With little time to write nearing the end of Cook The Farm, I realize I am quite behind in keeping up with my posts, so as I write I sit in the Rome train station, sipping an espresso and having a pastry while I wait for my train to Venezia. Andiamo a vino!
So what exactly makes Sicilian wine so special? Let’s begin with the definition of viticulture, as it it important to understand when getting more technical with wines.
Viticulture (from the Latin word for vine) is the science, production, and study of grapes. It deals with the series of events that occur in the vineyard. When the grapes are used for winemaking, it is also known as viniculture. It is a branch of the science of horticulture.
The viticulture of Sicily is very historical because being the largest Italian island, it is full of history and colonization. Marsala started the importance of viticulture here because Sicily was famous for the structure of the wine. The fame came from the difference of the wine and rather not the quality. Marsala wine was developed by a wealthy british merchant John Woodhouse in the later 1700’s. Woodhouse took interest in this wine because it would withstand long voyages at sea. Later in the early 1800’s Vincenzo Florio became the first Italian producer of Marsala and opened a winery in the small town of Marsala in western Sicily. On our study trip throughout Sicily we had a chance to visit the Florio winery and taste four very different Marsala’s paired with bites to eat. Here I picked up two bottles of Marsala to take home with me, which have contributed to my need to purchase another suitcase while being here! I now have more souvenirs and goods than necessities, what’s a chef to do?
Going back to the details of what makes Sicilian wines so special. Mount Etna is the most important European volcano, the soil on Etna is incredibly fertile and creates an ideal place for a variety of agriculture. Of course, one being grapes. This rich soil allows for wines that to me, as an American are incredibly different. These wines play on the palate, they are bold and seductive with such intense tastes of the land they come from.
We had three winemakers come to share their stories, and of course have tastings of their wines. The first was Laura Orsi, who is Regaleali’s own enologist. We tasted the Tasca wines with her, which we had already been drinking with meals since our arrival. Next was Salvo Foti, who produces natural wines from his vineyards on Mount Etna just outside of Catania. Salvo’s wines were the most interesting to me, they excited me, and pulled out a ew sense of creativity of flavor that now resides forever in my brain. So much so that I plan to create a several course menu to be paired with his wines. They are astonishing and fascinating, at first almost off putting due to the difference in complexity, but quickly evolving into a myriad of brilliant flavors that come together. Lastly was Ariana Occhipinti, also a producer of natural wines, Ariana is only thirty-three years old, and already has ten years of experience making wine. She built her company from soil to vine, cultivating her own future. It is inspiring to see a woman so successful at such a young age. She produces all these wonderful wines in a man made world and profession, and thus she is an enigma. She stands strong, stands out in her profession, and continues to reach even farther pushing herself to meet her goals of building her business. In Sicily this is quite an accomplishment, unfortunately for the youth of Sicily the future is bleak for many as jobs are not readily available to most and opportunity is slim. Ariana’s vineyards are in Vittoria, which is a province of Ragusa. The flat fertile grounds at the base of Mount Iblei are ideal for growing Ariana’s prized Frappato and Nero D’Avola grape varietals which boast the clean flavors of Sicily reflected in her wines. Arianna surprised us with a special “Cook The Farm” wine she created just for us, what a treat!!
We had a lecture with Corrado Maurigi who also works for Tasca, and does winery tours for visitors. Corrado is so passionate about what he does, he brings so much life to the wine stemming from vine to bottle. Corrado explained the process of making wine, and stressed the importance of having a clean, fresh product in order to have a result of quality rather than quantity. The grapes have to be healthy and handpicked, we have to understand that everything tasted in the final dish is a regional taste, there is no room for error in wine making because there is only so much yield. Later in the week we had a walk with Corrado through the vineyards where he explained the history of the vineyards at Regaleali, and taught us how to prune the vines. What an adventure that was, trekking through the property in our muddy rain boots and obtaining the occasional pebble or five in each shoe along the way. Nonetheless, it was fascinating to watch Corrado work with skill and care.
Finally, there was the best day, the day in which we tasted sixteen different wines, yes, sixteen…in one day…dreams coming true here! Sandro Sangiorgi an expert gastronome came to taste and teach about the way that wine flows through the palate. He explained that our personal taste is not fixed or static, it moves, changes and evolves over time and we must train our personal tastes. We can look at something we used to enjoy as nostalgia, but understand the importance of an elevated palate. However, it doesn’t mean that a good wine is an expensive wine. He said, the biggest mistake over the years has been a detachment of the relationship between people and wine. The wine gets away from you when becoming too selective. The more we ask why the more the greatness of wine is pushed away from us. Forget all the pre judgments and be open minded, live in the present. He speaks about wine when he says this, however, in life this remains for me as a wonderful lesson to be learned. There is a sincere importance in living in the moment, freeing yourself from boundaries and expectations and letting life, precious life flow through your veins, invigorating you with it’s pure energy. Indulge in the freedom and the wine of course.
Wine summarizes all the positive aspects of a certain year. Even a vintage wine, it has a relation between the abundance or the lack of. We have to think that this year this is how the wine came out. Instead of trying to fix it, you accept it for what it is and accept that it has become this due to the way the year went. A natural wine is not filtered and has it’s own sediments. It is not clean. Relating wine to human beings again this applies. None of us are perfect, we are natural wines, raw, unfiltered and crude awaiting change and refinement through time until we blossom into our peak.
Remember, just drink the wine and forget about where it comes from, this is similar to being open-minded. Remember this link that nature gives to you a way to transform your perception of wine, and perhaps even yourself.
Sicilian wines in my opinion are anything but ordinary. They are wild, free and untamable. The arouse a kind of seduction and passion into the palate. They can be anywhere from light and floral with hints of citrus, pistachio and almonds to aggressive and animalistic, with sharp grassy tones. In truth they have clean fresh tastes, which allows for a kind of smooth elegance that leaves much left to be desired by many competitors. Next time you go to the store or restaurant, I encourage you to take a walk on the wild side and try a Sicilian wine, enjoy the adventure of something new and unexpected.
All the Sicilian wines I tasted are available in the USA via distributors, below are the links:
Ariana Occhipinti, Occhipinti, Vittoria, Sicily
Salvo Foti, I Vignieri, Mount Etna, Sicily
Tasca D’Almerita, Regaleali Sicily
All of these wines can be found in the USA on this website:
***Unfortunately I am currently unable to add more than a photo or two at this time due to SLOW Italian internet issues. I will add photos when I return to the states shortly.