Malcolm Jolley reports from Sicily…

Planeta winemaker Patricia Toth does not want to be photographed first thing in the morning at Sicilia en Primeur.

I have been away from my desk this week attending Sicilia en Primeur as a guest of the Assovini Sicilia. I have had a busy week, but I have an hour or so to vainly catch up on some work before they pick me up from the hotel and take me my fellow journalists from around the wine importing world out for dinner. So, I thought I’d use the time to report quickly on what I’ve discovered on this trip to Sicily, my fourth in five years, with an eye to flesh out some of these themes properly on GFR in the weeks to come, when I will be fixed to my desk and not using my laptop literally on the edge of a bed in a room overlooking a street that’s about three metres wide in the old Jewish Quarter of Ortigia.

The 2018 Vintage
Sicilia en Primeur is technically the release of new wines from Sicily to the markets of the world. Much of the white wine released is from the 2018 vintage, which has been described to me as problematic by many winemakers because it rained a lot in the autumn of last year. While many of the 2018 I have tasted this week were markedly different from the 2017 and 2016’s (when the latter two were offered), but not always, and when they did it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The Limits of Etnamania
I spent my ‘field days’ in the western point of Sicily’s triangle, southwest of Palermo in places I had been like Trapani and places I really hadn’t like Alcamo. Winemakers in the western heartland of Sicilian wine production are philosophical about the attention the wines of Mount Etna to the east are getting. On the one hand, they are happy that Sicilian wines are getting serious critical attention, serious investment form within and without the island, and fetching serious prices. On the other hand, they hope the world notices what they’re doing is pretty interesting and delicious too. And they are and I am going to my best to help the world see it.

Muscat Attack!
Zibibbo is the Arab-derived named for Muscat of Alexandria in Sicily and especially on the island of Pantelleria. I signed up for a trip to Pantellaria because it looked cool. It is, and I have pictures and notes to prove it soon on GFR. I knew I was a fan of Donnafugata’s Ben Rey sweet wine made on Pantelleria, but I didn’t know I was also a fan of dry Zibibbo, which I do now thanks to Giulia Pazienza at Coste Ghirlanda. Watch out, I plan to plead my case.

The Two Big C’s and F
I am not describing a bad report card, but the three, in my humble opinion, overlooked Sicilian grapes from which I have tasted some amazing and beautiful wines on this trip. From the west, Catarratto, which might now be one of my favourite whites. From the east Carricante, though grown all over the island, which has revealed some pretty interesting surprises. And, non-intuitively, from the south, Frappato, which miraculously makes lovely light reds in a warm climate.

Anyway, more on all of this to come. My colleagues are likely waiting for me in the lobby, and there’s more great Sicilian wines to taste tonight.