Written by: Libor Ševčík
“Italian wine” is too broad a term, as the character of wines from Italy varies with the country’s lengthy landscape. Today we go to the southernmost extremity, to the island of Sicily.
Until recently Sicilian wines had a rather poor reputation. True, the Mediterranean’s largest island produced an unbelievable ten million hectoliters a year, but most of it was in the lowest category of table wines. Only a quarter-million hectoliters bear qualitative designations. Excessive sun, insufficient humidity, poorly tended vineyards, and the absence of modern technologies had always affected the wines, which were nothing special. Most of the varieties were often poorly handled, oxidized, and too heavy. There were choices among the reds, but for wine-loving Europeans the whites were practically undrinkable. Nevertheless, viticulture has a tradition of several thousand years in Sicily. According to Homer, Odysseus got the Cyclops Polyphemus drunk on Etna Sicilian wine. Yet for many years the best-known Sicilian wine was the distillate-fortified Marsala, named for the town that lies at the island’s westernmost end. Whether dry or sweet, it is like a cross between sherry and Madeira.
Changes for the better began about ten years ago, when islanders became aware that they had to change their wines’ style to make it marketable. Sicilian winemakers studied abroad, where many of their countrymen worked. They started taking better care of their vineyards, renewing and planting clones of the most suitable varietals. They no longer let the grapes over-ripen, instead harvesting them at the optimal time when they contained the right amount of acids as well as sugar, giving the wine freshness. With generous EU subsidies they invested mightily in modern technologies that allowed economical, immediate processing of the grapes. The best vintners use controlled fermentation, wherein the temperature of the juice is constantly checked, and as needed the liquid is steadily cooled so the fermentation process proceeds at the optimal rate, which guarantees that high-quality wine is made from good grapes.
The care and new procedures gradually began bringing success in the form of customer interest. White wines have suddenly become pleasant and fresh, although made from the same varietals. Definitely worthy of notice are wines from original, indigenous white varietals like Catarrato, Grillo and Inzolia, and the universal Muscat. And the reds, also made mainly from local varietals like Aglianico, Frappato, Negroamaro, Nero D’Avola, and Primitivo have improved in purity and stand out for their bouquets. Also worth mentioning is the specialty of the outlying Lipari Islands – Malvasia delle Lipari. Other world-famous varietals such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot are grown as well. Sicily, which was known as the wine cistern of Italy, thus entered the new millennium with transformed, palatable wines that are becoming quite fashionable.
The author is the editor of Hospodářské noviny’s IN magazine.
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Konírna Toskánského paláce, Hradčanské nám., Praha 1
18 February – Merlot d’Or has prepared a tasting of Bordeaux Grands Crus Classés. 30 leading ChČteaux from the Bordeaux region will present their two-year-old wines. Until now the annual tasting traveled only to the US, Switzerland, and Germany. Admission to a tasting of over 700 wines costs CZK 900 in the morning, CZK 1,200 in the afternoon.
“Refreshed” Sicilian wines are now available in most importers’ portfolios.
Catarrato-Chardonnay 2003, IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica)
Producer: Aziende Vitivinicole Donnaafugata, Italia
Characteristics: A fresh, dry wine prepared from Sicilian Ansonica and Catarrato varietals through controlled fermentation. Complex in aroma with a good fruity persistence.
Price: 417 Kč
Importer: La Fattoria, k dostání jsou ve / available at Vino di Vino, Vězeňská 3, Praha 1, www.lafattoria.cz
Tancredi 2002, Contessa Entelina DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata)
|Danzante Merlot 2002, Sicilia IGT
Producer: Robert Mondavi a Marchesi de Frescobaldi
Characteristics: The famed Californian Mondavi and the Italian Frescobaldi prepared dark-ruby wines with the marked aroma of ripe grapes and wild fruits and a nice trace of cinnamon.
Price: 315 Kč
Importer: Global Wines, Václavské nám. 53, Praha 1. Tel.: 221 965 253, www.global-wines.cz