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From a culinary point of view, Sicily easily ranks among my favorite destinations. From an ice-cold granita made from fruit grown on Mount Etna, to a platter of mixed crudo that seemed to have jumped out of the sea and straight onto my plate, to a velvety and briny spaghetti ai ricci (sea urchin pasta), the dining on my last visit exceeded expectations and left me yearning for more. The biggest surprise came in the island’s hot, arid south, where bushy Calabrese and Frappato vines produce the mouth-watering Cerasuolo di Vittoria. The Portelli family’s reds are undoubtedly food-friendly, but experiencing them alongside local fare shone a new light upon them. With bright acidity, low alcohol, and soft, unimposing tannins, these reds beautifully complement pretty much anything, including seafood. The rich waters off Sicily’s coast allowed for confirmation, as Alessandro Portelli served up pesce spada alla ghiotta alongside his 2017 Frappato and Calabrese bottlings. A simple dish to prepare, it consists of swordfish steaks coated in a sauce of tomato, eggplant, red pepper, capers, and green olives. The Frappato’s floral aromatics soared over the dish’s sweet, savory flavors, while the Calabrese (known elsewhere as Nero d’Avola), with its ravishing black cherry notes, also went down quite swimmingly. The next dish, a Sicilian classic, featured a more elaborate preparation of swordfish. With pesce spada alla norma, breaded and fried steaks are topped with a slice of roasted eggplant stuffed with tomato sauce and melted cheese. These stronger flavors demanded a more serious wine, and Alessandro’s 2016 Cerasuolo di Vittoria—a blend of 70% Calabrese with 30% Frappato—delivered. Seductively perfumed, with a firm, fresh, stony texture and juicy finish, it made my Sicilian dining dreams come true. At home, I will certainly try my hand at replicating these recipes, and you should, too. Alternatively, enjoy these wines chilled with some wild Pacific King Salmon, or grilled tuna steaks sprinkled with dried oregano. This sampler contains two bottles of each of Portelli’s delicious reds, so you may just have enough wine to make it through your next al fresco dinner party, Vittoria style.
Two bottles of each 2017 Vittoria Frappato $24.00 2017 Vittoria Calabrese $24.00 2016 Cerasuolo di Vittoria $26.00
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.
I want you to realize once and for all: Even the winemaker does not know what aging is going to do to a new vintage; Robert Parker does not know; I do not know. We all make educated (hopefully) guesses about what the future will bring, but guesses they are. And one of the pleasures of a wine cellar is the opportunity it provides for you to witness the evolution of your various selections. Living wines have ups and downs just as people do, periods of glory and dog days, too. If wine did not remind me of real life, I would not care about it so much.
Inspiring Thirst, page 171
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