Last night I lay sleeping and dreamed a dream so fair. I dreamt I was in Sicily beside a “Palmento” there. A Palmento is the name of the facility in Sicilian vineyards where the grapes are brought to be crushed and processed. I dreamt I owned a vineyard and lived in a “baglio.” A baglio is the traditional home on a Sicilian vineyard; usually a rectangular building enclosing a central courtyard. Back in the day these were fortified buildings, giving the land owners and local mezzadri (sharecroppers) protection from bandits and invaders. In the dream I’m a “vignaiolo,” someone who labors in all aspects of wine production, from growing the gapes to making and marketing the wines. It was a happy dream.
My vineyard is located in Pachino, about 12 miles south of Noto. I grow and make Nero d’Avola, vini da taglio, also known as Nero Pachino (Black Pachino) wine. This wine has a distinct violet ruby hue, with vivid blackberry smells, high alcohol levels, and great tannins. With the Ionian Sea to the east and the Mediterranean to the south, the land is just perfect for producing great red wines.
My neighbors have given up growing grapes, now concentrating their efforts on tomatoes. They have even hijacked the name “Pachino,” which used to refer to my wine. Now it’s a non-native cherry tomato. When they aren’t growing tomatoes, they produce other vegetables or citrus crops. Me, I hold onto the wine.
Then the alarm goes off and once again I’m in Connecticut. I find my fields snow-covered and cold. My cash crop–the electronics industry–is not nearly as romantic as my dreamscape vineyard. You can still find palmentos and baglios abandoned and falling apart all over Sicily, pitiful reminders of a bye-gone age.
Now let’s add some reality to my fantasy. With a little imagination, and about $35, you can at very least taste the wine. The reality of Pachino can be sampled in the wine “SAIA” by Feudo Maccari.
“Saia” is an ancient Arab word referring to small canals or viaducts built to hold water for use during the summer months. There are Arab influences all over Sicily. Made from a restricted yield of Nero d’Avola vine, typically averaging 20 years of age, the grapes are hand-harvested and the fermentation is initiated in stainless steel tanks. Maceration on the skins for lasts 15 days with regular punch down of the cap. Full malolactic fermentation is followed by 15 months in French oak barrigues, of which half the barrel consists new wood, while half was used before. The wine then rests four months in the bottle before release.
My bottle was from the 2005 vintage, which I wish I had seen before I purchased, because this put my wine a little on the senior side. The wine itself is designed to last a decade, but I would have preferred a little more youth.
Saia is the creation of two off islanders, Carlo Ferrini and Gioia Cresti. As is often very typical of Sicilian wine, the producers often are not from Sicily, which is sad. This team is from Tuscany, and you can definitely taste the Tuscan influence.
Saia is deep violet in color, with aromas of dark and bitter red cherry, spearmint, spice and oak. These lead into a velvety palate of lush, exotically-concentrated fruit, balanced by a fine, acidic underpinning and ripe, sweet tannins. The long, penetrating finish ends on notes of wood, spice and pepper.
I love Sicily. From Tornamira in the east to Trapani in the west, in my mind I can walk all over Sicily. The three valleys Val di Mazara, Val Demone, and my favorite, Val di Noto; none are off limits. I climb the hills in Trapani, traverse the Palermo highlands, and ponder the majesty of Etna. One of my Sicilian friends said I know more about Sicily than most natives. To many it doesn’t matter. As some sage Sicilian would say, “just because the cat has kittens in the oven you don’t call them biscuits.” You can’t be Sicilian, unless you are born Sicilian.
I want to leave you with a poem from Antonio Veneziano, a sixteenth century Sicilian poet who refused to write in anything but Sicilian. I feel it sums up my hope for wine makers in Sicily, that they find their voice in their wines:
“If you want to live in joy, drink red wine throughout your life,
The red wine made in Mascali.
Which when sold out of a stein, will be looked upon with disdain
But when bottled, well tarred and sealed by a cleaver foreigner who comes barking in the square:
‘Drink my friends, this wine’s from France!’
Then it’s bought as an elixir at four times the price.
Learn from the ‘cleaver foreigner’ but speak Sicilian in your wine!”
Readers, friends, this is my 100th post. Most of you have been with me from the very beginning hopefully enjoying the adventure with me. On my best day ever I got 68 views, today I’d like to get 100. Please suggest Griffy on Wine to anyone who might be interested. And THANK YOU.
“Look on the trunk buds break;
A newer green than the grass,
A balm to the heart:
The trunk seemed already dead, leaning over the gully.
Everything seems to me like a miracle:
This green, bursting of the bark that even last night was not there”