As we wrap up our focus on Sicily, we have saved the best Sicilian wines for last. As we have seen, Sicilian wine is not so difficult to come by in the United States, but both for pure pleasure of drinking, and for sentimental reasons, these two wines are at the top of Joe’s and my list of favorite Sicilian reds.
2006 Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna DOC Rosso was a recommendation from The Wine House in West Los Angeles (just east of the 405 on Cotner north of Pico) for the rehearsal dinner of our 2008 wedding. We had quite a few bottles left over, but now we’re down to our last one, which I imagine we might open this June, at five years out (unless we can manage to leave it in the wine fridge until our tenth anniversay — the wine clearly has enough substance to make it that long). It was an excellent choice for a special dinner celebration with a diverse menu: not too expensive to serve 45 people (under $20), complex yet light, subtle and smooth, something like a Pinot Noir yet unmistakeably Italian. It paired well with everything from the shrimp appetizers to the lamb “lollipops” our family made for everyone that night (with a big table down the driveway of our house). The 2006 might be hard to find these days, but more recent vintages are available.
The wine is produced from vineyards on the slopes of Mount Etna, using indigenous Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Capuccio grapes. They are grown organically by a team that has worked hard to resurrect the Etna region as a top wine producer. The wine is a great value — not much more expensive than some of the wines we previewed from the mass market, but worth the search.
A more recent favorite is 2008 Passopisciaro, recommended by our neighborhood wine merchants in Los Angeles, Du Vin Wines. Passopisciaro is also from Mount Etna, blended with the same varietals as the Tenuta, but with a designation of IGT. (As we have discussed before, while the DOC and DOCG designations are meant to be guarantees of quality, some of the most interesting and creative producers don’t want to be limited by the requirements of qualifying for the strictly controlled DOC and DOCG designations, and so work within an IGT — Indicazione Geografica Tipica — to have more latitude to create just the wine they are after.)
The Passopisciaro has a higher alcohol content (15%, versus 14% for the Tenuta), and this does show a bit — over time it will undoubtedly mellow, and can be opened anytime for the next 8-10 years. But the acidity, substance, and long finish of this excellent wine justify the higher price (in the $35-dollar range). The silky texture coats the mouth with rich hints of orange peel, iron, minerals, and dark red fruit. It is a multi-layered experience.
It’s almost surprising that both these wines are made from the same varietals, because the Passopisciaro is a bigger, denser wine. But this is the magic of intentional, creative, thoughtful winemaking. Both are wonderful wines to drink, with very different characters, but tons of versatility, and unmistakably Italian.
Both these wines are examples of the best Sicily has to offer, and demonstrate how rich, complex, and rewarding Sicilian wines can be — and what a great value! While there is plenty of wine from Sicily available, much of it harks back to the not-so-distant past when imported wine from Italy — especially from the south — was more about quantity than quality. Producers like Passopisciaro are working to change all that, and we applaud not only their efforts but the outcomes, which we enjoy whenever we want a full-bodied, complex, rich, smooth accompaniment to big southern Italian — or any Italian — cuisine.