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Sicilian Sojourn In My Dreams

Kelly J. Hayes
WineInk

Perhaps the most difficult part of our current situation is that we have had our traveling wings clipped. We are grounded. The last time I set foot in a vineyard was on an impeccable winter’s day in January during a California road trip to visit with Victor Gallegos, winemaker at SeaSmoke in the Sta. Rita Hills. A memory that now resonates even brighter due to the context of our lives.

I have — like you, I assume — a major case of wanderlust.

So it was that a box arrived just as the lockdown began, featuring four bottles of Sicilian wines made by Tasca d’Almerita. Due to the circumstances, the box was set aside for a bit. But, after reading James McAuley’s wonderful story in the March issue of Town & Country magazine about his visit with Alberto and Francesca Tasca d’Almerita on “the eighth continent,” as some call Sicily, I was spurred to bust the box open and dive into the wines.

Little did I know the great pleasure these wines would bring and the virtual wine journey they would take me on. Over the next couple of weeks, I opened the four wines individually. Each took me on a trip in a glass to the mountains and the rocky shores of an island I have never been to, as I tasted grapes that were brand new to me. The wines, all of which were products of Tasca d’Almerita’s Tenuta Regaleali in the heart of the island (one of their five estates on Sicily), were as interesting as they were delicious and the fact that they all retailed in the $20 range made them even more palatable.

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Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean, sitting in between Italy and Africa on the 38th parallel. If one drew a line directly east from the Napa Valley it would cross through the city of Palermo, Sicily’s capital. In terms of tonnage, Sicily is the second largest wine region in Italy (behind Puglia, and yes, larger than Tuscany and Piedmont). However, until the mid 1990s it was known almost exclusively for the sweet, fortified Marsala wines produced there and bulk wine was the industry’s main commodity.

But in the past 30 years, Sicily has become a “hot” wine region, both literally and figuratively as wineries like Donnafugata, Planeta, Cusamano and yes, Tasca d’Almerita, reimagined Sicilian wines focusing on quality and often on the heritage grapes and terroir of the region. And what terroir it is, with a patchwork of elevations and soils ranging from clay to limestone to the volcanic residue of its most iconic feature, Mount Etna, that bake in the Mediterranean sun.

The Tasca d’Almerita wines I tried included two whites and two reds, all made from grapes indigenous to the island. Three of the four prominently featured the name of the grapes on the label, Grillo, Catarratto and Perricone.

The 2018 Regaleali Grillo-Cavallo delle Fate Sicilia DOC was made from 100% Grillo (pronounced Gree-lo), an ancient variety that has been the lead grape in Marsala wines. This wine was dry, concentrated, complex, clean and crisp, reflecting its fermentation and four months of aging in stainless steel tanks. It was a perfect summer sipper that could easily replace a pinot grigio at the table. And a 2018 Regaleali “Antisa” Catarratto Sicilia DOC was plush, filled with aromas of tropical fruits and lemon. Uniquely, this wine was sourced from high-mountain vineyards that sky to 3,000 feet in elevation. The grapes are also harvested late, even after some red grapes, which is unusual.

The first red wine was a 2017 Regaleali Perricone made from another ancient grape that I had never tasted before. It was a bigger wine than I had expected and it served as a satisfying companion to a sausage pasta dish with spicy red tomato sauce that a friend had made from a family recipe she discovered in southern Italy. Red and dark fruits accentuated a wine that was excitingly unique.

Finally, a 2016 Regaleali Lamùri Sicilia DOC Nero d’Avola was a little bit more familiar as I have had other iterations of the wine from other producers. Some say this full-bodied red wine is a bit like syrah. I agree, as there is a similar spice component. But there also is an earthiness to the wine that helped me imagine the Sicilian hills from which it came.

The Tasca d’Almerita family has committed the company to the creation of a lifestyle-oriented brand that is concentrated on both sustainability in the vineyards and the creation of a series of lodges and hotels on Sicily and the surrounding islands. Perhaps one day, when this is all over and my wings are returned, I shall visit the vineyards in the sea for real.

One can always dream.


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