The island that, throughout its history, has been conquered by many other cultures, is now conquering U.S. wine lists. Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean, has historically been known for producing oceans of wine, still and fortified (this is the home of Marsala). These days, I see more and more Sicilian wines on high-end restaurant lists and boutique store shelves. Often made from native varieties, today’s Sicilian wines showcase the beautiful effects of island climes, volcanic soils, and high elevation vineyards.
Modern somms aren’t the only ones to discover the fine wines of Sicily. Thousands of years ago, Sicily was an epicurean Eden. With wine culture established by the Greeks at least 500 years before, by the 3rd century B.C., Sicily was the destination, drawing foodies and chefs alike.
Along with grain and oil, wine was a major component of trade in the Mediterranean. With a warm, dry climate, Sicily was, and still is, well-suited for producing olives, cereals, citrus, and grapes. The island’s conditions enable today’s winegrowers to follow traditional and organic practices in their vineyards.
Sicily’s climate also enables growers to produce grapes and wine in great quantities. A few decades ago, we saw a shift in Sicilian wine, a movement away from this focus on volume to one on quality. Growers revived traditional methods and celebrated indigenous varieties.
Arianna Occhipinti is a key figure in this quality transition. Her uncle is a founding member of COS, a highly-esteemed winery in Sicily. A one-woman show and phenomenal producer in her own right, Arianna studied viticulture and enology before launching her own brand. With colleagues in the industry, Arianna launched her second label Tami, a line of wines for everyday drinking. Now in her mid-30s, she makes red and white wines from indigenous varieties. While she follows natural winemaking techniques, she is flexible, preferring to do what is best for the wine rather than be beholden to strict rules. In that vein, she adds minimal amounts of sulfites to protect and stabilize wines.
I recently tried a 2016 Frappato made for the Tami label, a “project… to give younger people an opportunity to try something simple but delicious, something that can introduce them to the pleasures of wine” (Arianna, as quoted by Louis/Dressner). Frappato is a red variety native to the region. Often blended with the bolder Nero D’Avola, Frappato is frequently compared to Gamay and Pinot Noir. Solo, it makes fresh, youthful wines, bursting with red fruit flavors like cherry and pomegranate. The Tami frappato is aged in stainless steel. The result is a soft, light-bodied red with floral aromatics, fresh fruit flavors, and a hint of tartness. While I have seen recommendations for pairing Frappato with pizza, which would be wonderful, I tried it alongside Thai food. I prefer Gewurztraminer for the Thai dishes I tend to order. That said, I found this pairing delicious – there were no tannins to fight the Thai spices. More importantly, I succeeded in finding a red wine both my parents enjoyed. True success.