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SICILY is a Beauty that is Sun, Sand AND Vino!!

Few people know that Sicily has more vineyards than any other Italian region and it competes with ‘Apulia’ [Puglia] as the largest wine producer. Ironically Sicilians consume less than any other region so that most of the wine is ‘exported’ from the island with many grapes produced as raisins. 

The island is best known for that favourite of cooks and ‘pudding makers’ Marsala, which is generally a sweet fortified wine. Depending on its offered quality it can be aged less than than 12 months or even over 10 years. Most available are 2 or 3 years old and generally seen as a dark, rich wine yet with an attractive bitter caramel after taste. This is superb when mixed with the juices from a pan-fried steak! 

Amazingly this world famous wine was first promoted by an Englishman, the travelling trader John Woodhouse, who in 1773, discovered the local ‘fortified’ [added spirit] wine and realised that with a slightly higher alcohol and ageing in cask he could export the wine throughout the known world and in particular to the British. In 1796 he returned and built a large winery where he then opened up this unique wine to the world. 

AndrewOne of the first inhabited areas of Italy and named after the ancient Sicilians, agriculture and animal 

husbandry was introduced in the 3rd millennium B.C. The Phoenicians came next; who founded a number of commercial centres and started to tear down the forests for construction of settlements and boats. There followed periods of expansion and reduction as the island passed through many hands including Germany and France, but when the Spanish took over the level of quality cultivation reduced dramatically as they were, of course, protecting their own farmers. 

It wasn’t until after World War II that things took a real turn for the better when the Government instigated a long-term plan of improvement for all parts of the island. Since then things have looked up and the vineyards have flourished. Grape varieties such as Catarratto [white], Nero d’Avola & Frappato [red] along with a number of others are now grown very successfully. The island supports many styles of wine with hot dry days yet cool soft nights, ideal for grape growing. 

One of our favourites is u...Passimiento by Baglio Gibellina [www.bagliogibellina.it] made from a blend of Nero d’Avola & Frappato. With the former offering rich depth and dark fruits and the latter an elegance of aroma and soft tannins. At around £10 a bottle this offers superb value against many of its competitors. The extremely modern winery shows just how up to date they are with its bold, hard exterior indicating their determination to succeed. However added to this is the artwork in an open air ‘gallery for all’ which surely is testimony to their support for local life and success. 

To make u...Passimiento they use a method called appassimento or sometimes rasinate (to dry and shrivel), where a portion of the grapes that are perfectly ripe are set aside into special baskets to dry naturally, so that when finally pressed, the sugars and flavours are concentrated which gives a much enriched juice to add to the ‘regular pressings. 

We must not forgot of course that many of the superbly ripe grapes are made into raisins, where having fantastic sunshine has helped to grow the grapes and then aids the slow and gentle drying process, for the very best quality raisins and currants. 

So Sicily is an island of delightful diversity. There is enough history to throw a stick at, a complete panoply of wines to choose from, white and reds at under £7, reds at over £20 and even fortified that will aid your culinary skills or simply enjoy in a glass with your cheese or chocolate. 

Enjoy and drink responsibly –
ANDREW HILL [andrewh@georgehill.co.uk

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