As we are based in Marsala it seemed appropriate that we should start with an in-depth analysis of this famous fortified wine.
Englishman John Woodhouse discovered the concept of the In Perpetuum wine in Sicily in 1773. High alcohol wines of 15 – 16% were being stored in vats by the local and each year were topped up by the next vintage. The high alcohol protected the wine from excessive oxidation and Woodhouse discovered that adding a bit more alcohol, the wine had the ability to travel by sea to England where it seemed to have improved with the journey. Thus the Marsala industry was born and became very popular with the Royal Navy.
Fast forward to the 1970’s and the wine was in decline. The name was abused; it became a wine that coffee or banana or almond flavours could be added and most people associated it with cooking wine. Since 1984, steps have been taken to take back control and restore the famous fortified wine at least part way to its former glory.
Our first visit was to Curatolo Arini – founded in 1875 and now run by Alexandra Curatolo who is the 5th generation. After a brief introduction we were handed over to Carlo, the sales director, who took us through economic history, Sicilian history, the rise and fall of Marsala, the current trade outlook and many other topics in an enthralling and dynamic experience. Carlo was extremely engaging and we got a terrific perspective on Marsala and a much greater respect for its traditions.
We tasted through seven of their table wines – a mix of Inzolia, Catarratto, Zibibbo and Nero d’Avola followed by four Marsalas of varying qualities and sweetness.
This was a marvellous start to the tour.
From Curatolo, it was a short hop to the famous Donnafugata estate. The Rallo family have been highly influential in putting high quality Sicilian wines into the international market place and Donnafugata has a top class reputation. After a short visit round the winery and amazing barrel cellar we settled in for an eight wine / eight dish pairing lunch that showcased the estate wines and some delicious local cuisine.There were many highlights but the two dessert wines from Pantelleria shone out for me.
Given that both winerie were in Marsala, we finished at 3.30pm which gave people the opportunity to walk off some of the excesses of the day and revitalise ready for an evening of exploration of the town’s many lively bars and restaurants.