Only two miles separate Sicily from the Italian mainland at the Strait of Messina, but the largest Italian region feels like a whole different continent. A wild and exotic mystique defines Sicily’s sprawling landscapes, its fiercely independent people, and even its cuisine—the consequence of being isolated in the Mediterranean and subject to constantly changing rulership over the course of its long, convoluted history. Viticulture has thrived here since wine-savvy Greek settlers arrived in the eighth century BC—their first landing point in Italy, and their gateway to the rest of Western Europe. Long dominated by mass production of bulk wine to be shipped north and blended, the island’s wine scene is currently enjoying a renaissance, as numerous small growers honor traditional wine styles from indigenous grapes to craft clean, elegant, and terroir-driven wines. Sicily’s assets are abundant sunshine, an arid climate that facilitates organic viticulture, and a richness of local grape varieties and unique growing zones that give rise to a number of distinct wines. The new arrivals below represent three of the island’s top crus—Vittoria, Eloro, and Etna—in which its most characterful red grapes (Frappato, Nero d’Avola, and Nerello Mascalese) respectively give their best. With our Sicilian selections, you can discover that wild exoticism and taste centuries of tradition in your glass.
The Portelli family is a historic grower in the southern bastion of Vittoria, home of the ravishing Frappato grape. Typically blended with Nero d’Avola to make the noble Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Frappato is also bottled on its own, producing irresistibly aromatic medium-bodied reds with soft, cushiony tannins to be joyously gulped at will. Suggestions of minty herbs, wildflowers, lavender, and succulent red fruit make this a rather complex, yet still dangerously drinkable, rendition of the grape.
On the southeast coast, a stone’s throw from the majestic Baroque cathedrals of Ispica and Noto, lie the chalky vineyards of Eloro, the source of Sicily’s most elegant expression of Nero d’Avola. Massimo Padova of Riofavara became the first to embrace organic farming here in the mid-1990s, taking advantage of the constant cleansing sea breezes to craft powerful, yet fine-grained reds. The 2014 Spaccaforno is surprisingly delicate, supple, and charmingly rustic with hints of licorice, black cherry, and an alluring twist of blood orange—in other words, very swallowable.
This young, family-run estate high on the northern slopes of Mount Etna has just bottled its first vintage from minuscule plots of very old vines. Planted in 1930, this single-vineyard Nerello Mascalese—co-planted and co-fermented with a smattering of other indigenous varieties—is a statement in power and finesse from Europe’s most active volcano. Recalling smoky ash, white pepper, and brandied cherries, it makes me crave a wood-fired pizza with a rich tomato sauce, hunks of fennel sausage, and crispy bits of singed, blackened crust. The suave mouthfeel and grippy finale lend themselves to pairings with a number of more nuanced dishes as well.
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