A group of AWS members enjoyed an unusual and exciting wine tasting trip to Sicily in October. Travelling independently sixteen members of the Society met in Catania for a week of visits and wine tasting in the southeastern area of the island. The trip was devised and led by Cipriano De Libero (www.italianwinetours.com) and participants travelled by minibus to facilitate visits to out-of-the-way wineries situated at the end of tracks rather than roads.
After checking into our hotel with a splendid view of Mt. Etna, members lunched at the gracious Scilio Winery on the slopes of Etna where the grapes grow in the lava deposits of the Alcantara valley. A short walk around the medieval town of Castiglione preceded a light dinner of local specialities accompanied by house wines. The following day we we travelled up the Etna slopes to 900m where the fine lapilli soil and extreme changes in temperature allow the finest Sicilian sparkling wines to be made. These proved to be aromatic, elegant, with a trace of minerality. Visits to the Cottanera and Patria wineries provided opportunities for more tastings of particular note being the Etna Rosso single varietal from the Nerello Mascalese grape. Later in the morning we visited Nelson's Castle.
Apparently in 1799 Horatio Nelson saved Ferdinand I, King of Naples, from attack by Napoleon. In gratitude, Ferdinand gave Nelson a castle and made him Duke of Bronte after the small town on the slopes of Mt. Etna where the castle is situated. As Nelson was busy elsewhere it is doubtful he ever lived there. Nelson was killed in 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar, and as he had no children the property was inherted by his brother and was actually lived in by Nelson descendents until the early 1990's when the family returned it to the municipality of Bronte.
Our intrepid group with Mount Etna in the background
The party visited Mt. Etna and enjoyed a cable car ride to the edge of the crater. After lunch and a tasting at the winery of Baron Scammaca del Murgo, we travelled to Syracuse where we stayed on the island of Ortygia, the most ancient part of Syracuse. A day of sightseeing was followed by a sensational seafood dinner accompanied by local wines in a harbour restaurant.
The trip continued to the most southerly part of the island where the main grape of Sicily, Nero d'Avola, is grown. This grape gives very robust, dark wine which we tasted on our visit to one of the Planeta vinyards, Buonvini. Later in the day we visited the Cos Winery where their Pithos wines are aged in old Roman amphora sunk into the ground. The party then travelled to the UNESCO World Heritage town of Scicli which was rebuilt in the baroque style following a catastrophic earthquake in 1693. Scicli, which charmingly pronounced in Italian sounds like jiggly, is the town used in the Inspector Montalbano TV series, with elegant baroque style buildings of luminous yellow-gold local stone.
A morning visit to Donnafaguta castle and botanical gardens was followed by a tasting and lunch at the Gulfi winery. In the afternoon a visit to the town of Ragusa gave an opportunity to sample the famous Modica chocolate which is made without added oil; deliciously flavoursome and slightly crumbly. All week the weather could not have been better so we were able to enjoy the excellent Sicilian cuisine of fresh local ingredients accompanied by robust wines sitting outside in the sunshine, very often with a sea view. A marvellous finale dinner was held in the open square of Scicli where the famous Sicilian Marsala wine was served as an apertif.
Whilst enjoying the variety of Sicilian wines tasted, it was the overwhelming view of the Algarve Wine Society party that our Portuguese wines are far superior, both in quality and value.
The next event on the Algarve Wine Society calendar is the annual Christmas Gala Dinner and Dance on Tuesday 9th December which will be at the five-star Hilton Vilamoura As Cascatas Golf Resort and Spa. If you are interested in more information, or would like to join The Algarve Wine Society, please visit www:algarvewinesociety.com