Sicily's Organic Wine and Fresh Fish


Photo by Faith Willinger

Three weeks ago, Faith Willinger began documenting her Grand Tour through Sicily with a description of her time in Catania. Then, she continued her journey in Sortino. Next, she traveled to Buccheri, Noto, Frigintini, Modica, and Scicli.

We drove through countryside near Vittoria to visit COS, one of my favorite Sicilian wineries, and agriturismo farms. The owners' names, Titta Cilia and Giusto Occhipinti, stand for the "C" and "O" of COS. More about the "S" later.

COS is part of a natural wine movement that has been making waves in the enological world. There are various factions; wineries adopt biodynamic and/or organic agricultural methodology to various degrees. The common theme is respect: for the land, the grapes and the tradition.

These wineries use few or no chemical treatments in the vineyard. Grapes are often macerated with skins for longer periods. Wines ferment with indigenous yeasts, which are not as easy to control as selected yeasts that are typically used for their maximum efficiency and uniform results. Wines are rarely filtered. The result of these methods is wine more personality, less internationality. The wine expresses a sense of territory and evolves with age.
Great sign--Arianna's wines resemble her--easy-going, ultra-Sicilian, totally original.

I am crazy about the area's red varietals, Nero d'Avola and Frappato. At COS they are made into single varietal wines and blended in DOCG Cerasuolo di Vittoria. The cellars are beautiful; both Giusto and Titta are architects. There is a room of huge 400 liter terra cotta amphorae semi-emerged in the ground. The wines fermented in them are called Pithos, Greek for amphora. This was, after all, part of Magna Graecia. Everything old is new again.

We stayed at the Locanda COS, attractive, moderately priced suites, with a mini-bar of COS wine. There is a swimming pool and a pittosporum (Japanese cheesewood) maze in the backyard. Giusto's sister Angela is appropriately named; she is an angel in the kitchen and prepares meals for guests by reservation.

She made a simple lunch of local salumi, ricotta baked on lemon leaves drizzled with extra virgin and pepper, orange and anchovy salad, cheese, and fruit since we had dinner plans. We drank Cerasuolo di Vittoria, which was simply delicious. I ordered wine from Giusto for home and begged Angela for her orange salad recipe.


Photo by Faith Willinger

Suzanne made a watercolor of the olive harvest outside our front door. I read guidebooks as I am always on the lookout for interesting activities. Then Vito joined us to navigate to the fishing village of Scoglitti, which is no easy task.

There, we had dinner at Ristorante Sakalleo, owned by Pinuccia Strano, the "S" of COS, who left the winery to open this fantastic restaurant with her ex-fisherman husband Pasquale Ferrara. There is no written menu but after a few questions--"Raw fish and seafood? Allergies? Aversions? Dietary restrictions?"--platters of fish and seafood appetizers appear.

We enjoyed raw sea urchins, red shrimp, marinated anchovies, filleted catch of the day, and cooked squidlets, shrimp, octopus, scabbard fish, mussels and clams, cooked anchovies, fish fritters, tuna "sausage", and more. Skip the primi; risotto and pasta disappoint and are not necessary. Those with hearty appetites should continue with fried or roast fish. I also recommend COS's white wine, Rami'. Cannoli anyone? [Ristorante Sakalleo, piazza Cavour 12, Scoglitti, tel. 0932-871-688, closed Mondays]

We visited Giusto's nieces, Arianna and Faustina Occhipinti at their farm. They, too, are architects and their spectacularly under-restored house is filled with interesting objects. Sicilian pottery, books, and wine bottles fill their home. The dining table is covered with piles of paper, samples, clutter that I can relate to. Arianna's fervent about natural wines, and her winery is small, without barriques. Instead, her wine ferments in stainless steel or large oak casks.

We tasted wine from the latest harvest in the cantina, a work in progress, delightfully grapy. Back to the living room, Faustina showed me her line of Sicilian products: jars of almonds, olives, oregano, and capers that were brined but not packed in liquid or salt. I did my Christmas shopping. Then we tasted her just-pressed oils, Pantarei, made from Sicilian cultivar Tonda Iblea and Gheta with Nocellara dl Belice. We had almonds and white wine from a farmer who Arianna advises in a plastic bottle. It was rustic, fun, and perfect for the moment.

We then moved to the kitchen, where Faustina was preparing lunch with produce straight from the garden. We feasted on golden Sicilian bread with just-pressed oil, pasta with Sicilian cauliflower and almonds, sautéed mustard greens with garlic, Ragusano cheese, and pears with walnuts and honey. We drank Arianna's Frappato and SP 68, a Frappato-Nero d'Avola blend. Great sign--Arianna's wines resemble her--easy-going, ultra-Sicilian, totally original. I ordered wine, once again. Faustina promised me a recipe but has not yet delivered. When she does I will add it.

Next stops on the Grand Tour: Archeological Museum in the ugliest city in Sicily, tour of Licata, closed museum, unexpected book collection, trattoria lunch with old and new friends to celebrate forks and stars, a cloistered convent in Gattopardo country and more.

This week, she visits Vittoria and Scoglitti.