Calabrese is the local name for Nero d’Avola in the Vittoria region of southern Sicily, but the vine does not originate from Calabria, and its clusters do not look like spicy sausages (a hypothesis I drew up while hungry). The name is, in fact, an Italianization of the old Sicilian calea (grape) and aulìsi (from Avola). Calabrese has made a second home for itself in the arid hills around Vittoria, displaying more graceful traits relative to the dense, tannic wines it produces closer to Avola. Portelli’s version features ravishing flavors of black cherry leading to supple, gentle tannins. Try it with Calabrese sausage for a deliciously redundant pairing.
In the southeastern corner of Sicily, west of Modica and Ragusa, the town of Vittoria is the home of Sicily's sole DOCG (Italy's strictest form of wine certification), known as Cersuolo di Vittoria. Cerasuolo is an enlightened blend of Frappato and Nero d'Avola, and the two grapes when blended melt into each other in a harmonious symphony of flavor and texture. I fell in love with the wine and its medium-bodied, sensual, seductive personality. Then I discovered the Portelli family, Salvatore and his son Alessandro, and have been duly impressed with their mastery of these fine examples of southern Sicilian charm. Their wines are fresh, and joyful to drink, all while being faithful representatives of their native land. Welcome to a new KLWM standard.
Italy’s southernmost region and the largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily has no shortage of sunshine to grow high-quality grapes on a yearly basis. It also does not lack a history of winemaking: since the Greeks settled here almost three millennia ago, the vine has played a major role in the island’s agricultural makeup. Production of cheap bulk wine for blending dominated much of its recent history until now, as we are witnessing a quality revolution that puts forth its great diversity and quality of terroirs, indigenous grape varieties, and local production methods.
While Sicily’s historical reputation is for sweet wines—Marsala and the Muscats of Pantelleria stand out—a number of dry whites and reds are enjoying the spotlight today. The cooler, high-altitude slopes of Etna, with its ashy volcanic soils, have seen an explosion of activity from producers both local and foreign; both whites (primarily from Carricante) and reds (Nerello Mascalese) here are capable of uncommon freshness and finesse. Other noteworthy wine regions are Eloro, where Nero d’Avola gives its best; Noto, an oasis of dry and sweet Moscatos; Vittoria, with its supple, perfumed Frappatos; and Salina, where Malvasia makes thirst-quenching dry whites and deliciously succulent passiti.
Countless foreign invasions over the centuries have given Sicilian architecture and cuisine a unique exotic twist, making it a fascinating destination for gourmands as well as wine importers. With a wealth of dedicated artisans proud to show off the riches of their land, you can bet there are many exciting things still to come from this incredible island.
Great winemakers, great terroirs, there is never any hurry. And I no longer buy into this idea of “peak” maturity. Great winemakers, great terroirs, their wines offer different pleasures at different ages.
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