Cantina Benanti: un viaggio nel cuore dell’Etna. II Parte

Il sogno di visitare la Cantina Benanti in Sicilia si realizza per il mio compleanno,  l’08 Ottobre 2018. 

Più tempo passa più il vino è buono, e Giuseppe Benanti “ha 20 anni il resto è esperienza”, come lui dice. Giuseppe accoglie me e la mia amica Anna nel cuore dell’Etna, a Viagrande, nella sua cantina  con lo stesso sorriso del primo incontro al Vinitaly 2018. Io e Anna partiamo da Pisa e arriviamo all’aeroporto di Catania, noleggiamo una  Fiat Cinquecento e ci avviamo in albergo. Sistemiamo le valigie e ci dirigiamo in un ristorante nei pressi del Castel Ursino. L’aria è ancora estiva, e c’è tanta gente seduta fuori ai tavoli: ordiniamo vino rosso e carne di cavallo alla griglia, specialità di queste parti. Facciamo un giro per le strade illuminate del boulevard di Cataniavia Etnea,  e parliamo dei nostri ricordi legati alla città  e di come è a volte difficile stare lontani dall’isola. 

Colazione da Saiva, nota e storica pasticceria e tavola calda di Catania, con caffè nero bollente e due dolci enormi tipici della gastronomia siciliana

Cariche di energia per iniziare la giornata con la nostra visita alla Cantina Benanti. Giornata piena di sole, direzione Viagrande. Il tragitto da Catania è breve, dopo circa 20 minuti siamo nel regno di Giuseppe Benanti. Si apre un cancello in ferro battuto e vediamo un lungo viale alberato, ci incamminiamo ed è come essere entrati in un altro mondo. Lasciamo il caos di Catania per entrare in un’altra dimensione, un posto unico immerso nel verde, dove ogni cosa sembra essere messa al posto giusto. C’è un grande palazzo a due piani in pietra lavica, un giardino adiacente e Giuseppe è lì che  aspetta me ed Anna con il suo inseparabile amico Jo, un pastore tedesco affabile e cordiale, e una Magnum di “Noblesse”, bollicine di puro Carricante. Entriamo insieme nel vecchio palmento, antiche vasche scavate nella roccia e collegate da un canale, in cui avveniva la pigiatura dell’uva per produrre il mosto. Giuseppe spiega con un rigore quasi scientifico l’importanza di quel vecchio palmento e la sua funzione per la produzione del vino. E con una nota di melanconia ricorda i profumi del mosto di quando è piccolo, quando il nonno lo porta a pistare la racina  (pestare l’uva), e cita in dialetto catanese i versi dei canti dei contadini di un tempo che accompagnavano le fatiche e le gioie del fare il vino . Il palmento è rimasto integro, e da lì attraverso una porta a vetri si va al salone delle feste. Il salone delle feste è grande, con al centro un pianoforte a coda,  dei mobili di prestigio abbelliti  da specchi antichi e quadri di valore. Giuseppe ama, cura e celebra l’Arte e la Bellezza in tutte le sue forme, che siano  le sue vigne alle pendici dell’Etna o le tele secolari, che acquista e colleziona nella grande sala aristocratica, i cui personaggi enigmatici sono oggi alcune delle etichette dei suoi vini. Come quella che adorna il primo metodo classico di Carricante dell’ Etna nato nel 2003, il “Noblesse”. Si tratta del ritratto di un nobile misterioso, che Giuseppe trova  e rispolvera a  Palermo, che si fa risalire al periodo in cui Antoon Van Dick vive in Sicilia. L’atmosfera del superbo salotto è riscaldata dalla presenza di un camino, che immagino accesso, con intorno amici, curiosi che come me ed Anna sono lì in visita e parlano dei bei momenti e brindano come noi alla vita. E di calici al cielo Giuseppe ne ha innalzati, essendo un curioso di natura, dai mille interessi, non ultimi quelli per le auto d’epoca, traversate in moto degli USA, fotografia digitale. Slanci che si fondono in quell’energia unica  che respiri man mano che prosegue la visita della cantina verso la  sala degustazione. Questa è più luminosa. Ci sono tavoli, sedie spaziose e una gigantografia colorata, che, come i bei libri cartonati da collezione sparpagliati ovunque, hanno come soggetto l’Etna. Dopo si fa un salto nella cella dove dorme il vino, pieno di barrique e tonneau, che stanno li ad aspettare di finire il loro lavoro, e successivamente ci rechiamo nell’area relax, accanto alla magnifica piscina, da cui si vede il Monteserra.

Dopo un altro breve giro nel giardino della cantina, il brontolio dello stomaco ci suggerisce che è ora di pranzo.

Ci allontaniamo da Via grande in macchina per pranzare alla “Trattoria Scalo Grande”in un paesino di pescatori della costa catanese: gamberoni freschi, linguine alla vongole e quanto di più buono il mare di Sicilia può regalare al palato umano.  Siamo seduti con di fronte un panorama mozzafiato, sembra una scena di un quadro di Antonino Leto nelle sue rappresentazioni veriste della Sicilia: un mare blu cobalto, delle barche che ondeggiano e dei gabbiani che virando nell’aria sembrano quasi darci il benvenuto. Tornati in cantina  Giuseppe ci inizia alla magnifica degustazione dei Vini Benant, e fornisce dei dettagli sulla Cantina Benanti, sui vigneti, e in particolare sull’importante contributo di tutto lo staff aziendale, ed in particolare  quello dei due figli , Antonio e Salvino, a cui oggi è affidata la direzione. 

L’origine della famiglia Benanti è bolognese e va indietro nel lontano 1734. A quel tempo si chiamano “Benati”, poi grazie a un provvedimento regale, si chiede a un loro antenato di spostarsi in Sicilia e fare fiorire un ramo e al tempo stesso di cambiare il nome da “Benati” a “Benanti”. 

Sono da generazioni proprietari terrieri, dediti alla viticultura dell’Etna, che poi diventano anche imprenditori nel campo della farmaceutica, quando il padre di Giuseppe Benanti, Antonino Benanti, fonda a  Catania nel 1935  la  Sifi, una delle più importanti aziende al mondo  in campo oftalmologico.  Il vino è una passione di famiglia, trasformato da  Giuseppe Benanti, anche lui imprenditore farmaceutico, nella Cantina Benanti nel 1988 a Viagrande, versante Est dell’Etna. Giuseppe è a pranzo con l’amico medico Francesco Micale al Circolo del golf di Castiglione, “Il Picciolo”, Castiglione di Sicilia, desidera un gran vino rosso dell’Etna, ma niente di simile sulla carta! Giuseppe sceglie di valorizzare il territorio Etneo, da sempre comunque votato alla viticultura, ma non vuole solo la qualità, vuole l’eccellenza. Giuseppe inizia un progetto portato avanti assieme a grandi dell’Enologia: Salvo Foti, il  professor Rocco Di Stefano dell’”Istituto Sperimentale per l’Enologia di Asti” e il professor Jean Siegrist dell’ ’”INRA” di Beaune. Nascono le basi per produrre grandi vini sull’ Etna e si dà inizio alla svolta. Le vigne acquistate o gestite, nei comuni di Castiglione di Sicilia (Etna nord) e Milo (Etna est), sono già impiantate o vengono impiantate a Nerello Mascalese (Castiglione di Sicilia) e Carricante (Milo), i vitigni autoctoni del vulcano. Giuseppe scommette da  subito e  con decisione su tali varietà, effettuando circa 150 prove di micro vinificazione e valorizzando sia i tradizionali assemblaggi tipici della DOC Etna Rosso (Nerello Mascalese + Nerello Cappuccio) che i monovitigni, all’epoca una vera rarità. A metà degli anni novanta. Giuseppe collabora con coltivatori di Santa Maria di Licodia (Etna sudovest), mentre nel 1998, quindi dieci anni dopo la sua fondazione, l’azienda si espande anche sul Monte Serra a Viagrande (Etna sudest). Un lavoro pionieristico quello di Giuseppe e dalla fondazione della Cantina Benanti a oggi l’obiettivo dell’azienda vitivinicola è sempre lo stesso: portare in un bicchiere di vino rosso o bianco, tutto il Terroir dell’Etna. Il risultato : una produzione di vini autentici ed eleganti capaci di esaltare le diverse tipicità di più versanti e contrade della DOC Etna, oggettivamente differenti fra loro per esposizione, temperatura, altitudine, tipologia di suolo vulcanico, luminosità, piovosità, ventilazione, sistema di allevamento e quindi vocazione. Grazie alla passione e al genio di Giuseppe Benanti, l’Etna fa parlare  di “Rinascita” e successo. L’Etna diventa un nuovo distretto vinicolo d’eccellenza, attira altri produttori giunti in seguito nella “Muntagna”, ispirati dai traguardi ottenuti dalla Cantina Benanti negli anni ‘9o nella lavorazione del Carricante, del Nerello Mascalese e del Nerello Cappuccio. Nel 2005 invece l’azienda avvia una lunga ed importantissima sperimentazione che porta nel 2010 alla selezione ed all’ottenimento del brevetto di quattro lieviti autoctoni. Ancora oggi, esempio unico sull’Etna.

Nel 2012 i gemelli Antonio e Salvino, classe 1974, reduci da esperienze accademiche e lavorative di diversi anni all’estero e poi in Italia, accompagnano il padre Giuseppe Benanti in questa splendida avventura imprenditoriale. 

Antonio e Salvino portano energia e innovazione nella Cantina Benanti, mantenendo intatte la filosofia aziendale, cioè la valorizzazione dei Vitigni Autoctoni Etnei. I fratelli Benanti si  formano alla “International School di Ginevra” ed in seguito alla “European Business School ed all’Imperial College di Londra”. Un ricco percorso accademico, seguito da altre importanti esperienze lavorative formative nel campo della finanza anglossassone. L’idea di Antonio e Salvino è quella di portare i Vini Benanti in giro per l’Italia e il mondo, vini di alto livello pensati per tutti, e  non solo per esperti e palati sofisticati. Una tattica vincente che conferma il grande successo dei Vini Benanti nel mercato nazionale e internazionale. Antonio e Salvino portano avanti strategie molto chiare e pienamente condivise, ed agiscono da subito con grande decisione facendo scelte importanti, come quelle di seguito riportate:
• attribuzione del ruolo di Responsabile Tecnico Vigna e Cantina ad Enzo Calì,
enologo etneo dipendente della’Cantina Benanti dal 2004; 
• dismissione di alcune proprietà ed alcuni vigneti e terreni considerati non
strategici o non funzionali al progetto, con conseguente abbandono dei vini ad essi collegati;
• acquisto di ulteriori terreni e di vigneti, in parte anche da conferitori storici, ubicati in sotto zone di eccellenza sull’Etna a Rovittello e a Milo, due località
tradizionalmente importanti per l’azienda;
• avvio formale del processo finalizzato all’ottenimento della certificazione biologica per vigneti e cantina;
• effettuazione di importanti investimenti in cantina, con nuovi sistemi di controllo delle temperature, nuova strumentazione di laboratorio, una nuova pressa pneumatica, botti grandi in sostituzione di legni più piccoli, impianti di produzione di energia da fonti rinnovabili;
• allestimento di nuovi e moderni spazi sia per lo stoccaggio e la movimentazione (circa 250 posti pallet) che per il lungo affinamento (circa 200 posti pallet) del vino imbottigliato, con impianti di condizionamento all’ avanguardia; 
• sviluppo di un’attività di accoglienza e degustazioni in cantina che ben presto
innalza lo standard sull’Etna e consente di interagire ogni anno con migliaia di
appassionati e professionisti del mondo del vino italiani e stranieri;
• ampliamento, rinnovamento e consolidamento della rete commerciale, composta da distributori e importatori specializzati in vini di eccellenza, oggi in grado di coprire circa quaranta mercati in circa trenta paesi nel mondo.
Antonio e Salvino portano a termine il  passaggio generazionale, ma il core business   rimane sempre  loro padre  Giuseppe Benanti !

La Cantina Benanti si estende per 20 ha, nei comuni di Castiglione di Sicilia, frazione Rovittello (versante nord), Milo (est) e Viagrande (sudest) più 10 ha in gestione a Santa Maria di Licodia (sudovest)

La produzione, altamente specializzata, oggi ammonta a circa 160.000 bottiglie (obiettivo nel medio periodo 190.000-200.000)

I Vini  Benanti prodotti: 

“Spumanti”:

“Classici”:

“Contrade”:

Single Vineyard”:

I Vini Benanti sono esportati in importanti mercati esteri, tra i quali spiccano gli Stati Uniti, il Canada, la Gran Bretagna, la Francia, la Scandinavia, la Svizzera, il Belgio, la Russia, l’Austria, Singapore, Hong Kong, la Cina continentale, il Giappone, l’Australia e la Nuova Zelanda, ricevendo apprezzamenti convinti ed unanimi e creando consenso tra gli appassionati e tra i professionisti, figure chiave nella divulgazione della conoscenza dei Vini Etnei.

Fra i principali riconoscimenti ottenuti risaltano quello di “Cantina Italiana dell’Anno”:

La Cantina Benanti è diventata un’azienda di nicchia specializzata nella produzione di vini dell’Etna, votata all’eccellenza qualitativa. I Vini Benanti esprimono appieno  il Terroir Etneo,  sono vini autentici, fatti per durare nel tempo ed accompagnare i piatti delle migliori cucine. Non sono vini alla moda, né puntano ad esserlo. Essi ambiscono invece ad entrare nell’élite dei grandi vini d’Europa. I Vini Benanti sono di grande carattere, tipicità ed eleganza capaci di emozionare e fare innamorare chi li beve e di essere ricordati nel tempo. 

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Il vino non è un business è una passione, e la cosa più bella è condividere questa passione con qualcun altro per tirare fuori delle emozioni, e ricordarsi di queste per sempre. Ed ecco il mio regalo per il mio compleanno,  questa giornata in Cantina con il Cavaliere Benanti: non la dimenticherò mai, insieme al profumo, al sapore dei Vini Benanti.

La Bellezza della Semplicità. Per chi sa ancora apprezzarla. 

Enjoy it! 

Stefania 

Grazie Giuseppe per quello che SEI e FAI

Calici sotto le Stelle 2012, Marina di Cala del Sole, Licata, Sicily

 

On the 6th of August 2012, a hot summer day, me and the chef  Elena Curzio  met each other in Licata, my home town in Southern Sicily for a job meeting in the the tourist harbour “Marina di Cala del Sole”. 

We talked about our passions and we worked together realizing  a special Wine Exibition “Calici Sotto le Stelle” , a National Wine Festival that takes place in Town Squares and Wineries  on August 10th  every year, the night of the shooting stars:  Wine Lovers raise their glasses for the most-anticipated toast of the summer! Movimento Turismo del Vino and Città del Vino, the Association of Italian Winemaking Cities,  give life to an Exibition  that extends form North to South. 

Elena had the brilliant idea to prepare star-shaped biscuits with the Top Re Wine of a Local Top  Winery “Estate Barone La Lumia” with the help of some  collaborators  and here below a video about that great night

 

 

Learn Italian and Buona Visione. 

Stefania

Aeolian Islands, Sicily, 4 days tour

 
The Aeolian Islands  are located in the Tyrrhenian Sea and consists of seven beautiful islands: Stromboli, Vulcano, Alicudi, Filicudi, Panarea, Lipari, and Salina.
 
They are collectively called the “seven pearls of the Mediterranean” and according to history, they were named this way after the Greek god of the wind, Aeolus. The Islands were designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in the year 2000 in recognition of the pure natural scenery possessed by the islands. The islands are ideal for tourists to hike, sun bath or just get lost in their endless and amazing beauty. For the more serious visitors, the islands are rich in history, both architectural and archealogical.
 

Friendships never ends despite the distance . It is me and Martina. She invited me to have and holiday in the  Aeolian Islands for one week in July . It was a perfect chance to meet her again and to visit again this gorgeous volcanic archipelago north of Sicily .

I took a ferry from Milazzo. You can reach the Aeolian Islands  by ferry and hydrofoil from various points in Sicily. I would recomend pre-booking on line your Ferry Tickets in advance,  above all during peak season.  Milazzo is the main departure point for the Aeolian Islands with several  hydrofoils leaving daily throughout the year. Crossings take between 45mins to 3 hours depending on which island your are heading for .

Take your time walking in the center of Milazzo as well . I  love this town. It is small, has excellent bread shops, cafes and shopping in general. There is a very Old Castle that you can go to. The promenade is great for just strolling along. I want to return and spend longer and to explore more.

First day Lipari

Lipari is the main island and the main town. Lipari town is a pretty little place and easily visited on foot. It is the  ideal destination for those who come for the first time to the Aeolian islands and want to take advantage of its central position for trips and excursions to the other islands.

Top 5 things to do in Lipari in one day:

  • Have a typical Sicilian breakfast with “granita e brioche (baked buns with a frozen dessert that is similar to a sorbetto)  getting  lost in the beauty of it’s main  picturesque port  “Marina Lunga”. It’s a functional port where both large ferries and fast hydrofoils dock. Poke your nose into churches and alleyways;
  • from “Marina Lunga”  you can wander in  16 minutes  around to “Marina Corta” simply following Via Garibaldi: a really cute little pedestrian street filled with cafes, bars and shops where relaxing and doing shopping; 
  • from”Marina Corta” pay a visit to the historic centre of Lipari:  here is the ruins of an ancient namesake fortress on a steep rocky coast (it was an ancient Greek Acropolis, and then the Central part of the Roman, medieval and then Spanish cities). The best attractions here are: the  Archeological Park,  the Regional Aeolian Archaeological Museum,  the Old Castel  and  Cathedral of San Bartolomeo ;
  • have a rest taking photos in “Marina Corta”: the historic harbour in the south of the citadel . In  this colourful port  you can contemplate scenes of daily life: children splashing in the water, fishermen playing cards in the piazza,  lazy stray dogs dozing, and the sun illuminating a little church out on the jetty. The atmosphere is very peaceful;
  • have an unforgettable dinner in Trattoria del Vicolo . It is located in vicolo Ulisse, 15, just right in the city center in order to get delicious local food , fresh fish and top white sicilian wines !

Finally thanks to my friend Martina I discovered Castellaro Winery , where she works. I had  a surprising wine tasting in a stunning location and my first wine grape harvest.

Sarde a beccafico is a well known Sicilian dish, particularly loved in Palermo. It’s essentially a poor dish, a fisherman’s dish, made from the most economic of ingredients, a cheap version of a sought-after dish meant for nobles. Now, it is mostly a forgotten dish, with the practice of hunting  birds used in the anciet recipe, thankfully, illegal in many countries. The sardines, stuffed, rolled and baked, are said to resemble the cooked, stuffed birds.

What about nightlife in Lipari?  There’s an answer:  Corso Vittorio Emanuele. It is a lively little road which runs from “Marina Lunga” along the back of the castle headland. Along the Corso you’ll find not only most of the island’s useful shops and services, but also amazing clubs ! Try there  Il Giardino di Lipari to spend the rest of your long and unique day in company of very hospital people. 

 

Second day

I spent my second day in Vulcano  that is a “quieter” version of Lipari where I relax and get inside the spirit of  nature. The island is full of volcanic rocks, therapeutic sulphur mud and also alum caves. Vulcano offered  a quiet, romantic and perfect getaway from  the busy Lipari. Therefore, if you love the city life, you can stay in Lipari but if you prefer calm and quiet, it is best that you sleep in Vulcano.

The rest of my day was all about the food and the local white wine. In Vulcano  they are passionate about their specialties: fish and capers. The food is so fresh that at noon you might be told there is no menu “because we don’t know what we’re getting in tonight.”Third day

I visited Stromboli in the third day. Featured in director Roberto Rossellini’s 1950 film of the same name, this island has Europe’s only dependably active volcano.

 

I first get impressed by its split landscape: the stark light of wildflowers, caper bushes, and bougainvillea and the barren black of the  slopes where the lava flows.

Stromboli is an ancient and active volcano rising  from the Mediterranean, with a couple of small settlements on the coast. There is a unique island atmosphere that attracts not just tourists but also film-makers and style-setters (Italian previous president Giorgio Napolitano and designers Dolce and Gabbana – who own a villa – are among celebrities who holiday here).

There are basically three things to do on Stromboli. One is to potter around the main village, admiring the views and looking at volcano souvenirs in little shops. The second is to take a boat trip around to the Sciara del Fuoco, the steep black lava scar down the volcano’s side, where you can see Stromboli’s explosions.

Third Day

My third day was dedicated to Panarea in the morning and Salina  in the afetrnoon: these both is a charming world of its own where time seems to have stopped. 

Panarea is the second smallest and most fashionable of the islands. It owes its fame to the Hotel Raya, which in the summer attracts the international jet-set. It’s often described as the “Capri of the Aeolian islands” for its wealthy and chic summer scene. The population explodes in July and August when tourists arrive  by yacht or helicoptert to have fun  sunbathing  and shopping. Shopping on Panarea is exquisite and expensive.

While Panarea may be populated by extreme “haves,” its charm comes largely from what it has not. Whitewashed buildings with blue accents remind many visitors of the Greek islands.  The labyrinthine streets winding through the center are without cars or lamps. There are no city lights.

In addition to lovely coves to swim in, this island has thermal springs, scuba diving . Panarea might be small, but there’s no shortage of things to do – even if you don’t have an enormous luxury yacht floating offshore. I spend most of my days around “Zimmari Beach” .  It’s about a 30 minute walk from the port and you can’t miss it .

In my  afternoon in Salina, I wander through the quiet streets of the town of Santa Marina on Salina . I was  intrigued by the coloured doors of the homes .

Salina’s main street is lined with shops selling ceramics, gourmet food, jewelry, clothing and shoes. Almost every house comes with a view of the sea. There is a small salt lake, seven dormant volcanoes, and plenty of coves. Some emotional scenes of a famous Italian film (1994)  Il Postino were filmed in the rocky beach at “Pollara” in Salina. “The Postman”  film directed by Michael Radford and Massimo Troisi tells a fictional story in which the real life Chilean poet Pablo Neruda forms a relationship with a simple postman who learns to love poetry.

To go on dreaming in this unique island I payed a visit to the Hauner winery. I already knew their excellent wine Hierà and their inimitable and exceptional Malvasia. I was attracted by the fantastic place in Santa Marina where  “Hauner Winery” is located; it’s  surrounded by nature. I  tasted different kind of  wines accompanied and described with passion and love by his nephew of his grandfather (Winemaker Andrea Hauner). 

Fourth day

Filicudi and Alicudi worthed a visit in my last day in the Aeolian Islands.

Filicudi and Alicudi are raw and rocky, devoid of celebrity attention and at first sight they seems to be hostile. Their sea is crystal clear with amazing visibility, full of fish, and accessible only by crossing over rocks or small beaches made up of pebbles. There are few resaturants and shops. They are  peaceful and remote islands

After my summer holidays here It was very hard to go back to my daily life. I had my eyes full of the blue of the Mediterranean sea in the Aeolian Island where sinplicity is a luxury. The only medicine is to go back here again!

 

Enljoy it !

Stefania

 

Seacily: “Nigra sum, sed Formosa”

I’m Sicilian and the more the years I spend away from home, the more I feel a strong sense of belonging to my island.

Sicily is one of the pearls of  Mediterranean together with  its many little islands: the Aeoliansthe Egadi , the Pelagie Islands, Pantelleria and Ustica Fascination for this region grows with its great volcanoes, and with its  archaeological sites that tell us the story of its  ancient origins . Each time I make my return to it, I find it more beautiful than ever. Sicily is gorgeous, and the reasons, trivial as they may seem, are simple. Boasting wonderful weather Sicily is an island full of history, cultural treasures, architectural gems and natural wonders with its  juxtaposition of sea, volcano and mountain scenery . In only a few hours you can arrive from the sea up to the peak of 2900 meters of the Etna craters. You eat well, of course! It is a heaven of culinary delights, and foodies, wine lovers and those with a sweet tooth will fit right in. There are endless things I can list , I have to stop, though. Together with the size of the island, the multitude of things to see and to do leads to having to choose a route over another! For all these reasons and more besides, Sicily offers itself as a game board in which you can move the pieces as best you believe within the hospitality of the locals! I have always the Beauty of Sicily with me.

 

Sicily has an historical and cultural richness unparalleled in the world.  Sicily was  inhabited since prehistoric timesThree original tribes called SicaniElymians and Sicels were the first people who arrived in Sicily after it rose up out of the sea, and ancient writers thought they originated from Spain, mainland Italy and Greece.

Sicily is an Europe in miniature since it  was invaded by: PhoeniciansGreeksRomansGothsByzantinesArabsNormansFrenchGermansSpaniardsItalians and  British . No doubt you have heard some  stereotypes of  Sicilian people that have made you question if a trip to Sicily is right for you! Are Sicilians like “The Godfather movie”? Are Sicilians  going to flirt with every woman anytime and all the time?  Although  prejudices against Sicilians are  considered by many to be more historical than contemporary, some of them still  exist for reasons  reaching far back in time. Discrimination in any form has never made much sense to me, so it is difficult to say exactly why there could be a bias against Sicilians even today, other than the fact that there were historical reasons!

For example, not everyone knows that a whole series of  difficuties and problems in Sicily  started long ago in the period  after theItalian Unity in 1861.

Sicily , belonging to the “Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilie”, has been an impoverished region  since it was occupied  by a corps of volunteers, led by Giuseppe Garibaldi, from the “Savoy Kingdom of Piedmont and Sardinia” in 1860.  The Kingdom of the Two Sicilie” lasted from 1816 until 1860, when it was annexed by the “Savoy Kingdom of Piedmont and Sardinia”, which eventually became the “Kingdom of Italy” in 1861. Before its invasion the Kingdom of the Two Sicilie” was the richest country of Italy and ” Savoy Kingdom of Piedmont” took all the richness of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilie” to unify Italy. The “Kingdom of the Two Sicilie” was a grand prize for the “House of Savoy” , and for certain cosmopolitan financial interests . The expanse of the the “Kingdom of the Two Sicilie”, with its glorious past before it  was conquered, meant a home market that allowed it to industrialize in comparison to the other pre-unification states. During the occupation, the factories of the  “Kingdom of the Two Sicilie”  were disassembled and relocated to Northern Italy. “Kingdom of the Two Sicilie” ‘s strong regional culture simply vanished into thin air .The “Risorgimento” was not at all a high-minded attempt to create cultural unity, but a gigantic land-grab by the “Savoy Kingdom of Piedmont and Sardinia “.  Thus, for a number of years in the 1860s, until the annexation of Rome, itself, to the nation, there was a strong “Anti-Risorgimento Legitimist Movement” centered in Rome, where the Pope was king and where the ex-Bourbon court of Naples still conducted a government in exile, waiting to be restored.

However, the nature of the the Italian Unity  became clear, with only 1% of Sicilians being entitled to vote in the new Italian Parliament!  Sicily  was once again the outpost of an empire, with absentee rulers who understood little and cared less about the Sicilians who struggled to make a subsistence living from agriculture and fishing.

Over the following century, the poverty of the Sicily  led to mass emigration to the United States ! The first significant wave of Sicilian immigrants to the U.S.A.  began in the late 1880s! The twentieth century also started badly, marked by a disastrous earthquake in Messina in 1908, a reluctance to adapt to unification and a standing mass emigration of around 1.5 million. The Mafiabecame an intrinsic element of life in Sicily   with the Italian state unable to impose its own legal constraints. One and a half million Sicilians found their ways to the U.S.A. , and it was in the U.S.A.  where they were recruited to be willing participants in the final invasion of the island durng the II World War, by supplying US Intelligence with detailed information on the topography of the island, its towns, and the names of those in Sicily who would assist their cause. In July 1943, the US Army and allied forces, under the five-star leadership of Generals Patton and Montgomery, landed at Gela and Pozzallo, respectively. They numbered over 160,000, which was larger than any invading force, at any point in Sicily’s long history! Making use of the information gleaned from the Sicilian émigrés, the Allied Forces had advanced from the coast to the centre of the island at Enna, and then on to Messina, where they finally defeated the last of the occupying Germans. From there, they went to take on the rest of Italy. Immediately after the II World War, the Italians held a referendum on whether to maintain or scrap the monarchy; the republicans won by a paper-thin majority. The House of Savoy went into exile from the whole of Italy.  However,  Sicily was left impoverished, and with little prospect of work, the island’s inhabitants continued to leave in their tens of thousands, some still to the U.S.A. and Australia, but many travelled to the newly-industrialized northern Italian cities of GenoaTurin, and Milan, where companies such as Piaggio scooters, Fiat cars, and Pirelli tyres, were rapidly expanding. Despite this mass emigration, and relative lack of industrial development, Sicily has continued to maintain a degree of self-governance from the rest of Italy, and, even today, remains one of the few autonomous regions of Italy, responsible for its own agriculture, education, and industry, taxation, and sustainable tourism. Modern Sicilians are a complex race, dispossessed for centuries: we now find ourselves custodians of our  cultural and historical monuments of our oppressors, and in the strongest situation in our history. The visitor to Sicily today senses a resurgence of interest and pride in our  past and the beauty and richness of our island, with visitors all year round it provides the locals with a source of sustainable tourism. Now, more than ever, it is time to explore and discover for yourself the unique, precious jewel that is Sicily, an island of contrasts and surprises.

Sicilycomplex history has left its mark in Landscapes, Art, and Culture.  But nowhere is it more evident than in the Sicilian Food :

  • Greeks brought:  Olives and introduced to Wine Making; 
  • Romans: introduced fava beans, chick peas, lentils and some forms of pasta;
  • Arabs brought: almonds, aniseed, apricots, artichokes, cinnamon, oranges, pistachio, pomegranates, saffron, sesame, spinach, sugarcane, water melon  rice, raisins, pine-nuts , vegetables , fish , Ice Cream,  Granita (made with snow from Etna and other mountains), Cassata, marzipan, candied fruits, farming and irrigation techniques, and distilled grape for Grappa;
  •  Normans brought: some of their northern European innovations including the rotating skewer for cooking meat and air salting of fish;
  • The French brought: a legacy of chefs for the aristocracy:
  • The Spanish brought:  many vital ingredients of today’s Sicilian Diet; 
  • The New World provided: chilli and sweet peppers, tomatoes, potatoes and maize.

Today, you will eat very well all over Sicily. One telling characteristic is that you will rarely eat anything that has not been produced within a few miles of where you are sitting. The freshest fish on the coast, the tastiest meats and cheeses in the interior and a huge range of vegetables, fruits and mashrooms, all with a richness of flavour that you just don’t find at the supermarket!

Sicilan Wine has an ancient origin today as well. According to legend, it was Dionysus (Bacchus) who brought pleasure to mankind, and wine to Sicily.

Legend aside, it is certain that wine has been made in Sicily for millennia. There is evidence that Mycenaean traders cultivated grapes in the Aeolian Islands as early at 1,500 BC and when the Greeks began to settle in Sicily in the 8th century BC, they too were unable to forgot their favourite libation “Oinos, and introduced several varieties of vines. The next significant date in Sicilian wine history is 1773, the year John Woodhouse began producing what destined to become one of the island’s best loved products: Marsala Woodhouse understood immediately that the  local wine could be transformed through the addition of alcohol, that would not only fortify the wine but also help it survive the sea journey back to England . It was an instant success with the British, and other entrepreneurs, such as Ingham and Whitaker, soon hurried out to exploit the wine’s popularity. Towards the end of the 19th century, the English dominion in Marsala-making was brought to an end by the arrival of Vincenzo Florio, one of Italy’s first tycoons, who bought up much of the land around MarsalaCantine Florio, though in different hands today, remains one of the best producers of Marsala and a visit of their enormous barrel-filled winery is recommended. For most of the 20th century, Sicily continued to produce enormous quantities of grapes, most of which, however, were exported to be added to wine made elsewhere in Italy. The last 20 years have seen enormous changes to the island’s wine culture and, as the many international prizes won by Sicilian producers confirm, some of Italy’s finest wines are now being made in Sicily. A new generation of Sicilian Producers are realising the full potential of the island’s enviable climate, its autochthonous grape varieties and its fertile soil. Sicily is a wine-lover’s paradise, such is the variety, complexity and abundance of Bacchus’ unique gift! Here a brief guide to Sicilian Wines

My  desire to explore the Wines of Mount Etna and to taste  a White Wine    called “Kikè Wine”  drove me to Sicily in July anticipating my usual summer holidays in my island.

Looking for something different from the usual “Nero d’Avola”, the Sicilian native grape, and intrigued by the interest of the trendy “Nerello Mascalese”, I organized a 5 days itinerary for a Wine Tour in the East Side of  my Sicily including these high-quality Wineries“Benanti”“Russo”“Graci”, “Barone di Villa Grande“. Not everything turns out as it should! Something went wrong with my initial plans and by chance a friend of mine, Tuscan by birth and now Sicilian by adoption, helped me with spending that time together in Catania discovering unveiling places where I’ve never been before !  We weren’t drunken with wine, but filled with the Beauty of the Sicilian sea. It was a unique opportunity to immerse myself in beautiful corners of Sicily  ever seen before. Working as a tour leader in Sicily  years ago, I cemented within me the feeling that the whole of this magic island truly is my home. I also realized how Sicily big is that I didn’t manage to travel throughout it, that’s why  I concentrated on the east side of it being known to me only in part . Moreover, many of  Sicily ‘s best treasures are in the eastern part. Sicily  is a huge  complex island and circumnavigating it is a tough endeavor, once you factor in the lack of travel infrastructure and country roads, short distances turn into long journeys!  Sicily is a challenging destination and overscheduling your time there could lead to a lot of problems! You will be rewarded with an amazing experience life, though.   I had 5 days in  Sicily with my friend and we spent all of it in the east side with “operational base” in Catania. The east is home to active volcanoes, ancient ruins, Baroque cities, and gorgeous beaches, not to mention fabulous food and world-famous wine.

Here are the best destinations I visited in Eastern  Sicilyfrom north to south, and the best ways to spend your time there! Thousand of sips of the best Wine would not sufficient to forget that blu sicilian sea merging with a cloudless sky ! Starting from Catania at the slopes of Mount Etna , happy viewing!

  • Aci Trezza: it’s a quiet, low-key seaside town just north of Catania. There’s not a lot to do here besides relax and admire the “Riviera dei Ciclopi”, but that’s more than enough to fill your day. Like many islands in the Mediterranean,  Sicily claims to be one of the destinations featured in “The Odyssey”Namely, the coast owes its name to an Homeric legend: according to it Cyclops is believed to have lived beneath Mount Etna and the towering black rocks that rise out of the sea – actually great hunks of solidified lava – were thrown by the blinded CyclopsPolyphemus, in a desperate attempt to stop Odysseus escaping. Aci Trezza isn’t home to sandy beaches — instead, you’ll find rocky areas for perching and sunbathing. Better yet, go for a beach club built on a deck on stilts, where you can relax underneath an umbrella and walk down a staircase into the sea.  My day in Aci Trezza  was a glorious one  of eating granita, walking along the picturesque waterfornt, and finishing the day with a marvellous dinner at “Il Covo Marino” with giant oysters and my “KiKè” White Wine I had long been searching for;
  • “The Vendicari Nature Reserve”:  being a migrating ground for flamingos it’a  place that really shouldn’t be missed! It is situated on the southern-most part of Sicily’s east coast, Vendicari is a mixture of lagoons (pantano), sand dunes, rocky coastlines, and sandy beaches. It was instituted in 1984 and is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna.  The most famous beach of the reserve of  “The Vendicari Nature Reserve “is  called “Cala Mosche beach”; it’ s a sandy little bay that extends for about 200 meters, delimited by two rocky headlands that act as shield to the currents, with the result of an always calm and clear sea;
  • “Isola delle Correnti beach”: this island is regarded as one of the most beautiful tourist attractions of Portopalo di Capo Passero and the entire Sicily. It is linked to Portopalo by a small strip of stone and it is able to enchant you thanks to its wild and unspoiled landscape. The island is abandoned and the unique sign of the presence of humans is a lighthouse, an evocative military structure built near the home of the lighthouse keeper. The home was inhabited in the past by the keeper’s family. The “Isola delle Correnti beach” is so named because this is the exact point where the Ionian and the Mediterranean Sea meet;
  • Siracusa:  it’s a window into the ancient history of the Mediterranean and Europe. Its vast archeological site, on the edge of the modern city, is a rare treasure of temples, amphitheatres and an ancient castle. The “Island of Ortygia” – a labyrinth of charming ancient and medieval streets – makes for a delightful holiday of sightseeing and shopping;

  • Marzamemi: it’s one of the most charming and authentic seaside villages in the south east of Sicily . It is 3 km away from Pachino, and is surrounded by the deep blue Ionian Sea which creates two natural small seaports along the coast, called “Fossa” and “Balata”  The multicoloured harbours abound with blue, red and yellow-coloured Sicilian fishermen’s boats rocking slowly over the sea; 

  • Tindari: its history is a succession of tales, myths and legends that left indelible marks in the popular imagination. The Sanctuary of the Madonna Nera”, however, is the foremost attraction in Tindari. Inside, the sculpture of the “Virgin and Child”, in citron wood, is said to have reached Tindari in an attempt by the faithful to keep it safe from the 8th-Century Byzantine Iconoclast movement. According to legend, the statue was abandoned by the sailors of a ship moored under the promontory; otherwise they feared that to take it with them would go against divine will and prevent them from setting sail anew. Today, the “Black Madonna”is venerated every September 7th; 

 

  • Sciacca: its an historic fishing port on the southern coast of Sicily. A workaday town rather than a polished tourist destination, it is famed for its ceramics, manufacturing coral , its thermal baths and its religious festivals, as well as for its large fishing fleet;

 

As the sun slowly set boats in the bay slowly turning gold, I kow I always  find something special in my crazy Sicily, a  wild and unpredictable island!

Enjoy it ! 

Stefania

 

 

A Taste of Sicily

Allow me to start off by saying that this article is meant to be read by individuals who have someone that they have never met whom they profoundly admire.

I have been lucky enough to meet my favourite “Sicilian Artist” Joe Castellano personally and feel it would be helpful to share what I have learned . During  my Xmas Holidays in Sicily, I had a special lunch with “Dr. Joe”, as  he is called by anyone, at “OceanoMare” , a gorgeuos pub & restaurant nestled on a quiet beach looking out to a marvelous tract of clear blue sea in Agrigento.  Enjoying that pleasant atmopshere between an octopus salad and a glass of Franciacorta , I listened intently as he described the begininngs of his passion, Music!

Musician, composer and arranger of international fame, Joe Castellano is now in the limelight of Italian blues since 18 years, since when he has led his“Joe Castellano’s Super Blues Band” on the most prestigious stages of the best music festivals.

From year 2004, Joe and his own “Super Blues & Soul Band”  are awarded as “Best European new original Big Soul Band” by the National Italian Radio – RADIO 1 RAI – and by so many International Radios and legendary American artists. His last double live record “Blues & Soul with my Latin side” has been inserted in the June 2009, in the special hit “Top 25 album of the year” for the biggest “American Blues/Soul Radio”, “Blues Critic Soul Radio”. He took up a career as musician when he was only 14 and after several experiences, always connected with black music. In 1994 he debuted with his Joe Castellano‘s “Super Blues & Soul Band” together with its special guest, the American sideman Arthur Miles (nephew of Jack McDuff and contributor to the first Zucchero‘s releases), and during the summer of the same year he performed the opening act for the great King of Soul Solomon Burke. Since many years he has been regarded as one of the most representative musicians of European “Soul/Blues Music”, and has reached such a high level with his “Super Blues & Soul Band”, that it has aroused enthusiasm also in the most expert public and in the most exigent critics in the world. Active since more than 18 years on the blues stage, Joe Castellano has played with and has hosted in his band some leading international musicians, such as “The Blues Brothers”“The Holmes Brothers”Johnny Adams, Sherman RobertsonEddie FloydSugar BluePee Wee Ellis, Matt ‘guitar’ MurphyAl Mckay,  Chris CainLenny CastroKeisha Jackson,  Bobby Durham, Arthur Miles,  and many others. He has sometimes hosted in his shows also some of the best  Italian Soul/Blues Musicians, such as Roberto CiottiJames SeneseGiulio Todrani (Giorgia‘s father) and Paolo Belli. He has performed the opening act for Solomon Burke (1994), “The Blues Brothers”,(1995 and 2003), and “Earth Wind and Fire”  (2006 and 2007), on several Italian tour dates. Since 2003 he has been awarded “Best soul performer in Italy” by Radio 1 RAI every year and has been finalist in the prestigious “International Songwriting Competition”(Nashville), a festival devoted to the best composers in the world. He has performed in the best Italian and European blues Festivals from Nancy to Munich for many years.  Since 1995 he has been organizing promotional events and side-events for “Blues & Wine Soul Festival”, playing in some celebrated theatres and famous cities such as: Rome, Naples, Florence, Milano, Taranto, Cesenatico, Trieste, L’Aquila, Ruffano (Lecce), Agrigento, Lamezia, Palermo, Cefalù, Siracusa, Marsala, Noto and many others.  Joe Castellano has taken part in and organized several concerts all around Italy and abroad, such as “Agrigento Blues Festival” (1994) and the festival “La Ferrari e la Musica” (2006) – at formal invitation of the legendary Maranello brand  and has played with the greatest interpreters of these musical genre. Since 2010 on he has also presented the show “Joe Castellano & The Super Soul Legends”.

“Blues & Wine Soul Festival” started in  Sicily 15 years ago. Its aim was, and still is,  not only to revive  the best of the worldwide Blues & Soul Music performing  an itinerant circuit through Europe, but even to export Wine & Food excellences from Sicily to Italy and from Italy abroad. This is done by programming the realization of workshops, conferences, meetings with the wine-makers and journalists  during the days of his shows in Italy,  Europe and in the USA.

Joe Castellano wroted sound tracks for important films during last yearscontributing to spread the best essence of what it means to be Sicilian:  character, passion, determination, kindness . Mixing Sicilian and  Soul Music for first time, he  discovered and renewed  the authentic and genuine Sicilian Spirit through his innovatives notes. An example of this succesfull attempt is a list of beautiful tracks written for the soundtrack of two important films directed by the Sicilian Director Francesco Lama:  “Lo Sposalizio” (The Sicilian Marriage) with the songs “Circannu Amuri” (“Looking for some kind of Love”), “A Caminata” (“The Walking”and  “Rosa” and “I Siciliani” , starring  the charming Maria Grazia Cucinotta, with “Juliette”, Old Images”, “I Wanna Talk You about a Woman”, “Rosa”.

It’s really difficult to sum up Dr Joe‘s carreer , who, moreover, is manager at Administrative Court of Agrigento.

One question came to my mind as I met  Dr Joe with other nice friends during an unconventional lunch at the amazing restaurant “Arrhais” in Finale di Pollina at the end of December: could he gave up his job to go on only with Music? Between one discussion and another his answer was clearly “No”! As  he stated in his answer, one of the biggest challenges facing musicians is generating income, gone are the days when a band could rely solely on music sales and touring to earn a living! The worse risk is  to submit Music to the law of market.

Dr Joe likes to see himself as an artist much more than a musician, because he is a free spirit looking for that intimate Sense of Beauty that he can find only in Sicily  transfering it in his dreams that go on becoming true. The essence of his kindness is in this  poetry “Sunny” about the traditional tomatos farming in Sicily with the vivid images of a hot and  pleasant working day:

“To my uncle Carmelino Rizzo and my friend Leonardo Sciascia, Agrigento, 06th May 1992″

Joe Castellano

 

Enjoy it ! 

Stefania