By Cynthia Chaplin IWA
It was an early start as 3 members of the VIA Team flew from Verona to Catania, kicking off the VIA Gita Scolastica Taormina Gourmet and Mt Etna Edition for 2022! A little sleepy but raring to go, Elena Voloshina, Victoria Cece and I took off into the dawn skies full of excitement.
We were enchanted by the stunning drive to our Hotel Villa Diodoro, the sea sparkling in the sunshine on our right and Mt. Etna rising majestically on our left, with whispy plumes of smoke drifting from its peak, but it was straight down to business once we arrived. We met up with our excited and enthusiastic group of Italian Wine Ambassadors, many of whom had braved the challenges of an Italian air traffic control strike and fought their way through travel hell to get to Sicily. Mad dash to get to our first masterclass, 6 Grillos presented by Jeff Porter and Antonio Rallo of Donnafugata and President of the Sicilia DOC Consortium. There has been a Grillo explosion all over the island and these wines showed the depth and breadth the two biotypes of Grillo can produce. All showed great levels of fresh acidity, with Feudo Arancio 2021 from Ragusa giving great balance between fruit, minerality, and acidity, with notes of sage and sea salt, 5 months on lees, a lovely long finish – all wrapped up in a sustainable recycled bottle made with 100% Sicilian glass. Di Giovanna’s Vurria 2021 from Agrigento grown on limestone and volcanic soils and made using soft press was almost fumé in style, savoury, tropical, tangy and full of wet stone notes with an almost tannic grip. Feudo Disisa 2021 from Monreale on clay soils used lees to give an amazing texture with sophisticated citrus and saline notes that sat comfortably on the palate, sure to become even more interesting with a little ageing.
Everyone ran for pizza at the cooking masterclasses before our next tasting, this time Nero D’Avola, the most planted red grape in Sicily. Recent years have shown care and quality, with vineyards now down to 4 million ht from their heyday of 10 million in the 1970’s. Great ageing potential and rootstocks that are resistant to drought are making this grape shine. Styles went from light bodied wines made in steel with floral notes and zingy black raspberry fruit with good acidity all the way to wines from 2018 that saw maturation in oak. Of note were Principi di Butera “Amira” 2019 grown on clay and sand at 330 meters asl, giving a very pretty nose with black cherry, black tea, violets and lilac, ending with a savoury finish (one year in oak). Planeta “Santa Cecilia” 2018 from Noto at 35 meters asl, long maceration and one year in oak of various sizes presented with blood orange and blond tobacco leaf notes, velvety soft tannins and a seductive lingering soft fruit finish.
The most fascinating tasting of the day (in my opinion) was Orange Wines, Much More Than a Trend. Ten wines from all over Italy, in all shades of orange, gave a wonderfully complete snapshot of this wine making technique, using Zibibbo, Falanghina, Grillo and Vitovska grapes. Most consumers are looking for clean wines now, using a closed natural cycle, not extreme in nature. Various lengths of skin contact time, maceration, and differing winemaking vessels all contributed to the wines we found in our glasses. A standout was Barraco “Altomare” 2019 a Grillo from near the sea. The wine was a gorgeous sunset ripe peach colour with hints of rose gold. A long skin maceration with whole bunches for 1 year produced an elegant, restrained, delicious wine with savoury sapid “salmastre “ (or salt bush as Gill Gordon-Smith remarked) notes on top of fleshy orange, green almond and citrus oil, with the merest zip of cinnamon. Dry and fresh with good acidity, this one was a winner.
Last but not least, Riesling Without Frontiers took us through a whopping 13 wines, starting at 7:30pm. Can’t tell a lie, there was a lot of fidgeting in the room as the speaker from Cronache di Gusto rambled off in Italian recounting personal stories about the producers and losing his place from time to time in slides of maps showing wine regions all across Europe. Luckily, sitting with Corrine Keddie, MW student and Andrea Eby head of Italian Wine Scholar made this a much more interesting tasting than it otherwise might have been! The range of wines, from basic, screw cap, steel made styles, all the way to the sweetness of Kabinett, Spatlese and Beerenauslese examples was a great way to run through the world of Riesling and get a feel for this grape’s versatility. An interesting wine from Alice Hartmann in Luxembourg, with ripe citrus, grapefruit, benzine and a textural finish, as well as an earthy, mushroomy, tropical and sour citrus one one from Domaine Josmeyer in Alsace were unusual and fun to discuss and ponder. The final three sweeter versions also showed some interesting earthy notes, with saffron, dried autumn leaves, apples and blossom, all well balanced by retained acidity.
Dinner. Thank god. We all needed food and lots of it. A nighttime stroll down the road to Hotel Piero and we were treated to beautiful bites of modern Italian cuisine, cooked up by well known chefs at buffet stations scattered around the beautiful outdoor terrace. A great opportunity to mingle with speakers, producers, journalists and, of course, our own VIA IWAs! Top dishes for the night? An unbelievable risotto with sea urchin and toasted hazelnuts, and a divine dessert of sweet/savoury white chocolate and capers, almond biscuit and olive oil, dusted with dried tomato powder — a piece of art to end our incredible first day in Sicily.