Sicily En Primeur: A Glimpse at a Wine Destination Par Excellence – Filippo Magnani

A few weeks ago, one of Sicily’s highly anticipated wine events took place in the beautiful town of Taormina, one of Sicily’s main tourist destinations, on the slope of the tallest active volcano in Europe, Mount Etna or ‘A Muntagna’ as locals call it. Sicily En Primeur is an itinerant event created by the association Assovini Sicilia to introduce the wines of the most recent harvest and to highlight its member wineries as the “ambassadors and guardians of culture and territories.” Starting in 2004, this was the nineteenth edition of the event which was attended by over one hundred national and international accredited wine writers and included nine wine tours, eight hundred wines for tasting, sixty wineries and five masterclasses, hosted by Elizabeth Gabay, Master of Wine. Assovini Sicilia was founded in 1998 by Diego Planeta, Giacomo Rallo and Lucio Tasca d’Almerita. Their mission was to bring together a team of producers who shared a common goal: to raise awareness about the importance of Sicilian wine. Today the association strives to protect and strengthen its territorial identity by highlighting the cultural richness of the different terroirs as well as the stylistic interpretations of their winemakers.

The association presented its vision for Sicilian wine production, and its connection to tourism as a means to create unique wine experiences. The President of Assovini Sicilia,  Laurent de la Gatinais, described Sicily as “a wine destination of excellence, the Napa Valley of the Mediterranean, because of its variety and quality of wine, beautiful landscapes, and unique historical and archaeological heritage.”  The event also highlighted the fact that, in addition to wine tourism, the new generation of Sicilian winemakers is focusing on sustainability and the environment. Of the fifteen new producers, eleven of them are women. These dynamic young people have studied and worked outside Sicily to gain valuable skills in marketing, economics, and oenology. They share a passion for the history of their island and families, but also a strong desire to bring new ideas and innovation to Sicilian viticulture.

Layers of terroir, culture and history have created a truly unique territory

Sicily holds over 3,000 years of rich viticulture history. From the Greeks to the English, the island has been influenced by many civilizations but has managed to preserve a unique identity in its language, cuisine, and territory of wines without fully yielding to these outside influences. As a Mediterranean crossroads it has developed a rich culture that can be experienced through its architecture, cuisine, music, and art. Perhaps even more diverse, however, is its terroir and wine. In an hour you could be skiing on Mount Etna at 2,000 metres over lava and black volcanic soil, and then move to the shores of Catania to bask on the sandy beach. Other areas to the west and south are rich in limestone and clay. The island is the biggest in the Mediterranean and one of its most mountainous. This of course is reflected in the impressive variety of wine styles you can find here, from crisp, clean sparkling wines to full, deep reds and luscious fortified wines. Sicily has 1 DOCG (Cerasuolo di Vittoria), 23 DOC’s and 7 IGP’s.

The main grapes grown in Sicily are the white Grillo and black Nero d’Avola, together with the main grapes of Mt. Etna being: Nerello Mascalese and Carricante. Many local producers, including long-established families who planted international grapes like Cabernet, Chardonnay and Syrah 40 years ago, have now started to draw attention to lesser-known varieties like Nerello Cappuccio, Catarratto (named Lucido) Insolia, Zibibbo, Frappato and Perricone.

Made In Sicily: Wine tourism creates a cultural symbol of excellence

It is no surprise that the President of Assovini Sicilia compared Sicily to the Napa Valley. It is roughly at the same latitude, and for an island just slightly bigger than Massachusetts its total vine covered acreage is about 40% of that in California. In addition to the broad array of high-quality wines, it offers stunning scenery and a unique historical and architectural heritage. Some of the best-preserved antiquity sites are found across the island and are layered in with all the cultures that came after. One can visit Sicily’s largest Greek theatre in Taormina and in less than an hour be wine tasting on the slopes of Mt Etna, or visit Moorish influenced mosaics at a Normand cathedral in Palermo then spend the afternoon exploring the best Marsala wineries.  Few places offer such rich experiences with wineries so well equipped to receive visitors. Among the members of Assovini Sicilia, almost all of them have a dedicated facility for wine tourism with a cellar for tastings and over half of them offer integrated experiences from cooking classes to wellness and wine tours that interact with the landscape and culture. The most popular wine experiences offered are sunset tastings, dinners in the vineyard and a chance to join the grape harvest. One third of these wineries also have lodging facilities where wine enthusiasts can fully immerse themselves in the terroir and team culture of the winery.

During the Sicily en Primeur some fantastic wines were presented, all of which were from the Etna region, where viticulture is still manually done on its steep slopes. With an average altitude of 800 metres, wines from Etna are vertical, sharp, and crisp. It’s no coincidence that the largest producer of sparkling wine from Southern Italy is based here which is Firriato, with a total production of 200K bottles per year.

 

Old World Wines Gaining Share Across US On-Premise

CGA by NIQ’s latest On-Premise Measurement Research explores the share of total wine, with a focus on domestic white and red wine categories across the US, to highlight the opportunities for suppliers as old-world wines continue to gain share.

Using insights from the latest 52-week period of CGA’s OPM data to 12/31/2022, it is apparent that domestic wines account for the largest share of total wine across the US On-Premise (66.4%), but opportunities emerging for suppliers and operators to capture changing consumer preferences as they explore and consume old-world origin varietals.

At a total US level, domestic wines still hold the largest share of the market, however, old-world wines have continued to gain share. While domestic share has largely been maintained (-0.8pp), recent share changes demonstrate that US consumers are increasingly opting for old-world wines, specifically of regions including Italy (+0.5pp), New Zealand (+0.3pp) and France (+0.2pp).

Within red, domestic wine continues to hold a significant proportion (72.8%) of the share of red wine, up 0.8pp vs YA – continuing to increase its importance in comparison to all other major origins. Within the category, international origin wines tracked are losing share, including Italy (-0.1pp), Argentina (-0.4pp) and Spain (-0.1pp).

Whereas, white domestic wine has lost share (-1.6pp) and holds 61% of total share of white wine. Consumers are increasing looking to old world regions for white varietals in the US On-Premise. Most notably, from Italy (+0.9pp) has seen the largest increase in share gain, followed by New Zealand (+0.5pp) and France (+0.3pp).

Andrew Hummel, Client Solutions Director for North America, states: “Category and varietal insights are so important to help shape effective strategies for the On-Premise. Consumer preferences are changing, and being armed with the knowledge and insight to adapt offerings will enable success in 2023. While domestic wines still hold the largest share of the market across the US, increasing competition and innovation is gaining traction with consumers. OPM data tracking over time gives a comprehensive view of how the channel is evolving and helps identify opportunities for growth.”

Here is the research link: https://cgastrategy.com/unlock-the-potential-of-opm/

 

 

A new map of the Contrade dell’Etna has just been updated

The process has been long and meticulous.  The map clearly defines and identify the borders and the exact position of the Contradas within the Etna DOC production area. It was prepared by the Consorzio Tutela Vini Etna DOC with contribution by the Agriculture Department of the Department of Agriculture of the Sicilian Region.

The identification of the districts has been previously based on the interpretation of old cadastral maps with no updates to level curves, and continuous eruptive activity of Etna. The new map was created starting from recent topographic surveys which were then superimposed on cartographic layers constructed through multiple surveys with GIS (Geographic Information System) instruments.

“This is a demanding job that has finally come to an end and which represents only the first step in an even more complex project of studying the Etna area” comments Francesco Cambria, President of the Consorzio Tutela Vini Etna DOC. “Never had a study of this type been done.

The goal was to clarify the exact boundaries of the 133 Contrade dell’Etna within the production disciplinary and to identify the new ones that will be officially introduced in the coming months.

The incredible biodiversity that Etna preserves, in fact, is expressed not only within the different slopes of the volcano where our viticulture is present, but also in the many Contradas starting from the different stratifications of the lava flows and the exposure of the vineyards. . All factors that make each Contrada almost unique within the Etna area, capable of giving different nuances to its wines “.

The Production Disciplinary of the Etna Controlled Designation of Origin, the oldest present in Sicily born in 1968, recognizes from 2011 within its area, which extends over the territory of 20 municipalities, the presence of 133 districts, legally equivalent to Additional Geographical Units. In the long work of reconnaissance of the territory, the updating of the borders has led to the identification of 9 new districts, thanks to the collaboration of the producers belonging to the Consortium, which will be officially included in the next update of the production specification. The new Map of the Contrade also takes into consideration the latter, reaching the number of 142 Contradas, divided into the territory of 11 municipalities: 25 in Randazzo, 41 in Castiglione di Sicilia, 10 in Linguaglossa, 13 in Piedimonte Etneo, 8 in Milo, 4 in Santa Venerina, 20 in Zafferana Etnea, 9 in Trecastagni, 6 in Viagrande, 1 in Santa Maria di Licodia, 5 in Biancavilla.

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Duca di Salapurata Group [Toronto Tasting] by Sergii Daragan

There wouldn’t be a better beginning of the week than a wonderful wine and food pairing dinner with industry colleagues, and maestro winemaker Roberto Magnisi, at Eataly, Toronto.

Roberto Magnisi gave a presentation on the wines we tasted, which are currently not available in Canada.  Great pairings with fine Italian cuisine – we also travel around Sicily through his exciting stories and passion for  wine. We also had the chance to taste “Engine Gin” which blew my mind.

The Wine of the Night

The wine of the night was Duca Enrico Nero D’Avola 2018 – strong, round, well-balanced, with lots of character, and scents of wood.

The Pairing of the Night 

The pairing of the night was the stunning Marsala Vergine Riserva VR1609 2009 with lightly fried market fish, seafood, and vegetables. The unforgettable salty caramel chocolate nose of Marsala intense the flavor of lemon sprayed Fritto Misto di Mare by adding some sweetness to the oily and salty seafood and fish. This sweetness made all flavors more intense and they were popping on the tongue. Definitely worth trying.

The full list of wines tasted:

  1. Lavico Etna Bianco Carricante, 2021
  2. Sentiero Vento Vermentino, 2021
  3. Marsala Vergine Riserva VR 1609, 2009
  4. Lavico Etna Rosso Nerello Mascalese, 2020
  5. Duca Enrico Nero D’Avola, 2018
  6. Passo Delle Mule Nero D’Avola, 2020
  7. Florio Marsala Vergine Riserva VR0504, 2004
  8. Florio Marsala Semisecco Superiore Riserva SR2715, 2015

It was so great to meet everyone, thank you so much for such a great evening!   Sergii

@ducadisalaparuta @cantineflorio @eatalytoronto

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Discovering the Wine Secrets of Southeastern Sicily – Filippo Magnani

There are two things you can be sure of when taking a food and wine itinerary in Sicily: you will always learn something new, and you will always leave a piece of your heart there when you leave. From the 13th to the 15th of July a well-organized press tour by Assovini Sicilia, led a handful of international journalists in three intense days to discover the Southeastern part of Sicily.  First in the area around the village of Noto from the Baroque splendors, to the promised land of Nero d’Avola; and then in the territory of Vittoria, the area of the now unique Sicilian DOCG, with the homonymous Cerasuolo name. Many estates were visited, dozens of wines were tasted together with producers, and a combination of cuisine specialties of the island were interpreted by local cooks or starred chefs. A continuous temptation, and indeed, an inexhaustible discovery.

Sicily’s Southeast, the heart of the island in the center of the Mediterranean Sea
Sicily is in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea and the largest under vine area of Italy. An area that counts a multitude of appellations that are slowly becoming more and more famous thanks to the success of productions able to clearly express the combination of Sicilian microclimates. From the vineyards on the island of Pantelleria to the extreme fields on the slopes of Mount Etna, Sicily is an island of unparalleled beauty and diversity. Southeast Sicily certainly embodies the essence of Sicily and embraces some of the most important wine areas among the dense web of appellations of the island. Noto DOC was created in 1978 to protect the local historical passito of Moscato. Recently the regulation has been expanded to include red wines based on Nero d’Avola, which today covers up to 84% of the vineyards. The area has been under vines for thousands of years. It is a sun-kissed, warm territory but it benefits from the mitigating effect of the coastal proximity. From these hills the view of the island is open, the sea breeze envelops the atmosphere, and the lively green of the vineyards is matched with the dark soil. Surrounded by beautifully restored ocher-colored farms. The neat geometry of the vine rows is organized by dry stone walls, sometimes alternated with monumental plants of prickly pears, and finally some small, sparse patches of trees that almost seem to wonder what they are doing there…

The scenario around the wine district of Vittoria is different. The territories of production include the municipalities of Ragusa, Vittoria, Comiso, Acate, Chiaramonte Gulfi, Santa Croce Camerina, Niscemi, Gela, Caltagirone, Licodia Eubea, Riesi, Butera, Mazzarino and Mazzarrone (five in the Ragusa province, two in the Caltanissetta province and two in the Catania province). The area is delimited to the north by the Erei mountains and to the south by the Mediterranean Sea. The inland is occupied by the majestic Iblei mountains from which many waterways descend. The streams have dug through the land and shaped valleys on which the vineyards climb, and through the thermal breezes coming from the coast, which can deeply affect the climate, creating abnormal temperature excursions close to twenty degrees. On Vittoria’s hills, the soils are differentiated by Millennial stormwater runoff, producers are able to use this to produce red wines characterized by structure and sapidity versus tremendously drinkable wines of immediacy of fruit. To visit the vineyard estates, it is necessary to go down into these valleys completely submerged by cultivations.

The possibilities are endless. The variability of climatic conditions with the multiplicity and succession of the soil (clay, sandy-loamy, limestone soils) allow producers to interpret their personal and intimate Sicily in their bottles of wines. The finesse of the Cerasuolo by Vittoria Docg is expressed in blends composed of the only two native vines allowed by the disciplinary: Nero d’Avola and Frappato, in 50 to 70% and 30 to 50% respectively. The two contrasting varieties prove to be extremely complementary. The fragrance of Frappato goes perfectly with the more meditative aspect of Nero d’Avola, creating unique wines. These styles of wines are neither light nor heavy, they go beyond any concept of the seasonality of wines. The depth and structure of Nero d’Avola are lightened and harmonized by the fresher aromas and elegance of the fantastic Frappato. Wine must speak for the territory as much as it can give a little hint of the soul of its inhabitants. Vittoria’s wines are bright and exuberant, just like the people there.

Land of tales with a wide array of beautiful wine estates to visit
South-East Sicily is one of the most coveted wine destinations for wine lovers and wine connoisseurs. Wine tourism has become a key factor for territorial promotion. There is an increasing number of tourists who visit these lands just to discover the wine traditions. While visitors discover the mosaic of small and large wineries hidden in every corner of those lands, the protagonists of the Sicilian wine scene have understood the infinite potential of their land and they are moving towards the future, offering more impeccable travel proposals, starting from unique experiences in the cellar, through food delicatesse, to beautiful retreats. The “blend” of ancient traditions and modern cultivation practices with market strategies and investments for hospitality and tourism has made Sicily one of the most interesting wine destinations in Italy. The pulsating center of the area is Syracuse. The City of Syracuse combines works of the Greco-Roman era, spectacular squares, artisan boutiques, and of course the breathtaking shores and a crystal-clear sea. To the Southwest lies Val di Noto. The rolling hills or the valley frame a few beautiful late-baroque towns such as Noto, Ragusa, Modica and Scicli. Perfect places to enjoy gastronomic delights in small Osterie, Taverns, or Michelin-starred restaurants, surrounded by works of art and monuments that exude the history of man. The rest of the land is wild with luscious green vineyards, rocky ravines and prehistoric tombs, a thread woven between nature and man that run from the hills to an uncontaminated rugged coastline. A wide array of properties with great wine production and hospitality proposals for wine enthusiasts and wine professionals. Here are the wineries we visited during the magnificent tour.

Assovini
Assovini was founded in 1998 and it is the organization that most supported and carried out the territorial development project in the last 25 years for wine production and wine tourism. Today, along with 90 producers and nearly 900 labels produced, they are aiming to bring the fantastic value of Sicilian wines worldwide. In this direction Assovini in 2004 created the event Sicilia en premieur: A yearly itinerant event where the producers and the members of Assovini, lead a selected international press through tastings, tours, masterclasses, and conventions.

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