The Wines of COS and the Soul of Vittoria, Sicily

Most wine lovers are fated to fall in love with far more wines and wineries than they will manage to visit in their lifetime. Even as someone who travels to wine regions several times per year, my mental list of vineyards I’d like to visit around the globe is already impossibly long, never mind that it continues to lengthen the more I drink.

There are times, however, when pilgrimages must be made, if only because you can’t truly understand a wine without standing in the dirt that grows it. Of course, there is so much to be gained from visiting the wineries we love, not least the pleasure of getting to know the people and the culture behind it.

Upon receiving an invite to visit Etna again this past fall, I knew I couldn’t go to Sicily for a second time without paying a visit to one of my favorite wineries in the world, Azienda Agricola COS. So I tacked a couple of days onto the front of my trip to Etna, rented a car, and drove down to Vittoria on the southern tip of Sicily.

COS was started by three high school friends, Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti, and Cirino Strano, who needed something to occupy their time before beginning their first year at university. Cilia had recently been informed that his father was giving him an old ruin of a winery and a small plot of old vines as an early inheritance. So the three decided to see what they might be able to do with it.

“We were students, and we didn’t know anything about agriculture,” says Giusto Occhipinti with a smile and a shrug.

For lack of a better idea, the 20-year-olds selected the first initial of each of their last names to create the acronym COS to name the winery. And for the lack of knowing any better, they muddled their way through their first harvest in 1980 making wine in what seemed like the right way to them, without any additions, temperature control, or interventions of any kind. Today we’d call that Natural Winemaking, with deliberately capital letters, but for these three friends, it was simply a combination of pragmatism (just an old cement vat to work with) and a vague notion of tradition.

Encouraged by the reception to their first efforts, they persisted through their college years, though Strano would eventually peel off from the partnership to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor. Cilia and Occhipinti, both trained as architects, stuck with it, and 44 years later, are still going strong.

Flavors of a Bounteous Land

Any visitor to Vittoria can’t help but notice the staggering numbers of greenhouses dotting the landscape. Ranging from shiny and new to decrepit and abandoned, it’s hard to find a point in the province where you don’t have one in view.

In fact, Vittoria is one of the most significant agricultural areas in Italy, and in all of Europe, supplying a significant percentage of the continent’s tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers. Even having declined from its former heights of productivity, the Vittoria Market is the single largest commercial outlet for tomatoes in Europe.

Famously sandy and red, the topsoils of Vittoria are made of decomposed volcanic sediments. As distinctive as these soils are, they are but a thin veneer (sometimes as little as 10 inches) atop much deeper layers of limestone, which speckles the surface in small pebbles and chunks, gleaming white amidst the rusty lanes between the vines.

This limestone formed at the bottom of shallow seas between 6 and 20 million years ago and was then uplifted, as was the entire island of Sicily, when the African plate collided with the European plate about 5 million years ago. The collision and the subsequent subduction of the African plate underneath the European plate cracked the earth’s crust, allowing the magma to rise, both pushing the island higher and breaking through the surface to form Mount Etna.

Few things better characterize the qualities of Vittorian wine than this ancient and…


Source : https://www.vinography.com/2023/12/the-wines-of-cos-and-the-soul-of-vittoria-sicily

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