Friday, September 29, 2017

A Sicilian Woman and Her Wine

It is the first weekend of fall, a season to begin drinking red wine again.

Looking through my cellar, I picked the 2013 Occhipinti Nero d'Avola Sicilia Siccagno, a lively wine made by a bold young Sicilian lady, Arianna Occhipinti. What a great way to pay tribute to Sicily and female winemakers!

Sicily and Nero d'Avola

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, located in the south of the Italian boot-shaped peninsula, as if it is being kicked like a triangular soccer ball. For many years, Sicily's claim to fame, for me, consisted of mafia and Rachael Ray's maternal grandfather.

Although known for Marsala, Sicilian dry wines have more recently made inroads into Italian restaurants and grocery stores in the United States partly because of the friendlier price point. The most famous grape in Sicily is Nero d'Avola, dark-skinned (hence nero) and high in acidity. It is also the main grape in the only DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) in Sicily, Cerasuolo di Vittoria. DOCG is the highest classification of Italian wines, ensuring that the winemaking process follows stringent rules and meets the quality for that classification.

Arianna Occhipinti

Arianna is the niece of Giusto Occhipinti, co-founder of the famed winery, COS. Since her teens, she has been working in a winery. In 2004, at the age of 21, Arianna ventured out to make her first commercial vintage with a single cask. Today, she has thirteen vintages, six wines, and a grappa under her belt. She even produced a Cerasuolo di Vittoria named Grotte Alte, which is 50% Nero d'Avola and 50% Frappato, a fruit-forward blending grape.

Arianna takes a minimalist approach to winemaking, preferring native yeasts and letting the grapes themselves guide the vinification process. While striving to keep her wines as natural as possible, Arianna has also become more comfortable with incorporating sulphite in the fermentation process. This reduces the problem of volatile acids and off flavors that challenged her earlier vintages.

2013 Occhipinti Nero d'Avola Sicilia Siccagno
2013 Occhipinti Nero d'Avola Sicilia Siccagno is classified as an IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica), loosely translated as the wine that is typical of the particular geographical region. IGT is the second level of the four-level classification of Italian wines. (DOCG being the top.) IGT wines are great for everyday drinking and are a level higher than table wine (VdT or Vino da Tavola). Here are my observations:

Day 1
Deep purple, the wine was jammy with lively acidity. It seemed to be medium-bodied, but the high acidity might have affected that perception. It was reminiscent of a very young Burgundy, not quite ready to enjoy fully and does not yet exhibit much complexity.

Day 2 
Transformation seemed to have taken place. Acidity seemed to have mellowed out and was more integrated with the wine. The wine was more balanced and opulent with flavors of plum. It was much more enjoyable!

My Verdict: I don't usually like high acidity in my red wine, and I need more dimensions (like tannins, structure) to balance it out. Thankfully, the wine evolved in that direction by the second day. However, I can see this as a great companion to rich dishes, like beef stew. Like many old world wines, the Siccagno is better as a food wine rather than a sipping wine.

Price: ~$40