We drove through countryside near Vittoria to visit COS, one of my favorite Sicilian wineries and agriturismo farms, with owners Titta Cilia and the appropriately named Giusto (correct, just) Occhipinti, the "C" and "O" of COS. More about the "S" later.
COS is part of a natural wine movement that's been making waves in the enological world. There are lots of different factions, with wineries adopting biodynamic or organic agricultural methodology to a greater or lesser degree. The general theme is respect--for land, grape, tradition. These wineries use few or no chemical treatments in the vineyard. Grapes are often macerated with skins for longer periods. Wines ferment with indigenous yeasts, not as easy to control as selected yeasts with their maximum efficiency and uniform results. Wines are rarely filtered. The result is more personality, less internationality, wine that expresses a sense of territory and evolves with age.
I'm crazy about the area's red varietals Nero d'Avola and Frappato. At COS they're made into single varietal wines and blended in DOCG Cerasulo di Vittoria. The cellars are beautiful--both Giusto and Titta are architects. There's a room of huge 400-liter terra cotta amphorae semi-emerged in the ground. The wines fermented in them are called Pithos, Greek for amphora. This was, after all, part of Magna Graecia. Everything old is new.
We stayed at the Locanda COS, attractive suites, moderately priced-the mini-bar with water and COS wines is a lovely detail. There's a swimming pool and a pittosporum (Japanese cheesewood) maze in the backyard. Giusto's sister Angela is also appropriately named--she's an angel in the kitchen, prepares meals for guests by reservation. She made a simple lunch since we had dinner plans. Local salumi, ricotta baked on lemon leaves, then drizzled with extra virgin and pepper, orange and anchovy salad, cheese, fruit. We drank Cerasuolo di Vittoria, simply delicious. I ordered wine from Giusto for home and begged Angela for a recipe. It's at the end of this post.
Suzanne made a watercolor of the olive harvest outside our front door. I read guidebooks, always on the lookout for interesting activities. Then Vito joined us to navigate, no easy task, to the fishing village of Scoglitti and dinner at Ristorante Sakalleo, owned by Pinuccia Strano, the "S" of COS, who left the winery to open this fantastic restaurant with her ex-fisherman husband Pasquale Ferrara. There's no written menu but after a few questions--"raw fish and seafood?, allergies?, aversions?, dietary restrictions?", platters of fish and seafood appetizers appear--raw sea urchins, red shrimp, marinated anchovies, filleted catch of the day, and cooked squidlets, shrimp, octopus, scabbard fish, mussels and clams, cooked anchovies, fish fritters, tuna "sausage", and more. Skip the primi--risotto and pasta disappoint, but aren't really necessary. Those with hearty appetites should continue with fried or roast fish or seafood. Drink COS's white wine, Ramì. Cannoli anyone? Ristorante Sakalleo, piazza Cavour 12, Scoglitti, tel. 0932-871-688, closed Mondays.
We visited Giusto's nieces, Arianna (wine) and Faustina (extra virgin) Occhipinti at their farm. They, too, are architects and their spectacularly under-restored house is filled with interesting objects--Sicilian pottery, books, wine bottles, dining table covered with piles of paper, samples--clutter that I can relate to. Arianna's fervent about natural wines, and her winery is small, without barriques, wine fermenting in stainless steel or large oak casks. We tasted wine from the latest harvest in the cantina, a work in progress, delightfully grapy. Back to the living room, where Faustina showed me her line of Sicilian products--jars of almonds, olives, oregano, capers (brined but not packed in liquid or salt). I did my Christmas shopping. Then we tasted her just-pressed oils. Pantarei, made from Sicilian cultivar Tonda Iblea, and Gheta, with Nocellara dl Belice. We had almonds and white wine (from a farmer who gets advice from Arianna) in a plastic bottle, rustic, fun, perfect for the moment. And moved to the kitchen, where Faustina was preparing lunch, produce straight from the garden. We feasted on golden Sicilian bread with just-pressed oil, pasta with Sicilian cauliflower and almonds, sautéed mustard greens with garlic, Ragusano cheese, pears with walnuts and honey. We drank Arianna's Frappato and SP 68, a Frappato-Nero d'Avola blend. Great sign--Arianna's wines resemble her--easy-going, ultra-Sicilian, totally original. I ordered wine, once again. Faustina promised a recipe but never delivered. When she does I'll add it.
Next stops on the Grand Tour: Archeological Museum in the ugliest city in Sicily, tour of Licata, closed museum, unexpected book collection, trattoria lunch with old and new friends to celebrate forks and stars, a cloistered convent in Gattopardo country and more.
-Dec 2009 link to the article published in The Atlantic Magazine
Angela Occhipinti's orange salad
Flat leaf parsley
2 spring onions
10 anchovy filets (Angela uses salted anchovies and filets them herself)
Sea salt, black pepper
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Peel the oranges using a very sharp knife, keeping them whole, removing all white pith.
Divide the orange in half and then quarters. Trim the white core and remove seeds. Cut into bite-sized pieces and place in a serving bowl.
Chop the parsley and the spring onions and add to the bowl.
Coarsely chop the anchovies and add to the bowl.
Dress with salt, pepper and extra virgin and serve.