Sicily
 
Sicily is the new frontier. Long a backwater of Italian wine, old vineyards, and new wine makers have been transforming the landscape. Today Sicily is one of the most exciting regions of italy for wine. Values abound and old-vine Nero d’Avola and Nerello (Mascalese and Capuccio)  are establishing themselves as exceptional world class wines. There’s a lot of natural winemaking going on in Sicily as well, which helps focus the minds of many in the business of promoting and selling wine. It’s a great region for wine gifts, still emerging and not yet on the radar with many wine lovers and as you can see that means that the wines remain relative values. 
 
 
Calabretta is one of the great values in Sicilian wine. An old school producer framing old-vine Nerello organically, the wines are kept in large format wood for six to seven years before bottling, and then released after about ten years of age, so don’t be surprised by the vintages you see on offer. The high altitude vineyards on Mount Etna give wines that are are complex, rich in minerality and firmly structured. I don’t know of a better value for lovers of traditionally made wines. 
 
 
Frank Cornelissen has been producing natural wines from vineyards high on Mount Etna only since  2000 making him a new comer to this region. The wines are made in a totally non-interventionist way and represent only what the year has given. As such they are certainly not for everyone, though everyone should try one of the Cornelissen wines to understand the potential of both the region and natural winemaking  in the extreme. Rosso del Contadino is the entry level wine here, a blend of red and white grapes from various vineyards. It’s subtly spicy, with that telltale volcanic aroma framing pure and lively cherry/red berry fruit all topped with feral, musky nuance. Not a wine for everyone but an amazing wine none the less. 
 
 
Another old-vine Nerello, Passopiscare represents the elegance and brilliance Nerello Mascalese is capable of. Vines range from 70 to 100 years of age here and the wines are produced in a traditional style, though one that is much more refined than at either Calabretta of Cornelisson. There are fine grained tannins here supporting the lovely red fruit with fine acidity lending lift to the palate. It can seem almost lightweight at times but given air, or time in the bottle, the wine gains weight and length for it’s spicy, mineral driven finish. 
 
 
While Nerello definitely has the lion’s share of the spotlight shining on Sicilian wines these days Nero d’Avola is also an important and noteworthy variety that is making a name for itself. One of the primary differences between the two is that Nero d’Avola is somewhat well known, albeit for producing great value wines. As such it faces a steeper challenge breaking through to becoming simply recognized for producing great wine. At their best, and this Gulfi is among the best, they are powerful wines, rich in luscious black cherry fruit. Gulfi specializes in single vineyard examples of Nero d’Avola, organically farmed and produced in an enlightened traditionalist style. Grown in fairly chalk soil, this is a Nero d’Avola with an austere edge, and flavors that are acid driven, gaining richness and complexity with age. 
 
 
Everyone who meets Arianna Occhipinti can’t help but be amazed by what this young woman has achieved. A finer ambassador for Sicilian wine and natural farming would be challenged to find, based on her wines of course. While I am partial to her SP68 Bianco in particular, her Frappato could be seen as her finest wine. In my mind Frappato, with it’s easy character and lovely fruit, could be Sicily's great vinous ambassador, so it’s no wonder that Arianna has such a knack for drawing out the grape's delicate charm. Gorgeously aromatic with haunting notes of wild herb laid over the pure and sometimes subtly austere fruit of Frappato, this is just a joy to drink.