A Tale of Two Sicilies (part four)



Concluding his journey through the different sides of Sicily, David Berry Green takes us via two neoclassical cities to the territory of one sumptuous red grape.

Just when you thought you’d seen it all, Sicily’s Val di Noto, south-eastern corner offers some of the most stunning landscape and architecture, hewn out of the brilliant white limestone Hylbaean hills. As per Messina and Catania, the eastern side of Sicilians was originally home to the Sicel tribe (hence ‘Sicilia’), before ceding to the Greeks and then the Romans.

The stunning baroque and neoclassical cities of Noto and Siracuse, built from local stone, point to a rich heritage and ecclesiastical influence. The surrounding, hilly countryside reminds one of Puglia, with its dry stone walls and enclosed fields; famous for its cheese as for its wine, ironically it’s the livestock that occupies the hills while the vine is found on the gently sloping flats, particularly close to the towns of Vittoria and Ragusa.

This is true Nero d’Avola territory. I say ‘true’, because despite being adopted across the island as a ‘staple’ red, it’s only among the limestone hills of Noto that the grape really hits its stride, particularly in the DOCs of Eloro and Pachino, treating us to wines with a heady perfume as well as sumptuousness. For contrary to popular opinion there are actually at least ten different clones of Nero d’Avola, rather than a single ‘one size fits all’ grape (which the authorities are busy trying to develop).

Most surprisingly perhaps is the fact there exists two types of Nero d’Avola: one with clear, transparent pulp (‘a jus blancs’), giving paler wines, the other possessing a red hue, producing darker, violet coloured (and scented), wild berry wines. Rigoria is a small artisan producer in the heart of this zone, making sumptuous perfumed reds that hint at their proximity to the date palms of Tunisia!

Finally, the other grape variety of real ‘note’ is that of Frappato, a red one that’s partial to the red loam over limestone beds close to Vittoria. Fanned by the warm Scirocco winds by day, cooled by currents shuttling between hills and the sea by night, it’s the perfect place for producing soft, pale, strawberry scented, zippy, Pinot-esque wines, notably the Cerasuolo di Vittoria wine – the island’s only official DOCG.

So Sicily has it all: not just a sea of wine for bulk blending purposes but more pertinently an emerging class of authentic wines made from indigenous grapes that recount the story and diversity of this magical isle through fine, scintillating wines. It’s high time you tried them.

For David’s latest selection of Sicilian wine, click on bbr.com