A wine and food tour to Sicily would not be complete without a visit to this wine region, with a wine tasting in the historic wine cellars in Marsala. Marsala fortified wine was probably first popularized outside Sicily by the English trader John Woodhouse. In 1773, he landed at the port of Marsala and discovered the local wine produced in the region, which was aged in wooden casks and tasted similar to Spanish and Porto fortified wines then popular in England. Fortified Marsala was, and still is, made using a process called in perpetuum, which is similar to the solera system used to produce sherry in Spain, and our Muscats and Tokay from North East Victoria.
Woodhouse recognized that the in perpetuum process raised the alcohol level and alcoholic taste of this wine while also preserving these characteristics during long-distance sea travel. Woodhouse further believed that fortified Marsala would be popular in England. Marsala indeed proved so successful that Woodhouse returned to Sicily and, in 1796, began its mass production and commercialization.
Visit at least 3 places to get an understanding of the history, and the complexity of this fascinating wine style. The cellars are steeped in history, and a guided tour is a must.
Marco De Bartoli named his first wine Vecchio Samperi in honour of Contrada Samperi, on the outskirts of Marsala whose arid land, rich in minerals and limestone, is well suited to growing of vines. Marco gave birth to a new style of Marsala by marrying tradition with new methods of winemaking. The main varieties he uses are typical of the region, Grillo and Zibibbo.
From Luigi Veronelli e Nichi Stefi (1986), I vignaioli storici I, Mediolanum Editori Associati, Milan
“Marco is a person as solar and impetuous as his boisterous land. When you meet him, he would tell you everything in a few minutes, and let you taste everything he produces, explaining its joy and satisfaction after reading those positive reviews for his wine and, at the same time, expressing his anger as it is considered to be simply the wine from the South, like an expert of Southern Italy politics. And suddenly he hurls abuse at those men of his own land who has turned the name “Marsala”, for decades now, into an almost vulgar word.
He has tears in his eyes when he speaks about the deterioration of his Sicily. He is lighted up in fury, but he relaxes right away, absorbed by his uncountable projects, when he approaches the glass to his lips.
“Vecchio Samperi” is a wine that you cannot compare to anything else. Unique, arrogant, powerful, bold, but without disharmony, one of a kind. And it is this wine – luckily it cannot be called Marsala, as it is not fortified as the Marsala Virgin’s regulation requires – that brought him to the scene of the bigger ones where he immediately had the role of the protagonist.
The winery is twelve kilometers far from Marsala, in that land of Sicily that is great in every and all representations, for better or for worse; hard land of hard men, of families settled on the territory. Marco De Bartoli has signs of these every day fights, but he has won against all odds, with the tenacious, stubborn conviction of being right, and in order to demonstrate it, he speaks a lot, as it is common in Sicily, not to speak about himself, but to allow me to drink: here it is his greatest evidence.”
In Australia, some of his wines are available through the wine distributor, Lario International in WATERLOO NSW, give them a call to find out which wines and where. Better still, come with us when we resume our tours to Italy. Then you can meet the man himself !!