but in 1997 they began bottling their wines and making them available around the world. With roots in the past and eyes on the future, this father-son team is making excellent, ageable wines with approachable prices tags.

With 10 years of age on it, this wine is still amazingly fresh. The acidity and tannins, although softened, were still very much present, making this a delicious wine for food or just drinking on it’s own. Spicy, with dark fruit and deep color, the wine was as enjoyable to drink as it was to stare into.

2010 Paolo Cali “Violino” Nero d’Avola Vittoria

Paolo, a pharmacist by education, has been making wine since 2003. He replanted his family’s vineyards with the two native grapes of the region, Nero d’Avola and Frappato – grapes that each produce elegant and beautiful wines. Often compared to Syrah, Nero d’Avola is thought by some to be related. One way or the other it is the star of the show for Paolo and throughout much of Sicily. The sandy soil of Vittoria is also thought to be the best place to grow the grape on the island. This wine was rich with peppery tannins and solid acidity. Rich aromatics, of earth and ripened fruit were followed by deep black fruit and spice flavors on the palate.

In beginning to learn about Sicily, I was a little disappointed when I began my research. Aside from their famous fortified wine Marsala –which once stood next to Port and Madeira as one of the world’s best fortified wines – there wasn’t much in the way of traditional winemaking excellence.

Today much is being done to change opinions regarding their wines. There are a slew of exceptional white wines produced on the island for both single-variteal and blended wines that we didn’t cover during the tasting this week. Much of these are in fact best with the local cuisine which, unlike their wines, does have a long and rich tradition of excellence.

– Harrison McArtor