There was a moment after returning from our autumn journey when I found myself empathizing with Michael Corleone. Just when it seemed I’d had enough of Sicilian wine, they pulled me back in, courtesy of a Castellucci Miano tasting at Center City’s Vintage Wine Bar. Piero Buffa, the estate’s representative, was on hand to add insights and discuss drumming up interest in Sicilian wine in America. For those of us in the commonwealth, the wines are available in the system.
Castellucci Miano Catarratto 2012 ($19.99)
This grape accounts for about 10% of land under vine in Sicily. In fact, it is second only to Sangiovese in volume of acres planted. Light, savory, crisp – sounds like most Italian whites. “Miano” is exceptionally clean on the nose and in the mouth, with precisely etched aromas and flavors of apple, lemon, pear, pineapple and wild herbs. The moderately long, fruity finish stays balanced and refreshing.
Castellucci Miano Nero d’Avola 2009 ($17.39)
There’s a lot of fruit up front, but not in an opulent or showy way. Dark cherries, raspberry and plum are concentrated without being jammy or inducing a feeling of downing liquid compote. If you want to typecast this Nero it’s on the fuller, modern side compared to those from southeastern Sicily. This doesn’t make it unappealing, in fact, this version seems less dense and “damn the acidity, full fruit ahead” than many over the top Neros I’m trying to forget. (SLO, minimum order of six)
Castellucci Miano Perricone 2009 ($32.89)
An honest and unpolished example of yet another Italian varietal that you hear little mention of on the grapevine. It has some familiar Cab-like qualities – dry green spices, a rough herbal tang, even a brief hit of graphite – to go along with earthy dark cherries and currants. Perricone, even one as well made as this, isn’t an easy wine to grasp, so the price tag may scare some off. The adventurous and/or geeky will find something to mull over (SLO, minimum order of six)
Anyone who has visited wine regions abroad knows the frustration of tracking down those bottles that dazzled you once you’re home. Aside from those I reviewed from my Sicilian winery visits, there were several others we enjoyed that a CIA operative would have difficulty locating. Fortunately, there are Sicilian wines that you may not find at your closest state store but which are not out of reach. Or you could just book a trip to Palermo.
First, a quartet of whites that highlight indigenous grapes.
Arianna Occhipinti SP 68 Bianco 2013 ($24.98)
While I agree with Mike that some of her red wines have not lived up to their hype, SP 68 is an intriguing mix of Albanello and Zibbibo (the Arabic for Moscato of Alexandria). It has some vague references of aroma and overall sensations to Riesling and Viognier, with a dash of Gewurzy spiciness. A tropically floral nose of melons, coriander, citrus and exotic herbs leads to smooth-edged flavors of peach and pear energized by brisk acidity. This is Sicily at its best, delivering the unexpected. Available at Wine Works, Marlton, NJ
COS Rami 2012 ($29.99)
If you are up for a challenge, this blend of equal parts Inzolia and Grecanico is eccentric in a good way. It doesn’t look like an orange wine but has the same depth of aroma, intensity of flavor, firm texture, and fullness in the mouth that comes from extended maceration. Salinity, minerals and a strange nutty element provide a vibrant lift to ripe lemons and oranges that offset an unusually moderate level of acidity for a Sicilian white. This wine is a mouthful of non sequiturs. Purchased at Wine Library, Springfield, NJ.
Firriato Le Sabbie del Etna Etna Bianco 2012 ($14.98)
Carricante is fast becoming my grape of choice to pair with most Sicilian seafood dishes. This one includes 40% Catarratto, whose fullness takes some of the nervous energy from its partner. The trade-off is increased ripeness and lushly concentrated flavors of lime, citrus, pear and peach that wrap themselves around a mildly nutty finish. Available at Wine Works.
Tasca d’Almerita Buonora 2012 ($16.98)
Here we have Carricante on its own, all flowers, citrus, native herbs – an interesting contrast to Firriato. The peaches and tropical melons may be just as ripe, but the lively and persistent acidity and savory minerality keep it refreshing and focused from first to last sip. It’s more straightforward than complex, and that approach places it a cut above others I’ve had. Available at Wine Works
Nero d’Avola may be Sicily’s favorite son, but red wines from Mt. Etna are earning a deserved place at the table. To paraphrase Johann Goethe, “To drink in Sicily without drinking Nerello Mascalese is not to have drank at all.” Hard to argue with that.
Alberto Graci Etna Rosso 2012 ($25.99)
There’s a reason why Graci has been getting high praise for his wines. His Nerello may have a Burgundian feel – high acidity, finely calibrated tannins, and a core of earthiness that adds to underlying complexity – but it also offers that spicy cherry and smoky essence on a crisp, effervescent entrance, which is pure Etna. Graci has achieved an admirable balance of muted rustic power and finesse. This is a lot of wine for the price. SLO, minimum six. Also available at Wine Library for $17.99.
Pietro Caciorgna Thalia Etna Rosso ($22.99)
Though a modern take on Etna, complete with sweet vanillin from barreling, there’s no mistaking the smokiness and grainy minerals of volcanic soil. Young and still evolving, it’s somewhat closed and restrained, with sharp edges that are blunted by gentle tannins. There’s something buried here that begs for cellaring another year or two. Purchased at Garnet Wines, NYC
Calabretta Cala Cala NV ($16.99)
Want to turn heads and palates at the next dinner party? This is what to bring, a Nerello with attitude to spare that doesn’t need rhapsodizing or nattering on about its details. Enjoy it for what it is, a natural expression of Etna, a rugged blast of macchia – wild flora, volcanic minerals, and a smattering of aromatic green herbs – that lingers on the warm, satisfying finish. Purchased at Flatiron Wines, NYC