Another November is upon us and Thanksgiving, as I wrote last year, is still my favorite holiday. Traditions are many this time of year, all seemingly targeted towards that one weekend when friends and family gather for an autumnal feast, to share stories of their year, hopefully indulge in some laughter, perhaps some football and, certainly in my house, some great wines.
Traditions, however, aren’t always bound by rigid rules. New ideas can breathe fresh air into old customs, helping to keep time-honored practices from getting stale and, let’s face it, boring…this is where wine enters the room and instantly changes it.
As for our culinary traditions of Thanksgiving, usually a turkey with the side dishes, plus a collection of vegetarian offerings, I’ve always tried to bring new wines into the fold, not relegating myself to the same bottles every year. In and of itself, that is my own little tradition within the tradition. This year, I’ve decided to add some wines that come from a place that has been around seemingly forever, a land for which I will always give thanks for its contributions to the wine world, and my own personal wine happiness, Sicily.
The island of Sicily holds an extraordinary place in human history. From the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans to the Byzantines, Arabs and Goths, royal dynasties ruled the island for millennia, and all contributed in making Sicily what it is today. Stunning art, literature and architecture are equally matched by an incredibly diverse and complex gastronomy, also reflecting the countless contributions made by the different groups who settled there.
Wine production dates back to the Greeks and Romans, and much of the revolutionary advancements made in farming and winemaking techniques occurred in Sicily. Today, Sicily ranks fourth in total (Italian) production, and first in land under vines, region-wise.
What has always made Italian wines great is the countless indigenous varietals, and Sicily doesn’t disappoint in that category. White wine grapes include Catarrato, Grillo and Insolia, as well as the red wine grapes Nero d’Avola, Frappato and Nerello Mascalese…they truly define Sicily’s wine greatness.
And this is what will be on my Thanksgiving table this year.
Hailing from the farthest tip in southeastern Sicily, the wines of Azienda Agricola COS are amongst Sicily’s finest. The namesake winery of lifelong friends Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti and Cirino Strano (COS) was founded in 1980 and is revered in the Ragusa Province, in the town of Vittoria. As stated earlier, wine production dates back to the Greeks and Romans…the winery itself dates back to the 1880’s. For COS, their land is everything, and preserving its health is paramount. As Giusto states, “the vineyard is like our life’s savings in the bank, so we must protect it.” COS has worked organically since their outset and was an early practitioner of biodynamic viticulture, starting in 2000. They were certified (Organic) as of 2007.
As for Vittoria, the most famous of the wines from this area is the Cerasuolo do Vittoria, a beautiful red wine blend of Nero d’ Avola and Frappato, and whose name is derived from the word cherry, referring to its bright cherry color.
One of my favorite wines is the COS Pithos Bianco 2018. Made from the grecanico grape, a local variety of garganega (of Soave fame), it is both fermented and aged in amphora (Pithos in Greek). Honey-gold in color, Pithos Bianco is floral, with accented fruits of melon and citrus. Hand harvested from 12 year old vines, there’s a youthful freshness to the wine, yet it’s mature in its character. An excellent complement to an array of Thanksgiving foods, it’s a wonderful way to start the feast.
Of the two red wines that will be joining Pithos Bianco on my table, the first is the COS Frappato 2018. A traditional varietal of the Vittoria area, Frappato is truly unique. While usually blended with other red grapes, it makes an attractive, lively wine on its own. Aromas of violet, strawberry, cherry and spice transfer beautifully into a palate of equal excitement. It’s a light-bodied red wine, gently tannic and excellent both with food and by itself. Also hand harvested, COS Frappato 2018 is aged in concrete vats and comes from 15 year old vines.
And finally, my big wine of choice will be the COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico 2015. A blend of 60% nero d’ Avola and frappato, this wine is sourced from estate vineyards, hand harvested from 25 year old vines. As for its profile, the frappato brings lightness, perfume and fresh fruity aromas, while the nero d’Avola adds darker color and fruit, and is fuller bodied. It’s moderately tannic.
All three of these beautiful wines come in around $40 on the shelf. And for one of the great food and wine holidays of the year, that’s a deal.
I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving and hope you take a chance on trying a new wine…there’s no better way to keep a tradition going.
Until next time, Happy Vino’ing!