Piazza del Duomo, Siracusa, Sicily. You can't tell from our photo, but this piazza is one of the most beautiful and dynamic public spaces we've ever seen. The Duomo itself is a fascinating mash-up of a baroque church built on and into a 5th century BC Greek temple.

Sicily!

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Our love for Sicily and Sicilian wine becomes pretty clear when you consider that a smallish store like ours has more Sicilian wine than Tuscan wine. We’re thrilled with Eric Asimov’s article about Sicily, although we think that there are a number of excellent and important wines missing from the article; we're pleased to report that new and exciting Sicilian talents are reaching our market with increasing frequency. Here we add a few to the Times’ list that you should also know about. Whatever you choose the wines offer very good price:quality rapport, fine expression of terroir, and great energy. Like Sicilian food, the wines are also very versatile, and will suit a wide range of meals and palates.

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Occhipinti 2012 IGT Sicilia SP 68 Rosso

Arianna Occhipinti’s wines have taken the wine world by the storm.  I think that most people had written off Sicily as a bastion of commercial, over-cropped wines, but when they tasted Arianna’s soulful and balanced examples of Nero d’Avola and Frappato they were forced to take notice and reassess what Sicilian wine can be.  This is a cuvée made up of young vines and new plantings, and represents a value in her lineup.   The wine is light and fresh with flavors of tart cherry and herb.  Serve chilled!  JR

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Occhipinti 2012 IGT Sicilia SP 68 Bianco

This is a blend of Muscat and Albanella named after the auto route that passes the Occhipinti family home.  The wine is fermented dry, but the Muscat’s floral character is still very much present and really adds an aromatic lift.  Someone once described the nose as resembling “tomato stems,” and I absolutely love that.  If you are interested in trying a unique take on white wine from Sicily(or really from anywhere), I recommend this quite highly.  JR

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Occhipinti 2011 IGT Sicilia Frappato

This is Arianna’s cult wine, and it’s not hard to see why.  Arianna’s Frappato is the kind of wine that just disappears when you open it, meaning it's incredibly drinkable.  In fact, make that gulp-able.  The secret is definitely out, and we don’t get nearly as much as used to.  It’s also worth noting that the price has gone up, but there still isn’t another wine quite like it.  Frappato from Arianna is like crushed fresh red fruit exploding with freshness.  Serve chilled and be prepared for the bottle to disappear a lot sooner than you’d expect.  JR 

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Occhipinti 2010 IGT Sicilia Siccagno

In all of the well-deserved excitement about Arianna’s delicious Frappato, it’s easy to lose sight of her Nero d’Avola.  This is a shame because I can’t think of another Nero d’Avola that is so poised and so pretty.   The wine has tannic structure, and could stand up nicely to grilled meats or a couple of years in the cellar.  I find the flavors to have a darker berry profile with quite a bit of crushed pepper.   JR

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Tami 2011 IGT Sicilia Frappato

Wine made by Occhipinti that you can drink every day!   In order to have more wine to sell Arianna started Tami as a négociant project in order to have more wine to sell, and to take advantage of some of the great fruit grown in Vittoria that has been devalued by the over-saturated local Sicilian market.  The wine has classic Frappato flavors: bright, cherry-like tones, very little tannin, and a refreshingly bright finish.  JR

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COS 2010 IGT Sicilia Pithos

Here we have Cerasuolo di Vittoria, a blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato, that has been fermented in buried clay amphora.  The result is a fresh wine with spicy cranberry character and shows best with a slight chill.  One could certainly point to Cos as the first of the Sicily’s new class of high quality organic estates.  Although the wines may have been a bit oaky or heavy some years ago, the amphora wines show off the new, more elegant style. Pithos is perhaps the best example of the new direction at Cos. JR

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COS 2011 Sicilia IGT Frappato

Frappato is Italy’s answer to Cru Beaujolais.  There may not be a more refreshing red for drinking with lighter dishes or even fish.  Cos’s organic vineyards produce one of the island’s finest versions that oozes with sappy blood orange fruit and floral notes.  This is always the first bottle I look for when I want to show someone how fresh Sicilian wine can be.  JR

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Marabino 2010 Noto Nero d'Avola

The winner of a recent blind tasting of several Nero d'Avolas in the same price range, this is now our all-around favorite. The wine shows a nice balance between richness and staying lively and not too heavy or high in alcohol. It's surprisingly versatile at the table, and will even drink well with fish, especially salmon or swordfish.

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Romeo del Castello 2009 Etna Rosso Allegracore

We were thrilled with this wine when we tasted it last May (and again last week); it is a very pretty and pure expression of Etna, very bright, aromatic with cherry, earth and lava, herbs and flowers. Our friend Robert tasted and said “Fresh Etna!” and it really is – an elegant and feminine Nerello, and at a great price for quality.

The slightly tart aspect of good Nerello will work well on Thanksgiving, even with cranberry.

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Romeo del Castello 2008 Etna Rosso Vigo

 

Vigo gets about 18 days of maceration in used wood, part barrique, and part larger tonneau. The wine is quite structured and serious, very mineral, with deep cherry fruit and a lot of stone, quite rich but also elegant. It was great to taste this here a couple of weeks ago: what was a brooding and reticent wine has really blossomed and is drinking beautifully. Aromatic, rich but racy and lively, with lovely dark fruit and terrific Etna minerality; Romeo del Castello is a great addition to the top ranks of Etna producers, and a must-try for Nerello afficianados.

 

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Calabretta 2003 Etna Rosso

The Calabretta wines are truly a labor of love.  Reds and whites are both held back until the winemaker feels that they are ready to drink, making them both a fantastic value, and (in the case of the red) a unique opportunity to try a mature Etna Rosso.  When we visited we saw vessels of wood, steel, plastic, and cement dedicated to the task of holding the almost dozen vintages of wine sleeping, waiting to be ready for release.  The winemaking at Calabretta certainly takes a lesson from ultra-traditional producers in Piedmont, and the wine certainly has a profile quite similar to Nebbiolo with rose and tar qualities over subtle red fruit.  JR

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Calabretta 2010 Etna Bianco

Mostly comprising Etna’s signature white grape Carricante, Calabretta’s white wine is full of delicious Sicilian character.  The wine has smoky tones and lots of delicious citrus fruit.  Perhaps the most impressive thing is that a wine from so close to Africa has such fantastic acidity.  I guess that’s the power of Etna’s elevation!  JR

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Vino di Anna 2010 Vino da Tavola Etna Rosso

Like Frank Cornelissen, Anna Martens (and her husband Eric Narioo) are newcomers on Etna (and in Italy, for that matter) but they’ve all certainly settled in very nicely! The project is just a few years old, but uses very old organically farmed albarello vines. The wine is a field blend—mostly Nerello Mascalese, with some other local grapes. Whole clusters are fermented in open vats; no filtering, fining, or SO2 used. The result is lovely – a fairly delicate and gentle expression of Etna (at least in comparison to some of the bombastic and extracted wines that one tastes there). But there’s plenty of Etna minerality and earthiness, along with lively cherry and strawberry fruit and spices. Delicious wine. Just arrived for the first time in New York, we also have to compliment Anna and her importer for the sensible and fair price.

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Cornelissen, Frank 2011 Etna "M" 10th Anniv. Munjebel Rosso No. 7

This bottling celebrates Frank’s 10th Anniversary on Etna; it’s Magma – or rather it’s from the vines that produce grapes for Magma, but ‘declassified’ to “M”. This is a wine rich with contrasts, which speaks both of Mount Etna's floral pastures and stretches of black volcanic earth. In M (or Magma), it means soaring aromatics of dark berry and plum fruit coupled with amazing density in texture.  If it wasn't for the wine's vibrant mountain acidity, one could become overwhelmed by the wine’s sheer mass, but it manages to walk a line between elegant and unbridled. Magma is a selection from Frank's oldest vines, and usually isn't harvested until well into November long after the other winemakers in Etna have brought in all of their fruit.  It is only after this very long ripening cycle that Nerello Mascalese shows its breed and complexity.    Frank named this bottling "Magma" because he considers it liquid earth; we couldn't agree more.

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Cornelissen, Frank 2012 Etna Rosato Susucaru 5

From Belgian anomaly winemaker, Frank Cornelissen, comes this fascinating coral pink wine. (It's truly an amazing color.) Based on a blend of Malvasia de Lazio, Cataratto, and Nerello Mascalese, this wine has exuberant floral and herbal aromatics reminiscent of amaro, celery seed, and tarragon. We suspect this floral character is informed by the Malvasia in the blend. There's also a core of sweet cherry fruit present on the nose and the palate. Cornelissen does not add any sulfur to his wines, which means that they are very pure expressions of the high elevation Etna soil he farms. Robust in alcohol and body but with plenty of balancing acidity, this wine is almost explosive and a must-try for natural wine lovers. -msb

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Bonavita 2012 Terre Siciliane Rosato

Giovanni Scarfone tends to his family’s vines overlooking the strait of Messina -between Sicily and Calabria- the historic home of Faro, a blend of Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, and the local star Nocera.  Faro is usually a fairly powerful wine that can reward a bit of cellaring, but for something fresh to drink with lighter foods Giovanni makes a tiny amount of Rosato every year.  The grapes enjoy up to thirty hours of maceration; the result is an intense wine with dark crimson color and deep strawberry fruit that speaks to Sicily’s Mediterranean coastal climates.  Last summer I found that the wine was fantastic with anything from simple pastas to robust barbeque.  Don’t hesitate, as these always go fast!  JR

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