A love affair with Sicilian wines

When you receive an invitation from Marie-Christina Batich to join her for a wine /dine media event and you are smart – you will immediately RSVP. It is a certainty that the opportunity to taste interesting wines paired with unique cuisine will add up to an excellent investment of time and energy and lead to a great story.

I recently spent a cold February New York afternoon with Maria-Christina and her gang of writers and wine experts at Restaurant Rafele in the Greenwich Village area learning about the Sicilian wines of Maggiovini.

The Restaurant

Rafele is a low-key neighborhood bistro that is owned and operated by Naples-born Raffaele Ronca. Raised in a family devoted to food (butchers, fishermen and restauranteurs), he has been passionate about food – forever. Starting in his uncle’s Naples restaurant he relocated to the USA at 21, becoming the Executive Chef at the Palma, the Chef du Cuisine at Bellavitae and F/B Manager at Café Torino. Recently, Raffaele and Romeo Palmisano opened Rafele featuring the cuisine of Naples. The open space and gracious service of the restaurant provided the perfect background for an introduction to the Maggiovini wines of Sicily,

Relationships with Grapes

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and lies west of Italy. Noted for having more vineyards than any other Italian region it boasts nine wine regions: Agrigento, Catania, Caltanisseta, Enna, Messina, Palermo, Ragusa, Siracusa and Trapani; 9 DOC’s: Alcamo, Contea di Sciafani, Contessa Entellina, Delia Novolelli, Elor, Etna, Faro and Mavasia delle Lipari, di Vittoria and 1 DOCG – Cerasuolo di Vittoria.

The Maggiovini wines are produced in the Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOC/DOCG that is noted for its unique mix of sun, rain and soil that encourages the production of almonds, olives, carob, vegetables and most importantly, grapes.

To be designated DOCG the wine must be at least 50 percent Nero d’Avola with a minimum of 30 percent Frappato; other grape varieties are not permitted in the blend. The area is co-located with Vittoria DOC which produces similar red wines with more flexible standards as well as varietals: Nero d’Avola, Frappato and white Ansonica.

Massimo Maggio

The Maggio family has produced wines for generations in the province of Ragusa, Cerasuolo di Vittoria which is recognized as the first and unique DOCG of Sicily and known for excellent Sicilian enology and the locale where Massimo Maggio was born.

He earned a diploma in Enotechnic at the Enology School of Marsala and an advanced Winemaker degree from the Ministry of Agriculture. In addition he holds certification from the National Organization of Wine Tasters (ONAV).

Starting in 1982, at the age of 19, Maggio joined the family winery, Maggio Vini, as a partner and technical business manager where he was responsible for commercial business and marketing relationships domestically and internationally.

In 1997 he was the first to plant Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in the Ragusa area. The outcome of the project was Santa Tresa Niuri and its success motivated others to explore the opportunities afforded by this grape variety. In 2001 he started Santa Tresa Srl, a wine enterprise in Cerasuolo di Vittoria where he is currently in charge of production.

In 2004 Maggio started Lagovuveri using the traditional “alberate” method of wine making (ancient technique allowing vines to grow through trees for support). Three years later (2007) he acquired Contrada Pettineo, perfect for the production of Cerasuolo di Vittoria and he started Vigna di Pettineo.

Currently he focuses on the recovery of ancient native vines and has implemented organic farming. His companies have received prestigious awards and include: Cerasuolo of Vittoria Vigna di Pettineo, the Mignechi produced by Lagovuveri and the Amongae produced by MaggioVini. A family favorite is the unique blend of Nero d’Avola, Merlot and Cabernet.

Maggio currently serves on the board of the National Council of Assoenologi, is the President of the wine section of Confagriocoltura Ragusa, President of the Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG Consortium, and the past Chair of the Ministerial Commission for the tasting of DOC and DOCG wines of the province of Ragusa.

The Tasting

• Appetizer
Fritto Misto (Shrimp, Calamari, Sage, Lemon, Zucchini) SUPERB!
Paired with: Maggiovini, Villa Maggio Pinot Grigio 2015. 100% Pinot Grigio biologico/organic; 3 months in steel; 2 months in the bottle

This wine needs time to adjust to its setting. Open the bottle, pour it in the glass – and then wait 10-20 minutes; the wine opens like a young tender flower. Look for a very light tint of olive green awash in a summer rain. The nose can detect the suggestion of melon against a backdrop of newly mowed grass. To the palate the lightness of the wine complements the crisp and tart Fritto Misto, turning the wine/dine experience into a beautiful duet.

• Melanzana
Eggplant Parmigiana, Roasted Tomato & Buffalo Mozzarella
Paired with: Maggiovini Rasula Cattarato 2014. 100% Catarratto biologico/organic; 2 months in steel; 2 months in the bottle

The paleness of the gold brings images of yards of diaphanous fabric billowing in a light summer breeze, suggesting lazy days and sweet summer rain. To the nose hints of gentle yellow (think sweet peppers, lemons, apples and raisins). The palate is tenderly introduced to a seduction of lemons and ripe yellow apples. This gentle wine is perfect for a spring picnic or a summer brunch, poolside.

• Pasta
Spaghetti Schizzeto with Clams and Scallops
Paired with Maggiovini Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2013. Frappato 50%; Nero d’Avola 50%; 9 months in steel; 9 months in bottle

This Frappato and Nero d’Avola blend delights the eye, nose and palate with fruit forward fresh luscious cherries. Cerase translates to “cherry” and it lives up to its name. This wine can only be produced in a few municipalities such as Ragusa. Intense in color the senses are enhanced with hints of red berries and flowers. The wine presents a huge bouquet of red fruits and berries (think cherry, strawberry, black and blue berries) plus a suggestion of pomegranate. A bit of spice adds intrigue to the more traditional nod to grass and soil. The soft and gentle tannins add to the pleasure of an elegant finish.

Pettole Ragu. Slowly roasted Colorado Lamb with Pappardelle
Paired with Maggiovini Villa Maggio Pinot Nero 2013 (My personal favorite). 100% Pinot Nero biologico/organic; 6 months in steel; 6 months in the bottle

A beautiful purple/red velvet attracts and holds the eye while the nose is tantalized by whiffs of nutmeg, spice, a touch of pepper and perfectly ripe cherries. To the palate this is a joy as the tannins are presently softly and offer a velvet soft finish with a memory of cherry vanilla.

Paccheri all’Amatriciana. Smoked Guanciale, Tomato Sauce and Pecorino Roman
Paired with Maggiovini, Pettineo Nero d’Avola 2013. 100% Nero d’Avola biologico/organic; 9 months in steel; 3-6 months in bottle

This deeply purple gem is fresh and fruit forward tickling the nose with hints of a woody forest after a spring rain. There is a taste of the forest and spiciness that highlights and offsets the red and ripe berries. The tannins are not aggressive and there is an elegant and clean finish to enjoy.

• Entrée
Tagliata Di Manzo. Grilled NY Strip Steak with Salsa Verde
Paired with Maggiovini Villa Maggio Cabernet Sauvignon 2013. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 3 months in oak barrels; 9 months in the bottle

This wine presents beautiful purple/red to the eye and delivers a powerful red grape aroma to the nose. This thick-skinned and late-ripening fruit produces a deep colored wine with hints of berries and prunes along with assertive tannins from oak aging (3 months; 9 months in bottle), creating a wine that is capable of aging for many years.

For more information on Sicily, click here and its wines, click here.

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