Sicily – An Odyssey of Wine 2013, Hong Kong Jockey Club, Happy Valley

Wines tasted:

  1. Cantine Russo, Rampante Etna DOP 2007
  2. Duca di Salaparuta, Livico 2009
  3. Gulfi, Nerojbleo 2009
  4. Spadafora, Schietto Syrah IGP Sicilia 2005
  5. Abraxas, Passito di Pantelleria DOC 2008

Sicilian wines have come to Hong Kong and to get things started yesterday, Debra Meiburg MW presented a masterclass on the wines from this region before participants attended a tasting affair in the afternoon.

Meeting Debra briefly before the masterclass I was struck immediately by her warm personality and infectious energy. This translated well to the masterclass where she took us through the basics of Sicilian history, geography, grape varieties and wine-making styles. Debra’s style is one of easy communication as she kept us engaged with questions, pop quizzes and even a quick lesson on how to make the perfect paper airplane – all the while ensuring we remembered the subject at hand.


wines with plane

The wines on tasting were a good representation of native varieties from Sicily with my favourites being the first and last wines we tasted. The first wine from Cantine Russo, Rampante Etna DOP 2007, a Nerello Mascalese (80%), Nerello Cappuccio (20%) blend, had me writing numerous descriptors for nose and palate and adding to them each time I came back to the glass. A lovely perfumed wine, which on first sniff gave aromas of sweet spice and red fruits that then moved on to leather, forest floor and charcuterie as the wine continued to open. Acidity and tannin levels were nicely balanced with flavours of sour cherries, liquorice and wet leaves.

Cantine Russo

Cantine Russo has vines on the slopes of Mount Etna ranging in altitude from 700 – 1,000 metres above sea level. The location provides dark mineral rich volcanic soils and a wide diurnal range, or a wide contrast in day and night temperatures. The resulting wine is one of elegance in structure and layered complexity on the nose and palate.

My other favourite was from Abraxas, a vineyard on the island of Pantelleria, south of Sicily, locating it, in fact, on the same latitude as the African city of Tunis. This island is most famous for the Muscats produced here.

The Passito di Pantelleria is a luscious sweet wine produced by using the hot dry African winds to concentrate the sugars in the grapes. This method, known as passito, leaves the grapes to naturally raisin in the sun by a number of different ways such as on the vine or on mats made from straw. For Passito di Pantelleria the grapes can be raisined for up to 30 days allowing for a particularly sweet wine as well as a higher alcohol level. (The Passito di Pantelleria we tasted had 14.5% abv with residual sugar of 158.2 G/L.)

The Abraxas Passito di Pantelleria was a beautiful bright gold with aromas of sweet tangerine, apricot, pear and honeysuckle. Flavours of poached pear and apricot, honey and a hint of almond with good acidity to cleanse the palate made me want to take another sip, and another one …

After the masterclass was the walkthrough tasting fair. What I particularly liked about this was the opportunity to taste multiple examples of Nero d’Avola, one of the more well known native varieties of Sicily, but one I had not tasted before.

The grape provides deeply coloured purple wines of medium plus acidity and tannins. On the nose I found aromas of farmyard, spice and dark fruits. The palate showed black cherry, plums and blackcurrant leaf. Of all the examples I tasted my preference was a blend of Cabernet Franc (50%) and Nero d’Avola (50%), from Abraxas – Sidereus IGT Sicily Red, 2009. Perhaps it was the perfume and softer tannins of the Cabernet Franc that led my novice Nero d’Avola palate to prefer this example over those of 100% Nero d’Avola.

As the producer of 14% of Italy’s wine it was good to see many different examples of quality wines rather than the bulk wines for which Sicily has been known for in the past. Although it will take me a while to remember the names of these native varieties, let alone actually pronounce them correctly, I am going to be on the look out for them next time I am in a bottle store or perusing a wine list.

Happy Drinking!


Cantine Russo wines

Abraxas wines

Jancis Robinson Purple Pages

Johnson, H. & Robinson, J. (2007). The World Atlas of Wine. Great Britain: Mitchell Beazley.

Published by Happy Wine Woman

Wine consultant currently based in Melbourne, Australia.

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