Dressed in whites

In honor of St. Joseph, raise a glass of wine made from Sicily's unique grapes

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Colosi bianco is a great Sicilian white for St. Joseph's Day. (Bill Hogan, Chicago Tribune / February 28, 2010)

The St. Joseph's Day dinner is traditionally meatless because the day falls during Lent and often features Sicilian cuisine.

What better wine to raise in tribute to St. Joseph than a Sicilian white?

I'll admit Sicily is not the first place in Italy that comes to mind when I think of white wine: Alto Adige or the Veneto is where I usually head. But I was pleasantly surprised by five Sicilian whites; all had personality and all were very affordable.

The most widely planted white grape variety in Sicily is catarratto, according to "The New Wine Lover's Companion." It is followed by the far more familiar trebbiano. Other white grapes include grillo, inzolia, carricante and muscat.

Most of those names sound unfamiliar but attest to what Jancis Robinson describes as Sicily's "wealth of indigenous grape varieties" in "The Oxford Companion to Wine."

Grape growing and winemaking date back well into ancient times, she writes.

Robinson believes Sicilian whites have improved dramatically in recent years.

"Advances in the cellar have ensured that the flavours captured in the grapes are preserved by the use of protective measures such as refrigeration, rather than dissipated or oxidized, as once was the case," she writes.

wdaley@tribune.com

Beyond the usual suspects
These Sicilian white wines are tasty and inexpensive. The wines would work well with the many seafood dishes of Lent, but don't forget them afterward. All offer a break from the usual suspects: chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio. All would make refreshing choices for summer entertaining.

2008 Colosi Bianco: Very pale with a subtle green apple nose, this wine is loaded with zippy acids that are balanced by a sensually creamy texture. Floral flavors finish nicely tart. Serve with fish cakes, white pizza with mushrooms and rosemary, shrimp scampi. ✭✭✭ $10

2008 Curatolo Mulinea Insolia: Easy drinking with some lively tartness; think green plums. Nice citrusy smack on the finish. Serve with egg and pepper sandwiches, cheese ravioli. ✭✭ $10

2007 Ajello Majus: Seventy percent grillo, 30 percent cartarratto, this white has an almost chardonnay-like profile, with a rounded pear flavor spiked with citrus. Serve with fettuccine in cream sauce, grilled calamari, clam linguine. ✭✭ $11

2008 Feudo Arancio Grillo: A slightly grassy nose, very pale color and a subtle yet crisp profile are the hallmarks of this white. Serve with grilled scallops, branzino in butter, fried calamari. ✭✭ $8

2008 Cusumano Insolia: Creamy, soft, subtle. Tasters split on whether the white was too subtle. Naysayers faulted it for having little oomph; supporters thought it rich, even floral. Depending on how you find it: Garlicky scampi or steamed flounder. ✭✭ $10

You want that wine. But your store or distributor may not carry it. Ask a wine retailer for a similar wine. Prices may vary.

By the numbers

1: Number of denominazione di origine controllata e garantita regions in Sicily. This quality ranking, the highest in the Italian appellation system, goes to Cerasuolo di Vittoria in Ragusa, a region in southeastern Sicily.

2005: The year Cerasuolo di Vittoria received DOCG status

23: Number of denominazione di origine regions in Sicily. This quality level lies below DOCG, but like DOCG, wineries must use only designated grapes and follow certain winemaker rules. Sicily's DOCs are: Alcamo or Bianco d'Alcamo; Contea di Sclafani; Contessa Entellina; Delia Nivolelli; Eloro; Erice; Etna; Faro; Malvasia delle Lipari; Mamertino di Milazzo; Marsala; Menfi; Monreale; Moscato di Noto; Moscato di Pantelleria; Moscato di Siracusa; Moscato Passito di Pantelleria; Riesi; Salaparuta; Sambuca di Sicilia; Santa Margherita di Belice; Sciacca; Vittoria.

Source: The Italian Trade Commission
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