I Love Italian Wine and Food - Tasting a Noble Sicilian Wine

By: Levi Reiss


Once again, we are breaking into the series tasting wines from each of Italy’s twenty wine regions. This article examines a noble red wine from the island of Sicily in southern Italy. It is very far from a bargain wine. We were about a dozen to taste it. I’ll be presenting my opinions and those of others.

So far, the wines that I purchased for this series have cost a maximum of about $20. I thought that I should try one at about double the price. I felt that by going to a relatively unknown region such as Sicily I might get a bargain. A lot of wines from the Tuscany or Piedmont regions of Italy cost $40 or much, much more. Such is not the case for Sicily.

Italy’s top of the line wine designation is DOCG, which stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata Garantita (Denomination of Controlled, Guaranteed Origin.) There are no DOCG wines in Sicily. But the formal designation is not very important, many Super Tuscans costing at least twice my budget carry “inferior” designations. The wine I chose carries the Contea di Sclafania DOC designation, having been promoted from the Sicilia IGT designation. The wine reviewed here is produced by the same company as the white Sicilian wine reviewed in my article I Love Italian Wine and Food – The Sicily Region. This was no accident. First I bought the relatively expensive red. Then I bought the white wine for about one third the price. This white wine carries the Sicilia IGT designation, but I found it to be pretty good. Let’s take a look at its much more expensive red cousin.

Wine Reviewed
Tasca d’Almerita Regaleali ‘Rosso del Conte’ Contea di Sclafania DOC 2002 15% alcohol about $38

About 35 years ago, Count Tasca d’Almerita decided to make a flagship Sicilian red wine from two local grapes, Nero d’avola and Perricone. Nero d’avola is a thin-skinned grape that ripens extremely late, perhaps three weeks after Cabernet Sauvignon. Consequently this variety is virtually limited to Sicily. Some think that it is a relative of Syrah. Nero d’avola wines are usually dark and tarry, with lots of black fruit aroma and taste. They are rich and well structured, with firm and silky tannins. Many of the grapes in this bottle came from vines over forty years old. The plants are grown as shrubs, a somewhat unusual practice. This wine was aged for twelve months in French oak barrels, about 60% of which are new. It can be cellared for years. I only wish that I could taste a ten or twenty year old Rosso del Conte.

I’ll spare you the marketing materials and reviews that tend to be very laudatory. Here are the comments from my tasting group.

A bit of black fruit. Highly oaked. Toasted grains, toast, grilled barley. Nervous and wild. Garriga (a mixture of spices found in areas near the Mediterranean Sea). Leather, dried meat, musk, and underbrush. A strong presence. Acidic and tannic, but not very long. Moderately long, fairly tannic. Round. More fruit than oak.

When asked to guess the price, the general consensus was considerably lower than what I actually paid. It’s fair to assume that most of these people would not purchase this wine, even if they do buy wines in this price range. On the other hand, it’s not hard to find reviews on the Internet that draw the opposite conclusion. In fact, every review that I read was more laudatory than my tasting group was. And my thoughts?

Personally, I would rather drink wine with food than without food. There were only a few sips left in the bottle but I was able to squeeze out two pairings. First I tried slow-cooked beef ribs with potatoes and a side of green beans in tomato sauce. This wine was the essence of mouth-filling, a tiny sip enveloped my mouth with pleasure. The wine’s acidity and tannins handled the meat’s fat. If only I had more.

Isola is a Sicilian fresh cheese made from sheep’s milk. The Isola cheese was powerful, strong smelling and strong tasting, especially when you crunched into a peppercorn. The Rosso del Conte’s richness and complexity was quite noticeable in the presence of this cheese. I am glad that I didn’t waste the last precious sips of this wine on a weak cheese.

Final verdict. It’ll probably be quite some time before I buy another bottle of Rosso del Conte. I do think that it’s worth the price, but I can’t say that I got a $100 wine for less than $40. Have you ever done so?

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Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would rather just drink fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. His wine website is www.theworldwidewine.com .

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