Riofavara is our grower in southeast Sicily, outside the baroque town of Ispica, where glorious platters of seafood crudo drizzled with piquant olive oil compete with heaping plates of pasta and decadent local pastries for coveted space in the same belly. Sure enough, Riofavara—a property run by Massimo Padova and his family on chalky hillsides within view of the Mediterranean—produces delightful wines that pair to perfection with all the local specialties, plus one of the best olive oils you’ll ever taste. Here’s what’s new from our Sicilian friends.
An intriguing blend of Grillo, Grecanico, Inzolia, Moscato Giallo, and three local heirloom varieties (see below), the Marzaiolo is a brilliant white bursting with sunshine, sea spray, and fresh-squeezed Sicilian lemons. You’ll have trouble finding a better bottle to pour alongside raw, steamed, or fried seafood, but a bowl of marinated olives and a colorful sunset ain’t too shabby, either.
In the local dialect, the name of this white means to try, as it was somewhat of a gamble by Massimo Padova to graft the nearly extinct Recunu, Cutrera, and Rucignola in his vineyard. Once common to the area around Ispica, these ancient varieties fell out of favor in the early 1800s when the Marsala boom led to widespread plantings of Cattaratto, Grillo, and Inzolia. Massimo’s gamble certainly paid off: Nsajàr is the grandest and finest white he bottles, characterized by an enlivening jolt of acidity uncommon to southern climates, along with aromas of gunflint, pine, ginger, and citrus zest. The bracing finish is incredibly salty, making Mediterranean seafood preparations an obvious partner to this rare relic of Sicilian viticulture.
Ispica is Nero d’Avola country—the grape’s true homeland, where it finds its greatest expression soaking up the sun in chalky white soils. Sciavè is Massimo’s deepest and chewiest rosso, tamed only by age and yet still boasting a bold, almost sanguine bouquet of black fruit, licorice, and black olive. Massimo’s eldest daughter, Clementina, proposes a less obvious pairing to the delicious roasts and braises that inevitably come to mind: “It’s always served with meat, but there is a saline element that makes it perfect for the Sicilian specialty pasta con finocchietto.” Wild fennel fronds, anchovies, pine nuts, and raisins star in this dish that is sure to make her family’s sumptuous Nero shine.
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