Island Fever: Get me to Sicily

When you think of Sicilian wines, what comes to mind? Probably Nero D’Avola, the big red one that many of my fellow Americans are familiar with. What may surprise you is that Sicily produces more white wine than red – by far. (Or perhaps that is no surprise given the hot climate.)

Yesterday I went to the San Francisco Wine Trading Company and got quite a treat – a chance to taste Sicilian wines from Marco De Bartoli, a winemaker focused on quality, not quantity that uses natural winemaking techniques almost as old as the island itself. The winemaker’s son Sebastioni De Bartoli was there to share info about his family’s natural style of winemaking. Since for a while I was the only person at this amazing tasting (go figure), I got to chat with him. I took a picture of the diagram he drew of their process but it’s not very clear. Sorry.

Let’s cut to the chase and talk about the wines. What struck me was the wonderful perfume on the nose of the whites, which were complex and finished bone dry. I bought two of the whites. The first was the 2008 Terzavia white IGT Sicily “Occidens” bianco ($30), which has a floral and honeyed nose but good acid and minerality on the palate. The second was the 2009 Terzavia white IGT Cataratto “Lucido” ($25), which also has good perfume on the nose but more of a nutty essence balanced by a citrus zip ($25).

Frankly, I would have bought the other 2 whites tasted, if my budget had allowed. I was especially moved by the 2008 Zibibbo Integer ($55), made from the Muscat de Alexandra variety, a rival to the best Muscat that I had in France as aperitifs but because it was drier than any of those, I would serve it with a meal. Would be fun to pair it with something. Need to think of the proper stuff. Any suggestions? The other out-of-reach white was the 2008 Grillo Integrer ($45) with its sherry-like influences. Grillo is the principle grape in Marsala.

Which gets me to the big pleasant surprise:  the 2 Marsala wines I tasted. No, this is not that stuff to make that famous chicken dish with mushrooms. This is the stuff to sip like an Oloroso sherry or a Tawny Port. The website proclaims, “Marco De Bartoli can be considered the living symbol of Marsala, and of Sicilian wine in general.” I get their point. The 2004 Marsala “Vigna la Miccia” ($45) was luscious and nutty like a Spanish Oloroso but not as sweet as the versions I had in Jerez. Then there was the star, the Marsala Superiore Riserva, 10 years ($68), which is extremely complex, delicious and perfect for an after-dinner drink. Good news: you open it and it can keep for 3 weeks. Bad news (for me): it did not fit the budget and so it’s on my “to drink” list.

So I am ready for a trip to Sicily, a place with an extremely interesting history and more interesting wines than you would think, given our limited exposure to their beautiful bounty.

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