Our born-again Italian experiences the regional wines of Sicily—and the regional character of a miniature "continent"
"Sicily. It's a continent," a friend explained. It's a great approach to this vast, self-contained island, layered with more than 28 centuries of history and traditions, influenced by practically every civilization that passed through the Mediterranean. I never tire of exploring.
I'd been invited on a press trip, Sicilia en primeur, to taste the latest vintage from many of the region's best wineries. I planned to stick around after the trip, working my way around the island, winding up on Etna for another wine event. My husband, Massimo, would join me, participating in some but not all activities.
Journalists were split into groups—I went to the Ragusa area. Our driver (no Vito) had a difficult time locating the venue in Vittoria for our opening dinner, sponsored by the winemakers' consortium Cerasuolo Consorzio, with all members presenting their wines. I was pleased to see my friends Giusto and Arianna Occhipinti, Gaetano Jacono, and the Planeta family, whom I'd be visiting in the next few days. We were welcomed by consortium president Fracesco Ferreri at the consortium's enoteca in a 17th-century castle, restored after a brief period as a prison. It's open from Thursday to Sunday evenings for tastings and by appointment.
Finger-food was prepared by Domenico Colonnetta and Francesco Patti, young chef-owners of Coria, a new restaurant in Caltagirone, a town known for its ceramics and an incredible tiled stairway. Tables were decorated with attractive ceramics from their favorite artisan. The food was delicious, divided between fish—raw, marinated, smoked, deep-fried tiny fish—and meat and vegetables (local pork with wild greens, stuffed rabbit loin with sweet and sour vegetables, caponata, tiny frittata with wild asparagus, eggplant parmigiana and classics tiny arancine and focaccine. Of course there were cannoli for dessert, along with cassata and white chocolate and strawberry gelo (gelatin). Wines from all producers were offered, including a highly unusual sparkling Frappato by Avide.
After dinner we went to Planeta's winery Dorilli, to spend the night in their most comfortable rooms, soon to open for the general public. I shared a final glass of Cerasuolo with Francesca and Alessio Planeta and two friendly journalists, Herbert and Greg.
Our next day was typical for a press trip—visits with Cerasuolo producers, touring the vineyards, tasting the wines. We were on time for our first visit since it was at Dorilli. I was impressed with the wines, well-made, true to varietal, well-priced. We were late for our next appointment, Valle delle Acate, where owners Gaetana Jacono and Francesco Ferrara showed us our first palmento of the day, traditional stone troughs for crushing grapes. We had a Cerasuolo tasting in the cellar, surround by big barrels. I was falling in love with Frappato and Nero d'Avola wines.
Next, our driver got very lost on the way to Arianna Occhipinti's winery. We tasted from tanks in the cellar, wines in progress, and ate a simple lunch paired with her wines at a large table in the living room of her farmhouse, palmento in the back of the room. Love the P68 white and red!
We were behind schedule for our final winery of the day, Terre di Giurfo. It was too dark to visit the vineyards; we rushed through a tasting while owner Achille Alessi talked about his wines and the estate's nearby Villa Remigia, beautifully restored, with fantastic gardens and three bedrooms, rented by the week. We got really lost on the way to our hotel, the Donnafugata Golf Resort (international-golf-resort-ish architecture, no sense of Sicily) for two days of conference and tastings.
Is it an unwritten rule that the food served at golf resorts has to be terrible? Our buffet dinner confirmed this tradition, with chafing dishes of risotto, pasta, overcooked swordfish. But fabulous Sicilian wines from all the event's producers improved my mood.
Next: The conference, escape from conference, gala dinner, Ragusa theater, and finally on our own program. Images: Faith Willinger.