A Sicilian revolution
by: Vino Joe (e-mail)
For a long time, Sicily was a region that produced massive amounts of grape juice that was packaged in bulk and sold to wine “factories” throughout the world. These factories would in turn use the juice to produce a consistently flavored, otherwise
characterless wine to be sold to the public in big jugs, boxes or even vending machines. As the juice would be greatly manipulated for the end product, the quality did not need to be high; all that mattered was volume -- the juice was bought by the ton. As a result, Sicilian grape growers focused on planting as many grapevines as possible, and did all that was necessary to make each vine produce voluminous amounts of large, juicy grapes.
Now, large juicy grapes might sound great if you’re sitting on your back porch in the middle of a sunny summer afternoon, but they’re really not the goal when making fine wine. Rather, a fine wine grape grower wants to have very few vines planted, and he may prune the vine to keep too many grapes from growing. In addition, he ideally would like the grapes to be very small when fully mature. As you might guess, the larger the grape is, the higher its water content. Until Jesus returns, no one will be making wine from water; mere mortals make wine from natural fruit sugars. The finest wines are made from very small grapes -- the winemakers call them “berries” -- and the smaller a ripe grape is, the more intense the flavor will be.
An ideal place to grow these small “berries” is an area that has a long, hot growing season that is fairly dry (not too much rainfall). The hotter the better, and though you need some rain, you only want measured amounts. Much of Sicily has exactly those conditions, as well as a lot of hillsides (another good thing for grapes), and thus is a hotbed -- pardon the pun -- for quality grape growing.
Consequently, in the last 20 years or so, winemakers have been looking at Sicily in a new way: as a place to grow quality grapes for making high quality wine. This winemaking revolution has resulted in new plantings throughout the region, and the installation of state-of-the-art winemaking facilities. These changes have brought Sicilian wines to a new level, and today you can find both expensive, world-class creations, as well as good quality, great value bottles.
One of these great values coming out of Sicily is a red wine from the Colosi winery, which retails for under 10 bucks. It has a vinous nose of deep, ripe black cherry. In the mouth it has a ripe, fresh, open fruit flavor -- black cherry again -- coupled with a good biting acidity that reminds you of Chianti. The wine displays good depth, with mild hints of earth and tar, and has a smooth texture, with mild to medium tannins. The finish is bright, with the acidity remaining in balance with the fruit, which turns to a grapey, blueberry flavor. Overall this is a very nice wine for the price, with surprising complexity, and is equal to a $12-$15 Chianti. It will match well with simple fare, lean meats, braises and pizza.
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