Cerasuolo di Vittoria: COS Classico 2011– Pairing Rating: 8.5 out of 10.0
Chianti: Giacomo Moro 2007 – Pairing Rating: 9.0
Sicily! Alexis de Tocqueville called it the “land of gods and heroes”. That’s a little grand for me. Sounds like a catchphrase for the next James Cameron epic spectacle on the travels of Odysseus. No, I prefer to think of Sicily in humbler terms, as the land teeming with native foods and indigenous grapes. Rich with vegetables and citrus fruits, Sicily also harvests artichokes, capers, currants, raisins, pistachios, pine nuts, almonds, chickpeas, olive oil, ricotta cheese and honey.
More interesting are their indigenous grape varietals: Catarratto, Inzolia, Grillo and Carricante for dry white wines and Marsala; Nero D’Avola, Frappato, Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio for reds. Never heard of these? You’re not alone. The general unawareness, coupled with the remarkable strides in wine-making there, make for some great values and a rich vein for mining wine and food pairings.
I thought we’d start with a humble dish: roasted carrots . . . but garnished with a Sicilian-style relish of currants and pine nuts. The relish recipe (see link below) can be found in The Mozza Cookbook by Nancy Silverton. The recipe’s Sicilian roots relate not only to the ingredients but extend to the sweet and sour (agrodolce) cooking style found in many Sicilian dishes (Caponata for example). This relish is perfect for dressing up roasted vegetables like carrots and cauliflower; and the toasted pine nuts add a smoky crunch. These are carrots good enough to serve as a first course. But with what wine?
For this dish, my natural instinct is to reach for a Sicilian red. I chose a Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico ($34) by a producer known as COS, from the 2011 vintage. Cerasuolo (from the Vittoria region in southeast Sicily) is a blend of Nero D’Avola and Frappato grapes. The Nero D’Avola is rich and structured, serving up violet notes and black fruits with a subtle tarry quality. Nero can have a Syrah-like spicy character. The Frappato is lighter, very floral (huge strawberry nose) and fruity (cherry and pomegranate), but can be high in acidity. The blend of the two grapes brought out the best in both, and the medium-bodied weight was perfect, but the tartness of the wine clashed somewhat with the sweetness of the relish . . . brought on by the currants and the reduced balsamic vinegar. As a general rule, you don’t want the sauce/relish to be sweeter than the wine.
My next thought was to try a Chianti from a warm, fruit-forward year like 2007. The pairing was markedly better. The weight and acidity were excellent complements to the relish, with the appropriate level of sweetness served up by the Giacomo Moro 2007 Chianti ($20). If you are unable to find any 2007 Chianti, then look for a Garnacha from Spain. The wine may not be as light-footed as the Chianti or the Cerasuolo, but it will likely have just enough sweetness to make the pairing succeed.
The character of this dish called out for a red wine, not white. I tried several whites and they just don’t stand up to the balsamic. That made for the challenge, because of the sweetness of the relish. But this dish is so good it was worth the effort. Look for more posts about Sicilian food and wine in the future. It’s the up-and-coming wine region!