Sicily is far more than just Etna. Traveling south of the volcano’s blackened lava fields, beyond the bustling hubs of Catania and Siracusa, we arrive upon an arid landscape whose chalky nature is perfectly suited to what is arguably Sicily’s greatest native grape: Nero d’Avola. In the white soils of the Eloro appellation, near Ispica, the combination of copious sunshine, cooling coastal breezes, and water reserves deep in the bedrock provides Nero d’Avola with power, nuance, and superbly refreshing acidity. Riofavara is the area’s pioneering proponent of organic viticulture, and their Spaccaforno bottling abounds with rustic charm and southern Sicilian soul.
One of the newest additions to our portfolio is Kermit’s first Sicilian producer: the Riofavara estate, which is on the southern tip of this legendary island. The Padova family has tended vines here for almost a century, but only in 1993 did they begin bottling their own wine. Just a few years later, Massimo Padova took over the estate along with his sister Marianta, their cousin Antonella, and Massimo’s wife, Margherita. This energetic young team has worked tirelessly over the last dozen years to build a new winery and hone production techniques, resulting in an impeccable expression of the land they prize so highly.
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.
Trust the great winemakers, trust the great vineyards. Your wine merchant might even be trustworthy. In the long run, that vintage strip may be the least important guide to quality on your bottle of wine.—Kermit Lynch
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