When we heard that the Italian Wine Food and Travel group was going to focus on Italy’s coastline, Sue and I immediately thought of Sicily! Not only is this an island region of Italy with 900 miles of coastline, it’s home to two of our favorite, affordable finds of 2016, Nero D’Avola, a red wine, and Grillo, white wine.
900 miles is a lot of coastline in a country with a lot of coastline!
Check out this map from Wine Folly:
And then I heard the news that Sicily was just named one of Wine Enthusiast’s Best Wine Destinations of 2017! Which doesn’t surprise me at all. Friends of mine spent six weeks one summer on the island staying on a friend’s family estate; they rave about the wonderful people, scenery, wine, and food. Everything was delicious, they said, very fresh and vibrant. Although they were warned to avoid the town Corleone, they spent days driving around the coastline exploring, and report that everyone was super friendly, helpful, and nice, no matter where they stopped to eat the food was excellent, and they were amazed at how good a $2-3 bottle of wine was.
Sicily sounds like my kind of place!
There are more than 50 indigenous grapes in Sicily that are grown in ten different regions of the island. Elevations range from sea level to over 3,000′ and soils are very diverse from sedimentary sandstone and calcareous soils to limestone and granitic rocks to volcanic soils and rocks laid down by the active volcano on the island, Mt Etna. This creates a range of micro-climates beneficial to both indigenous grapes and to imported ones like Chardonnay and Merlot.
For our Sicilian dinner, we wanted to have several different wines, red, white, rose, sparkling, but unfortunately, we had limited choices. I had two Nero D’Avola samples on hand, one from Cusumano (SRP $15) and one from Saia (SRP $20), and we searched at Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Bevmo and the Ventura Wine Company for a white or other reds from Sicily. Sue found another Nero D’Avola from Principi di Butera ($25) so we decided to compare the three different price points paired with our Sicilian dishes.
> Cheese plate with three Sicilian cheeses: pecorino, salted ricotta, and aged provolone, plus Italian salami and prosciutto
> Caponata: eggplant “tapenade” with capers; Sue’s family recipe (will add ASAP)
Cheese stuffed risotto balls with crab, then fried, on salad greens with more crab and a balsamic drizzle; they are said to have originated in Sicily in the 10th century during Kalbid rule (will add recipe ASAP)
- Sicilian pizza Sfincione:
Thick-crusted and toped with cheeses on one side and with Italian sausage on the other
- Pasta with pesto alla trapanese
With almonds, tomatoes, basil, garlic (will add recipe ASAP)
Layered sponge cake with ricotta cheese topped with candied or fresh fruit
Our three Nero D’Avola couldn’t have been more different and distinct! Cusumano ($12-15) was very straightforward, full of fruit and balanced; Saia ($20) was earthy, fun, and funky; Principi di Butera ($25) was the most complex with floral notes.
Cusumano – 2014 – Sicily IGT – Nero D’Avola – 14% alcohol – SRP $15
straightforward and fruity
On the nose, John liked the way Cusumano smelled:” it smelled like a real wine,” he said. I found plum also as well as herbal notes of anise, sage, and lavender. On the palate, cherry and cranberry, very nice tart fruit with a nice balance of tannins and fruit, cherries and berries; the cranberry tartness makes it very fresh and alive on the nose and on the palate.
This is a fantastic wine for the price, a very pleasing wine, not complex, just very nice, the lightest and most balanced of the three. It can go with any Italian meal, with lighter fare being best. This wine is the most versatile of the three. If you can find this wine, it will not disappoint you. To have that much going on for only $12-15 is very impressive.
This wine has a glass closure which seals really nicely!
Cusumano makes a number of different wines including a Chardonnay from Mt Etna, and a number of high end red wines worth discovering. Sue and I had an opportunity last summer to taste them along with Sicilian cuisine at a winemaker dinner in LA hosted by their importer, Terlato. As you can see from the map, Cusumano is located on the northern part of the island, near Palermo, but I imagine the grapes in this Nero are from various vineyards because it is designated as a “IGT” or “Terre Sicilian Indicazione Geografica Tipica;” the vines are identified as coming from San Giacomo, where in Butera they have 140 hectares in the province of Caltanissetta. IGT is one level down from a DOC or Denomination di origin controllata.
Saia – 2013 – Feudo DOC – Nero D’Avola – Sicilia – 13.5% alcohol – $20
What stands out most about this wine is an interesting earthy funk, almost bret, and the funkiness comes out more with the nutty pecorino, it brings out the earthy characteristic in the wine. It also has some tart red fruit on the end, also plum: red plum, not super ripe purple plum. There is a fruitiness to this wine as well, the fresh bright fruit characteristic to this grape.
As the Saia opened up, the funk went away, and the cherry fruit came through. It paired well with the food, especially the salty cheeses made in Sicily. The Saia, however, screams for earthiness; a mushroom risotto would have gone wonderfully with this wine. We liked this wine, and we suspect that if you like heavier Pinot noir, or a certain funkiness in your wines, you will be all over this wine.
Unlike the Cusumano, this wine is a “DOC” or “Denomination di origin controllata” which means it reflects a specific terroir and quality, in this case, Feudo area which is to the south and east of the island of Sicily. Saia is made from “20- to 30-year-old vines are planted to south-facing vineyards 80 meters above sea level in volcanic soil with white sand and chalk deposits. The fruit is handpicked and the skins are gently broken. Fermentation is in stainless steel tanks and lined vats with regular punching down. A first blending of lots takes place when the wine is placed in barrique; a second at the first racking. The wines are then bottled with minimum intervention.” The wine spends 12 to 14 months in French oak.
Principi di Butera – Feudo DOC- Nero D’Avola – 14% alcohol – $24.99 at whole foods
complexity (fruit and floral)
Feudo Principi di Butera has a very sweet floral and fruity nose. It made me suspicious that it would be flabby and I was prepared to be disappointed but I was not: it has a great complexity and balance to it, and overall we found this wine to be very pleasing.
At first, there was a very heady floral note on the nose which complimented our meal very nicely, and it really shined with the food. The fruitiness in the wine also paired well with the food, especially the pasta. As it opened up, the sweet floral and fruit notes diminished and we found rosemary and other herbs.
What does the name Feudo Principi di Butera mean? “King Philip II of Spain bestowed upon Ambrogio Branciforte, who owned the estate, the title of Prince of Butera in 1543.”
Why pay more for this wine over the others? As you can read on the label, this wine is a “DOC” or “Denomination di origin controllata” which means it reflects a specific terroir and quality. The soils are described as “white stone” and on their website as Calcareous with layers of fine clay. At a 740′ elevation, Feudo Principi di Butera is in DOC district of Riesi, Sicily, the southeastern part of the Province of Caltanissetta. The estate is approximately two hours from the city of Palermo.
This wine is so much smoother, richer, and has a better mouth feel than the others, This is not as noticeable until you go back to the others after enjoying a glass of this nicely made wine. A richness, complexity, and roundness with a lot of fruit comes your way for $25.
For dessert, Sue made a cassata, a layered sponge cake with ricotta cheese and fresh fruit on top. We should have put candles on it because my birthday is next week and I can’t imagine a more delicious birthday cake! I did think to buys some Italian sparkling wine from the Ventura Wine Company, chosen in part because of the name starts with a G (like mine!) and I liked the look of the bottle.
La Tordera – Gabry rose – sparkling wine – rose extra dry – 12% alcohol – $15
This sparkling wine was the perfect choice for our cassata. The dessert went so well with this wine, fresh berries, ricotta cheese and lightly sweetened sponge cake. Berries and light fruit goes so nicely with this wine. The dessert was not overly sweet and the wine is not sweet.
We delighted in the great little bubbles, orange blossom, Meyer lemon, tangerine notes on the palate along with Citrus quality, candied lemon and marzipan on the nose. There is so much complexity for the price point, and it is insanely good with this dessert! Happy early birthday to me!!
This wine was quite a find; it tastes like a $30 bottle of wine easily. We will be buying this one again and again!
Does everywhere in Italy grow grapes and make wine???? It could happen in California?
Here’s a list of other participants in this month’s #ItalianFWT — Italian Food, Wine, and Travel group.
Vino Travels – Negroamaro of Salice Salentino with Leone de Castris
Food Wine Click – Swordfish Pasta with a Not So Crazy Sicilian Red
L’Occasion – The Terraced Vineyards of Liguria
Please join us next month on the first Saturday of February when we explore alternative Nebbiolo. Jeff Burrows of FoodWineClick says “Let’s explore Nebbiolo outside the storied Barolo and Barbaresco regions. Nebbiolo from Valle d’Aosta, Caremma, Gattinara, Valtellina, Roero, even Nebbiolo d’Alba or Langhe Nebbiolo if you have trouble finding one of the lesser known regions. Even Nebbiolo from outside Italy as long as it’s compared against examples from Italy.” I have two vintages from Silver in Santa Barbara county and we’d love to compare them with two vintages from Italy! Let’s see if we can make that happen in the next month.