Sicily is a feast for the senses… Stimulation abounds, as you are surrounded by beauty, both natural and man-made. On a recent visit to Scicli – which is pronounced chic + ly – I got to know a little corner of the Mediterranean’s biggest island that had inexplicably avoided my probing eye. This end-of-summer moment was an explosion of color, tastes, ideas… no wonder Sicily is home to Mount Etna, the largest volcano in Europe. Things explode around here.
Most people in Italy can recognize the Town Hall and main square in Scicli as the setting of the famous television series featuring Commissario Montalbano from the acclaimed Camilleri novels. And this whole area is a UNESCO World Heritage site!
However, my intention was to visit one of the First Ladies of Italian wine, Gaetana Jacono, at her wine estate, Valle dell’Acate in the area of Ragusa. A most generous hostess, Gaetana gave me a whirlwind tour of her region that included ceramics, scrumptious pastries, and a wine-food pairing to knock your socks off.
Arriving in Scicli, one is struck by the over-the-top Sicilian Baroque, similar to nearby Noto and Modica. Lodgings in a refurbished palace made me feel like a princess.
Heading out to find food – and of course wine – I ‘stumbled upon’ a palace that was open for viewing. What magnificent frescoes and decor!
Climbing a staircase to someone’s idea of paradise, I found opulent, gold-encrusted panels and cornices.
After this, I needed a drink. So many chic Scicli restaurants. I opted for something with this view:
It also happened to have Gaetana’s wine: one of my favorites, DOC Il Frappato di Vittoria, which is right up there with the only Sicilian DOCG, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, which Gaetana also makes with 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato grapes.
Hard to decide if this place is more beautiful during the day or at night. Evocative sculptures on building façades make for fun viewing:
Upon closer examination, I understood why Gaetana called her new line of young, fresh, easy-to-drink wines Bellifolli: for these haunting faces that grace the architecture of the Ragusa-Ibla area. Ibla is the ancient name for this area of Sicily, which was founded by the indigenous people, the Sicels. Look at these scary faces:
Exciting, haunting even, they stay with you, and inspired the colorful labels on Gaetana’s Bellifolli line.
Our morning started out with a coffee and some typical Sicilian pastries. Mamma mia, what a sugar high! Grazie to the Dolceria Modicana for the lovely visit and almond paste cookies in every shape and flavor, the pistacchios, the pinoli nuts…
The breath-taking natural beauty on this glorious September day made my visit all the more enjoyable.
The soil around here varies too. On display at the winery were the bottles of wine and the soils they come from.
Every angle of this winery is a photo opportunity, picturesque is the word!
Left: Gaetana explaining wines Center: The barricaia Right: Yours truly in the offices
And this was before lunch!
Going to the House of Pairings, Gaetana and her chef, Davide Di Corato, laid out a spread that was as colorful and tempting as it was exquisitely flavorful.
From left to right: antipasto, fish course, meat course, dessert
Did I already say I felt like a princess, waited on hand and foot? Is your mouth watering yet? Or are you already on the plane on your way over?
The lovely decor at the winery makes you feel at home and luxurious, all at once.
Sicily is in Italy, but it is also a world unto itself, of colors, flavors, history, art, and of course wine. No words can convey the beauty; it needs to be experienced.