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Volcanic Romance in Sicily for Wine Lovers

Posted: Tuesday, 29 January 2013 15:34

Volcanic Romance in Sicily for Wine Lovers

Jan 29: There’s a new reason to visit Sicily; the rising popularity of the luscious wines from the slopes of Mount Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano. The region’s wine estates also produce some of Italy’s finest olive oil. Delhi got to savour the wines and discover the roads that lead to them with a little help from the Indian Wine Academy which organised Sicilian Masterclasses in Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore and Mumbai last week, writes Sourish Bhattacharyya

Photo By:: Adil Arora

SICILY has just made an offer you can’t refuse. And no, you are not likely to find the decapitated head of a horse by your side when you wake up tomorrow morning — that’s what Sicilians do when they migrate to America and get greedy.

The offer is to travel to Italy’s sunniest part, where people exude the warmth of the sun, to sample wines that have become the rage across the world. The plump red Nero d’Avola, is gaining new followers and the sulphurous lava spewed intermittently by Mount Etna, one of the world’s most active volcanoes located on Sicily’s east coast, pump those enriching minerals that gives the soil the power to nurture the seductive Nerello Mascalese grapes grown at a height of 1,200m.

Unsurprisingly, it was Jancis Robinson, one of the English-speaking world’s finest wine writers, who first suggested in her weekend column in Financial Times that the “brooding cone” of the Etna may just be the “Burgundy of the Mediterranean”. In the last five years since the time she made her observation, the popularity of the wines of Etna, and of Sicily in general, has seen a significant surge. It’s been a dramatic turnaround in the image of the region that was not long ago dismissed as Europe’s wine lake — it produced bulk wines that others used to shore up theirs in bad harvest years.

Delhi, with a little help from the Indian Wine Academy, got to savour the luscious possibilities of Sicilian wines this past week when a delegation of the region’s top producers landed in the city to present their offerings at a masterclass conducted by Susan Hulme, Master of Wine (MW). An MW is the wine world’s equivalent of a Nobel Laureate — just 280 men and women from 23 countries have qualified for the title since the first examinations for it were conducted in 1953 — but Hulme (www.susanhulme.com) wears her greatness lightly.

Sicily, Hulme said, “is very dear to my heart”. Her affair with the region started many moons ago when she went there as a teacher of English as a foreign language after graduating from the University of Warwick with honours in English Literature. “I felt like I had come home when I first landed in Sicily. The people are as warm and welcoming as the Sicilian sun,” Hulme said.

Sicily has about 20 unique wine varieties — from the Grillo and Carricante (fruity whites oozing character) to the Perricone, the Cerasuolo and of course, Nero d’Avola, all fruit-forward reds. “They are like a breath of fresh air in a world full of chardonnays and cabernet sauvignons,” Hulme said, adding that they stand out for the wine lover because they are “not massive” and therefore “allow space for food”.

Wine and food writer Michele Shah (www.micheleshah.com), who’s one of the most ardent promoters of Italian wines around the world, said Sicilian wines stand out because they are “more generous, more open, more playful”. It is easier to match such wines with food, especially the occasionally problematic Indian food, because they don’t have the austere tannins that overpower what’s on the plate and yet have the complexity to speak for themselves. It’s a win-win situation. There’s place for both the wine and the food on the table — one doesn’t overpower the other.

Carrying forward this theme, Sicily’s wine ambassador and one of Italy’s most critically acclaimed producers, Diego Planeta (www.planetawines.com), said his wines sell in 70 different countries because of “the very good balance of price and quality,” which he says is true of most wines from his part of the world. An Indophile who’s been visiting this country since 1972, travelling mostly by train to “know India”, and a fighter for the protection of the geographical appellation of Basmati rice, Planeta said Sicilian reds are “ideal” for Indian food.

For the wine tourist, Sicily — it produces as much wine as Australia and has as much land planted with vines as Chile — is a matrix of 100 different terroirs that offer the most amazing diversity. Take Etna, for instance. This tiny region’s foremost winemaker, Giuseppe Benanti (www.vinicolabenanti.it), reminded us at the masterclass at ITC Maurya that the number of producers in Etna has shot up from five to 60 in the past 20 years. It is possible for you therefore to visit Mount Etna and knock on 60 different cellar doors, and their wines will taste uniquely different each year as the soil’s minerality keeps changing, depending on the lava deposits in a particular year. 

And Sicilian wine producers inveigle you to stay on in their stunning estates where talented chefs serve you the best of the local cuisine. You could check in at Le Foresteria of the Planetas (www.planetaestate.it), or take a guided tour across the Benanti estate and pray at the ancient chapel sitting there, or stretch yourself at Regaliali, the farm villa dating back to the 19th century in the estates of Tasca d’Almerita, whose scion, Giuseppe Tasca, spoke ecstatically of the mouth-watering acidity of his family’s wines and the silky edge to their tannins.

Tasca, who’s turning 50 this year partying with friends at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam, said his cousin spoke English with an American accent because of the number of tourists who came from across the Atlantic to the cookery school that his aunt, the patrician Anna Tasca Lanza, ran on the estate. “You too can be a part of the experience,” he said, rolling a cigarette. “Sicily is all about warm people, good food and great wine, and the best way to enjoy all three is to check into a wine estate resort.” Carry those words with you when you fly to Sicily.

Here are a few of the quotes from some of the visitors I met during their visit in Delhi:

“Sicily is all about warm people, good food and great wine, and you can enjoy all three by checking into a wine estate resort.” — GIUSEPPE TASCA, Tasca d’Almerita

“Our wines sell in 70 countries because of the very good balance of price and quality. This is true of most wines from our part of the world.” — DIEGO PLANETA, Planeta Wines

Sicilian wines stand out because they are more generous, more open, more playful. It is easier to match such wines with food.” — MICHELE SHAH, food and wine writer

“I felt like I had come home when I first landed in Sicily. The people are as warm and welcoming as the Sicilian sun.” — SUSAN HULME, Master of Wine

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

Tags: Mount Etna, Sicilian Masterclasses, Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese, Jancis Robinson, Burgundy of the Mediterranean, Sicilian wines, Susan Hulme, Master of Wine (MW), Grillo, Carricante, Michele Shah, Diego Planeta, Basmati, Giuseppe Benanti, Le Foresteria, Benanti, Regaliali, Tasca d’Almerita, Giuseppe Tasca, Anna Tasca Lanza

Comments:

 
 

Sourish Bhattacharyya Says:

Subhashji, as they say, one lives and one learns. And the more such masterclasses you organise, the more one will learn. Thanks for carrying my article.

Posted @ January 29, 2013 17:30

 

Subhash AroraSays:

In the Mail Today article of Sunday, pics of Benanti and Tasca have been interchanged due to oversight. A case of mistaken beards as Sourish says! Also, there are 300 Master of Wines as on today. Subhash Arora

Posted @ January 29, 2013 16:36

 
       

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