Holly Howell
May 18, 2010 | Holly Howell

The Secrets of Sicily - "Off The Beaten Path Italy" - By Holly Howell

Statistics say that Sicily produces more wine than New Zealand, Austria and Hungary combined. So it's pretty surprising that the world is just starting to take notice of them! Well, Sicily has been making great wine for centuries. But it is just in recent years that the table wines of this region have been taking the wine world by storm.

Probably the best known wine of Sicily is a fortified wine called Marsala. Often misunderstood for being just a cooking wine (Chicken Marsala, Veal Marsala, etc), the truth is that Marsala can be an absolutely beautifully wine at the table. The dry versions make perfect aperitifs, and the sweeter versions are great for dessert. The grapes used for Marsala are grillo, inzolia, and catarratto. These three grapes are also used to make their own wines.

Cantina Calatrasi Catarratto Terre di Gin ($9) will give you a nice introduction to the citrus flavors and clean minerality of this grape. You'll find that catarratto is also used quite frequently in white blends with chardonnay. These can be wonderful wines with lighter summer picnic fare and seafood dishes. Corbello Inzolia ($10) is a friendly way to meet inzolia - a grape that makes a fruity, floral dry wine that is a shoe-in for shellfish dishes.

In the red arena, one grape in particular has taken its place as a Sicilian hero - and that's nero! Nero d'Avola that is. This grape has been called the "little Syrah of Sicily" when describing the wine's rich, dark fruit aromas (blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, plum, etc.), and a smoky, tarry quality. That is why it is often compared with the Syrah grape, which makes the gamey wines of the Northern Rhone in France, and also the spicy Shiraz wines of Australia.

Nero d'Avola wines are becoming much easier to find today than they were years ago. Don't let these wines pass you by! They are excellent matches to sharp Italian cheeses, BBQ ribs, and steaks off the grill. Look for Buon Appetito Nero d'Avola ($8), Corvo Rosso ($8), and Corbello Nero d'Avola ($11) just to name a few. For a worthwhile splurge, look for the Planeta wines that are often red blends with nero d'avola leading the pack. Planeta La Segreta Rosso Sicilia ($13) and Planeta Cerasuolo ($20) are a total bang for your buck. And the Planeta Santa Cecilia ($33) is a top-of-the-line quaff that is pure Nero d'Avola heaven!

Sicily is not to be ignored. There are definitely some offers that you just can't refuse. Tune in next time for more OTBP (off-the-beaten-path) Italy...


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