Chapter 9: Sicily and Marsala region
When I do close my eyes and think about Sicily I always get all those images from their beautiful sea landscape, the smell of food coming from the open windows of the small houses that populate the narrow streets in the center of their historical towns.
Marsala is one of the most important and old wine locations in the whole region. Shaped by its huge history, its harbour opens to the vastness of the Mediterranean sea, the place where in the past the wines from whole Sicily and Marsala itself used to depart for their commercialization.
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The famous Marsala is one of the world’s great fortified wines, made exclusively in and around the town of that name, in the far west of the island. Like some of its fortified counterparts from other parts of Europe, Marsala has seen a significant slump in popularity and sales over the past few decades, although there are efforts underway to re-establish its once-gleaming profile.
Today I would like to introduce you to a wine from Marsala region but not a fortified wine, the Integer Grillo IGP 2016 from Marco de Bartoli.
Marco de Bartoli is considered one of the fathers of a new generation of wines from Marsala and he is also famous for being a very controversial personality. This reminds me of many important wine personalities but especially one that I have been talking about in our Piedmont episode, Beppe Rinaldi.
Both with an harsh and edgy personality, but great interpreters of their territory and founders of some of the greatest personality and quality wines from there. He is considered the father of a high quality Grillo wines from Marsala and I couldn’t find a better way to present you Sicily region through a wine, especially if paired with the dish of this week: Pasta c’ancovia e ca muddica (Pasta with anchovies and crumb).
Grillo is a Sicilian white grape variety most famous for its role in the island’s fortified Marsala wines. It is still widely planted in Sicily despite Marsala’s fall from fashion, and is now used most commonly in a variety of still white wines, both varietal and blended. Grillo, when vinified to a high standard, makes a fresh, light white wine with nutty, fruit-driven flavors that include lemon and apple.
The name chosen for this line of wines “Integer” in Latin means integrity and purity and so you can easily imagine which is the message from this wine. It is a 100% Grillo grape, from 20 years old vines in Marsala, where the soil is sandy and limestone-sands. No fertilizers and no herbicides are used and the wine is accompanied to its journey without any human interfering.
The fermentation is spontaneous with wild yeasts and the must is left in contact with the skins for 10 days. The major part of the wine is aged in big oak barrels while a small portion is aged in amphora jars.
The result is a very deep and unconventional wine, with a bright golden colour. In the nose the wine is very intense and complex, the sweety driven notes from the maceration are the protagonists in the glass, ripen fruit, peach, apricot, dried apricot, honey, floreal shades of broom, followed by hazelnuts, almonds and in the finish smoky notes and wet stones.
In the mouth the wine enters round and gentle with a very good acidity and a long finish. The sweet sensations are still present in the after taste, which are a perfect match for the savoury and salty sensations of the anchovies.
I cannot think about a more perfect pairing when the wine is at the same time sweet and savoury and matches and contrasts simultaneously every bite of pasta in the palate.
Marco de Bartoli died at age of 66 almost ten years ago, and now the winery is managed by his sons which are keeping the same vision of their father.
This wine really impressed me and I would really suggest you to try the wines from De Bartoli if you are diving into Sicilian wines to have a better comprehension of this side and this special part of the island but especially of Grillo grape.
Carlotta’s food story
Sicily is one of those places which you visit and suddenly realize you never want to leave, there is something magic about its people, history and food.
A region with a history that extends back to 20.000 B.C. that across the years was inhabited by a multitude of peoples, which all left part of their culture and traditions behind, shaping Sicilians in becoming multifaceted people.
First the Phoenicians, then the Ancient Greeks until it was eventually absorbed into the Roman Empire until its fall, when it fell in the hands of the Byzantines and subsequently the Arabs, who left a very significant imprint on the island, especially from a gastronomic point of view.
Sicily eventually became part of Italy in 1860 and became an autonomous region in 1946. Its vast and mixed-culture history means that many extremely significant and almost intact archeological sites can be found, from the Valley of the Temples to Erice, Selinunte and the Necropolis of Pantalica.
Pasta is synonymous with Sicily, you might have heard of pasta alla Norma, pasta con le Sarde and spaghetti with sea urchins, the three most well-known pasta dishes from the island. What you might have not known is that Sicily is the oldest Italian and Western-world location where pasta, worked by hand with the help of tools such as sticks and rods, was part of the local cuisine. This dates back to the 12th century, which means that pasta was already being made years and years before that, in order to have already found its place as a staple local dish.
The recipe I want to share with you is – you guessed it – a pasta recipe. Not one of the most popular ones however, but a pasta I discovered during my Sicilian gastronomic deep dive, when I ate in one of the most rustic and most delicious restaurants in Palermo, Trattoria Ferro di Cavallo.
Pasta c’anciove e ca muddica, pasta with anchovies and breadcrumbs, is a wonderfully simple yet extremely tasty pasta dish, made with easily-preservable ingredients that can be sourced almost anywhere. Anchovies in olive oil, stale bread and tomato concentrate are the dish’s main ingredients (though I must admit that garlic and Pecorino play a very important role too).
Records state that this dish was created as an alternative to pasta con le sarde, by Sicilians who left their island for the North of Italy in search of more opportunities, who would buy the preserved anchovies and tomato concentrate during their trips back home in order to replicate the dish, who’s flavours reminded them of their home, throughout the year.
If you would like to see the full recipe follow the link here to check Carlotta’s blog !