Classic red terra rossa sandy soils of Cerasuolo di Vittoria at Feudo di Santa Tresa Vineyards
Sicily is prodigious wine producer and there are fascinating wine growing areas in all corners of the island. From high-risk viticulture on the upper flanks of Etna volcano to the historic Marsala region on the west coast to Cerasuolo di Vittoria in the south, there is tremendous variety of terrain and wine making styles. People often think about Sicily as being all about big red wines but there are also plenty of examples of elegant and lighter style reds as well as lovely, nuanced whites (most prominently the robust but harmonious and racy Grillo). Sicily has become a major darling of the wine world over the past decade or so and a tempting cross-section of Sicilian wines can be found in most wine shops. The trick is to know a little bit about the different regions in order to deal with the wide diversity you might be looking at on the shelves.
Cerasuolo di Vittoria is an intriguing wine area to start with. There is no white wine production permitted under the DOCG labelling rules so you can just focus on the reds. And to make things even more easy to interpret, the DOCG only allows a quite specific blend – only Nero d’Avola and Frappato varieties are allowed – and in very specific range of proportions (50-70% Nero d’Avola and 30-50% Frappato). This sets up a very cool dynamic in terms of comparing the wines of Cerasuolo di Vittoria: because of the similarities in raw materials and the strictness of DOCG rules, each winemaker is going to end up producing a wine that will express the land and micro-climate of the particular vineyard(s) the grapes are coming from. Some of the most attractive wines come from winemakers working on smaller parcels and single vineyards that produce distinctive grapes.
One important contextual note before we go on. There are wines from the wider Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOC that are not subject to the strict rules of the DOCG and there are also some slightly maverick young winemakers producing wine under the Cerasuolo di Vittoria IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) designation in order to avoid the strictures of both the DOC and the DOCG. Phew.
Why Cerasuolo di Vittoria for Wine?
The grapes that go into Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG wines, Nero d’Avola and Frappato, have been recognized for centuries as a complimentary match up. In just the same way that members of great musical groups somehow, serendipitously, come together and create magic, Nero d’Avola and Frapatto play off each others’ strengths. And magic is indeed the alchemy of these two grapes. It can be revealed in more robust terms (when the earthy, more grippy Nero d’Avola dominates) or in more pretty, perfumed terms (when the Frapatto is given sway). The attraction of Cerasuolo di Vittoria is this interplay, masculine and feminine, that defines each wine from each place depending on the balance of the grapes and the soils. But in almost all wines you find signature ruby red translucence in the colour and lively cherry flavours and a tightness, brightness and prettiness on the palate that you would not automatically associate with the hot, southern climate of Sicily. These are wines with trippingly light character, substantial but airily graceful.
It’s important to remember that this is a region and culture, despite the outward impression of discipline based on the DOCG rules, that does not conform easily. The economy, based around the provincial capital of Ragusa, has always been rooted in small sale agriculture. That kind of lifestyle engenders independence. The vine growers do not like to use chemical fertilizers and naturally prefer organic farming. They like to develop on their own terms. And in some of the most celebrated wines from the region, this has resulted in wine production that eschews the DOCG rules in order to achieve individuality. Famously, the Occhipinti family (uncle Giusto of COS) and niece Arianna of her own eponymous Occhipinti, believe in organic farming and natural winemaking and wine varietal blends based on what the soil best produces. Is that old school or new school? In Sicily it’s not clear that there is a difference.
Where Is Cerasuolo di Vittoria?
Located on the south coast of Sicily, the land here is rolling to downright flat. There is arresting landscape and there are hilltop towns such as the spectacular Ragusa, but this is mostly a land of patchwork farms. The soil is a defining feature. The red soil (terra rossa) is characteristic but it is the sandy, sea-bottom texture that often will surprise the visitor. This is poor soil laid over a limestone base. The vines are not tremendously productive but, as is so often the case in wine growing, the grapes are better for it.
Of course there are also the beaches! Tourism is popular and Sicily is growing in popularity so some beaches are busy in the summer. But go a bit further afield or visit outside of the peak in July and August and you will find massive, wild sandy beaches that are untracked.
Who Are The Winemakers?
Like so many of the best wine regions in the world this is a place where small artisanal producers are making great bottles alongside the big international players. You will only find many of the wines from smaller wineries by visiting Sicily. You might find interesting bottles in other parts of Italy if you look hard enough – but, in Italy, the locals drink the local wines. So if you want to find local Cerasuolo di Vittoria you better go to its home in the commune of Vittoria and the province of Ragusa.
Here are some examples of winemakers that you will likely be able to find internationally – they all make exceptional wines:
When is The Best Time to Visit?
Avoid August because that’s when every Italian (and every European) takes holidays. May and June are gorgeous for spring flowers, September and October for warm seas and quiet countryside.
The hot sandy terra rossa soils in summer….
…… and the vines resting in winter
Map and photo credits www.cerasuolovittoria.eu; Occhipinti; Paolo Cali; Planeta; COS; and Vale dell’Acate