Sunday, 6 February 2011

Wines of Sicily

My love affair with Sicilian wines started more than 35 years ago when Sicily was known for the quantity of wines it produced.  There was certainly little of quality from Sicily available in Manchester.  Settesoli "Rosso di Menfi" was the wine selected by my dear friend Alfiero Centamore as the house wine in the much loved and much missed Coco Restaurant in Fountain Street at the back of Lewis's Department Store.  This place set the standard for Italian restaurants in Manchester and the house wine was better than the average house wines of the time!

In recent years, however, there has been something of a quality revolution in Sicily.  "It took action-men such as Diego Planeta and Count Giuseppe Tasca d'Almerita to overcome a legacy of inertia to match first native, then international, grape varieties to the true potential of the land. Regaleali's innovative Giuseppe Tasca created Rosso del Conte with the native grape nero d'avola. Diego Planeta's vision helped turn the giant co-operative Settesoli into a thriving modern business. He also introduced premium French varieties "to show the world we could compete on the international stage and to stop local people saying 'my grillo [the Marsala grape] is the best in the world'". Independent Oct 2007

Diego Planeta,  President of Settesoli  and Sicilian pioneer, has been named among the Top 10 Most Influential Italians in the wine trade in the Jan 2010  issue of Decanter Magasine A panel of distinguished experts on Italy and its wines chose him amongst other notable Italians such as Angelo Gaja and Piero Antinori.  Decanter says: “Diego Planeta has helped put Sicily on the world’s quality wine map. His family wine company led the Sicilian wine revolution, showing how a region whose annual production of grapes was the highest in Europe could improve its wines, market them with style and reach global markets… but Diego Planeta has done more than just build his family winery. In 1973, he took over the running of Cantine Settesoli and transformed it into Europe’s largest coop, with an annual output of 20m bottles… he saw a place for Sicily and its products in a larger context, and has spent his working life encouraging others to see it, too.”

Palmento by Robert Camuto  If you love wine and or travel you will find it easy to  immerse yourself in Palmento by Robert Camuto.  I bought this book as an impulse purchase over the Christmas break from Amazon and oh what a find!  Camuto takes us on an unusual tour of Sicily through the seasons meeting along the way most of the significant wine producers.  Having tasted many Sicilian wines, Camuto has convinced me to go to Sicily as soon as I am able. 

Planeta and Tasca feature heavily in Camuto's book.  "A ten minute drive up some dark country roads brought us to the gates of the house where Diego Planeta, now divorced, lived alone.  This old Planeta house - which, like much else around Menfi, had been "in the family a long time" - sat at the end of  the dirt drive shrouded by densely packed eucalyptus and palm trees.  As Santi parked his truck, we were greeted by three large, white, energetic Maremma sheepdogs.  Diego stood in his doorway -".

Inspired by a deep passion for wine, an Italian heritage, and a desire for a land somewhat wilder than his home in southern France it's a great read and if you want a glass of wine to drink whilst your reading our wine list includes a disproportionate number of Sicilian wines, from the house wines, the red a Nerrello Mascalese and the white a Catarratto (both indigenous Sicilian grapes) to a Sauvignon Blanc anda Nero D'Avola all from the Cantine Settesoli.  We also stock the luxurious Planeta Extra Virgin Olive Oil made with the Nocellara del Belice and Biancolilla olives.

I finally got the opportunity to visit Sicily last October and the vineyards of Mandrarossa and Planeta,  More of that next time and of some of the wines in Robert Camuto's book.

Until the next time!

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