By Celia Strong
“Regaleali scende. La serata sale” is an Italian “slogan” that is related to our wine for this week. What does it mean? Well, first we have to learn about the three “w’s” — where this wine is from, what kind of varieties of grapes are involved, and, of course, the winery that produces it. The winery is actually a new one that we have never discussed in this column. Then, after all this, the meaning of the slogan will be revealed.
This week begins with a trip to Sicily — an island located just off the toe of the “Italian boot,” and the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. There is archeological evidence that humans lived on Sicily as early as 8,000 BC. Around 750 BC, there were Phoenician and Greek colonies there, and then the Romans.
After the collapse of the Roman Empire, in the 5th century AD, Sicily was ruled by numerous invaders. It became part of Italy, finally, in 1860. And, after the unification of Italy and the establishment of the Italian Republic, in 1946, Sicily was given special status as an autonomous region. Sicily has a unique and complex culture when it comes to art, music, literature, architecture, and especially food and wine. Each group that ruled or controlled the island left pieces and parts behind to help form the interesting place that Sicily would become today.
There are so many and such a variety of wines and foods produced in Sicily, the island has been nicknamed “God’s Kitchen.” The ingredients of Sicilian food are rich in taste but, as they claim with pride, affordable to the masses. Their meals are healthy because they use fresh vegetables and fruits such as tomatoes, artichokes, olives and olive oil, citrus, apricots, eggplants, onions, beans and raisins. They also cook with the fresh seafood from their shores — tuna, sea bream, sea bass, cuttlefish, swordfish, sardines and more. Arancini, the breaded and fried rice balls with cheese inside, originated in Sicily. Pasta is also important there, as in the rest of southern Italy. Goose, lamb, goat, rabbit and turkey are all eaten here, too. And cheeses, like Pecorino. Rich desserts are also part of Sicily’s cuisine. Ice cream, first mentioned there in 1154, and pastries, like cannolis, are everywhere. Pinenut cookies, almond cookies, sesame seed and almond candies, fig cookies, doughnuts and more are also popular dessert items.
Wine grapes were supposedly first planted in Sicily by Dionysus, the Roman god of wine. And, wines from Sicily were said to be Julius Caesar’s favorite. Grape growing and winemaking in Sicily followed the same basic course as it did around the Mediterranean: Strong and important in everyday life with the Romans; much less so with the Muslim conquerors who followed; important again during the 13th to 18th centuries; devastated by phylloxera; and back again now.
In 1773, an English merchant, John Woodhouse, saw the success that Port and Madeira grapes were having and developed in Sicily a perpetuum system to make Marsala wine. This system, similar to the solera system used to make Sherry, made it possible to mix multiple vintages and, hence, make better Marsalas.
The grape varieties grown in Sicily are also a mixture — some indigenous and some brought onto the island from the rest of Europe. Nero d’Avola is the most prominent red grape, and the whites, Cattaratto and Grecanico, are Sicilian natives. These all play a part in making Marsala as well. Since our wines this week are made from these varieties, we are ready for the “what” part of our lesson. (Yes, we do have two wines.)
Cattaratto is an Italian white variety grown almost exclusively in Sicily. It makes full-bodied wines with noticeable lemon flavors. DNA tests show there are three clones of Cattaratto, all closely related to a better known white variety, Garganega, which is used to make Soave in Umbria, Italy. One of these two grapes could be a parent to the other. But, unfortunately, there is no more information.
The name “Grecanico” has also been used, in southern Italy and Sicily, for Cattaratto. But, as Grecanico, the name and origins of this grape can be traced back to the Greeks, who did sail to and live on Sicily. “Greco” is a family of Greek grapes. These wines are mildly acidic.
Nero d’Avola is a dark grape and the most important red variety in Sicily. Wines from this variety are compared to Australian Shirazes. Sweet tannins and plum and peppery flavors show in these wines. This grape likes hot, dry climates and grows best in the southern, hotter part of the island. Its name means “black from the town of Avola,” located on the southeast coast of Sicily. Nero d’Avola mixes well with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.
Tasca d’Almerita is a family of estate wines. Ours, this week, come from the Regaleali Estate, which has been owned by the family since 1837. It is a huge estate located in the heart of the mountainous part of Sicily. In addition to world famous wines, there is also a well-known cooking school at the winery.
The Tasca d’Almerita family uses both traditional (meaning old) and modern techniques in their wine production — whichever is best for each particular wine.
The Regaleali Bianco is a blend of 33 percent Grecanico; 23 percent Cattarratto (they may or may not be related genetically, but tradition calls for both to be used); 22 percent Inzolia (another Sicilian variety); and 12 percent Chardonnay. This white wine is fermented cold in stainless steel tanks. It has aromas of green apples, peaches, grapefruits and pears. It is crisp and rich and easy to drink — especially on hot summer days. It pairs well with seafood, shellfish, scallops, Asian cuisine and more.
The Regaleali Rosso is made from 100 percent Nero d’Avola. It, too, is fermented in stainless steel tanks, followed by half being aged in stainless steel and half in Slovenian oak barrels. It is a bright red color with layers of cherry, mulberry and raspberry flavors. It is silky smooth in your mouth. And, food-wise, it goes with meat sauces, tomato sauces, sausages, pizzas and roasted meats. Sounds to me like these two Tasca d’Almerita wines may be just about perfect for all our summer drinking.
But what about “Regaleali scende. La serata sale,” the slogan for our new wines? Literally translated we get “Regaleali goes down, the evening goes up.” With a bit of finesse, it means “Drink Regaleali and elevate your evening.” Sure, it sounds better in Italian. But, I’ll bet pizza tastes better in Italy; you get the idea.
Drink Regaleali! Red and white. For $11.99. Enjoy.