Wednesday, November 16, 2016

SICILY; Lost & Found

Sun-baked, wind swept vineyards of Occhipinti, Vittoria DOCG
 Everything on this sunny, wind swept Mediterranean island seems to have seeds; the eggplant, the tomatoes, the prickly pear, and certainly the grapes.  The nucleus of life, the seeds of Sicily are a reflection of the native spirit and passion, a time capsule of its long history of cultural occupation that creates a wonderfully unique confluence.  Grillo and Catarratto, white grapes that are the basis for fortified Marsala DOC, as well as sea food-friendly table wines, combine here with reds Frappato and Nero D'Avola to create a uniquely native wine grape palate, distinctively Sicily.

Greeks may have introduced the vine here almost 3000 years ago, followed by the Phoenicians of the Fertile Crescent, and the cultivating, wine loving Romans.  Goth's, the Byzantine's, the Arabs and the Normans followed in rapid succession, creating a broad stroke of multi-cultural influences and instability. As the unity of Norman rule influenced language and religion, creating the Kingdom of Sicily in 1154, it eventually would fall under the influence of the Crown of Aragon in the late 15th century. Even as this period would usher wealth and influence for the strategic island, the 18th/19th centuries would again create instability, culminating in a constitution that initiated the end of feudalism and eventually a unification with the Kingdom of Italy in 1860. Neglectful governing would then give way to powerful networks of organized crime and radical left-wing peasant labor, the popular fascist rise of Mussolini, and eventually the Allies devastating Invasion of Sicily in 1943.  It would be then a miracle that any Sicilian identity would persevere, or even survive, for to be Sicilian was to be under the influence of others.
Amphora of Sicilian antiquity
In post-war reconstruction, sweeping land reforms of the 1950's gave new rise to the workers small farm cooperatives, and for its survival, Sicily became the undistinguished volume wine producer for all of Italy.  A national launch ushered in 1963, established an official system, regulating the wine industry, and creating important categorization and guidelines.  Over the following decades the Italian DOC(Controlled Designation of Origin) system was updated, creating top-tier DOCG and the regional typicity of the IGT categories in 1992.  Even as it was presented with its lone DOCG, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Sicily remained a source for mostly simple table wines, or Vino di Tavola produced from its unique native grapes. 

What perseveres is a love of this land, a dedication to the life it gives; from the broad, fertile soils of the Mt. Etna wash, to the clay & limestone jagged profile of the rugged south. In the most recent generations her wine producers have moved towards an increasingly sustainable landscape, to smaller vineyard yields that enhance indigenous grape characteristics. Experiments with IGT blends that include recognizable international varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon, are also becoming increasingly marketed.  And, global recognition for its diverse quality wines grows daily, from innovative and contemporary producers like Hugues de la Gatinais, Marco de Bartoli, and the dedicated enterprises of the Occhipinti family. Today, from their ancient and indigenous vines, Sicily is generating new and vibrant life from the seeds of its resilient past. And for the generations to come, a Sicily which was so often lost can once again be luminously found. Salute'!

Sicilian palmento in an 18th century farmhouse(restored)
"If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change."
The Leopard, Guiseppe di Lampedusa

Tasting Values:
  Stemmari Nero D'Avola, Sicilia DOC 2014
  Tenuta Rapitala 'Nahar' Nero D'Avola-Pinot Nero, Sicilia IGT 2013

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