Given that this is the first Sicilian wine I’ve written about, I almost feel like I should start this post with a quote from The Godfather. This is what many Americans first think of when they hear the word Sicily, in no small part due to Mario Puzzo’s novel, which Francis Ford Coppola made into the iconic 1972 film (an Italian restaurant/bar near where I live in Boston’s North End has four wide-screen TVs behind the bar that loop The Godfather and The Godfather Part 2, without sound or subtitles, any time you walk in. As though the stereotype wasn’t ingrained enough). However, as many Sicilians would be quick to point out, this stereotype is not a fair or true representation of Sicily, it’s culture or it’s people. A better way to explore the real Sicily is through wine, one of the staples of true Sicilian culture (as is the case in Italy as a whole). Wine makes up one part of what has been called the Santa Trinita Mediterranea – the Mediterranean Holy Trinity – which consists of wine, bread, and olive oil.
Winemaking in Sicily stretches back as far as 2500 years, and at times the island has had a reputation for being one of the most prolific winemaking areas in the world. It’s climate, which is very well suited to grape-growing, combined with it’s strategic location in the Mediterranean, made it a key player in the ancient wine world. More recently, however, there have been attempts (many of them government-driven) to increase the volume of wine produced as much as possible. As is most often the case, increased production meant decreased quality and over the last half of the 20th century the reputation of Sicily’s wines fell. Today Sicily lags far behind Italy’s premiere wine regions in terms of reputation, though the trend is starting to reverse itself some as Sicilian winemakers have made a more concerted effort to increase the quality and reputation of Sicilian wines.
This wine comes from the most general region on the island – the Terre Siciliane IGT. It encompases all grapes and styles and can be made from grapes grown pretty much anywhere on the island. The Terre Siciliane IGT is similar to other Italian IGT regions in that the wines are often more unique, given the limited restrictions. But what is somewhat more unique about this region is that many (if not most) of the best wines on the island are produced under this designation. Of the red wines produced in the Terre Siciliane IGT, many that make their way to the US are made from Nero d’Avola. One of the most common grapes in Italy, it is often considered the most important grape on the island, and is the most widely planted red grape. As the name would suggest, it is considered to be native to the island, originating near the town of Avola on Sicily’s southeast coast (it’s name translates to “Black of Avola”). However, the grape is also sometimes called Calabrese, which is a reference to the fact that some claim it originated on the mainland in the Italian region of Calabria. Through most of it’s history the grape has been used primarily for blending purposes, starting in the middle ages when it was used to add color and body to mainland wines considered too light. However, in the last decade or so the grape has become more prominent as a varietal wine, especially in the Terre Siciliane IGT. It is a grape that likes a hot growing climate, not unlike Syrah, to which it is often compared. When aged, the wines are often dark and intense, with lots of tannins and rich dark fruit characteristics.
This wine is a Nero d’Avola from the Tami, a project of the Italian winemaker Arianna Occhipinti. It was actually produced under the “Sicilia IGT” designation, as you can see by the label in the image above. This region was promoted to a DOC in 2011, the year after this bottle was produced, and the Terre Siciliane IGT, which has all of the same characteristics, was created to take it’s place. It has an intense, ruby red color. The nose has medium intensity, with notes of vanilla and dark fruit, along with some burnt aromas and a slight earthiness. It is a dry wine with soft, medium tannins and acidity. It is well balanced but seems a bit lighter than I would have expected (not a bad thing). The palate is very fruit forward, with cherry and raspberry notes taking the lead. There are also oak related characteristics – some vanilla and a bit of smoke. It has a medium finish, leaving nice ripe cherries in your mouth.