Our third and final Sicily tour for 2017 commenced with a notable temperature shift upwards. April and May were warm and sunny, June is really hot! Inevitably, it affected the thirst level on our fabulous first night dinner at Casamia. Once again, we were overwhelmed by gorgeous antipasti, vegetable filled pastries, black rice, salamis and cheeses and a comprehensive selection of roast meats. Washed down with copious quantities of delicious local Grillo and Nero d’Avola this was another perfect start.
We stayed in the vicinity of Marsala on our first full day as we headed over to Curatolo Arini. This family owned estate dates back to 1875 and fifth generation Alexandra Curatolo greeted us. She handed over to the exuberant Carlo who is in charge of sales and we were recipients of a whirlwind of information: social history, the origins of Marsala, current issues facing the Sicilian wine trade and much more. We tasted through five whites and four reds including Grillo, Zibibbo, Inzolia/Cattarratto blends and different versions of Nero d’Avola before moving on to a quite amazing Marsala masterclass. Given that Englishman John Woodhouse established the Marsala style in 1773 we were slightly ashamed about how little we knew of its history and production methods. Carlo took us through all the details with great aplomb as we tasted through Semisecco, Superiore, Dolce and a Vergine 1995 followed by an amazing 30 year old “forgotten” Marsala. We came away enthralled, educated and resolving to drink more Marsala rather than just cook with it!
From Curatolo we headed over to the family run Donnafugata estate in the centre of Marsala. Historically, the Rallo family produced Marsala but switched to high quality table wines in the 1970’s and 80’s. The net result is that Donnafugata have become a leading player in the Sicilian fine wine scene. Giovanni Masucci took us round the winery which culminated in an amazing 8 wine, 8 dish pairing lunch that showed off a range of whites, reds and dessert wines to optimal effect.
With virtually no travel time, we were able to enjoy the late afternoon in Marsala town or relax in the hotel’s delightful garden.
We headed south to the town of Sambuca and devoted our time to one very important winery – Planeta. Greeted by Chiara Planeta, we took a stroll through the vineyards, inspected the Chardonnay ageing in the barrel cellar and chilled down in their new sparkling wine cellar. Planeta have been highly influential in promoting high quality Sicilian wines and their Chardonnay took the world by storm back in the mid 90’s. They have experimented heavily with a range of both indigenous grape varieties and international styles in order to discover just what is possible on varying Sicilian terroir. They have high hopes for Riesling grown on the slopes of Mount Etna and their Carricante Metodo Classico sparkling was very good.
We tasted six wines with Chiara which took us all over the island before enjoying some wonderful canapes outside, before moving in for a lovely lunch – washed down with a Magnum of Chardonnay 2012 and their Merlot.
A wonderful day at a wonderful winery.
Our first stop was at Vini Baracco. A small, eleven hectare estate that produces most of its wines without adding sulphites. This added a fascinating twist to our tour as we discovered an intriguing new range of aromas and tastes. Using the technique of slightly extending the skin contact with the fermenting juice the colours of the wine were deeper than expected. Aromatically, the wines were intense, with plenty of almond, bergamot, iodine (due to the proximity of the vineyards to the sea) herbs and spices. Paolo was an engaging host who took us for a walk through the vineyards which helped to explain the effect of the sea breezes. The styles of Grillo, Catarratto, Zibibbo and Nero d’Avola were markedly different to those tasted earlier in the week.
This was a highly unusual visit and tasting and gave a different perspective on the Sicilian wine style.
From Baracco we drove east to the Ceuso estate. Having started making wine in 1995 in a garage – producing only 6000 bottles in their first year, Ceuso have established themselves as a really serious producer. Luisa and Guiseppe – both family members – hosted our visit and it was a delightfully relaxed occasion. Having toured the winery we tasted through their stunning Grillo, Scurati and Fastaia reds and finished off with three vintages of their highly esteemed Ceuso: 2011, 2008 and 1998. All the wines are seriously high quality and Ceuso fully deserve their reputation.
A light lunch followed (and it really was a light lunch – hams and cheeses, caponata, pizza) – just enough to keep us going before dinner.