Having just come back from a two week trip to the Mount Etna region of eastern Sicily we thought we'd share some of the best wine stores we came across travelling in the region. I must say I love the "enoteca" concept in Italy, where you can come for an aperitivo, taste local wines by the glass with some food, and then purchase bottles that you've tasted and liked. We loved visiting and tasting wines directly at the wineries of course, but the experience of tasting different producers side by side, and the ability to try older vintages can only be done at an enoteca.
Via Vittorio Emanuele II, 155, Catania, phone +39 095 746 2210
This family run shop has an impressive range of wines, liquors and other Sicilian specialties. You will not see these items in many other stores and certainly not in typical tourist haunts. If you are in Catania the shop is in the downtown area and is well worth the trip. They specialize in regional foods prepared using traditional methods and organic ingredients. Sylvia, the daughter, is extremely welcoming and speaks fluent English, among other languages. Samples of many products are available for you to taste.
Via Vittorio Emanuele II 143 Catania, phone +39 095 321773
A more traditional wine store, with a beautifully decorated interior.
Corso Umberto 57, Taormina, phone +39 0942 21253
In addition to a great selection of Etna and other sicilian wine, this shop is packed full of handmade Sicilian spirits, olive oil, sweets and other delicacies. It is located on the main street that cuts across Taormina, Corso Umberto.
Corso Umberto 230, Taormina, phone +39 0942 23941
Wines, liqueurs, and many other typical Sicilian products can be found in this other centrally located shop.
Via Umberto, 8, Randazzo, phone +39 320 976 0623
This small Enoteca is bursting with Charcuterie, cheeses, and local bottles of wine. The owner is the nicest person making us feel so welcome. He kept putting down bottles of local wine on our table, to pour ourselves as much as we wanted depending on how many we wanted to taste. The pistachio paste, made from local pistachios (reputed to be the best in the world), was another highlight. A large selection of Etna and Sicilian bottles to choose from.
Corso Italia 51, 95018, Riposto, phone +39 095 090 3391
Drink, Buy, Learn is their moto. This enoteca is not only a wine store, but a wine bar and bistro. Expect a modern setup, friendly, English-speaking staff, with a great selection of wine and food. A good selection to wines by the glass.
Via Roma 86, Syracuse, phone +39 93146 3007
This wine store is a also a wine bar with great character and a wide selection of wine. The inside has a cozy feeling of an old austere which sells wine by the bottle or by the glass together with some good charcuterie. There are also a few tables on the pedestrian street to observe people strolling by. It has at least two dozen of wines by the glass, mostly local and well selected. The store is run by two young and enthusiastic recent owners who know their wine and are eager to share their knowledge.
Needless to say we easily filled our 15-bottle Wine Check with some great Sicilian wines (and a few more in our normal luggage). We flew back from Catania to Paris with Vueling Airlines, which has a 23 kg luggage weight and our 15-bottle luggage came just under that weight. The cost of the first single hold luggage was only 15 Euros per person, so we purchased one for our standard luggage and one for the Wine Check.
Did we miss any wine stores or enoteca's that should be on the list? Let us know below.
If you look around the world of wine today, you'll notice that most wine is made with the same grape varieties. Pretty much every 'New World' country produces wines made from grapes native to France; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot... the list goes on. This is no bad thing as stylistically, all the above varieties can be drastically different depending upon climate, soil, viticulture and vinification. The vast majority of glossy, bold Shiraz from Australia is, literally and figuratively, a world away from the savoury, peppery wines of the Northern Rhone, for example. However, in the last 10 years the fashion has been to move away from seeking out the 'best' examples of these well known varieties and instead to look for unique expressions, typically from grapes native to specific countries and regions. This has seen the emergence of some new stars in the world of wine, from the austere, mineral wines of Mount Etna in Sicily to the powerful, racy Assyrtiko of Santorini in Greece. Austria has re-modelled its vinous reputation with the versatile Grüner Veltliner and even as afar as South America, Bonarda and Pais are resurging on both sides of the Andes, in Argentina and Chile respectively.
However, no country has been rediscovered in quite the same way as Spain. There are somewhere in the region of 600 grape varieties on the Iberian Peninsula, the vast majority of them indigenous and regionally specific in production. Despite this, Spain was for decades synonymous with oaky, extracted wines from Rioja, and to a lesser extent Ribera del Duero, with Tempranillo the only celebrated indigenous grape hailing from the country. Short-sighted producers ripped up their old, unfashionable vineyards and replanted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and anything that was currently selling, not realising that in doing so they were giving up their major point of difference on the international market-place. However, this wasn't true for all producers and quietly, many went about their business as they had done for centuries; cultivating their families vineyards and producing wines of distinction and style, as their vines slowly became older, sturdier and produced better quality fruit. To look at the market now compared to 20 years ago is staggering. Shops in Barcelona are awash with local Catalan wines, Galician field-blends are appearing in top restaurants across the world and even Sherry is making a come-back! To cover the entirety of this resurgence would take a strong liver and a lot of time, but I'd like to share a few exciting varieties from my own little corner of Spain, the fiercely independent Catalunya:
Wine is a fussy product. Starting from its very beginnings as embryonic genetic material located on the buds of vines, to its moment of glory in your glass, there are countless chemical reactions, pitfalls and opportunities to be navigated and controlled in order to create a good bottle of wine. The vast majority of these is, fortunately, taken care of by the time we actually buy a bottle of wine, as the vigneron has spent the entire year wrestling against nature, ensuring the right balance of sugars, acids and flavour compounds, before handing over the baton to the wine-maker. This is where the grapes will be converted into wine through the magical process of fermentation, possibly aged and then bottled with care being taken to ensure biological stability. Then depending on where the wine is to be sold, it will go through a long or short supply route, potentially crossing oceans, continents and all sorts of checks before it finally appears on a shop shelf or restaurant list somewhere in the world.
Enter us; the consumer. We purchase the wine with the intention of one day drinking it, whether that be within minutes of the purchase, or 20 years down the line, after extended storage to allow for it to evolve within the bottle. Assuming the bottle has been purchased close to home and you intend to drink it in the near future, this is all well and good as any issues of storage are very much the responsibility of the retailer/restaurant and bottles can be returned for a refund. However, if you're buying the wine far from home, possibly, abroad, we run into some potential issues quite quickly.
Our Canadian partners across the pond, Wine Opulence, have created an informative video showing off the Wine Check airplane suitcase, which we distribute exclusively here in Europe. See what they have to say: