Today’s episode features Labyrinth Row Wine Merchant’s renowned partner, Tornatore, which is produced on Sicily’s Mount Etna. Yes, that Mount Etna, among the world’s most active volcanoes. In reality, the Tornatore family began growing grapes in Etna in 1865, making them the most recognized wine-growing families there. To attempt Tornatore white wine, follow the link in the episode description to TheBarrelRoom.com, where you’ll discover Rosso, Red, and Bianco White wine.
On this episode of “White wine 101,” VinePair’s tastings director Keith Beavers dives into Sicily, a world of its own when it concerns white wine. It has been on a roller rollercoaster ride considering that antiquity and we are delighting in the outcomes of that trip. Tune in for more.
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Keith Beavers: My name is Keith Beavers and I’ve been doing these fun little quippy intros for 4 years now and I’m sort of lacking ideas. I’ll be alright, however if you people have any DM me, @VinePairKeith.
What’s going on, wine enthusiasts? From the VinePair Podcasting Network, this is “White wine 101.” My name is Keith Beavers. I take place to be the tastings director of VinePair. Hi.
Okay, we’re leaving the mainland, but we’re still in the south and we are heading to Sicily. Yes. Etna, Nero d’Avola, Grillo, Catarratto, Carricante. Let’s do this.
Okay, red wine lovers, we have to talk about Sicily because what’s really cool about this red wine area is that here on the American market, we have actually been celebrating a wine-specific area really from Sicily for a while now. I believe considering that 2005 it’s been getting increasingly more popular. It’s called Etna. And if you are an Italian wine drinker, or I do not understand where you are on your journey, but if you’re drinking Italian wine, you have actually probably had Etna Rosso, Etna Bianco. And those wines are so fantastic and they express themselves in a particular way that it really took advantage of the world palate and everybody fell in love. Which’s awesome since that is just scratching the surface area of Sicily.
So if you’re into Sicily and you have actually had the Etna Rosso or the Etna Bianco, get ready. There’s more to attempt. If you have not had Sicilian red wine yet, get ready, I will blow your mind. Now we talked about Campania in the last episode. We discussed how ancient it is, right? Well, Sicily and wine is maybe even more ancient than Campania. And it’s in fact believed that vines from Sicily made it to the mainland of Italy. And that’s how vines got to the mainland of Italy.
Even all the method approximately Etruria, which is now Tuscany, it’s quite far north from Campania. Because Campania and Sicily are sort of like neighbors, however with a bunch of water in between them. There is very ancient paperwork that vines were brought from Tauromenium, which is now Taormina, it’s a seaside town of Sicily, to the mainland of Italy. And I don’t know much about naval navigation or anything, however it type of make good sense that an island would be explored initially instead of a primary peninsula. I do not know, maybe because the islands are easy to get to. I do not understand. Am I making that up? I don’t know. Sounds right. Anyway, from the 5th to the 8th century B.C., the Greeks were all over here and they started sort of on the edge and the boundaries of the island, mostly on the east and southern coast of Sicily.
And after that by the 8th century, vineyards were flourishing in major towns like Agrigento. And from there wine began to spread out inland. But the thing about Sicily is that red wine wasn’t the main focus here in Sicily. Sicily was a production center for the ancient world, and I imply consisting of the mainland of what is now Italy. And there were, well, fruits like citrus fruits, olives, and red wine and grain. Grain was the big offer. Red wine was necessary, but not as much as grain. And as we move into and throughout the Middle Ages, this continued. Grain was a huge deal. Citrus fruits were a huge offer. Olives were a huge deal. Red wine was a big offer, however grain was the hero of everything. And as red wine moved, vines, red wines moved into the interior of the island. The Middle Ages saw an island of just small landholders that made white wine on an extremely little domestic scale and were often traded and consumed on the island.
So grain was the primary item. And as individuals made more and more red wine from grain, their wealth had them turn to white wine. And by the 14th century, there was a very big need for red wine in Sicily. So a great deal of land was purchased up or owned by the wealthy and the regional nobility who would trade personally with their pals on the mainland and other locations worldwide. And with the wealth and the upper class and the nobility and the desire for more money, this is a moment in Sicilian white wine history. And the reason that I’m coming all the way here to get here is because this is what starts the bulk wine market of Sicily. A reputation that, to this day, has stuck to the island and its wine. It’s not like that any longer, however this was a huge part of Sicilian history.
And to this day, 86 percent of Sicilian wine is bulk. But the thing is, this bulk thing needed to take place to get to where we are right now. It’s very interesting. And really the huge moment was between the ’60s and the ’80s. I know it’s a couple of years there, but in between that time bulk white wine was a huge part of Sicily. And what was happening here existed were international ranges in Sicily, but there are also all these native varieties in Sicily. And after the ’80s, a lot of areas on the planet that make red wine, and Europe particularly, the ’80s were a numeration. It was a moment where it was like, “Okay, we got ta stop doing what we were doing and we need to alter what we’re doing for the future and bring this into the modern period.” And Sicily’s way of doing so was mixing their worldwide varieties with their regional ranges.
But what they did was, and this is particularly over in the western part of Sicily, they would package their wines with a modern-day label. So there wasn’t any sort of the old complicated European red wine label that looked very classical, which is beautiful however a bit confusing to the American market. They were extremely, very bright. I remember when this was taking place, this literally was happening when I was buying white wine for my restaurant in the past. The Sicilian wines were pertaining to me and they had these gorgeous, intense, modern-day, full-of-color labels that said Red wine. There was no confusion at all. And this truly assisted Sicilian wine on the American market gain traction and likewise get outdoors interest. And at the time there was no DOC system in Sicily. So this is type of a big effort and an actually big win for them.
And what’s really neat is the interior of the island had all these old granaries, all these old facilities, to make heaps and lots of grain, that were now deserted. Those were then transitioned and transformed into wine-making facilities. So the white wine market kind of grew from the center out of Sicily. The bulk wine thing has actually constantly belonged to Sicily’s history. However whenever … I imply, the entire time bulk white wine was being made, there were always quality winemakers making wine in Sicily– it wasn’t all bulk white wine. And it is these wine makers that start to transition the Sicilian white wine culture into something that we see today, which is very, extremely cool and exciting. Although Sicily belongs to Italy, it’s a really specific location in that for a very long time there was Vino da Tavola since there was no DOC system, then they had the IGT thing come out.
So they had IGT, Sicilia IGT. However with whatever changing by 2012, it was obvious that they needed the DOC. So they transitioned the IGT Sicilia into DOC Sicilia. But the caper is, they altered absolutely nothing other than for the acronym. They didn’t limit the laws, they didn’t do anything like that. They’re similar to, now it’s a DOC. However here’s the complicated part– there constantly is, right? By law, a DOC can not be the exact same name as an IGT. So they could not have IGT Sicilia and DOC Sicilia. So what they did is they changed the IGT to a different name: IGT Terre Siciliane. I began with these two due to the fact that this is most of the wine you’re going to see on the American market.
Today, Sicily has 23 DOCs and only one DOCG, which we’ll get into, and a myriad of IGTs, or they call them IGPs now. However the thing to understand about Sicily, and I’ll discuss a number of the white wine areas, however what’s truly cool about Sicily is a great deal of the ranges that are grown in Sicily that are native to the island that were used for blending throughout the late ’90s and the early aughts, there was a great deal of work to bring these native mixing varieties into the light and produce them as single-variety white wines. And it’s been a major, major success. And this is what you’re visiting on the American market from Sicily, particularly with white wines with names like Grillo, Catarratto, and red grape names like Nero d’Avola and Frappato. But here’s where we get to the DOC that you people know.
The one that is so popular on the American market, it appears sometimes to be the only white wine from Sicily on the American market. Which is Etna. It’s a DOC on the eastern coast of the island that is an amphitheater-like wine region that goes up an active volcano, Etna. And in this location, they grow three varieties. For red, they grow a grape called Nerello Mascalese and another red grape called Nerello Cappuccio. And they grow a white wine grape called Carricante. And for Etna Rosso, it’s typically going to be Nerello Mascalese with some Nerello Cappuccio. But a great deal of the time, one hundred percent Nerello Mascalese. And Etna Bianco needs to be one hundred percent Carricante. I’m sure you can mix a little bit of white wine in there, however it’s a Carricante. Etna Rosso has exploded on our market. And I believe it’s due to the fact that these red wines are extremely … They advise you texturally of a Pinot Noir or maybe a Gamay. They have a lot of acidity, a gorgeous fruit to them, rather sophisticated even though they’re still rustic because they’re Italian. Oh, they actually struck, they’re really incredible.
And after that Carricante, Etna Bianco is a really expressive, rather age-worthy white wine that has some grip to it. It simply has its own sort of personality to it and it has gotten in appeal as well. And the important things is, Etna is a DOC. Typically, when a white wine area or an appellation ends up being incredibly popular, they eventually upgrade to a DOCG, however they do not seem to be doing it there. However Etna’s a very wild location, and I need to probably do a bit more, type of focus at some point on Etna due to the fact that there are winemakers planting vineyards as far up as they can on the volcanic mountain to see how far they can go up till wine vines don’t grow any longer. It’s that kind of insane. And obviously, it’s a volcano, volcanic soil, really helpful for white wine. And certainly, due to the fact that of history, there’s a lot of concentration on the eastern part of the island.
Faro is a DOC that is type of making it onto our market. This appellation concentrates on Nerello Mascalese and we have not seen a lot of the white wines. There’s about one or two wine makers beginning our market, but keep an eye out for Faro due to the fact that it’s going to be a thing. But I must discuss the only DOCG on the island, and that’s in the south eastern pointer of the island in a place called Vittoria. And here we have a really, extremely, really awesome, rejuvenating, insane great white wine called Cerasuolo di Vittoria. In Italy, “Cerasuolo” suggests “cherry-like.” It’s part of an aroma profile, and there are 2 ranges of red wine ranges in Vittoria. There is Frappato and there is Nero d’Avola. Keep a pin because Nero d’Avola. These wines are a mix of these 2 varieties and I actually can’t describe to you how … These wines are so distinct.
They’re intense, they’re stunning, they’re aromatic, nearly scented. Frappato is a really scented wine. They’re juicy, they’re bold, they’re all simply absolutely fantastic white wines that are extremely tough to discuss unless you have actually tried them and they’re all over our market and you have to go out and discover them because they’re awesome. It’s just really interesting that Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG is not as popular as the Etna DOC. Wild. But I think among the huge takeaways from Sicily for you as a wine enthusiast and someone who purchases red wine in the United States is the native grape Nero d’Avola.
“Nero” suggests “black,” Avola being a town, I guess a bit east of Vittoria and around a location called Noto. There’s a town called Noto around there on the coast. This range, when you look at DNA profiling, it’s basically just a huge old mix of a bunch of DNA around Sicily. And this grape, Nero d’Avola, is the range that specifies Sicily for us on the American market. When you go to a white wine shop and you go to the Italian section, if there’s a Sicilian section, if it’s a red white wine, you’re going to see Nero d’Avola, you’re going to see Cerasuolo di Vittoria, and you’re visiting a great deal of Nero d’Avola. This is Sicily’s daily white wine. I imply, it can be more than that, however it is the wine that, how do I say this? It’s the Sangiovese of main Italy. It’s that essential to the island. So the way to comprehend and the way to enjoy this on our market is to go to the Sicilian area, get Nero d’Avola, and get as much Nero d’Avola as you can get.
They’re extremely budget-friendly, in between 15 and 20 dollars a bottle. Then you begin taking pleasure in Nero d’Avola like, “Oh man, this is really good things.” Then opt for Cerasuolo di Vittoria, and there you’re going to have the DOCG, the only DOCG wine in Sicily, which is Nero d’Avola combined with Frappato. So now you understand that. Now from there, you wish to break away from the Nero d’Avola thing and start playing around with Etna Rosso. Now, just so you know, Etna Rosso, Etna Bianco, these are wines going to be a bit more pricey, however they’re truly awesome and absolutely worth the rate. This is going to give you a truly good understanding of Sicily and I understand the majority of these white wines are on the eastern coast, once you have those, you can explore whatever else. There’s an area all the method over on the west coast called Trapani, and there’s some really distinct, intriguing international-variety white wine still being made there, you’ll discover on the American market also.
Which is also part of Sicily’s identity. So what Sicily is for us is a location that was understood for bulk red wine. Meanwhile, constantly great winemakers while that’s happening, that pivot to quality in the 1980s is what we’re enjoying right now in Sicily. It’s a fun time to take pleasure in Sicilian white wine because of this. So I hope this offers you a nice roundness, a good general idea of Sicily. There’s a lot of other DOCs out there and if you see one on the American market, grab it and try it. And then once again, tag @VinePairKeith. I wish to see the white wines. I’ll speak with you guys next week.
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And now, for some totally amazing credits.”Wine 101″was produced, recorded, and edited by yours truly, Keith Beavers, at the VinePair headquarters in New York City. I wish to offer a huge ol’ shout-out to co-founders Adam Teeter and Josh Malin for creating VinePair. Big shout-out to Danielle Grinberg, the art director of VinePair, for creating the most remarkable logo design for this podcast. Likewise, Darbi Cicci for the theme song. Listen to this. And I wish to thank the entire VinePair personnel for helping me discover something brand-new every day. See you next week. Ed. note: This episode has actually been modified for length and clarity.
E & J. Gallo Winery is thrilled to sponsor this episode of VinePair’s”Wine 101.
“& Gallo always invites brand-new good friends to red wine with an amazing large range of favorites, varying from every day to luxury and champagnes. I suggest, Gallo also makes award-winning spirits, however this is a wine podcast. So whether you’re new to red wine or an aficionado, Gallo invites you to white wine. We eagerly anticipate serving you enjoyment in minutes that matter. Cheers. Check out thebarrelroom.com today to find your next favorite, where shipping is available.