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The best tastings of “Sicilia en primeur”: from Erice, the “city of science”, the colors of Sicily

If the geography of a territory can mitigate climate change and its effects in the glass, Sicily turns out to be a champion of stability

Making wine - and not only wine, starting from the premise that viticulture is, first of all, an agricultural act - is getting more and more difficult, in a climate framework which, because of its changes, in the last 20 years, has led to more and more extreme phenomena which affect the well-being of plants and therefore the quality of the grapes they produce. “Sicilia en Primeur” n.18 by Assovini Sicilia, the most important Sicilian enological event, in Erice in the Ettore Majorana Center of Scientific Culture, from April 29 to May 1, can only start from this global situation and its local effects in order to explain the climatic trend, the future forecast and the consequences in the glass. What has been and what is expected from climate, vineyards and wine in the words of the Trentino wine consultant of Assovini Sicilia Mattia Filippi and Professor Marco Moriondo of the Institute of Bioeconomics of the CNR of Florence, in the opening conference of the kermesse, which preceded the tasting at the counters with the producers and the technical tasting.
From a macro-thematic point of view, the speech of Professor Marco Moriondo of the Institute of Bioeconomics of the CNR of Florence outlines the general framework within which efforts must be concentrated in finding solutions compatible with the changes taking place. The professor explains, in fact, how the production of quality wines is triggered by the interaction - established on the basis of the experience of mankind in the course of time - between soil-climate and vine; and how a minimum variation in one of these factors is destined to alter the typicality of wine productions, with measurable consequences also on a market which has become global. “Scientific evidence has already shown how the increase in temperature observed in the last 50 years has altered the seasonal rhythms of development and growth of the vine in the most important cultivation areas of the world - said Moriondo - determining, depending on the geographical area, drastic increases in production (as in northern Europe) or strong reductions (as in southern Europe and Australia), with alteration of the qualitative characteristics of the grape”.
Co2 levels have been steadily increasing since 1999, with an increase of more than 1/3 from the 1960s to today. This has caused a marked increase in temperatures, but not in the amount of rain: from the Eighties to the 2000s, in fact, the variations have been around zero, while what has significantly changed is the distribution of water falling, which changes in the form of the number of rainy days, decreasing throughout Italy. In short, the same amount in fewer days, with more intense events: the famous “water bombs”. “The impact, however, is asymmetrical - explained Moriondo - because the distance between one rainy day and the next is increasing in the areas distributed around the Mediterranean, while Eastern Europe is practically immune, where southern France, Spain, Italy and Greece (from a European point of view) are the areas most subjected to this type of stress”. On the vine, in particular, affects the temperature. The hotter it gets, the more it anticipates the phenological phase and shortens the time between budding, flowering, setting, veraison and ripening. This translates into a reduction of the time useful to accumulate biomass, which means less production, which is added to the reduction of yields caused by the risks of return of cold during the budding phase in spring.
Even here, however, the situation changes according to the position in the hemisphere: in southern Germany, for example, in the last century there was an important increase in yields, in correspondence to the increase of temperatures. In these areas, in fact, it is not water that limits production, but cold, therefore the increase in temperatures has increased both yields and quality of grapes, thanks to the change in sugar level. On the contrary, in Australia, the increase in temperatures since 1985 has led to drastic consequences in the decrease of production and in the quality of grapes produced.
Looking at Italy, these differences are also perceptible between Sicily and Northern Italy. From 2006 to 2021, Sicily experienced a constant reduction in production, while Lombardy, on the contrary, experienced a constant increase from 1951 to 2010. There is, however, a detail that benefits Sicily: the influence of peaks. While northern Italy suffers every climatic variation (producing more or less every time the temperature goes up or down), Sicily enjoys surprising stability, probably because it is already accustomed to the extreme variability, to which vines over time have adapted, also thanks to the selection made by man from year to year. Moreover, it seems that even the orography of the territory has a say in the matter. In Australia are completely at the mercy of climatic variability (much more than northern Italy) also because of its territorial homogeneity. The territories that instead contain different microclimates have a greater ability to adapt because the effects are slowed down.
But what are the effects of these macro climatic changes perceptible inside the berry? "Rising temperatures increase the degree of sugar and decrease the degree of acidity, decoupling two values in symbiosis, with deleterious effects on oenological results, especially considering the two factors “temperature” and “water availability” in the Mediterranean basin from now to the next thirty years (with significant variations in the forecasts depending on the model used) . As already mentioned, there will be an asymmetrical impact between Northern and Southern Europe, with a projection which sees a decrease in yields mainly in Southern France, Spain and Italy, Turkey and Greece. Tuscany, however, if we take into account the geographic variability of the area, shows that what we see globally can be different locally. At 100 meters a.s.l. the increase in temperature causes the quality of grapes to drop, at 400 meters the quality increases to drop later, at 600 it gradually increases without decreasing. The altitudinal belts - concluded Moriondo - are therefore a boundary to be explored, because the rise in temperature makes altitudes available to viticulture that were not available before. So viticulture will not disappear: it will have to adapt. And the geographical and micro-climatic richness will help this adaptation.
Mattia Filippi, oenologist and co-founder of “Uva Sapiens”, illustrates specifically (here is the “promising regional focus”) how today Sicily is in a privileged condition compared to the European and global climate changes, in the form of worrying slow meteo-climatic dynamics, which however have to deal with more and more extreme weather phenomena. The island is, in fact, in a condition of viticulture so tied to tradition that today, a series of productive variables related to it, are extremely relevant to climate change. Autochthonous varieties play a key role in this sense as well. Sicily has been and is a great wine laboratory and it will enjoy special attention for the next decades from other important wine territories, which are already seriously facing climate changes, from California to Australia.
If nature tends “naturally” towards balance, so should agriculture. If we include in the equation all the climatic and energy variables in the environment, the territory shows us how there are areas of land that react well and areas that do not react well, with many nuances in between. If we add the productive factors caused by man, things become more extreme. Today we have the tools to intervene, in part to calm this outcome and often these are actions that are linked to the daily and personal management of the fields. This continuous work, which takes shape from tradition, allows us to gather experience, which the contemporary era is able to transform into data and predictive models. “For centuries viticulture has been facing challenges that it has gradually managed to overcome: phylloxera with the revolution of rootstock, the passage from quantity to quality production, the passage from modern to post-modern enology, now the climate. About rootstocks, - recalled Filippi - Paulsen and Ruggeri were the ones who imported the first contraband scions, founding the industry and showing how much the Sicilian avant-garde was also in the agronomic field. At that time international vines were not grafted on the rootstocks, which did not arrive in Sicily, but were chosen from local varieties, among the strongest and most resilient to the difficulties of the place. Today we know Catarratto ripens in Sicily in the same period as Chardonnay in Chablis. The huge Sicilian ampelographic variety has been created in this way and what made the region anachronistic until 50 years ago, today makes it a current strong point. One example above all: Zibibbo is the father of 60 different varieties”.
It is not enough: there are 40 different forms of cultivation in Italy, which develop different foliage. Today we know that dwarfism and limiting the growth is no longer good for today’s climate: the classic Sicilian sapling, apparently disorderly, gives instead several layers of leaves which protect the bunch from the excess of sun or water. Even on the soil, Sicily has accumulated useful experiences, for example, in order to save the availability of water: when it is not available, it is used to preserve it, both in the way of working the soil and in protecting the humus, by means of green manure or grassing.
As for the analysis of the last harvest, the Sicilian production level is stable on about 4 million hectoliters, slightly below the average of the last 10 years as the trend at global level, but for surface, and thanks to the productive, qualitative vision, not much is changing. The year 2021 recorded a +8.3% compared to 2020. Compared to other regions of Italian wine, such as Tuscany, Piedmont, Veneto, Apulia, Emilia Romagna, where production fluctuations are much higher, Sicily is more stable, and constancy is an index of quality, because each variation of vintage is easier to manage thanks to the knowledge and experience gradually accumulated.
From the climatic point of view, temperatures have been increasing since 1980, and since 2000 the variation is extreme. On the island, however, the anomalies recorded are less than in the rest of Europe: the change is slower because of the Balkan currents and the sea that surrounds the territory. The effects are there, of course, but less dramatic than elsewhere: the peaks of heat and the concentration of rainfall exist, but the increases above the average are small. In detail, the 2021 vintage has recorded an early spring with temperatures below the average which delayed budding and flowering, while late spring and summer have brought temperatures up again, attesting them above the average: production was, therefore, excellent, with a reduction in quantity due to stress. The drought index is of moderate entity and it occurs in areas where viticulture is not very present. The main problem of Sicily, in this regard, is that there is water but it is not stored in the regional water network. From March to the end of September, during the vegetative period, the balances in the water ratios are very similar from year to year: there are slight advances or longer dry periods, but on the whole the last 6 years have been stable in the different provinces: the cumulative data tell us that there are about 200 milliliters of rain fallen per year, with a ratio between total rainfall and vegetative period of 25%. Native varieties, once again, responded well to summer stress. Catarratto and Lucido ripened well, Grillo production had a slight decrease but developed interesting and modern thiol expressions. Among reds, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet ripened very well, confirming that international wines have been able to adapt well in Sicily. In the South, Inzolia developed good aromas and alcohol levels. Nero d’Avola, with its always different characters according to the provinces where it grows, has given exceptional results at times. There was some early development of Moscato but well managed, Frappato did not have any problem, whereas on Etna reds ripened before whites, giving a powerful and good vintage, even for Carricante and Nocera.
From these assumptions, here are the best tastings of the editorial staff of WineNews, selected at “Sicilia en primeur” 2022 in Erice, among whites, rosés, reds and passito wines, which will then compose, together with other tastings, the newsletter “I Quaderni di WineNews” (at the end of May):

Fondo Antico, Sicilia Inzolia Sole 2021
Zagara, citron, fresh almond, mint and lavender, for a fresh and vanilla mouthfeel, savory then, slightly bitter cedar.

Cottanera, Etna Bianco Contrada Calderara 2019
Carricante that tastes like flint with intense citrine notes, then butter; savory in the mouth, it spreads mineral, with juicy citrus notes.

Pietradolce, Terre Siciliane Carricante Sant’Andrea 2017
Super concentrated in color, yellow fruit and flowers, wide, intense, savory sip, central tannin, then butter, broom and candied citron.

Vivera, Etna Bianco Salisire 2017
Carricante that smells of yellow flowers and white fruit, yellow melon, lemon balm and a little buttery note, citrine in the mouth, then vanilla, flows savory filling the mouth.

Mandrarossa, Terre Siciliane Fiano 2021
Lively: yellow fruit, white flowers, sage to give the balsamic touch, in the mouth it is fresh, warm, peppery and savory.

Feudo Principi di Butera, Sicily Grillo Diamante 2021
Pinkish yellow in color, tastes of wild strawberry, fresh almond; very fresh in the mouth, then soft and almondy, buttery, orange blossom on the finish, slightly peppery.

Tasca d’Almerita, Sicilia Grillo Mozia 2021
Very delicate nose of orange blossom, acacia, white melon, cedar, almond, lemon balm, in the mouth is savory, then flows away with freshness leaving iodine, pear, lavender and mint.

Cantine Fina, Terre Siciliane Zibibbo Taif 2021
An orange grove in the glass, orange blossom, fresh almond and mint, intense and clean, the sip is also very intense, fresh and slightly savory on the return.

Dimore di Giurfo, Terre Siciliane Frappato Pian della Signora 2021
Intense and pleasant rosé, sweet but citrusy, notes of sage and thyme, rose, raspberry, grapefruit and cedar, which are found in the mouth, fresh and citrusy, savory in the finish, very floral and citrusy.

Baglio di Pianetto, Terre Siciliane Syrah Baia Syrah 2021
Bright rosé but very delicate nose of red rosebuds, flows well in the mouth, citrusy and floral and savory.

Casa Grazia, Sicilia Frappato Laetitya 2021
Red currant, bramble and raspberry, sweet and pungent together, sweet and acidic in the mouth, almost tart, tannic but thirst-quenching.

Planeta, Vittoria Frappato 2021
Clear and sweet, cherry and vanilla, tight but recovers in freshness, red rose, cherry and raspberry, pleasant in its gracefulness.

Tornatore, Etna Rosso Pietrarizzo 2018
Light Nerello Mascalese on the nose, mostly macerated flowers, raspberry; the sip is light, the tannin is there, frontal, strawberry flavor, peppery and fresh on the finish.

Firriato, Etna Rosso Cavanera Rovo delle Coturnie 2016
Red orange, spice and vanilla, then notes of cherry and iron, underbrush; sweet and fruity in the mouth, where the green streak remains and lengthens the savory and peppery sip, with cherry flavor on the finish.

Cusumano, Sicilia Nero d’Avola Sagana 2019
Concentrated violet, blackberry candy and vanilla, sweet spice, raspy tannin, frontal, then sweet on the good, firm palate.

Firriato, Etna Rosso Cavanera Rovo delle Coturnie 2016
Red orange, spice and vanilla, then notes of cherry and iron, underbrush; sweet and fruity in the mouth, where the green streak remains and lengthens the savory and peppery sip, with cherry flavor on the finish.

Cusumano, Sicilia Nero d’Avola Sagana 2019
Concentrated violet, blackberry candy and vanilla, sweet spice, raspy tannin, sweet on a good, firm palate.

Assuli, Sicilia Nero d’Avola Lorlando 2019
Cherry, red currant, earthy underbrush, vanilla; mouthfeel is sweet violet candy, savory, with pleasant bramble notes.

Feudo Arancio, Sicilia Nero d’Avola Hedonis Riserva 2015
With a concentration of orange, vanilla and tamarind, there’s plenty of tannin and cherry, which imprint with sweet woody spices, and a warm, peppery finish.

Rapitalà, Sicilia Nero d’Avola Alto Reale 2020
Notes of wasabi, then cherry, earthy root aromas and then vanilla; the sip is very sweet and has grip that tastes like blackberry candy and vanilla, with a sustaining vegetal streak.

Baglio del Cristo di Campobello, Sicilia Syrah Lusirà 2019
Tastes of violets and vanilla, jammy red fruit, roots and mushrooms; mouthfeel is sweet and lively of raspberry, currant, vanilla, peppery, and adheres while remaining nicely savory of red citrus.

Donnafugata, Passito di Pantelleria Ben Ryé 2019
Lots of flowers, hazelnut, chestnut honey, wax, it’s very sweet, but also deep, brine and dehydrated apricot, fig flavor in the mouth, with chocolate, beeswax, candied orange, it’s savory and fresh enough to move, slowly, toward the throat.

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