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Delhi Wine Club
Sicily-a Sea of Wine

Posted: Thursday, 21 April 2011 17:55

Wine Travels: Sicily-a Sea of Wine

Thinking Sicily brings to mind a kaleidoscope of pictures including that of Don Corleone of Godfather fame, hot tempered gun toting and overprotective fathers and a sea of wines that includes bulk and cheap wines, but indigenous grapes unique to the region and a push to quality in the last couple of decades, has made it a New World of Italy in the world market, writes Subhash Arora who recently met several producers from the region in Vinitaly .

Tasting in SessionItaly's largest vineyard (25,708 square kms. area), Sicily is divided into 9 provinces - Agrigento, Caltanissetta, Catania, Enna, Messina, Palermo, Ragusa, Siracusa and Trapani. It has the highest acreage of vineyards, covering 164,500 hA of which only 21,000 hA are registered in 22 DOC Appellations with one DOCG for red wine, Cerasuolo di Vittoria which got upgraded in 2005.

Annual wine production of 11,000,000 hL is second only to Puglia and includes only 1.5 per cent or 277,000 hL of DOC wines out of which more than 95 per cent is white. Around 220,000 hL of this wine is DOC Marsala, a fortified wine which had lost a following in the last few decades but is making a comeback as dry wine.

Most popular white grapes of Sicily are Grillo (being grown by Vintage Wines in India), Inzolia, Catarratto, Carricante, Zibibbo (Moscato di Alessandria) although Chardonnay is the most popular international white variety. Nero d’Avola is the ubiquitous red grape-perhaps the signature grape of Sicily, which has the distinction of giving different expression in various parts of the region- dozens of diverse characteristics can be enjoyed from different zones. Other interesting varietals are Nerello Mascalese, Frappato (which together with Nero d’Avola makes the only docg wine- Cerasuolo di Vittoria),   although Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah are quite popular as varietals or used in blends.

The most visible wine in the bottle in Sicilia (pronounced as See-Cheel-iya) is IGT Sicily, besides Vino d’Tavola. It may be produced from any Sicilian grown grapes- both international and indigenous varieties. This gives them a great flexibility, according to many producers who feel that Sicily is the ‘New World’ of the Old World. The Sicilian IGT wines must declare the year of harvest and generally also indicate the grape varietal on the label, making it easier for drinkers in choosing their wine. Don’t be confused if you see a label with Indicazione Geografica Protetta (IGP). This is a modified classification of IGT initiated in 2009 and is slightly more stringent than IGT.

The problem with the IGT Sicily wines is that the quality can be absolutely basic and it may be an entry level wine or even a high volume wine. Unless the producer is known for his integrity and quality aspirations, one cannot be certain of what’s in the bottle. Worse, the wine can be bottled in Germany, Piemonte, California or even India and be still known as IGT Sicily wine. DOC Sicilia is in the offing and we have already written about it in one of the articles in delWine earlier:

The Istituto Regionale della Vite e del Vino (IRVV) had organised a Taste and Buy session for buyers from different parts of the world to meet 140 producers from the region during the first two days of Vinitaly-on April 7 and 8. Dario Cartabellotta –General Manager of the Istituto, felt that the B2B meetings were highly successful, an interesting feature being the presence of French buyers as well. Several producers showed interest in the Indian market.

Here is a brief outline of 11 of those-not in any order of production, quality or quantity or recommendation but in the order of meeting them. Some of them had great wines at the entry level while others showcased wines that might be slightly expensive due to the pre-conceived notion that Sicilian wines are low-cost wines, but they could beat their competitors from other countries hands down in price-quality ratio.

1. Feudo Silvestri
Piazza Silvestri, Granieri
Caltagirone (Ct)
Mr. Michele Riccobono
Founded: 1885

Feudo SilvestriPiazza Silvestri is a named after the family. There are only 400 habitants in the small village Granieri, a suburb of Caltagirone in the province of Catania - an area known for ceramics. This boutique winery produces only red wines and only 4 labels- Marube, Maria and Bebé. It produces only 20000 bottles 4000 of which are Marube.

The size of the estate is 10 hAs and they use their grapes only. It also produces Docg Cerasuolo di Vittoria, with 30-50% Frappato and the rest being Nero d’Avola. They use only 30% Frappato. Winery is already exporting to Hong Kong, China, Japan and Belgium. However, the small size may make it difficult for them to comprehend or handle the vagaries of Indian business.

Frappato IGT 2008 is intensely perfumed is a young dark colour wine with low tannins that drinks like a white- slightly cooled. 12.5%- quite persistent and long.  Nero d’Avola 2006 was still quite fresh and crisp, acidic after taste, good combo with fried Indian food. 

2. Azienda  Agricola Ferreri e Bianco srl
Contrada Salinella snc, Santa Ninfa (Trapani)
Mr. Rosario Ferreri

Azienda  Agricola Ferreri e Bianco srlThe company has a 50 hAs estate located on different hillsides at altitudes of 250-500 meters. It produces two brands primarily from Inzolia, Catarratto, Zibibbo, Malvasia delle Lipari as he white wine grapes and Nero d’Avola as  the local red grapes although Chardonnay, Cabernet and Merlot are also used as the international varieties.
The Ferreri Catarratto was excellent full body, very fresh and crisp, long end delicious  wine that scored very high by my palate. Brasi Bianco was another Catarratto -slightly sweet -due to wood, as Mr Ferreri explained since it had less than 5 gms of residual sugar. The fruity, elegant wine would match beautifully with Indian food.

Catarratto were among the top wines I tasted at the event. It also produces some great-value red and white varietals.

3. Foraci 
C.Da Serroni snc,
91026 Mazara del Vallo (Tp)
Alessandro Foraci,  Consiglere Delegato
Estd 1936

ForaciThe winery owning 75 hA in different zones is spread all over Sicily and is growing all its grapes organically since 1994 though the traditional winemaking since 1936 has been its hallmark.  Winery is located about 40 kms from the town of Trapani

Out of the 50,000 cases it produces, 60% are exported to Canada (Quebec and Ontario), UK, Germany, France, Belgium, Japan, Singapore and Scandinavia.

Inzolia IGT- O’Feo- label  is gold coloured  brilliant, 100% Inzolia, quite concentrated, very mineral, crisp, fuller bodied wine. It has good shelf life and stays fresh for 2 years which is a plus as is a low 12.5% alc level. Quite elegant wine with high concentration of mineral. Price is amazingly reasonable.

Their Grillo 2010 is even better-brilliant golden, perfumed, fresh, crispy with nice balance on the mouth-no wonder it was declared the best white wine of South Italy and presumably has won several Oscars. Sollatio 2009 is an entry level Red organic wine which is excellent for a starting wine with chocolate and spicy flavour, fairly long, acidic and juicy end. And the price-amazingly low!

Nero O’feo, Nero syrah, Satiro Danzante d’Avola –in fact all the wines I tasted from this winery merited between 8-9/10 and the low prices were the added garnish.

 Dr Arturo D’ angelo- export manager
OttoventiOwning 40 hAs vineyards, the winery used to sell the grapes earlier. But ten years ago it started its own winery. It sells a third of its production of 12000-13000 cases to Sicily, another third to the mainland Italy, while the rest is exported to countries including Canada, Belgium, Germany, Thailand, UK, Hong Kong and China.

If one were to recommend a wine for the beginners, I would be hard pressed not to include their .8 (yes, that is the wacky label-representing the ‘Otto’ in the name of  the company). A 100% Grillo, the low alcohol (12.5%) wine with intense tropical aromas of Leechie, Mango and Tangerines that are carried through in the flavours. A simple, fresh and crisp  well-made wine priced right, would be great for retail at specialty shops. They also produce a higher end Grillo- the 2010 of which is still in the barrel. Again, it was very aromatic and tropical on the palate. Dr d’Angelo explains that one needs to be near the sea for a good Grillo. Located by the seaside in Trapani, surely does justice to the grape.

They also make an interesting Zibibbo IGT Sicilia Passito. Unfortunately, there is no market for such sweet wines in India at the moment. Similarly the 2007 IGT Sicilia Nerello Mascalese is a typical wine from the grape which tastes very ripe and the Indians may need time to acquire the taste for it, unlike Grillo. It is interesting that the wine is quite age worthy- and would mature for 10 years

 5.Tenuta dellle Terre Nere

Tenuta dellle Terre NereThe winery is owned by Florence based Marc de Grazia who is a distributor for several other Italian wines for other regions. It makes some interesting wines in Etna with Cologero Statella as the winemaker. It offered 8 wines at the stand- 3 base 2010 white, red and  rose with 4 crus (blends), and a top wine labeled as Prephylloxera- signifying that it is made from grapes from a vineyard not affected by Phylloxera which otherwise did not spare Sicily like the rest of the mainland Italy.

White wines use Carricante, Inzolia, Grecanico (same as Garganega of Veneto) and Catarratto grapes while the Rose is made from 100% Mascarello, another red variety typical to the area. Etna Bianco 2010, Calderara Sottana with Mascalese (needs acquiring taste), Feudo di Mezzo Il Quadro do Rose, Santo Spirito DOC Etna Rosso, Guardiola DOC Etna Rosso, rated 8-9/10 and were excellent wines that are demonstrative of the typicity and excellent quality of Etna region and what the passion has done for some of the newer wine producers of the region.

6. Icone
Via delle Alpi 84, Palermo
Sebastiano di Bella-owner
Rossella Marino Abate-winemaker

IconeIcone is a big producer with an iconic name, with 10 million bottles in its portfolio ranging from low-mid range wines. It has an annual turnover of around €30 million. It sells mainly to Horeca channels and exports 70% of its production, primarily to Bulgaria, Ukraine, Albania, Kenya, Czech Republic and Canada. Just the size would make it a good producer to work with for India or any other country. The wines were of generally good quality and well priced.

7. Fina Vini
C.Da Bausa snc, Marsala (TP),
Dott. Alessia Pascucci, export manager

Fina ViniThe big size winery produces 15 million bottles of IGT wines, primarily Grillo, Sauvignon Blanc and Nero d’Avola as varietals with a few variants in the higher end range. It exports 50% of its production mainly to USA, Russia, China and Brazil. The prices are reasonable and can give good range of retail wines at competitive prices.

8. Azienda Agricola Spadafora
Via Ausonia 90, Contrada Virzi (Palermo)
Francesco Spadafora-Owner
Marco Calligaris, Export Manager,
Azienda Agricola SpadaforaFrancesco Spadafora had visited India with a delegation, about three years ago. He met me and also left a couple of samples to taste. I remember they were delicious, high quality wines and I had so written to him. We had both forgotten about it until I met his export manager Marco Calligaris and remembered the episode. Later, I also met Francesco who did remember the meeting.

This is a 100 year+ old family company which grew grapes and sold to co-operatives and in 1988 set up their own winery. The 180 hA estate has 95hA of vines planted-wines are produced only from the estate-grown grapes. The vineyards are at 250-400m height in the hills, facing North(they like the slopes to be North facing to avoid the sun heat of the summer). Catarratto, Grillo, Chardonnay, Inzolia are white grapes grown, with the reds being Nero d’Avola, Merlot and Cabernet.

While Schietto is the work-horse varietal label, Don Pietro-named after his father is the plum of the eye for his family. Don Pietro white is a blend of Catarratto, Grillo and Inzolia in equal proportions while the red is a Bordeaux type of blend with 40% Cabernet and 30% each of Nero d’Avola and Merlot. It’s a delicious easy drinking wine. Schietto Syrah and Cabernet were full bodied, well structured wines with 14.5% alcohol and good example of being slightly more expensive but great value for money wines for connoisseurs with excellent price/quality ratio.

9. Cantine Pepi
Mazzaarrone (Ct)- near Ragusa
Rosa Pepi- Founder Owner,

Cantine PepiIt makes a range of wines in different labels like Passo del Lupo, Taranta, and has individual labels for several wines. This may not be the best practice for brand recall, especially in the export market. The Passo del Lupo Frappato IGT Sicilia, produced from grapes in the Licodia Eubea zone, is an impressive red wine which is very fruity, with rounded tannins and is quite harmonious. The best part is the reasonable price.

The other wine that is worth looking at is Scjurí (pronounced shoe-ree)- a DOCG Cerasuolo di Vittoria, with 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato grapes (I rated it 8/10). The lower 13.5% alcohol level also impresses as does the fairly palatable price for the evolved wine lovers whose palates look for more excitement and variety in the taste.

10. Fazio
Vincenzo & Girolamo Fazio-Owners
Dr. Lilly Ferro Fazio- Sales and Marketing Director

FazioFazio is a medium sized company making about 75,000 cases, which is still fairly small for a Sicilian winery. It was started about 50 years ago by her parents in law, says Dottoressa Lilly Ferro Fazio. The winery was renovated about 10 years ago says the mother of three healthy daughters of the age of 10, 11 and 15. When I queried she replied  in a matter-of-factly manner that when she was pregnant she drank a glass or two of wine a week, preferring sweet sparkling wine without giving any thoughts to any harmful effect (a statement affirmed by most of the Italian women one meets). ‘Red wine is good for your blood pressure when you are pregnant,’ she says. 

The winery owns 100 hA of vineyards and grapes from another 500 hAs are sourced from contracted farmers. Fazio produces 4 labels- Linea- Classica, I Bagli, Élite and Spumanti. They make some out-of-the-box Sicilian wines with an excellent Müller Thurgau which though slightly expensive, was intensely perfumed with a long juicy finish that urges you to have the next sip immediately. Percheno is an interesting, easy drinking wine made from 80% Nero d’Avola and 20% Petit Verdot. Torre dei Venti is an excellent DOC Erice (named after the mountain city)-the not-yet-bottled 2009 vintage of which was tasted at the meeting.

This is quite a young and dynamic winery, making some interesting wines from grapes in an interesting terroir.

11. Scilio
Contrada Arrigo,  Linguaglossa (Ct)
Salvatore Scilio-owner

ScilioScilio Wine Estate lies on the north eastern side of Mount Etna. The cellars date back to 1815. They produce the well known Doc Etna wines by using the organic methods of cultivation. Situated at 650 meters high, the vineyards help them produce fresh and mineral wines.

Etna Bianco DOC 2010 using Carricante (80%) and Catarratto (20%) is well priced, yet  excellent white wine whereas the Orpheus 2008, a DOC Etna red wine made from grapes from 60 year old vine is very concentrated  and well-structured wine. They also make a Mascarello Rose and Etna Rosso totally in steel tanks with 80% Nerello Mascalese and 20% Nerello Cappuccio-both  native grape varietals. 

Scilio produces some very interesting and unique wines.

Subhash Arora



Salvatore Scilio Says:

Dear Mr Arora, I have just read your article regarding the Sicily wines on the Indian Wine Academy on-line magazine. It was a great pleasure meeting you in Verona. I am glad you liked our wines and want to thank you for the kind words you wrote about us. Best regards. Salvatore Scilio

Posted @ April 23, 2011 11:55


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