Sicilian wine has an increasingly good reputation, as evidenced by Robert Camuto’s excellent book, Palmento. In fact, his text provides an interesting guide for those wishing to dig out the gems of Sicilian viticulture. It’s also worth the effort taking a tour along one of the island’s wine routes. These way-marked roads criss-cross the best wine districts and are found in the west, in regions like Erice and Alcamo, or to the east, around the base of Mount Etna and the Baroque valleys.
Sicilian wine country
Aside from the fortified wines of Marsala, Sicily’s most resonant oenological product is the deep red wine from the Nero d’Avola grape variety (literally the Black of Avola in Italian). Logically enough it takes its name from the seaside town of Avola near to Syracuse, although debate surrounds the actual origin of the vine.
In this district, the official title for the route, or Strada del Vino, is the Val di Noto, which takes the same name as the UNESCO appellation for the world heritage site. Rather than simply focus on Nero d’Avola, it also encompasses the Moscato wines of Noto and Syracuse, throwing in the added bonus of the area’s most beautiful towns including the eponymous Noto, the masterfully rebuilt bella donna of Sicilian Baroque.
It’s possible to concentrate on the Noto area or move to the Avolan coast and drive down to Pachino, site of the British land invasion during the Second World War. To go with a glass of wine, there are the tomatoes, olive oil, almonds and artichokes produced in particular pockets of the territory, each with its own equivalent of a denominazione d’origine. The fringes of the route also include two nature reserves, the Cava Grande del Cassibile and the Vendicari.
The balconies of Noto
For those of a literary frame of mind, the region affords ample opportunity to follow in the footsteps of an author, whether it’s Duncan Fallowell’s trip to Noto, the whimsical Ispica of Edward Lear, the war exploits of Alan Whicker, savouring Salvatore Quasimodo’s Modica or Syracuse - the birthplace and railway terminus of Elio Vittorini and the operatic heart of Coleridge’s Sicily. Of course, not forgetting the TV locations of Camilleri's Montalbano.
Above all, the strada is marvellous touring country, providing interesting overnight stops, a good meal and the joy of a decent glass of Nero d’Avola. The wine-makers say that the climate in this part of southern Sicily is perfect for such a grape; hot and, at times, arid – it brings out the deep, rich, peppery blast found in a good glass. Those in the know argue that a respectable bottle tastes like the best of New World Shiraz. Personally, we much prefer the Sicilian cousin.