If you are looking for fine Italian wine and food, consider the Sicily region of southern Italy. You may find a bargain, and I hope that you’ll have fun on this fact-filled wine education tour.
Sicily is the football kicked by the Italian boot. It is an island in the Mediterranean Sea located off the southwest tip of Italy. Sicily was first inhabited about ten thousand years ago. Agriculture and animal raising date back well over four thousand years. Its rulers have included the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Germans, and Spaniards, among others. This mountainous region is prone to volcanoes and earthquakes; in 1908 an earthquake and subsequent tidal wave killed eighty thousand people in the coastal city of Messina. Sicily’s population is about five million, with an additional ten million people of Sicilian descent around the world.
Agricultural products include wheat, barley, corn, olives, citrus fruit, almonds, and, of course, grapes. Tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers are prominent in local cuisine. Sicily is Italy’s second region for organic food. Many think that the Arabs introduced pasta to Sicily, which subsequently introduced it to the rest of Italy. Cattle, mules, donkeys, and sheep are raised. Sicily claims to have invented meatballs, The seas surrounding Sicily are bountiful, favorites include sardines, tuna, and swordfish. Sicily is famous for desserts, including frozen treats made with snow from Mount Etna.
Sicilian heavy industry includes petro-chemicals, chemicals, mining, and electronics. Tourism is a major factor in the Sicilian economy. Did you know that the Valle dei Templi in Agrigento on the Mediterranean Sea has some of the finest Greek ruins on earth?
Palermo, arguably the world’s most conquered city, is Sicily’s capital with a population of a little under seven hundred thousand. It is a definite tourist destination, with its numerous historical churches, museums, theaters, and Italy’s largest botanical garden. Another urban tourist destination is Syracuse, dating back to Ancient Greece. The Greek writer Cicero described it as “The greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all.” Both earthquakes and World War II caused heavy damage, but many of the most interesting sites have been reconstructed.
Sicily devotes about a third of a million acres to grapevines, it ranks first among the 20 Italian regions. Its total annual wine production is about 213 million gallons, also giving it first place. If Sicily were an independent country, it would rank seventh in the world for wine production. About 54% of its wine production is red or rosé (only a bit of rosé), leaving 46% for white. The region produces 19 DOC wines. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine. Only a little more than 2% of Sicilian wine carries the DOC designation. Sicily is home to over three dozen major and secondary grape varieties, with more white than red varieties.
Widely grown international white grape varieties include Malvasia and to a lesser extent, Chardonnay. The best-known strictly Italian white varieties are Catarratto, Grecanico, Inzolia, and Grillo. The first three of these varieties are blended in the wine reviewed below.
Widely grown international red grape varieties include Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. The best-known strictly Italian red varieties are Nero d’Avola, Frappato, and Nerello Mascalese.
Before reviewing the Sicilian wine and cheese that we were lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store and a local Italian food store, here are a few suggestions of what to eat with indigenous wines when touring this beautiful region.
Start with Insalata di Finocchi, Arance Sanguigne de Olive; Fennel, Blood Orange, and Olive Salad.
As a second course try Pollo con Prosciutto e Melanzane Fritte; Braised Chicken with Proscuitto and Fried Eggplants.
For dessert indulge yourself with Cassata; Candied Fruit and Chocolate on Sponge Cake.
OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY While we have communicated with well over a thousand Italian wine producers and merchants to help prepare these articles, our policy is clear. All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price.
Tasca d’Almerita ‘Regaleali’ Blanco 2005 IGT Sicilia 12.5% alcohol about $13
We’ll start by quoting the marketing materials. “Made with the local grapes Inzolia, Greciano, and Catarratto, this wine is matured only in stainless steel and is not put through acid-softening malolactic fermentation. The producer chooses this approach to retain the bright fruitiness and racy crispness of the wine. Enjoy with steamed mussels, chicken or summer salads.” And now for my thoughts on the wine.
I first tasted this wine with broiled chicken burgers accompanied by a hot pepper relish, and red peppers. The wine was light, perhaps a bit intimidated by the relish. It was delicate, but not weak. When I finished my glass with the red peppers, the wine was quite fruity and sweet.
I next tried this wine with fillet of sole poached in an onion sauce, accompanied by brown rice and okra in a tomato sauce. The wine tasted light and citrusy in the presence of the fish, and was more powerful when facing the rice and the okra. I finished that meal with fresh pomegranate. The wine became sweet and acidic, but did not take on new flavors.
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. Unfortunately, the cheese overpowered this relatively light wine. In contrast, when paired with an Asiago cheese from northern Italy, the wine became quite full bodied and fruity. Sometimes rules such as local wines with local cheeses are meant to be broken. I had a bit of wine left over and finished the bottle with out-of-season strawberries. They brought out the wine’s complexity and softness.
Final verdict, in spite of its low official rating, I found the wine pretty good. I would buy it again, but avoid pairing it with strong-tasting food.
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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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