Posted by: tomciocco | August 28, 2013

CARRICANTE: FROM THE SLOPES OF ETNA, THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING OF SICILIAN WHITES

There are just as many first-line -quality grapes from Sicily as almost any other region in Italy with the possible exception of Piedmont: Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Frappato, Perricone among the reds, and Grillo, Inzolia, Catarrato and tonight’s variety, Carricante, for the whites, and all of them put together can’t match the market power of even one of Piedmont’s heavy hitters like Nebbiolo or Dolcetto. The reasons for this disparity are legion, but suffice it to say that none of them have anything to do with quality or market appeal. I’ll leave you to speculate as to why…

The Carricante grape is native to the northeastern corner of this largest of Mediterranean islands, and more specifically to the oenological paradise afforded to it by the volcanic soils it is gifted by the lava flows of mighty Mount Etna. And though Carricante’s dispersion over the island has retreated to its northeastern homeland, this great grape was once cultivated all across Sicily, and it stands to re-conquer the island if given half a chance.

Carricante’s advantages as a cultivar are evident. First and most importantly, it makes wonderfully sapid, expressive, fragrant and freshly acidic wines that age very well, and the name “Carricante” in Italian clearly and correctly conveys the idea that this vine is a steady and prodigious producer (“caricato” means “loaded”). But no grape is without its weaknesses. Carricante does best with a fair amount of rainfall which can be difficult to consistently expect in Sicily. It also is sensitive to early Spring frosts, it’s quite susceptible to fungally-derived grape vine diseases, and it matures late, potentially leaving it exposed to that many more meteorological vagaries.

Here in 2013 though, some of Carricante’s inherent pecadillos can and are being overcome by technology and more astute vineyard management, and it these advances come through clearly in this wine. In my opinion, it won’t be long before Carricante  once again wears the crown as the king of Sicilian whites.

I put this nifty and unique wine with a first course of rigatoni with a sauce of tomato, green beans, potatoes, tuna and oregano and then a sort of complex Sicilian “stir fry” of cubed and floured chicken breast, broccoli rabe, yellow and orange peppers, garlic, anchovies, white raisins, pinoli nuts, green olives, capers, and white wine with a some plain white rice as a foil.

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Az. Vin. Calabretta Carricante Sicilia I.G.T. 2010

Medium-deep bright golden yellow color. Proudly expressive nose of musk melon, grapefruit, peach nectar, almond, powdered ginger, charcoal smoke, mixed herbs, linseed oil,  fish sauce and dried yellow flowers. The palate is big and well-structured with a prominent acidity with gregarious flavors of white currants, dried lime, gooseberry, candied fennel, cocoa butter, balsamic flavors and a powerful, flinty minerality. Long and strong finish. A really fine wine that speaks with a big voice.

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