Italy - Southern Italy and Sicily
The north has made great strides forward in winemaking techniques; the
south is some way behind, although it is catching up fast. Italian
wines of real distinction are less numerous in the south than in
the north and, generally, are the results of the efforts of individual
winemakers rather than of topography. Even so, topography is vital
in the south. It is the cooler upland and mountain terrain that
makes serious winemaking possible in this sun-baked part of the
On the western side is Campania, centered around Naples. In the
north is the home of Falernum, an ancient wine of great renown.
It has recently been brought back to life as Falerno by the Villa
Matilde estate, employing equal respect for historical authenticity
and modern winemaking know-how. The white is from the Falanghina
variety, the red from Aglianico and Piedirosso, three southern grapes
of indisputable pedigree, which are used in Campania to great effect.
Piedirosso shows its class even more clearly in the same estate's
reincarnation of Caecubum (Cecubo), another wine that once kept
the ancient world enthralled.
Other producers taking an interest in realizing the potential of
local varieties include Mustilli and Vinicola Ocone. Otherwise Campania
is dominated by the company Mastroberardino, based inland near Avellino,
in the center of the region. It practically had a monopoly on production
of the wines of the area: smoky, minerally, white Greco di Tufo
(from Greco); intriguing, floral, vegetal, white Fiano di Avellino
(from Fiano); and slow-maturing, coffee and damson-like, red Taurasi
(from Aglianico), but now a number of small growers, notably of
Fiano di Avellino, are trying their luck at producing wine themselves,
with increasing success.
Calabria forms the toe of Italy. Although vineyards are scattered
widely throughout, there is only one wine, Cirò that is seen much
outside the region. This is primarily due to the vitality of one
company, Librandi. Cirò comes in red, white and rosé versions. All
three are big, powerful wines.
Basilicata, the instep, also tends to be a one-wine region: Aglianico
del Vulture, from the Aglianico grape grown high on the cool, east-facing
slopes of the volcanic Mount Vulture. It is a full red that is tough
when young but steadily softens to an impressively spicy, earthy,
smoky and chunky wine, expressed most fully by Fratelli d'Angelo
In Puglia, the heel of Italy, there is a wealth of wine names. The
wines may be divided essentially into four groups. There are reds
from the north (for example, San Severo), made with Montepulciano
and Uva di Troia; reds from the center (such as Castel del Monte),
made mainly from Uva di Troia; reds from the south, made with Puglia's
most promising grape, Negroamaro (Salice Salentino, Copertino, Brindisi)
or from Primitivo (Primitivo di Manduria); and whites, notably the
light, fresh Locorotondo, from Verdeca. It is rare to find more
than one producer per wine zone exploiting its potential to the
Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean and it is probably
the most misunderstood. For years Marsala meant little more than
some thick, sweet, strangely flavored, alcoholic wine whose place
was in the kitchen. It was left to one man, Marco De Bartoli, to
fight a hard, lonely battle to keep supplies of true, high-quality
His greatest weapon was Vecchio Samperi, a dry, naturally strong,
long-aged, fine, nutty wine produced from the best grapes in the
area, made to show what Marsala was like before fortification by
the addition of grape brandy became compulsory and sweetening commonplace.
Marsala comes in a number of styles and there is a plethora of explanatory
terms on the label. Oro (gold), Ambra (amber) and Rubino (ruby)
indicate color. Fine (one year), Superiore (two years) and Vergine
(five years) are some of those indicating aging. Dryness or sweetness
(secco, semi-secco, dolce) may also be shown, apart from Marsala
Vergine which is always dry. In essence, though, it is made by adding
a small amount of grape brandy and a variable amount of cotto (grape
must reduced by heating to a thick, sweet syrup) or other approved
sweetening agent (not sugar) to a normally-made wine and then aging
in large barrels until the various elements are well amalgamated.
Real Marsala can be a very high quality fortified wine, in the same
league as the finest Sherry or Madeira. There is not all that much
made, but signs are that the more dynamic companies such as Curatolo
and Florio are putting a little more weight behind these top wines.
Marsala flavored with egg or anything more exotic no longer bears
the name and is called Cremovo.
Sicily's satellite islands, Pantelleria and the Aeolian archipelago,
produce mainly traditional passito wines, sweet wines made from
grapes laid out in the sun after picking to dry out and concentrate
Otherwise Sicily is alive with development and innovation, resulting
in some quite delightful wines. Whites are in the forefront, based
usually on the native Catarratto or more aromatic Inzolia grapes.
Wine names tend to be producers' brand names: Terre di Ginestra,
Corvo, Regaleali, Planeta, Rapitalà, Libecchio, Cellaro, Settesoli,
Donnafugata and so on. Reds, from Nero d'Avola, Nerello Mascalese,
Frappato and Perricone, are catching up fast and the same brand
names apply, with the exception of the rich, vibrant Cerasuolo di
Vittoria, from an area around Vittoria in Sicily's southeast and
best handled by the estate C.O.S. Sicily also produces a number
of refreshingly fruity rosés, the Nerello Mascalese variety being
ideally suited to this task.