Sicily has a special place in my heart, not only because I spent there one of the best years in my life working for the oldest family of winemakers, but because it’s not like any other place on earth. This island is so unique, it strikes you with diversity of cultures, food flavored, beauty of its land and generosity of its people.
Sicily – Back in the Days
Over the centuries, Sicily has been heavily influenced by other cultures. Its central location in the Mediterranean Peninsula and its incredibly fertile soil made it a desirable spot for many civilizations – from the Sicanians (from whom the island takes its name) to the Phoenicians, the Greeks to the Romans, the Arabs to the Normans, the Germans to the Spanish.
When people think of Sicily, they usually imagine gorgeous sky-blue sea water of its coastline, Mount Etna – the most active volcano in the world, or maybe Sicilian flamboyant architecture called Sicilian Baroque… rarely people associate Sicily with wine. However, Sicily is one of the oldest wine regions in the world. In Homer’s Odyssey, which dates back to 750 B.C., Odysseus got the cyclops drunk in wine before blinding him in his only eye. In Roman times, the Sicilian wine of Mamertino was Julius Caesar’s favorite one, and finally fortified Marsala wine got its international recognition after the British Admiral Nelson made an order of 500 barrels of wine for the British Navy. Even Thomas Jefferson purchased a barrel of Marsala in 1805.
The 19thcentury wasn’t as glorious for Sicilian wine industry, and is marked by the phylloxera invasion – the grapevine pest that destroyed almost all vineyards in Europe including Sicily. It took Sicily about 70 years to recover. Government subsidies to grow higher yields of grape and consolidation of wine growers into cooperatives affected the quality of wine and transformed Sicily into a major bulk wine producer. Wine was shipped to other regions of Italy, France and Germany for blending with other wines. Local wines were considered low quality, rustic, and strong. However, fall in demand for bulk wine in Europe, new trend for wines with less alcohol content and higher quality standards forced Sicilian wine industry to change its priority from quantity to quality.
Sicily’s wine revolution began in the 1980’s, when a new generation of winemakers, has begun capitalizing Sicily’s premium wine growing conditions, applying modern grape growing practices and new technologies to produce world class modern style wines. Along with some extraordinary Sicilian native grapes, international varieties were introduced such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc.
Today, Sicily is one of the most exciting wine regions in Europe. Blessed with abundant sunlight, various terrains, excellent elevation and diverse soil types, it produces broad mosaic of wines which are a true reflection of Sicily’s rich heritage. Crisp or creamy whites, subtle or powerful reds, savory roses or aromatic sweet wines – no matter what your preferences are, Sicily’s got something for everyone.
Despite the fact that Sicily makes much more white wines than reds, it’s best known for its red grapes. Nero d’Avola is the most famous, and the most significantly planted red grape of Sicily. It may have originated in Avola, a tiny place in the south-eastern corner of Sicily near Syracuse. Nero d’Avola is deep in color (‘Black of Avola’ in Italian) and full of flavor ranging in style from soft and juicy to more dense and serious. It is also a main grape of the only Sicilian DOCG zone Cerasuolo di Vittoria, where it is blended with delicate Frappato. Nerello Mascalese is Sicily’s most highly regarded, dark-skinned grape variety that grows on the slopes of Etna. The resulting wine is often compared to Burgundian Pinot Noir or Piedmontese Nebbiolo in style. Grillo and Carricante are two most interesting white grapes. While Grillo shines on the West coast of the island producing well structures, complex and age-worthy wines, Carricante is a star grape of Mount Etna, where it makes crisp and tangy wines with zesty bite. The islands of Pantelleria, Lipari and Salina produce wonderful sweet wines – Passito and Malvasia.
Stemmari is one of the leading Sicilian wine producers, offering top quality wines that are a reminiscent of the unique and authentic flavors of Sicily. Stemmari cultivate its own vineyards along the Southern coast of Sicily, on the two estates of Sambuca di Sicilia (AG) and Acate (RG), growing both, autochthonous and international grape varieties.
*Thank you Stemmari for supporting HarpForwinesake project and helping to spread the wine and music culture.
Three Stemmari wines were served over the course of the evening:
2017 Stemmari Rosato, Nero d’Avola. Stemmari, Terre Sicilian IGT
Wine of excellent quality and value. Beautiful light ruby red color with violet reflections. Strong notes of wild strawberries and raspberries, exceptional balance between fruitiness and minerality. Great aperitif wine and perfect match for light vegetable or white meat dishes.
2016 Dalila Bianco, Grillo & Viognier. Stemmari, Sicilia Riserva DOC
80% of Grillo with Viognier making up the balance. While Grillo brings intense notes of tropical fruit and white flowers, Viognier gives off delicate notes of peach, apricot, citrus, and adds creaminess and weight. This is an elegant and rich white wine with powerful nose, complimented by vanilla undertones from the oak aging. Food pairing: grilled white meats and fish, cream sauce pastas, medium aged cheeses
2015 Cantodoro Rosso, Nero d’Avola (80%) & Cabernet Sauvignon. Stemmari, Sicilia Riserva DOC
Full-bodied and concentrated this blend of local and international grapes gives off intense aromas of red fruit, licorice and vanilla. Big and round on the palate it would pair wonderfully with grilled or roasted meat, game or aged cheese, and meaty fish types, like tuna and swordfish.