By Celia Strong
We have all done such a great job the last couple of weeks. Wine in a box. Wine in a can. What more can we be expected to do? This week, thank goodness, we go back to bottles. Regular old bottles. But, in keeping with the “theory” that it’s hot and humid outside, we do continue with wines that are appropriate in our surroundings.
For them (yes, plural), we are going to visit Sicily this trip. Sicily is the absolute most southern of Italy’s wine regions. And, it is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea has been the center of Mediterranean viticulture for 2,500 years. Before the ancients Greeks even. Originally, Sicily was known for sweet wines, made from Muscat (Moscato), and Marsala. Now, they are known for dry wines. They have 23 DOCs on the island. Many made from local varieties and, increasingly, some made from more recognized European varieties. And, also, blends of them all. Reds and whites and rosés.
The island at its largest point is about 175 miles wide, east to west, and about 60 miles from north to south. The growing conditions for grapes in Sicily are nearly perfect. Volcanic soils in the east, from Mount Etna, that are mineral-rich and dark. In the west, the hills of volcanic soil are less dramatic but just as rich in nutrients. The weather is Sicily, especially during the growing season is warm with bright sunshine and reliable moderate rainfalls. A warm, dry climate means molds and mildews on the grapes are minimal. And breezes off the surrounding sea have a cooling effect on the grapes as they ripen. Over the years, Sicilian growers have learned that pruning helps produce higher quality grapes. And vineyards are creeping further up the hills all the time.
Our wine this week is from Donnafugata. (Donna “forgota” but we can’t forget these wines!) In 1983, the Rallo family launched Donnafugata as a new wine producing project. The family had 160 years of experience in the business, but the Rallos wanted to make wines where the treatment of the environment was as important as the grapes. Donnafugata was one of the first Italian wineries to use solar panels to make their own electricity. They use cellars in the town of Marsala, in western Sicily, that were built in 1851, at Contessa Entellina. They own over 600 acres of vines planted with Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah (reds) and Catarratto, Ansonica, Chardonnay, and Viognier (whites). The reputation of Donnafugata wines rests on their use of local varieties blended with European varieties. Which we are about to see!
Nero d’Avola is one of the indigenous red grapes of Sicily. Probably the best known of their reds. Its name means “the black grape from Avola,” a small town in southeastern Sicily. These vines like hot and dry growing conditions. The wines from Nero d’Avola have a ruby red, cherry color with grape and blackberry aromas. They are dry wines with round, smooth tannins, fuller bodied with a slight acidity. At Donnafugata, they make a red wine based on this variety. Sedàra. Also, though, small amounts of Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon are blended with the Nero d’Avola. The nose of Sedàra is deep and fragrant, with cherry, blackberry and blueberry notes. It has spiciness and a hint of black licorice. The flavors echo these aromas and are wrapped in a smooth, soft texture. This wine is solid and gentle, all at the same time. And, it pairs well with baked pastas, tomato sauces, grilled meats and seafood. For $14.99
Cataratta, an indigenous white grape of Sicily, is the main variety in Anthìlia. Our white wine. Anthîlia is the ancient Roman name for Entellina where the winery is located. Wines from this grape are light, dry and easy drinking. It seems over-growth and less than meticulous winemaking can produce unattractive wines, but, I’m pretty sure, we are not wasting our time today. Anthìlia is a perfect summer quaffer, with a juicy texture and lemon zest flavors. There are bits of other local varieties and European ones blended with this Catarrata. It has white stone fruit aromas like peaches and nectarines, melon and a slight herbaceousness. Totally crisp and refreshing. And it goes well with tuna, smoked fish, capers, anchovies, shellfish, egg rolls, Asian salads, and much more. This is the first wine produced by Donnafugata. For $13.99.
Now we have two new summer weather wines. Two new and different and delicious wines. Temperatures in Sicily may not get quite as high as we get, but they have very warm, bright sunny days with ocean breezes all around them. Sort of like we do. So we can drink these wines alone or with our dinners. But, think of this. Sicily gets snow on Mount Etna, and our winters can be almost as warm as their summers. So we can drink them all year long. Right? Don’t “forgota” these wines. Enjoy.