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The Urchin... in Sicily

Updated: Oct 15, 2018

This summer, we went to Sicily to find some fresh wine inspiration to pair with our shellfish. What better place to do it than Sicily, where you are never far from the sea. Everything is infused with a heady cocktail of sunshine, sea salt and coastal breeze: the soil, the air, the water, the people.

It's also a place where we felt instantly at home. For us, The Urchin is part of our extended family. Our hostess and guide for the week in Sicily was Antonia, a close family friend and second mother for more than 40 years. The trip was all the more poignant as Antonia passed away just a few weeks after we left, but we’re grateful to her for introducing us to some of the most beautiful places and experiences of Sicily.

We start our exploration in Campo Felice (“Happy Field”), a small town an hour along the coast, east of Palermo, perched on a cliff overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. Each morning, the residents are offered fresh octopus, squid, mussels and other catches of the day from the back of a car. We take a kilo of fresh mussels and cook them for lunch in a tomato, garlic, herb and white wine sauce. We’re recommended “Principe di Corleone” from a west central terrain with 50% Catarratto and 50% Inzolia grapes. Fresh, slightly floral and slight acidity. Was good, but not The Don.

Next stop, the crucible of Sicilian food, Mercato Ballarò, in the heart of Palermo. Here we have a visceral immersion in the raw ingredients of Sicilian food and culture: a cacophony of sights, sounds and smells, which, to the uninitiated, can be overwhelming (our middle daughter burst into tears). We have barbequed prawns and octopus with a lemony Catarratto. Getting closer.

Onwards to the historic, seaside town of Cefalù, birthplace of Salvatore Tomato in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Every turn offers a cinematic vista. The culinary highlight is an octopus and potato salad accompanied by Gibelè from the Pellegrino stable. Named after the mountain on the volcanic island of Pantelleria to the south of Sicily where a portion of the grapes are grown, Gibelè is 100% Zibbibo with notes of sage, jasmine, lavender and apple. Our sommelier hand picks it for matching with all types of shellfish and in particular squid and prawns. It’s a winner.

Day 3, we go off piste.

Giuseppe has tipped us off on a community vineyard near Valledolmo, deep in the countryside. We take a “short cut” and find ourselves lost, on a d-road amongst a lake of sheep. Our hire car is ill equipped for the unpaved roads and not even Antonia can understand the dialect of the shepherd we ask for directions. Eventually we find the cantina… but it’s closed today.

The only sign of life in the village is a little bar, where we recount our disappointment to the woman serving. It turns out she knows the head honcho at Castellucimiano and after a quick call, Pietro arrives to give us an impromptu presentation of the cooperative, its history and the provenance of the portfolio. The pick of the list is “Miano”. 100% Catarratto grape. Light-bodied citrus, tropical fruit, pineapple, green melon, pear and almond flavors, slight salinity with a fine, chalky finish. A perfect match for shellfish.

It’s time to get back to the coast. By day 4, we make it to the South side of the island and head to the fishing port of Sciacca, in search of sea urchin. We find some amongst the rock pools at the beach, but not the edible variety, so we head to the portside seafood mecca, Mulinu Còri. Spaghetti with sea urchins is served with a local white from Mandrarossa vineyard, “Urra di Mare” (“Cheer of the Sea”). 100% Sauvignon Blanc - peach, apricot, grapefruit balanced with hints of mint and basil.

Since we’re in the area, it seems rude not to pop in to the Mandrarossa cantina, around the corner in Menfi. Thanks to Giusy for showing us around and introducing us to their newest addition, Calamossa (“Wavey Bay”), a tribute to the sea inlet between the vineyards. The Mandrarossa vineyards sit behind the beach near Porto Palo, with soil rich in shellfish fossils and bathed in a salty sea breeze. Calamossa is a semi-sparkling Chenin Blanc. The light sparkle on pouring reflects the waves as they gently break and quickly settle in the bay.

A fragrant, mineral wine which brings together the freshness of sea breezes, the salinity of the sea and the energy of the soil. The marine habitat and the intense light give it a fresh and light character. Young and exuberant, Calamossa expresses joy of life. This will work equally well as an aperitif or as a shellfish accompaniment. Probably our favourite of the trip.

So this autumn, we’ve brought back our four favourite Sicilian wines to The Urchin for you to try. Saluté!

“Gibelè”, Pellegrino - 100% Zibibbo – 12.5%

“Miano”, Castellucimiano – 100% Catarratto – 13%

“Urra di Mare”, Mandrarossa – 100% Sauvignon Blanc – 12%

“Calamossa”, Mandrarossa – 100% Chenin Blanc – 12%

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