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“Sicilia en Primeur 2023”: the wine continent in the glass, multitude of colors-scents-tastes

The 2022 vintage, climatically less extreme than the rest of Italy, helped define the soil-vine combination, on which Sicily is focusing

Once again, Sicily of wine, which aims to grow the value of its wines, also investing in research in the vineyard and in technology, and to become more and more a destination for high-end wine tourism, thanks to its unparalleled mix of biodiversity, history and culture, confirms its resilience to climate change: a year as seriously difficult in terms of drought and heat for all of Italy (including Europe) as 2022, has had less dramatic effects, in this region, which evidently continues to benefit from favorable weather currents: crossing right at its height in the Mediterranean, they have in fact brought abundant rainfall in the winter and spring and above-average temperature ranges in the long and torrid summer period that began as early as May. Two other factors have helped to better meet the climatic challenges of 2022-factors that, moreover, are deeply linked with each other and that, year after year, like building blocks, have formed the so-called “terroir”, of which Sicily is rich (though still with so much untapped potential): the peasant experience on the one hand; the famous good agricultural practices that have been confronting relentless aridity and insolation for centuries, and that today are able to make the difference in keeping the vines healthy and bringing home quality grapes; and the vines on the other hand, which again have been confronting relentless aridity and insolation for centuries, becoming more and more adapted to those conditions (the famous resilience characteristic of the plants). This is the summary with which Mattia Filippi, consultant winemaker Assovini, a network that brings together the Region’s virtuous wine enterprises, 100 wineries that put together a turnover of more than 300 million euros, again this year, presented at the Radicepura Park the vintage analysis with which to read the tastings of “Sicilia en primeur”,a preview of Sicilian wines held from May 9 to 14 (with the culmination of the final tastings and technical insights, in Taormina, Isola Bella and Giarre). Precisely at Radicepura, a botanical garden created by the Faro family, which constitutes an excellence in international floriculture, where artistic installations coexist and evolve together with an archive of Mediterranean greenery that is a world reference for the collection of germplasm (moreover, self-sufficient, both energetically and hydrically). Radicepura also an apt metaphor to describe the richness of that Mediterranean botany of which Sicily is a proud, concentrated example, drenched in the sea.

“The production balance of the 2022 Sicilian vintage is 4.3 million hectoliters (Assoenologi data), a production on average with the last 5 years, but -8.9% on the average of the last 10 years. The year 2022 recorded in Europe the second hottest summer in the last 100 years, and one of the driest years ever”, Filippi points out, “and this condition obviously affected the development of berry proportions, with an average volume that was smaller, leading to an increase in Spi (Skin/Pulp Index, the ratio of skin to pulp, ed.): this explains, therefore, the slightly lower yields per hectare on average”. The increase in Spi, on the other hand, was advantageous for some varieties in terms of aroma or polyphenolic richness, and the return of historical average temperatures in August allowed an excellent ripening phase of the grapes, especially in the areas with the later ripenings. Widespread drought and extreme heat aside, the 2022 vintage was one of the most heterogeneous in recent years. The Sicilian viticultural territories, extremely diverse in terms of orographic, ampelographic and microclimatic peculiarities, experienced a good productive year, on average for the last few years, with an increase in the richness of the different qualitative expressions for the different varieties. This is a factor that could really give an additional push to characterize and diversify the peculiarities of the sub-areas of this great region in the wines it produces, which unfortunately are still struggling to distinguish today. The work of deepening indigenous grape varieties and rediscovering relic grape varieties go precisely in this direction.

Native white varieties (such as Grillo, Catarratto, Carricante and Zibibbo), thanks in part to the agronomic management techniques traditionally adopted in Sicily, are increasingly expressing their centuries-old link with the island's climate and terroir. But Nero d’Avola, Perricone, Frappato and Nerello Mascalese, with late ripening, have also responded well and are therefore good allies for these new growing conditions. “It is precisely in the ancient varieties, such as those that are being recovered in Sicily, that post-modern enology will be able to draw on to obtain contemporary wines in this production context subject to climate change”, Filippi confirms. All over the world there are varieties that had been abandoned because they were difficult to grow in the past or had inadequate quality profiles in the period where the market and consumption sought different standards. Today, characteristics such as the ability to accumulate little sugar, and therefore to obtain less alcoholic wines, and the possibility of obtaining grapes with great endowment of natural acidity, are extremely advantageous both for the climatic conditions of the last decade and for the consumption that is seeking these types of wine, less alcoholic, more fragrant and territorial.

The other ally will be the territory itself; it is likely that, in the great brand Sicily, more and more wines will be produced that are the offspring of specific territories that, with the presence of two/three characterizing and qualitatively adequate varieties, even very different from each other, will succeed in generating wines that express a clear territorial identity. “The Docg Cerasuolo di Vittoria, the Doc Contea di Sclafani, Contessa Entellina, Etna, Eloro, Menfi, Noto, Vittoria and the future Additional Geographical Units (Uga) or the Docs that will be born (on which the Consortium for the Protection of Sicily Doc Wines, led by Antonio Rallo, has been working for some time), already represent a great opportunity to interpret vintage, territory and climate change in the best possible way. It will be these two riches, the many indigenous varieties and the different territories”, Filippi concludes, “that will contribute greatly to the growing success of Sicilian wine and wine tourism, and that thanks to the interpretations of companies, such as those present in Assovini Sicilia, it will be the wine itself that will become an ambassador and guardian of culture and territory.

So, to the test of the glass, here is Sicily: with its indigenous and international grape varieties, with the richness of soils and micro-climates, playing with different winemaking techniques, delivering us a multifaceted palette of interpretations, full of confirmations and - fortunately - surprises and unpublished. “Sicilia en Primeur 2023”, with more than 350 tastings available to journalists (more than 50 of which were previews), offered again this year a unique opportunity to get a first and intense impression of the wines to be encountered in Trinacria. “I Quaderni di WineNews”, to be released, soon, in May 2023, will offer an interpretation of Sicilian tastings.

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