In the Spotlight: Sicilian Wines from Maggiovini
All images by Amy Miller, photographed at Ristorante Rafele, New York City. Sicilian wines have generated quite a buzz in the last few years. Although they've been making wine on this Mediterranean island for centuries, in more recent memory it's been the source for vast quantities of simple wine used for blending in the north. In the last couple of decades, however, a not-so-quiet Renaissance has been taking place, with small producers making quality wines using indigenous grapes. Some of the most exciting wines have been coming from vineyards surrounding Mt. Etna using Nerello Mascalese and Caricante, as well as in the southeast near the town of Vittoria, home to Cerasuola di Vittoria, Sicily's only wine to achieve DOCG status, the highest quality designation in Italy.
COS, Arianna Occhipinti and Planeta are just a few Sicilian producers to have grabbed the winerati's attention, but others are thankfully making their way to the U.S. I recently had a chance to taste through the wines from Maggiovini, which is based just outside Vittoria. The winery was founded more than 50 years ago and is currently managed by Massimo Maggio and his sister, Barbara. Their 50 hectares of vineyards are grown alongside citrus and almond trees, tomatoes, basil, mint, pomegranates, and figs, all of which is farmed organically. With Sicily's abundant sunshine and coastal breezes to keep disease and pests at bay, most growers are able to eschew pesticides and sprays. Nearly 80% of the Sicily's vineyards are organic. Maggio grows international varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, as well as some of Sicily's indigenous grapes--Catarratto, Nero d'Avola and Frappato. The wines were all excitingly vibrant and over-delivered, especially given the price points. Considering the hot climate, the wines could easily be made in an overly fruity, high-alcohol style, but Maggio shows a deft hand in keeping the balance just right. Coming from a food-centric culture, they paired beautifully with traditional Italian dishes.
Pinot Grigio, $15
Mass production has given this grape variety a bad rap, but when grown at lower yields and made with care, Pinot Grigio can produce a wine of surprising interest. Maggiovini's Pinot Grigio is a fairly aromatic expression with a fuller body and more complexity than most of its northern cousins. It was made to pair with Sicily's strong-flavored fish and hence there is a certain heft and presence in the glass. A lovely, bright acidity keeps things lively, with flavors of lemon pith, apple and apple skins that linger on the palate.
One of Sicily's leading white grapes, Catarratto was long used as a blending grape in Marsala and for low-quality wines. In the right hands, however, it can be made into something more enticing. Here the grapes undergo cold maceration for 24 hours before pressing, giving the wines more structure and a hint of tannins. It's a leaner wine than the Pinot Grigio, with laser-like acidity that pair perfectly with fried calamari.
Cerasuolo di Vittoria, $22
Cerasuolo is Sicily's only wine to earn DOCG status and must contain at least 50% Nero d'Avola and 30% Frappato. Maggiovini's version is equal parts of each, with Nero d'Avola's firm tannins and acidity providing the framework for Frappato's fragrant red fruit. The wine doesn't spend any time in oak, allowing each grape variety its full expression. It's a thrilling wine, with the characteristic deep cherry color, and flavors of dark red fruit and spice. It's perfect for pairing with the region's bold flavors, but utterly delicious on its own.
Pinot Nero, $14.
One might assume that Sicily is much too hot and sunny for Pinot Noir to show any finesse, but Maggiovini seems to have handled the grape's temperament just fine. There's no mistaking this for a cool-climate Pinot; rather, the island's sunshine is abundantly clear in this powerful, concentrated wine, which shows lovely dark raspberries, cherries and an earthiness with firm but well-integrated tannins.
Nero d'Avola, $22
This is the star variety of the region, known for producing full-bodied, firmly structured wines. While some producers age their Nero d'Avolas in oak, Maggiovini does not, letting the notes of dark cherry, plum and forest floor shine through.
Cabernet Sauvignon, $12
This is one of their few wines that spends time in oak, albeit only three months, so the impression is subtle and well integrated. It's a full-bodied, deeply concentrated wine redolent of red currents and blackberries. Pair it with grilled steak and arugula salad.