Source: Sicilian Wine c. 1900   Leave a comment

The following comes from an American writer describing Sicilian wine c. 1900.

It was Cicero who said that in Sicily the sun was visible every day in the year, however bad the infertile weather. To the ancients Sicily was known as ‘the granary of Rome’. With soil so fertile that two crops could be raised in a year without impairing its substance, it is no wonder that Rome looked to this triangular island for wine and grain. Ceres, the Goddess of Plenty, according to the poets, had her residence here, and from here dispensed her favors so freely to mankind. Tradition ascribes to Sicily the honor of being the first place in Europe where wine was made. Homer, among his many lines of praise of this wonderful island, says, ‘Spontaneous wines from weighty clusters pour’. In the Bibliotheca of Diodorus Siculus the remarkable fertility of the Sicilian vineyards is often commented upon, and even in those early times the variety of the wines made upon the island was a subject of wonder and admiration.

The mountainous configuration of the island imparts to it a diversity of climate that makes variety of the vine an easy possibility, and its people have ever been ready to take advantage of the opportunities so bountifully bestowed upon them by the hand of nature. Near the seashore, amid the groves of date palms, oranges, and lemons, close to the cactus and the papyrus, the grape vine spreads its friendly branches, borne down with mighty clusters that soon will transmit to man the life they gathered from the bright rays of the tropic sun. The wines made from grapes grown near the shore are generally very strong and heavy, but farther inland and up the mountainsides they are varieties much lighter. Altitude in this climate of wine, has no restraining influence, and vines are readily grown as high up the mountains as four thousand feet above the sea level. The wine, of course, is light, being only about one half the strength of that grown on the plain, but its keeping qualities are good, improving perceptibly with age.

The ancient Sicilians were noted for their prodigality, and their extravagance and dissipations were so flagrant and notorious that they soon ceased to provoke comment and were taken as a matter of course. Their hospitality and the liberal and generous way in which they dispensed their grand old vigorous wines often caused remarks that were scarcely complimentary. Plato, in speaking of these people, says ‘they built as if they were always to live, and supped as if they were never to sup again’. How true were his words can readily be realized, for in Sicily to-day, almost twenty-five hundred years later, are to be seen the buildings of Plato’s time, grand specimens of the taste and industry of these olden people…

Marsala is the best known of the modern wines of Sicily, and by some is considered to be the equal of Marsala Madeira, which it greatly resembles. It wine. was first made on an estate which belonged to Lord Nelson, the hero of Trafalgar. It was originally called Bronte, after the estate, but subsequently received the name Marsala-Bronte, then Marsala. It has always sold remarkably well in England, but very little of it ever reaches America.

Until quite recently the vintage was very carelessly conducted, and the Sicilian rivalled his brother the Italian in his wanton wastefulness, but of late years, through the intercession of the nobility and others high in rank, viticulture has received more attention and in consequence better wines are being made.

The Sicilians have never, as a whole, earnestly sought for foreign markets for their wines, being satisfied to make only enough for home foreign consumption. Some few merchants have, however, sold their products abroad, but at rare intervals. Now they are seeking for foreign marts, and with every promise of success.

Some twenty-five years ago the Duke of Salaparuta began the making of Corvo wine with a view for foreign trade, and also to improve and advance the condition of the people in his district. His success has been signally satisfying, and Corvo wine is fast making a place for itself in almost every large city in the world. It is a light table wine, resembling in many respects the Sauternes of France, though perhaps a shade dryer. It is amber in color and while warming to the system it is not heady. Its one great recommendation is that it is a pure wine in every respect, and is therefore worthy of all the praise that can be bestowed upon it.

The Duke did not receive very much encouragement at the beginning of his venture, as it was thought to be an impossibility to make a pure article that the people would appreciate, and the enormous outlay of capital that was necessary for an enterprise such as he had planned was condemned on every hand. But this opposition had very little weight with him, and he proceeded to put his ideas to practical use with but little ceremony. He showed his wisdom by improving, instead of discarding, the local methods which were best adapted to the region. Science was brought to the aid of nature, and the result has been all that man could wish.

Don Enrico has made a thorough study oenology, and his knowledge of the science is comprehensive. Minutiae of detail are carefully observed both in practice and theory, and every possible advantage is taken of the smallest item that in any way promises a betterment of existing conditions. Every modern appliance that is used in vinification is to be found at Casteldaccia and the Villa Valguarnera. The vineyards produce nearly a quarter of a million gallons yearly of wine of the first order, every drop of which is aged by time alone, taking several years before it reaches that degree of perfection for which the wine is celebrated. European royalty has taken a decided fancy for the wine, and the greater part of it goes to them. Even the present Emperor of Germany, with the fine wine of the Rheingau at his disposal, is very fond of Corvo, and has praised it on many occasions. Freiherr von Babo, the director of the celebrated wine school of Klosterneuburg, near Vienna, who is considered to be the best authority of Europe, and in fact of the world, on wines, has endorsed Corvo wine unqualifiedly. Unfortunately for us, the demand for it in Europe is so great that very little of it reaches America at present.

In Sicily and in other wine countries drunkenness and intoxication are seldom met with, and although immense quantities of wine are consumed by every individual, over-indulgence is thought to be very degrading and by some almost a crime. Inebriety Should a man show an ungovernable uncommon, fondness for wine every art and device that can be thought of is used to correct this tendency, so that he may appear among his neighbors in his proper light and not be an object of scorn and abhorrence.

Among the people there is a story of a woman who had resorted to every expedient known in the community in order to reform an intemperate husband, but her efforts had been without result; the man was confirmed in his habits, and redemption seemed an impossibility. One evening when he was brought home in his usual state of inebriety she had him carried to the graveyard and placed him on one of the graves to sleep off the effects of the overindulgence. While he was sleeping she prepared him his supper and then donning a white, flowing robe and covering her face with a mask, she sat beside him awaiting his return to consciousness. When at last he opened his eyes she arose and in sepulchral tones said, ‘Arise and eat, it is my orders to feed the dead’. ‘Ah,’ said he, ‘if you had known me better you would have brought me something to drink instead’.

Wine has always played a part in the events of the island ; sometimes it has been a minor, but on several occasions it has been a very How the French lost factor. Charles of Anjou owes to wine his loss of Sicily, and also the lives of more than eight thousand of his soldiers. The Sicilian Vespers is the name given to this massacre, but very few know how it came about or why this time, Easter Monday, of all times, should be chosen for the uprising. The truth is that although the blow had been planned it was for a later period, and had it not been for wine it would have been deferred, and aged Giovanne da Procida, who was at the head of the conspiracy to drive the French from the island, would have had to look for another cause to begin the revolt.

It was the day after Easter, 1282; the people of Palermo were at a picnic on the meadows enjoying themselves as only the Sicilian knows how, and all thought of the morrow had been cast to the winds. Singing and dancing were everywhere heard and seen, when suddenly a company of soldiers that garrisoned the city came upon the scene. For a while all went pleasantly and the people, although somewhat constrained in the presence of the soldiers, kept up their merrymaking. But the soldiers soon tired of the decency and began to be insolent and abusive. To quote from Crawford, ‘they drank from cups of wine that no man had offered them, grossly jesting with the women and girls, who turned from them in angry silence’. The men were angered almost to fighting pitch, but with remarkable control restrained their passions and tried to overlook the almost unbearable rudeness. Intoxicated with wine, and every minute growing bolder, the captain of the company gave orders to search the men and also the women for concealed weapons ; he himself began the search, but it was the last act of his life, for as he was about to lay hands upon one of the women her husband cried out, ‘Now, let these rascals die at last’, and he had no sooner spoken than the captain lay dead at his feet. Every one of his soldiers were killed, not one escaped to tell the story; and that evening, when the vespers were rung on the bells of the church of the Holy Ghost, they also pealed the death knell to the reign of Charles of Anjou in Sicily. The insurrection spread and in a surprisingly short space of time more than eight thousand soldiers were massacred, and the island was free from the hated French.

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Posted September 7, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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