Just drink it


Some house offerings (probably from an Etna winery) we had at a tiny pizzeria high in the hills above Taormina.

Sticking to the “Sicily only” section of the (many, many) winelists in Taormina was no problem. More and more of the wineries on the island are avoiding international grapes and overoaked methodologies to focus on the best of the native (give or take two thousand years) Sicilian varieties: nero d’avola, nerello macalese, inzolia, and cattaratto, to name just a few. These are tangy, citrusy whites and deep, earthy, somewhat acidic and often cherry-dominated reds. They’re great food wines. I also tried out the almond wine made by a few different producers there; it’s yummy, sherry-colored and sweet (most people really like sweet wine, though they pretend they don’t). Sure, there are Sicilian wineries making some great cabernets and chardonnays, but I didn’t bother. Which works well in Sicily.

But imagine if I was presented with a native grape section at any restaurant in America, featuring wines made from vitis labrusca grapes such as Concord, Niagara, Norton, and Catawba. Grape juice, fine. Wine? I don’t think so. Though a lot of wineries in America are using these grapes with perfectly acceptable results, most of us are thanking heaven for such pioneers as Dr. Konstantin Frank in New York and Wendt and Gallo in California, who focused on the great vitis vinifera varietals.

When it comes to wine, native can mean a lot (in Sicily) or nothing (in Buffalo).

Previous articleConquered once more
Next articleSpotted at the Garden Show: The Botaniwipe
Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. Don’t totally dismiss Norton- it all depends on the winery. Here in VA, we have some great wineries. The majority, if they use Norton, it’s a blending grape; many of the straight Norton wines taste like Maneschewitz (sp?), but a couple wineries have done some amazing things with what I used to think was a ho-hum grape. It works great in sangria, too!

    That said, VA wine is great precisely because we’ve successfully introduced some great old varietals. I’m not saying Norton’s the best, just don’t pass on it at a tasting. You may be surprised.

  2. I grew up in Texas with a mustang grape vine in the back yard. It was old and HUGE, with the vine about 6 inches in diameter. It climbed in and covered 5 trees and we could climb it. In the summer our backyard smelled like wine.

    I’ve tasted the wine, and it’s not bad. The maker was an amature, but I would have been happy to have had a bottle.

    The jelly made from this grape is tart and delicious. There is no way, however, that it would ever be a grape you’d want to eat out of hand!

  3. Well, thanks in part to my visit to Southern Italy last year–and the incredible wine made from grapes I’d never heard of–I keep exploring wine made from unfamiliar varietals. Brave of me, I know, but in the interests of science, I’m willing to do it.

    So I have an open mind about the idea of wine made from our native grapes. Some genius will figure out how to do it at some point.

  4. Well, the geniuses in early America did it by developing hybrids, which are what we have now. And there have been other advances, but–since, unfortunately, I can only drink so much, try as I desperately may to change this–I’m sticking with the vinifera. For now.

    However, there are a ton of native grape winemaking geeks out there, and many of them seem to be in NY. You should check out that scene.

  5. Vina de Mandorla is one of my favorites. Syrupy and sweet and tasting amazingly of almonds.

    We have visited my wife’s relatives in Sicily twice and I always try to bring back a bottle. I also love the liqueurs by Fratelli Russo, especially the Pistaccio. Yum!

    Next time we go I will have to pay more attention to the local wines, for sure.

  6. Sicilian farmers have a couple thousand year head start. Lets reconvene in the year 2500 and see how American varieties are stacking up.

Comments are closed.