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A Complete Guide To Sicilian Wine

Traveling and writing about wine exploration are passions that often go hand in hand. Every opportunity to delve into the diverse wine regions of the world and delve into the nuances of wine production on a global scale is an exciting prospect. As someone who mainly focuses on Napa Valley, the multitude of grape varieties found worldwide never fails to amaze me.

During a recent trip to Verdura Resort in Sicily, which is part of the Rocco Forte Hotel group, I had the pleasure of meeting Nando Papa. As the head sommelier at the resort, overseeing the various dining establishments, including Zagara, named after the fragrant orange blossoms that adorn the beachfront estate, Papa treated me to an exclusive ‘Sicilian Wine 101’ session in the resort’s wine cellar, where he shared his insights and personal favorites.

Originally from Caserta, Italy, Papa embarked on his wine journey in Monte Carlo. His dedication to wine led him to being a runner-up in a prestigious wine industry competition in 2000 and earned him the title of ‘Chevalier’ of the Ordre des Coteaux De Champagne in 2018. Papa has honed his craft in Michelin-starred restaurants along the Amalfi Coast and at Villa D’Este in Lake Como. Additionally, he spent nearly a year training under Bo Barrett at Napa’s renowned Chateau Montelena. Today, he is a highly respected sommelier at Verdura, curating exclusive wine collections for discerning clientele.

Sicily reigns as Italy’s largest wine region, spanning over 10,000 square miles, surpassing even Tuscany. With 23 DOCs and 1 DOCG, Sicily is renowned for its three pivotal red grape varieties: Nero d’Avola, Frappato, and Nerello Mascalese. On the white wine front, popular choices include Catarratto, Grillo, Inzolia, and Carricante. Mount Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano, imparts volcanic soil rich in essential minerals like iron, copper, magnesium, and phosphorus to grapes planted on its slopes. According to Papa, the Mt. Etna region stands as Sicily’s most significant and impressive wine-producing area.

A multitude of winemakers have established vineyards on the steep slopes of Mount Etna, resulting in zesty whites and bold reds. The meticulous hand-harvesting process is crucial to preserve grape quality. Papa’s personal top pick is Federico Graziani’s Profumo Di Vulcano, crafted from a small vineyard on Etna’s northern slope in the Contrada Feudo di Mezzo district of Passopisciaro. This wine boasts a ruby hue and a complex aroma featuring raspberries, wild blueberries, citrus notes, Mediterranean herbs, oranges, tangerines, marjoram, and myrtle, along with spicy hints of sandalwood and pipe tobacco.

During my visit, I had the opportunity to savor Calcagno’s Etna Carricante Primazappa Etna Bianco Superiore. This wine delivers freshness, elegance, and a harmonious balance, having spent 50% of its aging period in barriques, resulting in a refined aroma and a lingering, savory taste accentuated by mineral undertones, complemented by hints of hydrocarbon and a touch of toasting.

Exploring new wine regions enriches my travels, and I am eager to seek out Etna-derived wines in local wine stores following my introduction to Sicily’s distinctive offerings. Regardless of where you are, a fine wine possesses the ability to transport you to another place, and I eagerly anticipate revisiting Sicily, if only through the flavors on my palate.

Image Source: Francesco83 / Shutterstock

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