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Delhi Wine Club
Wines of Eastern Sicily – Sicilia Orientale

Posted: Saturday, 22 June 2013 12:58

Wine and Food Travels: Wines of Eastern Sicily – Sicilia Orientale

June 22: Palermo, Marsala and Etna may be the only familiar names to an average Indian wine lover who knows something about Sicily and its wines but Syracuse, Noto, Ragusa, Vittoria, Modica are not the cities likely to ring any bells and yet these cities in the Eastern part of Sicily have a rich history of culture and unique wines, especially the red wines even though Sicily produces more white wines, writes Subhash Arora who visited Eastern Sicily last month

Click For Large ViewHistorically, Sicily has been divided in 3 parts. In the western-most part is Val di Mazara which is also divided in two parts. The western Mazara includes the city of Marsala where the fortified wine of the same name ruled the roost for centuries thanks to the Brits importing it and went down equally fast with their losing interest in the imports and the quality going down simultaneously. Palermo in the eastern part of Mazara is the Capital of Sicily and is a beautiful city around which a flourishing wine industry is well established.

Click For Large ViewVal di Noto is in the southeastern corner of Sicily and has the town of Vittoria (in Ragusa); known for the only docg of Sicily called Cerasuolo di Vittoria docg. Ragusa and Syracuse are also the capital cities of the two provinces of the same name. Syracuse is the second oldest city of Sicily known for its Moscato di Siracusa. The medieval city of Noto that was completely destroyed in the infamous earthquake of 1693 that devastated Eastern Sicily, included Ragusa (the old city was known as Ragusa Ibla and is still a very charming town that we visited).

Val Demone is the northeastern part of Sicily having provinces of the famous Etna, Catania at the base of this active Volcano and Messina at the north-eastern most corner, almost touching the mainland Italy.
Trapani and Marsala fall in Val di Mazara (West) while Palermo, Caltanissetta and Agrigento are provinces of the Eastern Mazara. For a better perspective, it may be pertinent to note that the region of Sicily is divided into 9 provinces, with each having a capital of the same name, creating confusion in the minds of non Italians.

For the archaeologically oriented travelers, Syracuse, our fist stop, offered fascinating examples of how the civilization of 600 BC lived and the influence of various rulers and tyrants from Greece, Middle East and then Spain shaped the development.

Wineries of Eastern Sicily visited


Click For Large ViewAntonino Pupillo who owns the family winery located in Targia on the coastal plains of Siracusa is very proud of the history of this farm, dating back to pre-1500s and having artefacts as old as 3000 years. The estate was bought by his grandfather in 1908. Antonio replanted 20 hA with Moscato di Siracusa, which he harvests in late August and also matures a similar wine in Barriques.

Click For Large ViewHe also grows 80 hA of fruit and vegetable which we immensely enjoyed at the light lunch which would be categorised as a Sunday brunch at most restaurants in India. We started with the newly released Brut Nature, the dry sparkling wine made from Moscato di Siracusa as we admired the overgrown magnolia tree of at least 250 years of age and were impressed with a Myrrh bush 600 years old. The Moscato was slightly off-dry with 4-5 gms/ liter sugar but gave the impression of having 8-9 gms. Knowing that Moscato rings the sugar bells in most people’s minds, he avoids mentioning the grape on the label and is happy with the IGT Bianco label. The 2011 was a bit young but the 2010 was more delicious-fuller bodied, aromas of pineapple, apples, full on the palate with a lot of perseverance and after-taste that was nice and dry.

Click For Large ViewRosato was made from Nero d’Avola and was quite fresh and zesty with strawberry flavours in the mouth. If history and archaeology were to be part of a wine drinking and going beyond what’s in the glass, 80,000 bottles a year of wines of this winery in Syracuse would certainly qualify. They still maintain an old Palmento (open stone tanks used for crushing grapes with feet.) They used it till 1952 but it is now a part of the winery tour for visitors. Prices are generally unaffordable for the Indian market but the Moscato di Siracusa is a special treat for wine aficionados.


Click For Large ViewOwned by Filippo Mazzei who owns Castello di Fonterutoli in Tuscany, this relatively new winery just outside Nato is named after the contrada (district) of the same name. The Mazzei family owns 50hA estate out of which 27 hA are cultivated. His consultant enologist from Tuscany, Carlo Ferrini works with him here as well. Mostly international red varieties and Nero d’Avola are grown at this estate, in alberello (bush) style, said Laura Ginassi, Export Manager of the parent company, Marchesi Mazzei who had come from Tuscany to meet the journalists..

Click For Large ViewZisola is darker than most Nero d’Avola wines. The 2011 was a 100% Nero d’Avola - lighter body, with high acidity. It is a very juicy, elegant wine with good balance. Nose has pomegranates, cedar with soft tannins. Started in 2007, Doppiozeta is their high end wine, which In Italian means double Z and so the ‘zz’ represents the ‘heart’ of Mazzei’s last name. It’s a blend of Nero d’Avola (60%), Syrah (30%) and Petit Verdot (10%). Opaque with ripe berry fruit and toasty oak aromas, it may remind you of Vintage Port. It’s the proclaimed philosophy of the winery to make their wines more acidic so the people drink more. They use French barriques for 10-15 months - a mix of new, one and two passes and in a true aristocratic style use them for 3 years only, possibly reflecting somewhere in the cost.

Feudo Arancio

Click For Large ViewBased in Acate (Ragusa), this is the second and bigger estate bought by the powerful co-operative Mezzacarona in Trentino in 2003. The 700hA estate is widely spread with about 450 hA of vines that produce about 45% reds and 55% whites. Grillo is the most significant grape, though they also have Moscato Giallo used to make sweet wine. There is a well-integrated plan for wine production in conjunction with the older but smaller winery in Sambuca in Western Sicily, that I visited a few years ago.

Basic, entry level Grillo is made from this estate with production limited to 11 tons/hA. Winery is self sufficient in power thanks to a ‘farm’ of solar panels and claims to be the first one in Italy to do so. The rainfall is very low in this area and that too concentrated in autumn. Therefore, as irrigation becomes very important; drip irrigation is used.

Click For Large ViewMaurizio the winemaker is from the parent company Mezzacarona and has been assigned to both wineries and integration using technology. For instance the delicious Delilah is a blend of 70% Grillo and 30% Viognier that grows in Sambuca and is fermented for 2 days in stainless steel tanks and then transferred to the French barriques. The barriques used are more than 2 years old. Blending is done in this facility.

Nero d’Avola is a varietal wine -100%, fermented in stainless steel tanks. As may be expected from a big winery, it also makes Grillo, Inzolia, Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, making it a plum choice for importers in India looking for a range of affordable wines. Coupled with the fact that there is a range of wines available from Sambuca, it makes perfect sense to deal with them-especially if one looks at even a bigger range from Mezzacarona. For higher ended wines one can look at Cantadoro - a Nero and Cab blend with good structure. Their top-ended Hedonis was a meditation wine-the Nero-Syrah blend with 14% alc., it is a complex full bodied wine with a lot of depth and fruit concentration and age-ability on its side.

Terre di Giurfo

Click For Large ViewAchille Alessi, the owner and general manager of the boutique winery in Vittoria (Ragusa) showed us the winery and the vineyards at a height of 650 m. His family has 90 hAs of land with 34 hAs planted with grapes primarily to produce Nero d’Avola and Frappato, the second grape in the mandatory blend in Cerasuolo di Vittoria docg. The winery was started in 2001 by Achille’s parents William Alessi and Giuseppina Giusino. But before the current winery was founded, red indigenous grapes have been cultivated - Nero Click For Large Viewd'Avola and Frappatto. The estate, owned by the Giusino family for over two hundred years, is located in contrada (district) Giurfo and named as such, as it is quite common in this part of Sicily. The family used to grow grapes only.

It is nestled in the Valley of the river Dirillo. The estate has earned a reputation for good quality wines, both igt Nero d'Avola, and docg Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Click For Large ViewInterestingly, they are also packaging bag-in-the-box wines which are of better quality than those found in the supermarkets. The Arabic roots are obvious with Arabic names like Kudyah, the first Nero d’Avola produced by the winery, says Francesca la Marca, the export manager.

Paolo Cali

Click For Large ViewThe young and hospitable Paolo Cali and his family and staff welcomed us with Osa Rosato Terre Siciliane 2011, made from 100% Frappato grapes, the signature grape of this area. A very refreshing drink, it was quite perfumed with flavours of strawberries and a slightly bitter end. Paolo informs us that he started Vini Cali in 2001 in Vittoria (Ragusa). The vineyards here have the advantage of having a unique white sandy soil which is very unfertile. As he tells us about his wines, the Rosato was followed by the red Mandragola which is also a Frappato. It was slightly spicy but a bit too acidic on the mid-palate.

Click For Large ViewNamed after the pet name of his son, Manene is Cerasuolo di Vittoria docg wine with 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato. It is slightly pale in colour with a perfumed nose of red berries and harmonious notes. The views were divided on the first choice being Manene or Violino Nero d’Avola which was lighter on the palate and quite fresh and bouncy. Perhaps because of the uniqueness of the soil, his wines are more pronounced in the aromas which are also very fresh and engaging.

The winery is young but over the years has the potential of outshining other producers of Cerasuolo di Vittoria docg because of its unique terroir.

Tasting of Cerasuolo di Vittoria docg

Click For Large ViewLike most other Sicilian wines Cerasuolo di Vittoria had been a blending wine but came into its own with the formation of Cerasuolo di Vittoria doc in 1973 and then up-gradation to the only docg in Sicily in 2005. The present classification allows 50-70% of Nero d’Avola and the balance may be only Frappato, a grape unique to this area.

According to Francesco Ferreri, President of the Consorzio, there are only 16 producers of this docg wine, 9 of which were tasted blind with the journalists. These wines are quite age-worthy and can last for up to 20 years though most are consumed within 5-10 years.

Apparently, there are a total of about 30 growers and small producers - 16 are members of the Consorzio. Valle de Acate (owned by Ferreri and Jacono families-Gaetana Jacono was in India earlier this year with the group of producers to participate in Master Classes organised by Indian Wine Academy.), Nicosia ( they came last year), COS, Occhipinti, Terre di Giurfo, Gulfi, Planeta, Feudo di Santa Tresa, Tenuta di Fossi, Marabino and Gulino are a few of the others. These are very interesting wines for the Indian market as they are compatible with our palates and many of the Indian dishes.

Maggio Vini Winery

Click For Large ViewThis winery in Vittoria (Ragusa) also makes Cerasuolo di Vittoria docg. It was under renovation but we had a quick look at the vineyards before going to their experimental centre where they carry out experiments about blending and creating different mixes.

There is nothing quite as enchanting as Etna in Eastern Sicily which deserves a special focus not only because of the natural charm and nature’s superiority over man, but their wines are gaining international fame. This will be covered separately in Part 2.

Resource: The World of Sicilian Wine Bill Nesto MW, Frances di Savino- University of California Press 2013

For an earlier related article, visit

Speedtasting Wines of Sicily- Part A

Wine & Food Travel: Viva DOC Sicilia

Feature- A Wine Day in Sicily

Subhash Arora


Tags: Sicily, Val di Mazara, Palermo, Val di Noto, Val Demone, Etna, Antonino Pupillo, Filippo Mazzei


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