So sad to say goodbye to Sicily
As you all know, I’m a keen traveller and seeker of interesting experiences, especially where food and wine are concerned. This year my eye turned to Italy and on my many strolls through the streets of small towns in Sicily, Sicilian culture offered up some curious sights and contradictions. After roaming Capo d’Orlando, one such famous Sicilian town, I was shaking my head: there were exercise machines lining the main road and people of all ages riding their bicycles everywhere, yet so many still constantly smoking! Also puzzling to me were the many Sicilians drinking very basic wine, when even on supermarket shelves are the kind of wonderful Sicilian wines that La Vigna stocks in Australia, available at inexpensive local prices.
But Sicily, like the rest of Italy, is unambiguous about one thing at least: the importance of good food and wine in their lives. Food and wine is the number one priority in any Sicilian’s life and this is true from the ritual of buying fresh one-euro bread after siesta each day to extravagant events such as weddings. In fact, attending a wedding was one of the reasons I was in Sicily. Apart from witnessing the ultra-romantic traditional balcony serenade of the bride by the groom on the night before the wedding, food was the main spectacle. A massive 240 guests were treated to a pre-wedding buffet, 14 courses at the wedding reception and another buffet post-wedding. Although the wedding was impressive, the moment that represents Sicilian food and wine culture for me was stumbling upon an everyday ‘enoteca’ in Capo d’Orlando and feeling overwhelmed with the sheer choice, freshness, quality and price of Italian wine and produce. This was just an ordinary wine store/butcher, nothing special for Sicily but even in the bigger supermarkets you must put on gloves to select your fruit and vegetables! That’s not to say I didn’t have to endure my fair share of vinegary homemade wine, but it was offset by experiences such as picking gorgeous porcini mushrooms and cooking them fresh on the BBQ.
Finally, we turn to the wine. Sicily is undeniably one of the most exciting wine regions in the world at the moment. It’s a region high on most wine lover’s list to visit and so it was with me. Tuscany, Piedmont and Veneto dominate everyone’s attention (our upcoming Piedmont tasting sold out in 48 hours) but now Sicily has also attracted it’s fair share of buzz, through a combination of innovation, the discovery of exciting up-and-coming wine-makers and a belated recognition of the rich Sicilian wine and produce culture. There’s so much I could tell you about Sicilian wine but to give you somewhere to start exploring, some of the main grape varieties to look out for are:
Nero D’avola – Rich and spicy, often found blended with Shiraz or Merlot.
Nerello Mascalese – This has a perfumed and mineral edge, you will see it as a straight varietal and blended with Nerello Cappuccio in Etna Rosso Wines.
Zibibbo and Catarratto are popular varieties. Sicily also produces some good Chardonnays.
I’ll leave you with some final nostalgia about the produce of Sicily and another reason I was so sad to say goodbye. Every early afternoon in Summer would see most of us sipping on a divine granita of sugar and ice flavoured with coffee or fruit syrup, with a brioche or another Italian sweet such as sfinchi (fritters topped with ricotta cream) or cassatta on the side. If only I could take the time to do that back in Perth… if you can’t find me in the shop next Summer, perhaps that’s where I’ll be…