Sicily – White Wines

Although nothing was more eye-opening that discovering the sheer elegance and depth of Etna nerello mascalese, the Sicilian whites I’ve tasted recently were just as impressive. When I’m serving these at the restaurant to clients who initially mentioned looking for burgundy chardonnay or sauvignon blanc, I feel a sense of gratification that fresh and delicate white wines can be made on the hot island that anyone can appreciate.

White Wines

Catarratto

This is the wost widely planted grape in Sicily. It had a bum rap not that long ago for making wines high in alcohol, quite rich on the palate and having an overkill of tropical fruit on the nose. It’s true that a lot of mediocre (see cheap) wine is still being made with catarratto, but that isn’t what interests us here. The best example of catarratto I’ve had is more lean than fat on the tongue. Its aromas are less about fruit and more focused on honey and almonds (very Sicilan aromas they are too!). Francesco Guccione and his chalky clay soils give a grape that is structured in its richness. Whereas the cataratto that Nino Barraco makes is more on the salty side, straight line and elegant and this despite (or because of) a skin maceration that gives the wine a bold golden color.

At the SAQ, I’ve unfortunately not yet come across an example of catarratto that comes close to touching these examples, which are private imports represented by Vini-Vins and Vin Vrai respectively.

Grillo

Sicilians enjoy their fish and seafood and Grillo is the grape that is perfect for indulging in swordfish on the grill or mussels in white wine sauce.

It’s sort of like the Sicilian version of Portugal’s Vinho Verde. Its got a crackling acidity on the tongue, clean finish with a lime and herb-like finish. Its not an overly complicated wine, though more complex example do exist that show a wider variety of aromas and textures while not trying to overthink the nature of the grape. These would the superb Zagra cuvee of Valle dell’Acate, which has a mint finale and a shell fish minerality buttressed with some floral aromas.

Though the Zagra is a private import, the SAQ does offer an amazing Grillo by Marsala expert De Bartoli (his cuvee is called Vignaverde!) and as far as quality-price goes it’s the bomb!

Fiano, Ansonica and Inzolia

Okay let’s begin with the last two, which are really one grape which goes by two names: ansonica or inzolia.

It doesn’t matter what you call it: there’s a lack of intrigue and “wow” factor here. Not all grapes make great wine or interesting wine, in fact some grapes are destined for mundane everyday wine. Life is like that: we can’t all be destined for greatness. Always a little nutty with a hint of stone fruit, a hint of honey and a supple body, these wines are not meant fussed over or intellectualized and that can be a good thing. But if top40 radio isn’t your thing, these wines won’t take you elsewhere the way others do, IF you take your wine seriously that is. For me, life is too short to indulge in the generic and though there’s nothing wrong with having one of the wines at your table for a meal, the meal is the important and the wine should play second fiddle. If you come to my house and start to talk about ansonica’s merits, in a sense you’re telling me how much you enjoy consolation prizes.

Okie that’s out of my system. Fiano, now there’s a good grape!  Although it isn’t native to Sicily (it’s from Campania) this grape has way more to offer. The house Planeta has a cuvee called Cometa which very good. You will get your nuts and honey on the nose, with depth and texture and acidity which will allow to age and gain in complexity.

Good picks at the SAQ

Marco De Bartoli Vignaverde

Mineral and exotic Grillo. Imported by Oenopole.

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Planeta Etna Bianco

Single varietal Carricante on volcanic soil. Imported by Balthazard.

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Planeta Cometa

Who would have thought: Fiano this complexe in Sicily?! Imported by Balthazard.

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