Fat, bland, and boring. That’s how I used to sum up Sicilian white wines. I used to lament how unfair it was that Sicily offers such fabulous seafood—tuna and swordfish so fresh it looks you in the eye – but nary a judicious wine pairing in sight. Sicily’s big-bodied reds were out of the question, and its whites were, well, forgettable, except for the rare exception (like Planeta’s Cometa, which comes from fiano, a grape more at home in Campania).
This time I was flabbergasted. Day after day, winery after winery, we were positively smitten with the whites. Intense, focused, often brisk and bright with mouth-watering acidity, these white were impressive under any circumstances, and absolutely fantastic with our grilled tuna, fish couscous, pasta with sardines and fennel, and other treats from the sea.
In Sicily, the boutique wine world is so new that winemakers are not bound by tradition. Thus, they’re mixing it up. Some make pure varietals, others mix and match. Some are loyal to native grapes like caricante (from the heights of Mt. Etna), catarratto (Alessandro di Camporeale’s old-vine version is absolutely thrilling), grillo (once used only for marsala, until the renegade genius Marco De Baroli, RIP, decided to vinify it dry), and insolia (one of Sicily’s most antique grapes). Others partner with chardonnay or even the alpine grape Mueller thurgau. It’s a big square dance, and it’s fun to see how the changing partners pair up.
The following are the 10 whites our group most loved. Check with the importers (in italics) and see if you can round some up for a summer picnic, lobster night, clam bake, or just a simple grilled fish with a spritz of lemon. Add some green olives and caponato, and presto! You’ve got a Sicilian-style feast.
Abbazia Santa Anastasia Baccante 2008 (grillo/chardonnay)
Alessandro di Camporeale Benedé 2008 (catarratto) Panebianco
Ceuso Scurati Bianco 2010 (grecanico/grillo/chardonnay) Vias
Cusumano Alcamo 2010 (catarratto/grecanico/mueller thurgau) Vin Divino
Di Legami Berlinghieri 2008(grillo/chardonnay) Luca Papini
Donnafugata Anthìlia 2009 (catarratto/ansonia) Folio Fine Wine Partners
Fondo Antico Grillo Parlante 2010 (grillo)
Gorghi Tondi Coste a Preola 2010 (grillo/chardonnay)
Marco De Bartoli Grappoli del Grillo 2009 (grillo) Louis/Dressner
Planeta Carricante 2010 (carricante) Palm Bay