Thursday, August 4, 2016

Savory Sicilian Pairings

By Liza B. Zimmerman

Sicily has long felt like my Italian home away from home. Everything tastes better and seems fresher in this island that is actually geographically closer to North Africa than mainland Italy.

Intense climatic conditions have set this ancient land up to beautifully produce wines of all types: from big, fruit-juicy reds to saline and well-balanced whites. After years of experimentation and research local producers are also coming to better conclusions about what grows well in each microclimate with some stunning results.

Diving into the Island Delights
Some of Sicily’s best grape varietals are ancient and indigenous ones. There is also quite a lot of overlap between a handful of great red grapes producing a range of solid reds as white. The hot and sometimes humid climate here can send locals on the hunt of a refreshing wine.

Nerello Mascalese, as well as Frappato, has long been one of my favorite grapes. These two are cool-climate stunners with balanced acidity and gracious fruit flavors. So it is so surprise that the Di Giovanna "Gerbino" Rosato di Nerello Mascalese 2014 is light, bright and floral and full of intense fruit flavors.

“Nerello Mascalese offers a distinct pop of fruit and minerality without the weight of a denser red wine,” says Ryan Manna, the wine director at Osteria Morini in New York City who has worked with many Sicilian wines. These synergies with Nerello Mascalese allow the wine and food to support each other he notes.

He adds that he also finds that, “There's a certain freshness I relate to Sicilian wines.” As a result he likes to “pair them with foods that have a similar freshness and delicate complexity.” One of his suggestions would be, “grilled oysters with sparkling Grillo,” which he notes is hard to find, yet easy to remember. He adds that the lighter Nerello Mascalese blends also work well with raw meat dishes.

The Charm of Nero d’Avola
Some of the island’s greatest reds are made from Nero d’Avola. It is a grape that has zigged and zagged in terms of wine prototypes seen on the U.S. market. I would like to think over the last decade, and particularly the past five years, that it is finding its way home.

Cantine Colosi makes a classic style of Nero d’Avol in the Eolian island archipelago, long from this grape’s general home-turf of Noto in Southeast Sicily. This wine is intense and full of big black berries, almond and chocolate covered cherry with soft tannins.

Given the island’s abundant coastlines, "I'd say that they fit right in with the food of other coastal countries; especially France and Spain and the United States. There is such a wide variety in these wines from very sweet to very dry. Sicily is at a geographic and historical crossroad, having been influenced by Europe, Asia and Africa for centuries,” adds Manna.

Passito di Panetelleria is one of the island’s great and meditative—read thought-provoking—of the Italians-dessert wines. The island has an intensely hot climate that reminds visitors more of North Africa than elsewhere on the Italian Peninsula.

Pellegrino’s Passito di Pantelleria 2010 is a great example with notes on apricot, fig and candied citrus on the nose. It is a great way to wrap up a meal on its own but at Morini; Manna also likes to pair it with a bread pudding.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza B. Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

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