Oct 02

South Africa’s Wine Regions

South African Vineyard

South African Vineyard

By international standards, South Africa is a small producer: only 1.5% of global plantings; slightly over 105,000 hectares (260,000 acres). But recent years have seen significant growth, with over 140 million liters exported per year from 830 million liters produced.

A producer of both whites and reds, 80% of new plantings are Shiraz, Cabernet, and Merlot and a sprinkling of others. Over 20% of the white is predominately Chenin Blanc, and white varieties are still in the far majority.

Though new to the international scene, South Africa has been under cultivation for 350 years, since the arrival of Dutch settlers. With 60 appellations, the area has fewer than a dozen major regions.

The Cape area has seen vintages since the arrival of Europeans, with the Stellenbosch region serving as the modern hub of production. Though the region knows several common varieties, it also produces an indigenous hybrid called ‘pinotage’, which is well suited to local conditions.

Walker Bay is one of the newer, cooler areas on the Whale Coast south of Cape Town. Classic Chardonnay and Pinot Noir form the bulk of the production here. To the north is Swartland, where rainfall is limited so efforts are fed mostly by artificial irrigation.

In the suburbs is the small Constantia, where vineyards reside on the slopes of the eponymous mountain. The historic center of winemaking, it boasts a Semillon made from ideal climatic conditions.

East of Stellenbosch is Elgin, where the high altitude produces cooler temperatures than most other regions. Inland to the west, surrounded by the Drakenstein mountains, is the Franschoek Valley. Blessed with high rainfall and hot periods, the variety of soils combine with the climate to make perfect growing conditions.

To the north-west, Paarl houses many of the leading South African producers. Traditionally given almost exclusively to white, political and economic changes have encouraged the vintners to turn their efforts to red. The Mediterranean climate helps those efforts. Hotter than Stellenbosch, Paarl produces some of the best South African wines.

Durbanville vineyards, on the hills of north-east Cape Town, have been producing wine for nearly 300 years. Today, both red and white are well represented between a stellar Sauvignon Blanc and an excellent Shiraz.

But South African conditions don’t merely emulate the Mediterranean. The Klein Karroo is a semi-desert region where muscatels and Portuguese port is produced.

Robertson, 120km (72mi) form Cape Town, lies along a fertile and warm valley. Chardonnay and even sparkling wine are made here. Like other regions, red is becoming more popular, with the main effort being Shiraz.

Hot Worcester, near Robertson, and the surrounding area forms 20% of all South African vineyards, despite the long distance from Cape Town. Here, brandy is one of the chief products.

While politically the country’s fate is always an open question, their winemaking efforts show a commitment to quality second to none. With the substantial investments made over the last few years, several vineyard’s results are set to enter the world stage.

Sep 24

Germany’s Major Wine Districts

Harvesting in Dresden, Germany

Harvesting in Dresden, Germany

Germany has hundreds of wine festivals every year. But to provide all that fun requires an even larger amount of hard work in its justly world-famous vineyards.

Baden

Nowhere is that effort more evident than Baden. At the southernmost tip of Germany’s wine regions, this slender strip of land extends from Lake Constance in the south to Heidelberg in the north.

Though third in size, Baden may well be the most renowned. Situated near the famed Black Forest area, the soils range from gravel and limestone, to clay and volcanic stone. The grapes vary correspondingly and include such common names as Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer and Riesling, but also the less well known Gutedel and Müller-Thurgau.

The region may also lead in consumption. Overall per capita consumption is 32 bottles per year. In Baden, the figure is 53 bottles per person annually.

Mittelrhein

Mittelrhein isn’t anywhere near the largest producer in Germany, but the village of Bacharach — named for the Greek god of wine Bacchus — has been among the premier producers since the Middle Ages.

The clay-like slate produces grapes of delightful acidity. Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, and Kerner are among the variety found in this region that stretches south from Bonn for 100km (60mi) along the banks of the Rhine.

Vineyards are often found on the steep, rocky slopes amid the grounds around medieval castles. From them comes a sparkling wine that is second to none.

Rheingau

Centrally located, Rheingau is among the oldest of Germany’s wine regions. Situated between Lorch near Mittelrhein and Hochheim on the Main River, the hillsides are topped by the forests of the Taunus Hills.

It is said that Botrytis was first put to use here, to help the world famous Rieslings of the region. But Pinot Noir, too, is cultivated here, lending itself to the spicy and full-bodied Spätburgunder.

Developed over centuries by the inhabitants of cloisters and monasteries, the region’s wines once graced the table of Queen Victoria. That knowledge has evolved to the point where oenological institutes here are recognized as among the finest in the world.

Rheinhessen

Bordered on the west by the Nahe River and to the north and east by the Rhine, this 1,667 square km (600 sq mi) region is second only to Pfalz in size.

Second in size, but second to none in quality. The communities of Bingen, Mainz and others of the area, benefit greatly from the many soil types and micro-climates. As a result they can produce a Portugieser red of great distinction. And the ancient Silvaner has long been the pride of vintners there.

Pfalz

Famed world-wide for its chalk, marl, and clay, Pfalz is Germany’s largest producer. Müller-Thurgau, Kerner, Silvaner, and Morio-Muskat are only a few of the grapes grown here. A relatively new red from the Dornfelder grown here produces a complex, full-bodied wine.

Shunting up against France on the south and west, and bordered by Rheinhessen on the north, the region stretches over 80km (48mi). Along this land, viticulture has reached a point that takes it’s rightful place at the pinnacle of winemaking.

But whether large or small, all of Germany’s winemaking regions are filled with vintners who take pride in producing wines that make those festivals popular with visitors the world over.

Sep 24

Wine — Chile, Olé

Grape Vines and Mountains in Chile

Grape Vines and Mountains in Chile

Blessed with a Mediterranean climate similar to France or California, Chile has the added advantage of being south of the equator. That puts their summers from November to March, allowing them to harvest wine during the off-season of many other countries. Time shifting allows them to satisfy the market when others can’t.

This has served Chilean wine producers well since vineyards were first planted in the mid-16th century. By the mid-18th century the country saw the importation of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Regrettably, by the mid-20th century the industry was stagnant, producing inferior wines. But a 21st century renaissance has seen vintners produce world class wines again, taking several major prizes in recent years.

The country is divided, like France’s appellations, into several viticultural regions running north to south along this sliver of land in South America. Some lie in the fertile central plain 750ft (229m) above sea level, others are closer to the famous Andes. The area has seen superior growth in recent years, growing from only 12 wineries to over 70.

Blessed not only with good weather but, because of its unique geography, the region has never been affected by the Phylloxera louse that devastated so many European vineyards. When France and others looked to rebuild in the 1870s, they imported much of their stock from Chile.

Not only is the weather similar to France, but many of the names would be immediately recognized by vintners there. Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and others. German varieties are represented too: Gewürztraminer and Riesling are plentiful.

The reds of Chile have in many cases (pun intended) become the country’s most notable exports. Chile is the fourth largest exporter of wine to the United States. A significant distinction, considering the U.S. has an enormous wine industry of its own. As long ago as 1998 it passed 5.3 million bottles and has continued to grow since.

Many of these premium wines come from vineyards sited in cooler areas with poorer soils. Along with modern pruning techniques, the result concentrates the flavors. Adding stainless steel fermenting tanks alongside French oak barrels has brought Chile’s wines to the pinnacle of world winemaking.

In the Apalta Valley, for example, conditions are ideal for Merlot, Syrah, and other favorites of the California market. Produced from grapes grown on 50-year-old vines in sandy soil, it competes with the best anywhere. Those seeking a superior, full-bodied wine will look for the Montes Alpha ‘M’ designation.

While still small in size, at around 2,500 hectares (6,200 acres) total under cultivation, Chile can still produce one of the finest Syrahs anywhere. The peppery product from the cooler Elqui Valley is the envy of vintners from Australia to California. The warmer, southern Colchagua region offers a fruity version that competes well with those of the Hermitages of France.

With the shackles of its past now receding from memory, Chile is well poised to take its proper place among the major quality producers of the world.

Sep 24

Wine and Food: Proper Pairing

Mmmm - a mix of cheeses with white wine

Mmmm – a mix of cheeses with white wine

The title is misleading. There really is no such thing as ‘proper’ when choosing a wine and food to enjoy together. In matters of taste, individual judgment will always reign supreme.

But the old rule of reds with beef, whites with fish and poultry still has merit. For either situation, choose the best wine you can afford as a starting point; more expensive wines often are higher quality, with more subtle flavors and aromas.

When serving beef, consider the relative strengths of flavor and aroma of your dish. To complement, serve powerful wines with powerful dishes; for contrast pick a lighter wine which doesn’t overpower the meal.

Steak au poivre, from a New York strip, will be complemented by a wine rich in black pepper aromas, such as a Grenache. Those from the Gigondas region of the Rhone Valley in France is an example. For a more delicate beef dish, such as steak tartar a subtle Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon is a good accompaniment. For a spicy beef stew, try a Syrah from down under.

There’s truth in the tradition that whites go well with fish and poultry. Color and aroma influence taste and these lighter wines complement the lighter meal. But sauces used in creating such dishes influence the decision too. A spicy Pinot Blanc from the Alsace accompanies well a turkey enlivened by paprika. But here a Burgundy can have a place as well.

For something heavier, like duck, consider a more acidic wine, such as those from the Sangiovese spectrum of Tuscany. Grilled chicken dishes, by contrast benefit from a German Riesling or an oakey Chardonnay.

Of course, meats are not the only dishes enhanced by a good wine. Cheeses and fruits offer opportunities for creating flavor symphonies.

Portugal has a very old tradition of serving fruity sweets with a fine Port. And many robust cheeses are made even more delectable when paired with a swirl of a good Gewürztraminer.

When preparing that creamy soup experiment with a Chardonnay with its overtones of pear or apple. Or, for those so inclined, the more vegetal hints of a Sauvignon Blanc will reinforce the dish.

For the adventurous, a cheese platter such as a young Camembert, or a Pecorino, those made from sheep’s milk — combine in an interesting way with a fine Pinot Noir.

But while considering your choices for pairing the right wine with your dish (or vice-versa for the true wine lover!), consider other factors.

Consider pairing wine with the person. Some individuals simply don’t care for the heaviness of a port, or the robustness of a red, preferring the dry, more delicate whites.

When serving more than one wine at a multiple course meal, highly recommended, think about the order. Traditionally lighter wines are served before the more full-bodied types. Some examples, from lighter to more full-bodied are (among whites and rosé): White Zinfandel, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay. And among reds, from lighter to fuller: Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

 

Sep 09

Winemaking: Soup to Nuts, Grapes to Bottle

Grape harvest in the vineyards of Bordeaux

Grape harvest in the vineyards of Bordeaux

Viticulture, the process of growing wine grapes, has been raised from ancient art to a complex combination of science and art. Add in all the other special knowledge and skills required to produce the end product —bottled wine— and you have a Herculean (or is that Dionysian?) task.

Vintners, makers of wine, have to consider site, season, soil and a host of other factors in order to deliver fine wine to the consumer’s table.

Dark soils absorb heat more efficiently and rocky soils allow better drainage and provide stones that also help retain heat. Relative concentrations of nitrogen and other elements play an essential part. Topography (the contours of land) partly determine the usable amounts of sunlight and shade, while climate encompasses temperature range, total sunlight available, annual rainfall, wind and so forth.

Which grapes are selected to be grown depend on the terroir. A ‘terroir’ is a group of vineyards (or even vines) from the same region that share similar soil type, weather conditions and other attributes. Planting time varies from late March to early April, with harvest ranging from late September to early October, depending on location, species and individual judgment.

Once harvested, usually by hand, the grapes are off to the crusher to be turned into must – skin, meat, and juice created in large vats containing a perforated, rotating drum. The holes allow juice and skins to pass through, but filter out stems.

Red-grape must is then sent to fermentation tanks, while white goes first to a wine press. The press is a large, usually stainless-steel cylindrical tank with an inflatable rubber bladder inside. The bladder is used to squeeze the skins against the tank walls to separate them from the juice. The result is sent to another fermentation tank.

Airtight fermentation tanks, holding anywhere from 1,500-3,000 gallons are cooled to around 40F (4C) and the vintner adds sugar and yeast to initiate the process. The yeast interacts with the glucose in the must through diffusion and a process called glycolysis occurs which produces other sugars and alcohol. This takes roughly 2-4 weeks, during which the vintner samples and measures the mixture.

Once fermentation is complete, red wines are sent to a press to filter the skins from what is now wine, then filtered again to remove the yeast. Some reds undergo a second, malolactic, fermentation process. White wines, by contrast, are allowed to settle, after which the yeast is filtered out.

With the yeast removed, the wines are stored in stainless steel tanks or oak barrels for anywhere between three months and three years.

After sufficient aging, where ‘sufficient’ is determined by individual judgment based on repeated taste and other tests, the wine is pumped from the tanks to a bottling machine. Most vineyards now have a highly automated bottling process, though even there labeling, foil addition, and stacking is often still done by hand.

Despite the many modern improvements to the winemaking process, most growers and winemakers still take a personal and passionate interest in selecting and tending vines, creating delicious varieties, and judging whether product meets their high standards. It’s easy to taste the results.

 

Aug 24

Wine Regions: Alsace

Colmar, France

Colmar, France

Winemakers in Alsace have been active since the Roman conquest.

The Alsatians themselves are a mixed French-Germanic lot, with many of the older inhabitants still speaking Alsatian, a Germanic dialect, at home. Despite living in the smallest winemaking region in France, these proud people rightfully boast of their centuries old winemaking traditions.

Six thousand wine growers live in a long sliver of land — 190km (118 mi) by 50km (31mi) near the German border, bordered on the West by the Vosages and the East by the Rhine. Strasbourg alone is home to over 450,000 of the areas 1.8 million residents.

Click for larger version

Click for larger version

Theirs is a difficult endeavor, wrestling with hot summers and cold winters that see frequent snowfall. Soil in the region is among the most diverse types of all France’s famous grape producing regions. From sand and granite to clay and marl, with a smattering even of volcanic soil, emerges some of the finest Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Gewürztraminer grapes, nestled on neatly laid out rows of hardy vines.

The juice of these grapes, grown on an area covering 37,000 acres, eventually fill 165 million bottles, some 20 percent of France’s annual wine output. Ninety percent is dedicated to making the region’s world famous whites, whose names betray their German influence.

Along with the more well-known Riesling and Gewürztraminer, which respectively comprise 23 percent and 18 percent of Alsace’s unique grapes, there are Tokay and Sylvaner.

Tokay is a delightful full-bodied white made solely from Pinot Gris. On a mere 3,200 acres of clay-limestone is produced 22 million bottles of this liquid treat with aromas of wood and spice. It goes perfectly with Quiche Lorraine, but can even substitute for a red when serving a red meat dish.

Sylvaner, originally from Austria, has been made in Alsace for over two hundred years. Or, as the Alsatians would say ‘only’ two centuries. It forms the starting point of a fruity, dry white that’s a perfect pairing for fish or pork. Though Alsatians don’t object to serving it with nothing more than fresh sauerkraut.

On only 3,000 acres, 12 percent of the Alsace vineyards’ area, 20 million bottles are produced of this refreshing, light white that ages well up to five years.

For those who enjoy a fruity wine, the Pinot Blanc makes a dry white that hints of peaches or pears, which pairs perfectly with a Munster cheese. Some 7,000 acres of sandstone of all things provides the soil from which ultimately comes 33 million bottles.

Crémant d’Alsace, a sparkling white made the same way as Champagne, is a blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris or Pinot Noir. Its aroma of red fruits, apricots and almonds make a wonderful pairing with Langres cheese.

When investigating any Alsatian wine, be sure to look for the classification ‘Grand Crus’, a grade which distinguishes the best of the regions’ wines.

 

 

Aug 24

Australia’s Wine Regions

Australian Vineyard Stamp

Australian Vineyard Stamp

Australia’s wine efforts date back to the mid-19th century, but the industry languished until about 30 years ago. Since then, the country has grown to be a world producer with a variety of highly regarded whites and reds.

With climate regions similar to California, it’s not surprising that much of the product would mirror the popular varieties of that state. But the Australian’s — true to their iconoclastic heritage — add several distinctive varieties of their own.

Shiraz (or Syrah) is one of the most well-known recent products, but the lesser-known Durif would be a welcome guest at any table. Hailing from the Rutherglen, a small town in north-eastern Victoria, it joins the area’s unusual sparkling red to form a pair of unique offerings. Rutherglen also produces fortified wines, such as port, muscat, and Tokay that often make their way to other countries.

Victoria also boasts another world-class set of producers in the Pyrenees (not to be confused with the mountains along the French-Spanish border).

Under plant since the early 1960s, the region now holds over 30 vineyards with nearly 600 hectares (1458 acres) growing twenty-five varieties. Shiraz, Merlot, and Pinot Noir are among the reds, with whites represented by Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and others.

Once the home largely to apple orchards, the Mornington Peninsula has turned to winemaking in recent decades. With over 60 wineries, many open for public tastings, the area boasts a well-regarded Pinot Noir.

McLaren Vale, bound on the south by the Sellicks Hill Range and to the west by Gulf Saint Vincent. The area enjoys a Mediterranean climate with a dry summer south of the equator. Rarely suffering frost or drought, the long hot days and short cool nights are perfect for growing.

Some vines of the region are still producing more than a hundred years after first being planted. The soil and climate combine with modern methods to produce a wine with superior aging qualities. Widely acknowledged as one of the premier producers of Shiraz, harvest occurs from March to early April. With its noted smaller berries, vintners here produce a complex, intense wine.

But Shiraz isn’t the only excellent product of the region. Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache both are well reputed. The Grenache, similar to that grown in Spain, grows well in the distinctive soils.

Among the oldest regions, the Clare Valley is also one of the most scenic. Settled by the English and Irish in the 1840s, much of the architecture still reflects those early days.

The climate is continental, with hot summer days and cool nights. Some valleys enjoy altitudes as high as 500m (1640ft) with red soil over graveled rock.

Like much of Australia, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz dominate, but it also produces a Riesling which has garnered international awards.

After struggling back from phylloxera infestations, in the years since the 1970s the country has grown to become the world’s largest exporter of wine to the UK. It has earned its reputation as one of the world’s finest producers.

 

Aug 12

The Many Uses for Red Wine Vinegar

Cooking togetherThere is a wide range of vinegar types. Vinegar is acetic acid, which is created from the fermentation of some form of ethanol. One of the most commonly used types of vinegar is wine vinegar.

As you might expect, red wine vinegar is made from red wine, and white wine vinegar from white wine. To make wine vinegar, you essentially ferment the wine so long that you make the wine go sour, so that it further oxidizes to the acidic requirement to create vinegar.

Once you have some good red wine vinegar, you’ll find that there are many uses for it.

• Salad dressing – Red wine vinegar makes an excellent salad dressing. Simply shake it together with some good olive oil and perhaps some salt and pepper.

• Meat marinade – Red wine vinegar is great for tenderizing a tough piece of meat, such as a flank steak. Just don’t let the meat marinate for too long or it will become mushy. Try adding a little olive oil to it, as well.

• Red wine vinegar reduction – Cook the red wine vinegar on medium heat until it has reduced by half. It will sweeten considerably, yet still retain a bit of a tang.

• Pickling – Red wine vinegar, like other vinegars, are great for pickling all sorts of vegetables. Using red wine vinegar rather than traditional white vinegar will give the vegetables a bit of the red wine flavor. It creates a slightly more complex pickled flavor.

• Sauces – Many sauces call for a bit of vinegar. Even classic marinara sauce can be made with red wine vinegar instead of red wine when you want a little more acidity to the sauce. Just like adding the red wine, however, the sauce should be allowed to reduce to allow the vinegar to reduce, lessening its acidity and boosting its sweetness.

A good bottle of red wine vinegar should be a staple in every kitchen. Red wine vinegars, like red wines, come in a wide variety of qualities and price points. It is not necessary that you buy the most expensive red wine vinegar, but you should ensure that you like the one you buy. To taste red wine vinegar, dip a piece of bread into it. The bread will absorb some of the vinegar’s acidity, and allow you to focus on the flavor rather than being so overwhelmed by the acid flavor.

Aug 09

Spain’s Wine Regions

Jerez de la Frontera, Spain - September 9, 2014: Woman with basket full of grapes during inaugural ceremony of the festival of the harvest, where workers tread the grapes to get out the wine of sherry.

Jerez de la Frontera, Spain – September 9, 2014: Woman with basket full of grapes during inaugural ceremony of the festival of the harvest, where workers tread the grapes to get out the wine of sherry.

The wines of Spain, like its people, are diverse, robust, and full of life. The roots of Spanish winemaking go back thousands of years and form a proud tradition of quality. Nowhere is this more evident than in Andalusia, where sherry is the beverage of choice.

A fortified wine (distilled alcohol is added before aging), sherry is actually several wines. Fino, Oloroso, Manzanilla, and — the drink made famous by Edgar Allan Poe — Amontillado, are among the varieties all called sherry.

The Fino and Manzanilla are younger and crisper, more acidic. The Olorosos and Amontillados are longer in the barrel, growing more mellow as they age.

Often drunk as dessert wines, especially by the British for whom sherry became something of a national drink, they go well with many other kinds of foods.

The British have more to thank Spain for than sherry, though. Not only did Henry VIII’s first wife come from the region, so did the well-regarded Carignan.

As you would expect, reds are prominent in this land of ample sunshine and red soil. The Aragonese don’t disappoint, producing many full-bodied wines, full of color and aroma. The Grenache, of course, is considered a regional treasure by vintners in this area.

Castilla, having it’s own literary heritage, produces wine equally deserving of fame. To many, the entire region is considered one enormous vineyard. La Mancha, evoking memories of Don Quixote, is one reason for the reputation. It’s reputed to be the largest wine region in the world, though there are many Frenchmen who would, of course, argue.

Just to show how iconoclastic they truly are, from this powerhouse of winemaking comes a white named Airen. Crisp and delightful, it ensures that no Spanish knight will need to slay doubters.

Reds are well represented, though, by the Tempranillo often blended with French varieties, such as Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. Even Syrahs are beginning to be seen here.

North of Madrid are to be found the whites of Rueda. Delicate and light, they’re made from a local variety called Verdejo. Sauvignon Blanc, too, is making an appearance.

But traditions in Spain change slowly and red is still dominant. Robust and heavy, the Ribera has seen a renaissance in the the last few decades. The Tinto Fino, a kind of Tempranillo makes a complex red that ages well.

Mencia has its own tradition of red, based on the Cabernet Franc. Secluded near Castilla y Leon, the wines are intense. Lighter roses are a staple of the region, too, though. A specialty white, made from Godello, is produced here as well.

Catalonia, with coasts on the Mediterranean, has been making wine since the first Greeks arrived here. It continues those ancient traditions with vinos rancios that are only for the most hardy. But, for those who prefer something lighter, Catalonia is happy to provide a white from the Penedes.

It will also cheerfully serve a sparkling wine from Cava. The latter is actually a kind of Spanish champagne, but much more full-bodied than the French version, as befits the area.

But to get the most distinctive feel, the best bet is to try one of the reds of Tarragona. Full-bodied, from Cariñena and Garnacha grown in slate-enriched earth, it forms the pinnacle of wine from Catalonia.

Last, but far from least, Galicia continues to make wines as it has since Roman times — though in recent times the whites have come to the fore. Here Celtic traditions mix with Roman to produce wines that combine with seafood like no others in the world.

The moist climate and lower amount of sunshine produce wines high in acid and delightfully crisp. Most are made from varieties found only here.

Like so much about Spain, the country is filled deep with traditions but reaching into the 21st century to produce wines that can compete with any from around the world.

 

Jul 24

Wine Regions: Sicily

Italian farmer picks black grapes in Sicily

Italian farmer picks black grapes in Sicily

The winemaking tradition in sunny Sicily dates back as far as four thousand years. Over those millennia the Sicilians, named for the settlers who introduced agriculture there, have raised wine grape growing to the level of the Italian Renaissance artist.

In the far west, nestled among the rugged Gibellina Mountains is their masterpiece: the Mazara Valley. Larger than Piedmont or Tuscany, the grapes here that ripen under the hot sun are often used to fortify the weaker wines made in northern Italy.

The heart of the region lies between Salemi and Marsala, the latter giving its name to the traditional hearty wine originating there. There, thanks to warm temperatures, hilly terrain, sea breezes and rich soil, conditions combine to rival the best found in California.

Gifted with such terroir, the country produces more wine per year than Australia and New Zealand combined. Merlot, Chardonnay and Sangiovese are grown, of course. But there are also indigenous varieties such as Insolia and Catarratto.

Of course, a major portion of that output is the dessert wine Marsala, actually originated by English merchant traders two centuries ago. In the past, scorned for its association with cooking wines, there are connoisseurs now that favor its complex flavors in the form of Marsala Vergine and Superiore Riserva. In some years, Sicily provided fully a third of Italy’s total production of this sweet nectar.

But far from one-trick magicians, the artisans in one of the world’s oldest winemaking regions also produce delicious whites made from a blend of Insolia, Damaschino and Chardonnay. And the reds, once scorned as overbearing, now count among their number such delights as Nero d’Avola. Sometimes compared to Syrah, they age well and sell for as much as sixty dollars a bottle in the finest restaurants in New York and London.

Such works of art come from techniques developed over centuries. The sophisticated vintners may prune the vines by as much as 35% to concentrate the flavor, then harvest the fruit at night to avoid the scorching Sicilian autumn sun. The grapes are then stored in cooled vats to avoid premature fermentation. From this is produced the high-reputation vino da taglio grape must.

Grapes run the gamut of Carricante to Chardonnay, Grillo to Malvasia. One can also find the Italian version of the Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, but also the traditional Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Among the reds, the mainstay Cabernet Sauvignon is grown everywhere, but Gamay and Negrello Cappuccio — from the foothills of the Etna volcano — form part of an enormous variety of vines.

Only 15% of this huge output, though, is bottled on the island, with only 2% controlled under the Italian Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) appellation system.

The majority of the vineyards reside on the island’s west side in the Trapani province, where more than 70% of Sicily’s wine is made. Surprisingly, the largest portion of this output is white wine not red. Among these is the Alcamo, enjoying a renewed rise in quality.