By The Wine Guys, Tom Marquardt and Parick Darr
Sicily has struggled to get attention in the wine market. Known mostly for its marsala – a wine often relegated to a chicken recipe – Sicily hasn’t been focused on making world-renown wines. But that has changed as new generations of winemakers are becoming involved in an effort to hold on to some traditions but introduce new methods to improve wine quality. French grape varieties, new vineyard management, sustainable farming, oak barrels and more have given young winemakers more opportunity to create balanced wines.
We recognized this in a recent tasting of several Sicilian wines made from indigenous grape varieties. Sponsored by the Consortium of Sicilia DOC,the tasting included grillo, frappato and nero d’avola. These wines represent some of the best values on the market.
Sicilians have been making wine on the island since 4000 BC and today it is the largest wine-growing region in Italy with 98,000 hectares under vine. It benefits from rising slopes, lots of sun, average rainfall and coastal breezes from the Mediterranean. Nearly 78 percent of the 504 wineries are managed by a family member. One of five has gone through or will go through a generational shift before 2023.
The transition to new generations is apparent at Alessandro di Camporeale where Benedetto Alessandro works with his cousins as the winery’s fourth generation. As marketing manager, he said the new generations need to learn from their predecessors but build the product with better marketing and making wines with more personality.
Celcilia Planeta of Planeta wines said that it’s easier to sell lesser -known wines than it is to change the minds of consumers who have dismissed more well-known wines because of a lack in quality.
The red frappatos we tasted were simple and vibrant, much like beaujolais. The white grillo wines, among our favorite alternatives to pinot grigio and chardonnay, are delicious and a versatile complement to seafood dishes.
Grillo has mineral, elderflower, peach and tropical fruit notes. Frapatos are savory with red fruit character and easy tannins. Another key component in these wines is their low alcohol.
Here are some interesting wines for you to try:
DiGiovanna Vurria Grillo 2020 ($22). The 30-year-old vineyards for this wine are up 1,600 feet. In the family for five generations, it has a lot of history. The wine has generous aromatics, a clean finish and citrus, tropical fruit and limestone notes.
Stemmari Dalila Bianco Riserva 2020 ($13). The viognier blended in this wine gives it more expressive aromas and texture. Very floral nose with soft mouthfeel and pear notes.
Caruso & Minini “Naturalmente Bio” Grillo 2020 ($18). Nectarine and lime aromas are chased by generous peach and tropical fruit flavors. Fermented in oak and acacia tonneaux, it has surprising complexity and body. The maritime influence on the vineyard gives the wine a distinct salt aroma.
Alessandro di Camporeale Grillo Vigna di Mandranova 2018 ($22). Fresh and vibrant grapefruit and mango aromas hand off to bright peach and mineral flavors.
Donnafugata Bell’Assai Frappato 2019 ($29). This is a very interesting red wine that you need to try just for something different. Very floral nose with hints of violet. Strawberry flavors, a dash of pepper and soft tannins.
Valle Dell’Acate II Moro Nero d’Avola 2017 ($23). We loved this wine for its boldness. Made entirely from nero d’avola grapes, it has juicy blackberry and black cherry notes, a hint of anise and moderate tannins to make it a good match for meat. It’s a nice balance between power and elegance.
Cantine Ermes Epicentro Nero D’Avola Riserva Sicily DOC 2019 ($15). Plenty of plum and cherry fruit with a hint of chocolate. Big and rich and an outstanding value.
La Valentina “Spelt” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva DOC 2017 ($23). Staying true to traditional grape varieties from this region, the producer has made a rich and dense wine from entirely montepulciano grapes. We have tasted this wine over several vintages and remain impressed by the complexity in a wine at this price.
Li Veli Askos Susumaniello Salento IGT 2019 ($21). For something unique in red wine, try this gem made entirely of the ancient grape susumaniello. From the Pulgia region, it has brawny tannins, intense aromas and rich dark fruit flavors with hints of spice and licorice.
Tenuta Sant’Antonio “Monti Garbi” Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore DOC 2018 ($22). Another wine we’ve tasted over the years. This valpolicella made from corvina grapes is vinified in the traditional ripasso way: secondary fermentation with pressed dried grape skins that were initially used to make amarone. The result is more complexity and texture. Coffee, herbs and licorice on the nose with red and dark berry fruit flavors.
Les Cadrans de Lassegue Saint Emilion Grand Cru 2016 ($30). Second wines of highly ranked wines from Bordeaux can provide great value to discerning consumers.
The 2016 Les Cadrans de Lassegue, second wine of the Saint Emilion Grand Cru Chateau Lassegue, is no exception. A skillful blend of 90 percent merlot and 10 percent cabernet franc this very complex complete wine is an amazing value. The Les Cadrans presents a perfumed nose of mushrooms and violets with plum and clove notes in the mouth, creating a very complex and pleasing package.
We also tasted the 2017 Les Cadrans which tilted more to cherry and leather and was not as expressive and generous as the 2016, which is to be expected. Time will tell about the 2017s. In the meantime, try to secure the 2016 if you favor red Bordeaux.
Dry Creek Heritage Vines Zinfandel Sonoma County 2019 ($26). This perennial offering from Dry Creek has become a favorite of ours. Classic very well-made California zinfandel featuring bright berry elements with raspberry leading the way. Give this a slight chill for summertime enjoyment.