The SOMM Journal

August / September 2015

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Page 95 of 132

{ }  95 Sicily—the largest island in the Mediterranean, and one with a colorful past—is rewriting history with its offerings of rich, age-worthy and complex wines made with indigenous varieties, most notably, Nero d'Avola. In the past, Sicily's most notable wine contribution was the fortified Marsala, along with products for the table including olives, almonds, pista- chios, oranges, lemons and peaches. While much of southern Italy is hot and sunny, Sicily offers many coastal and hillside terroirs ideal for prime viticulture. This is why in 2002 Trentino-based Mezzacorona invested $150 million in replanting and rebuilding Sicily's two south coast Stemmari estates, one in Sambuca di Sicilia in Agrigento and the other in Acate in Ragusa. And they did so with the environment in mind, creating a 100% energy independent winery along the way. With their 100% state- of- the-art sustainable viticultural and vinification practices, Stemmari is the first winery in Sicily to have earned Eco- Management and Audit Scheme certification. "Sicily is the original cradle of winemaking beginning around 2000 b.c.," says Fabio Maccari, Chief Executive Officer of Mezzacona, which first introduced Stemmari wines to the U.S. in 2003. "The incredible climate, fertile soils, and abundance of sunlight make it easy to produce outstanding wines—and with more than 250,000 acres of vineyards, the island has immense potential." "In Sicily, there is a saying that translates to 'Wine is life, and to life I drink.' Stemmari wines are created with this ethos in mind," says Winemaker Lucio Matricardi, Ph.D. "Sixty-two percent of the island is hills where the sun and winds create different opportunities for winemaking. Stemmari has been able to protect and cultivate indigenous grapes like Nero d'Avola. Sicily is the place where spring is born, an Italian version of Provence," Matricardi says. Some compare the southeast coast of Sicily to Na pa Valley. Dating from early Greek settlements here, and used in the past to fortify northern Italian and even French wines, Nero d'Avola wines have a deep, dark mysterious edge but other than that, are easy going. They are delicious straight out of the gate, with fragrant, ripe black cherry, blueberry, plum, violet, graphite, juniper and carob notes along with high tannins and high acid. Judiciously oaked, the wines become softer, sleeker and rounder. Some compare the grape to Pinot Noir, or even Nebbiolo which is probably closer to the mark, but it is totally, uniquely Sicilian—like the people there, I might add. Matricardi, who trained in winemaking and viticulture at the University of Bologna then earned his Ph.D. in viticulture and enology from the University of California at Davis, worked with Castello Banfi in Tuscany and Miranda winery in South Australia before joining Stemmari in 2004. While Stemmari produces several whites, reds, a sparkling wine, and olive oil, three wines are based on Nero d'Avola: Stemmari 2014 Rosé, Terre Siciliane IGT( $9.99) Stemmari 2012 Nero d'Avola, Terre Siciliane IGT ($9.99) Stemmari 2012 Cantadoro Rosso, Terre Siciliane IGT ($12.99) I recommend pairing the Rosé (Rosato) with ricotta fritters and the Nero d'Avola with rigatoni pasta with eggplant, tomatoes and ricotta salad. The Cantadoro, which has 20% Cabernet Sauvignon (the others are 100% Nero d'Avola) pairs nicely with lamb sausage. Tony Porcellini, Director of Food & Beverage at Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort, is a fan. He says, "What drew me to Stemmari was the uniqueness of the product. It gave me the oppor- tunity to be able to offer my guests a hand sold item that is distinctively served through a tap. It's the unique way of serving them through the tap system that initially sparks people's interest, and then it is not just a regular wine through a tap system, but a unique grape varietal that is indigenous to Sicily. It's typically something that they haven't tried before and that really seals the sell." Stemmari wines are distributed in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, available via distributors such as Southern Wine & Spirits, Horizon Beverage, Glazer's, RNDC, Charmer Sun Belt and many independents. All wines are available by the bottle, and on tap are Pinot Noir, Nero d'Avola, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. Stemmari is imported by Prestige Wine Imports. "The cradle of winemak- ing." A view of Stemmari vineyards in Siciliy.

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