Wine Report: Sicily’s Time is Now & Tasca d’Almerita Leads the Way

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We’re here in Sicily to explore Tasca d’Alermerita for its wonderful wines, not to condense centuries of Carthaginian, Greek, Roman, and Moorish influences. Nevertheless, this is the island’s rich heritage, so it’s no wonder Sicilians call this “the eighth continent,” and not altogether in jest.

Regaleali vineyards

Vineyard views from Regaleali Estate in Sicily

Five Wine Pockets of Sicily

Wine grapes harvested from this land’s lush vineyards can tell that story well. Five regional pockets (or “tasca” in Italian) cultivated by Sicily‘s leading family brand, Tasca d’Almerita, represent a different aspect of Sicily’s complex character. These distinctive wines that let the terroir do the talking are driving Sicily‘s unprecedented shift toward quality on a global scale. 

Peeking at Capofaro vineyards

Vineyards through a peephole in the wall at poolside, Capofaro, Aeolian Islands

Anna Lanza Tasca Cooking School

Poolside at Regaleali

Drinking rosé poolside at Regaleali Estate

  • In addition to the highly acclaimed Regaleali home base estate with its famous Anna Lanza Tasca cooking school, Tasca d’Almerita has five different properties around the island, producing 30 unique wines exported to 50 countries.

On terraces hand built into the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna, the Tascante brand (cleverly composed as Etna written backward and attached to the family surname) embraces three high elevation vineyard sites.

On a hillside outside the capital city of Palermo, Tenuta Sallier de La Tour has weather and soil ideal for cultivating Syrah.

On the small island of Salina in the spectacular Aeolian archipelago, Tenuta Capofaro produces two wines from the Malvasia grape.

And, on the tiny ancient island of Mozia near Marsala, Tenuta Whitaker specializes in Grillo grapes.

 

Sicily map and the five Tasca d'Almerita regions

Sicily: The five diverse Tasca d’Almerita regions around the triangle-shaped island

An Island Football in the Crossroads

On a map of the Mediterranean, place a finger on this volcanic island, a football off Italy’s boot, to appreciate that a swift kick by Mother Nature has landed it closer to North Africa than Rome. This geographical fact is more than just a conversation starter. Blessed with extremely fertile soils and destined to have been a pawn in a series of conquests by diverse cultures, Sicily is an agricultural phenomenon.

The Greeks brought olives and grapes; Romans brought grains; Moors brought lemons, oranges, pistachios, and sugarcane. After centuries as a strategic crossroads of the Mediterranean, today’s conversations come right back to great Sicilian food and wine.

Tascante from Etna

Tascante, Etna Bianco

Tascante red

Tascante, ruby red in the glass, from Etna

Pasta at Regaleali in Sicily

Pasta at Regaleali in Sicily

Homemade cannoli, a Sicilian specialty, served at Regaleali

Homemade cannoli, a Sicilian specialty, served at Regaleali

A Brief Modern Story of Sicilian Wine

During the first decade of the 21st century, wine experts enthused about Sicily as the discovery of a new wine region, calling it the Burgundy of the Mediterranean. Actually, “new-old wine” is more precise. After all, archeologists indicate that the first grapevines in all of Italy were likely cultivated here, where sunshine, sea breezes, elevation, and soil conditions are ideal.

Winemaker at Tasca d'Almerita

Winemaker talk at Tasca d’Almerita

In the mid-20th century, large quantities of low cost, high yield Sicilian wines were exported to France and Northern Italy for blending purposes. In the 1970s, a vision to change that reputation was advanced by winemaker Count Lucio Tasca. Blind tastings demonstrated that Sicily could produce exceptional red wines, such as the deep ruby Rosso del Conte, that age well to compete on a global scale.

Tasca d'Almerita barrel room

Tasca d’Almerita barrel room

Currently, as CEO of Tasca d’Almerita, Lucio’s son Alberto carries that tradition into the eighth generation of this Sicilian vintner family. It’s all about innovation and research with vineyard management, unique territories, quality varietals, new techniques, sustainable production processes.

Alberto Tasca, CEO

Alberto Tasca, CEO, Tasca d’Almerita (Photo: Benedetto Tarantino)

Get to Know Tasca d’Almerita

In 1830, the Tasca family purchased the Regaleali Estate in central Sicily.

Entrance to Regaleali Estate

Looking out from inside the cobblestone courtyard at the entrance to the historic Regaleali Estate

Awards and honors run deep in the DNA of the Tasca family whose Regaleali earned Medal of Honor at the Siracusa Expo in 1871. Other awards followed, many of which can be seen decorating the walls, displayed on shelves and adorning the mantle in the reception rooms at the renowned estate—which welcomes small numbers of overnight visitors for midweek stays.

Regaleali interiors

Cozy interiors at Regaleali, dinner by the fireplace

Regaleali Estate

Honors on display at Regaleali Estate

Medals of honor

Medals of honor for Tasca d’Almerita wines

Focusing on Etna’s Terraced Slopes

Europe’s highest active volcano (yes, it’s still active!) dominates Sicily‘s landscape on its eastern side. Long before the Etna wine region became Sicily‘s first D.O.C. in 1968, ancient Greek writers and poets sang the praises of Mount Etna wines.

On the slopes of Mount Etna

On the slopes of Mount Etna

Abundant volcanic nutrients in sandy soil are tough to beat. Couple that with high elevation, Sicilian sunshine tempered by Mediterranean breezes, and diurnal temperature variations that grapes just love. Wines from the Etna D.O.P. are high quality wines produced from powerful volcanic terroir that’s richer, blacker, and distinctly shaped by molten lava. Red, rosé and sparkling wines are produced by Nerello Mascalese and Cappuccio varietals; white wines are created with Carricante, Catarratto, Inzolia, and Grecanico.

Tascante vineyards, Mount Etna

In the Tascante vineyards on Mount Etna

No machinery up here. On its black soil northern slopes, Tenuta Tascante has more than 120 dry stone walls built of volcanic rocks to create steeply sloped terraced vineyards where clusters must be painstakingly maintained and harvested by hand.

Steep terraces Mount Etna

Steep terraces built into the north slopes of Mount Etna

Tascante winemaker on Mount Etna

Tascante winemaker discussing the chestnut forests, olive trees, and vines on Mount Etna

Malvasia and the Aeolian Islands

A dramatic change in the landscape illustrates the diversity of Sicily. A volcanic archipelago makes its appearance above the surface of the Tyrrhenian Sea off Sicily‘s northern coast in the shape of this island grouping.  The seven islands stretching out for 50 miles, are actually the tips of underwater volcanoes, including Stromboli and a second active one.

Volcanic Aeolian Islands off Sicily

Dramatic volcanic Aeolian Islands off Sicily

Hop on a ferry at the Milazzo port for the 1.5-hour journey to Salina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If the location looks at all familiar to movie-goers, it’s because a beach under these cliffs was the location for a poignant scene in “Il Postino,” filmed in 1994. Our destination is Capofaro, named for a lighthouse perched at the edge of the sea, where 15 acres of sun-warmed aromatic Malvasia vineyards surround a gorgeous resort that’s packed with the wow factor.

Capofaro, on the Aeolian Island of Salina

Capofaro, on the Aeolian Island of Salina

Capofaro vines

Capofaro vines

Guests staying in one of the resort’s 27 villa-style rooms can enjoy farm-to-table (and sea-to-table) meals at The Restaurant at Capofaro Locanda & Malvasia, where Chef Ludovico De Vivo harvests local flavors accompanied by wines originating from Tenuta Capofaro.

Dining at Capofaro

Enjoying al fresco dining beside the vineyards and the sea, Capofaro

Named in honor of the island’s orginal Greek name, Didyme is crisp, bright, dry, and aromatic with that bit of lemony zing that’s perfect with seafood. Capofaro Malvasia della Lipari is 100% estate grown, the typical Aeolian grape variety re-interpreted by Tasca d’Almerita with a balance between sweetness and acidity with herbaceous, wildflower notes.

Capofaro pool

Capofaro pool

Capofaro Locanda & Malvasia in Salina, a Relais & Château property

Capofaro Locanda & Malvasia in Salina, a Relais & Châteaux property

Inspired by the concept of “zero kilometer” cooking, chef’s vegetable garden is the source for much of the kitchen’s output. As a bonus, note that chef’s bread was voted best in Italy by the Gambero Rosso Restaurant Guide 2018.

Chef Ludovico De Vivo at Capofaro

Chef Ludovico De Vivo making his fresh pasta and bread, explaining his garden project at Capofaro 

To fully understand and appreciate Sicily‘s great wines, nothing could be better than a visit. Short of taking a trip, keep an eye out for Tasca d’Almerita wines online or engage in conversation with a consultant at your favorite wine shop by asking for the “Burgundy of the Mediterrnean.”

Tasca d'Almerita bottle

Appreciating the beauty of Tasca d’Almerita

 

Laurie Jo Miller Farr
A career-long tourism, destination, hotel sales and marketing pro, Laurie Jo Miller Farr is a dedicated urbanite who loves walkable cities and has a knack for always finding the best public restrooms. As a San Francisco-based travel and copywriter, she enjoys views from its crazy signature hills following half-a-lifetime promoting her dual hometowns, a couple of oh-so-flat places: NYC and London. Her work is found online at USA Today, Yahoo, Eater, CBS, Where Traveler, and more. She tweets @ReferencePlease and posts on Instagram @lauriejmfarr.
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