Sicily also counts lighter red grapes among its indigenous varietals.
Light, friendly frappato is a low-tannin, high-acid grape that Wagner compares to gamay, the primary grape of Beaujolais. Nerello mascalese and nerello cappuccio are an “aromatically dynamic” pair often blended together to evoke decomposing earth, red leaves and black tea, Wagner said, comparing them to nebbiolo, the grape used in Barbaresco.
One of the last wines we drank in Sicily was a grand blend of almost all: Firriato Quater Rosso ($32, firriato.it), made in the Trapani province on the western coast, was a full-bodied combination of nero d’Avola, frappato, nerello cappuccio and perricone, another robust indigenous red grape. We were in sleepy Lipari, on a fruitless search for my great-great-grandfather’s house, and found ourselves in the airy, leafy terrace of Ristorante Filippino (filippino.it), where the supremely attentive servers brought to the table a choice of no fewer than four bottles of olive oil. I had the best pasta I’ve ever eaten: tubular noodles with mozzarella, tomato, eggplant and grated baked ricotta. The wine was a welcome exclamation point.
Though not as famous as the reds, Sicily has indigenous white wines, too often more tropical-tasting than their northern Italian peers because of the hotter climate. Inzolia, catarratto and grillo, grapes often used in the sweet Marsala wines that Sicily is famous for, also produce table whites, as does the popular grecanico.
In the Moorish town of Mazara del Vallo, where we were staying after a long day of sightseeing along the western coast, including a memorable stroll through the medieval walled town of Erice, perched high on a mountain with views of Tunisia, we enjoyed a bottle of Kheire ($52), a grillo from the nearby Gorghi Tondi winery. It was full, soft and citrusy, a fine complement to a typical regional dish of trout over couscous.
Another good white was the refreshing Baccante ($48), a grillo-chardonnay combo from the winery Abbazia Santa Anastasia (abbaziasantanastasia.it), a wine we drank at the Michelinstarred La Capinera (ristorantelacapinera.com) in the tourist resort town of Taormina — on the seafront terrace, of course.
Maybe everything tastes good amid the worn, soulful beauty of Sicily, with the deep blue of the Mediterranean on one side and rolling pastoral hills on the other. Sicily’s legacy of being invaded by pretty much everyone — Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Normans, Arabs, Bourbons — left layers of cultural complexity that enriched the food and drink as much as the architecture and people (dark hair, olive skin and light green or blue eyes is a typical Sicilian look).
It felt like home, my dad and I agreed as we debriefed on the plane ride home over some Italian red. Clink. “Salute.”
(All wine prices reflect what we paid for a bottle at the restaurants.)