Ideal growing conditions led a melting pot of cultures to settle on Sicily.
Antonio Rallo, CEO and co-owner of Donnafugata and president of the Sicilian DOC, is a fourth-generation winemaker and agronomist who has helped lead the local wine industry in a new direction.
It’s an industry he grew up in, and hopes will last for at least another four generations. Joined on a Zoom call by Alberto Tasca d’Almerita, head of the SOStain Sicily Foundation, both said Sicily is a special place to grow wine, as they detailed a preservation plan.
“It’s almost a completely dry and windy climate during the summer,” Rallo said about the conditions on the Italian island. “It’s an Eden. It’s easy to grow anything here.”
There are more than 70 wine grape varieties indigenous to Sicily, and the preservation and marketing of them has been done by producers focused on improved practices in the vineyard and cellar to increase exposure on the international market.
“Sicily is a treasure trove of different cultures,” Tasca said. “Many different people arrived at different times, and they all brought their culture, their food and, sometimes, their wines. The natural market of Sicily before the industrial revolution was agriculture.”
While little has changed in the centuries that followed, Sicily’s ideal growing conditions are a haven for farmers. It’s a shift from the mass-produced bulk wines consumed by the public, and has been a charming departure for winemakers like Tasca and Rallo.
“The most important thing Sicilian producers have done in the last 20 to 30 years is we work hard together,” Tasca said. “Antonio is our mentor, he calls us every week and we think about how we can keep doing better. We cooperate as small producers and wine growers. We have a different soul in the production of our wines, but we operate under the umbrella of the DOC, and promote our diversity. We trust what we are doing will be our big treasure.”
A treasure they hope to pass on to future generations with responsible farming practices. More than 900 acres are farmed organically, and over 35% of all Sicilian wine is organic. Tasca said there is a “cultural revolution” underway when it comes to sustainability.
He’s noticed the change in land and ocean from the time he was a child, and wants to recapture the natural beauty of which he’s so fond.
“Sustainability is all about sharing,” Tasca said. “We do a lot of research, and analyze everything. We aren’t in competition when it comes to sustainability or reduction of our carbon footprint. We want to reduce our impact. Today, quality of life is not the same. Food isn’t the same. I like driving, and when I go out, I noticed the sea isn’t the same as when I was a child. We’ve deforested. We will never be totally sustainable, but we are going to improve as much as we can every year.”
Wineries are more cognizant than ever when it comes to the usage of lighter bottles, green packaging and labeling, and bottle recycling. The practices have extended into the vineyards, as well.
“Over 40,000 growers all want to leave their vineyard in the best condition for the next generation,” Rallo said. “We’ve all passed vineyards down from our fathers and grandfathers. That’s why Alberto is working so hard to raise the sustainability bar every day.”
Tenuta Regaleali Bianco 2020 ($14): A high-elevation white with a crisp acidity. There’s a little nutty, toasty almond note and hay on the nose. An oily texture gives way to dried apricot and almond cookie flavors.
Assuli Dardinello Zibibbo 2020 ($12.99): Also found in Greece, Spain and France, planted by Arabs conquering the Mediterranean, it was once used for sweet dessert wines. The last 15 to 20 years have seen it made in a dry style. There’s a syrupy sweet note at first with honeysuckle, golden raisin and Meyer lemon.
Stemmari Grillo 2020 ($12): Fermented in 100% stainless steel, there’s a mix of melon and herbs like thyme and rosemary.
Cantine Fina Kebrilla 2019 ($10): Very much like a sauvignon blanc, there are grassy notes with cantaloupe flavors.
Alessandro di Camporeale Vigna di Mandranova 2018 ($17): There’s lemon and lime zest on a snap crisp white.
Valle dell’Acate II Frappato 2020 Vittoria DOC ($21.99): A light ruby color in the glass. Round ripe, red fruit flavors make it feel like a summertime red with low tannins. Slightly chilled could be the best way to taste it. A little hint of mint emerges on the finish.
Vigna di Pettineo Frappato 2019 Vittoria DOC ($26): Also very light in color, there was ripe red raspberry and a round texture. It was pleasant and fun.
Cantine Colosi Nero d’Avola 2019 Sicilia DOC ($14.99): Fermented in all stainless steel, the “naked” Nero d’Avola was transparently purple in the glass; there were hints of licorice and plum with ripe black cherry flavors.
Firriato Chiaramonte Sicilia DOC 2017 ($12): More intensity on the nose and darker in color. Cinnamon stick, mint and leather hints on the nose with ripe plum flavors hung on ground gravel and grippy tannins.
Donnafugata Mille e una Notte 2017 Sicilia DOC ($59): Dark, inky purple in the heart of the glass, there were dusty toffee notes on the nose, with cherry flavors, a little vanilla note and a eucalyptus hint.
“Our first vintage was 1995,” Rallo said. “I still enjoy it even though we are running low on bottles. It’s fresh and soft with a plush texture. There’s a little wild game, warm blackberry and cocoa nibs. It was released after three years in the bottle to gain complexity. We use different vineyards from two different sites where there are warm days and cool nights. There’s a little petite verdot and syrah in it, too.”
• James Nokes has been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.