Trapani is an ancient Sicilian, Greek, and Roman word for “hook”, describing the shape of the harbor in the town of Trapani. Like last month’s region of Avellino (read our articlehere), Trapani is both a town and a province on the western side of the island of Sicily. In this area natural salt deposits can be found, as well as windmills that were once used to grind the salt into a useable form. The oldest wine-producing region in Sicily, Trapani boasts the most land covered by vineyards in all of Italy, however much of this land is not designated by DOC status as these vineyards were planted on either virgin lands or former cornfields. The criteria for a DOC is for the land to have a long tradition of producing a certain type of wine in a certain manner, but this does not dissuade winemakers from producing many gallons of simple Sicilian juice. Nevertheless, there are seven DOCs in the province of Trapani: Alcamo, Pantelleria, Delia Nivolelli, Erice, Marsala, and Salaparuta, each distinct and notable in its own right.
Alcamo or Bianco d’Alcamo was noted for the quality of its wines long before the 19 th century, when they were in great demand in northern Italy for the preparation of vermouths because of their high alcohol levels which ranged anywhere from 13%-17%. Nowadays, Alcamo produces bright, crisp whites that work perfectly with local fresh seafood.
The island of Pantelleria is the southernmost territory of Italy and can be seen from the shores of Africa. It became Italy’s third DOC in 1971, all in part to a celebrated form of Moscato which is produced here, Moscato Passito di Pantelleria, a type of wine which is said to have been served to the god Apollo by the goddess Tanit, who longed for his attention. In order to get his juices flowing and his look doe-eyed, she served him not ambrosia (which was the usual love potion) but the fermented must of the vines of Pantelleria, causing him to fall in love with her. Since then, Pantelleria has been able to boast that it is the home of a wine that is capable of substituting for the divine ambrosia. Heavy stuff, indeed.
The new kid on the block, so to speak, is Delia Nivolelli: a product of the innovations implemented in Trapani in the 1980’s after the uncertain wine market made it clear the wine industry needed a new taste if it were to survive; it is created from 13 different wines based on both indigenous and foreign varietals.
In contrast, Erice is a DOC chock full o’history. A charming, historical town sitting 700 meters above sea level, it was built by the Elimi and then destroyed by the Carthaginians in 260 B.C., and experienced a rebirth when the Norman King Roger ordered a castle to be built there. The objective of Erice DOC is to give recognition to the indigenous grape varieties like Catarratto, Nero d’Avola, Grollo, Insolia, Frappato, Perricone, and Zibibbo alongside foreign grapes like Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Marsala, the often misunderstood fortified wine is named for the Greek warlord of the same name who encouraged his men to drink before battle as he felt it improved their performance on the battlefield (confusingly, the city of Marsala is Arabic for “Port to God”). Either golden or amber colored (using Grillo, Cataratto, Ansonica, Inzolia, or Damaschino) or ruby colored (using Perticone/Pignatello, Calabrese/Nero d’Avola, or Nerello Mascalese), it can be sweet, semi-dry, or dry. It is always bottled on location, and different classifications exist based on aging times.
Situated at 1,263 feet in the hills, the town of Salaparuta was founded by Arabs and was once called Menzil Salh, or “the lady’s farmhouse”, re-founded around a medieval castle in the 15 th century, and rebuilt after an earthquake in 1968. The DOC was established in 2006, and the amazing fact about Salaparuta is its vineyards cover an area of about 1,500 hectares and have the potential to yield one million cases of wine per year, however there are less than ten winemakers there, and the total wine production is less than 200,000 cases. Like Delia Nivolelli, the varietals are a blend of traditional varieties as well as non-native grapes.
Trapani is a great example of a place honoring its history and forging forward to the future.