Summer 2019 was full of wonderful wine travel and research for me beginning with Sicily. From Rome we flew to Catania, an ancient port city on Sicily’s east coast that sits at the foot of Mt. Etna – an active volcano. Our tour guides from Etna Wine Lab organized a week in southeastern Sicily that began in Noto. The first winery visit was Azienda Terre di Noto owned by Nino di Marco, where we also met with: Massimo Padova of Az. Riofavara and Angleo Paternò of Az. Cantina Marilina, all sustainability advocates and certified under SOStain, the sustainability program for Sicilian viticulture. We tasted a range of wines: Lapalicca, a flavorful Moscato, Passito de Noto; Acheta, a Grillo of Terre di Noto; and Calauris Black, 2017 Nero d’Avola of Terre di Noto.
Next stop Ortigia Island, the oldest part of the beautiful city of Siracusa – its historical center and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We enjoyed two days exploring temples and palaces of Greek and Baroque origin, and the stunning Cathedral in the center of the old town square.
From Siracusa our guides Valeria and Mauro, the owners of Etna Wine Lab, took us to Vittoria to visit Azienda Arianna Occhipinti where we were hosted by Gian Marco Iannello, sommelier and assistant manager. He explained in great detail the growing techniques, the different contradas – a term I only learned in Sicily to explain unique terroir and wine zones, some as small as one might find in Burgundy and as uniquely different one from the other. We tasted this uniqueness as we experienced the barrel tasting and learned about Arianna’s vision for vineyard expansion and winegrowing in different contradas. That evening we had the wonderful opportunity to attend the VII edition of the Festa del Cerasuolo, with 8 chefs and 8 wineries, at Chiaramonte Gulfi, a stunningly beautiful property and winery, to celebrate the only DOCG of the Island, the Cerasuolo di Vittoria, while being entertained by a New Orleans-style brass street band. We tasted wines of Arianna Occhipinti, Poggio di Bortolone, COS, Guglielmo Manenti, Nanfro, Avide, Paolo Calì and had the honor of meeting Arianna and discussing her passion for biodynamic and natural wine making.
Next stop Etna and the Firriato Cavanera Etnea Resort where we relaxed for the rest of our stay in Sicily. Firriato Winery had just been certified carbon neutral, among the world’s first wine cellars to neutralize greenhouse gas emissions. My favorite of all the Firriato wines was Harmonium, a Nero d’Avola blend of fruit from Firriato’s three best vineyards. Valeria and Mauro, wine and food experts, who live in the area, had set up meetings and tastings with Frank Cornelissen and with Salvo Foti — a traditional winemaker who still uses ancestral vinification for his wine, an old press and winemaking area called a palmento, a large, shallow stone basin where grapes are foot-treaded, then pressed by the large wooden press.
In Etna we enjoyed eating the unique food of Sicily with its Arabic culinary influences, exploring the black lava from past eruptions of Mt. Etna and topped off by an evening in stunning Taormina with its breathtaking views.
Back home from Italy, almost immediately I was off to Toronto to give a speech at the annual Wine Symposium of the George Brown School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts. I spoke about the business of sustainable wine ad why this is imperative for wine producer and retail. Other featured speakers included keynote address by Stephen Spurrier; and Simon Woolf, author of Amber Revolution provided insights on the rising popularity of orange and natural wines. A treat for the speakers was a day trip before the summit to wineries in Niagara on the Lake (the subject of a recent New York Times feature). I knew little about Ontario wines and was stunned by the beauty of this region and the innovations of the wineries there.
Finally, in July I traveled to Adelaide for the Australia Wine International Technical Conference (AWITC) where I was a workshop speaker on sustainability and a plenary speaker on diversity in the wine industry. (Check out my column at Wine Review Online column on Aussie sustainability and read my blog on this site about on diversity in the wine industry). Of course, no wine trip is complete without exploring new restaurants and wineries: dinner in Adelaide at Sean’s Kitchen was superb…. a drive to Barossa Valley to meet the owner and winemaker of Paxton, a biodynamic winery and to see the d’Arenberg Cube. A special tour of Penfolds Magill Estate, very close to Adelaide, and tasting the spectacular 2014 Grange topped off a spectacular summer of wine and travel!