While Sicily has been part of the unified Italian state since 1860, it has its own sense of identity, one formed over the course of thousands of years. The largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily is as much of a melting pot as New York City.
It has been ruled by nearly everyone in Europe since the earliest known inhabitants, the Siculians, lived on the island in the third millennium B.C.
Sicily has intense soil, the by-product of a volcano or two. Many of the wine areas are at high elevations that enable grapes to ripen with high acid levels. Sicilian wines often have ample fruit, but terroir is ever-present.
Given the island’s central location, a plethora of grapes made their way there and found hospitable surroundings. Nero d’Avola came from Calabria. Nerello mascalese is from Greece. Today, the Sicilians consider these varietals indigenous.
In the 1990s, Sicily went through a transformation when many native grapes were pulled out in favor of more trendy French ones. Happily, the Sicilians have since come to their senses and begun reversing that trend.
Local grapes have become the pride and joy of the island, and they make some of Italy’s most intriguing wines. The three chosen this week are among the best you can find and, given the quality, are relative values.
Firriato Ribeca, IGT Sicilia, 2008, 100 percent perricone: Made on the estate of Tenuta Pianoro Cuddia, Ribeca is one of Firriato’s flagship wines. Also known as pignatello, perricone is not a popular grape, but it has its supporters. Aged for 12 months in French barrique, this is modern-style wine, but one that still evinces terroir with high-toned red fruits leading the way. Suggested retail: $32.99
Occhipinti Nero D’Avola IGT, 2008, 100 percent nero d’Avola: Occhipinti is a natural wine producer located in the southeast of the island. Arianna Occhipinti primarily works with nero d’Avola and frappato, but she also makes some blends. Aged in Slovenian oak, this is a traditionally made wine with a modern twist. Moderately tannic with cedar, red fruits and a little spice, this is a seamless and delightful wine. Suggested retail: $32.99
Bonavita Faro, 2007, 60 percent nerello mascalese, 30 percent nerello capuccio, 10 percent nocera: Mount Etna might be Sicily’s best-known wine appellation, but its neighbor, Faro, is right behind. At a lower elevation — 800 feet as opposed to Etna’s 2,400 — its microclimate and soil composition are different. The nerellos are used to make the reds, but nocera, another important native son, is added for acidity, since the climate is warmer than it is at the top of the volcanic mountain. Full-bodied with red currants, blackberry fruit, tobacco, cayenne pepper and a dash of rusticity, this is an intricate gem. Suggested retail: $36.99
Pamela S. Busch is a 21-year veteran of the wine industry and the founder of Skrewkap, an online wine magazine.