The other day I had somewhat of a Proustian madeleine moment. An Italian version of it. Instead of tasting a madeleine dipped in lime-blossom tea, I took a sip of Cembali Nero D’Avola from Baglio di Pianetto winery. Intense, complex and warm it instantly brought back memories of sun-scorched Sicily.
In some areas of the island Nero D’Avola can be overly robust but the one I was drinking, Cembali, was from the vineyards around Noto, Sicily, that produce a finer variety with lovely hints of black fruit, spices, balsamic notes rounded with ripe cherry. I have visited many parts of Sicily but Noto is still on my Italian bucket list. While enjoying that glass of wine, I started planning a trip to the famed Baroque town in my head.
They say that to see Noto in all its glory you have to arrive at dusk when the fading light makes the honey-coloured crumbling Baroque palaces, churches and houses glow. The palm trees add a North African touch like an exotic spice in a sumptuous Sicilian dish.
Noto is the finest of all the Sicilian Baroque towns that were re-built after the devastating earthquake that struck Sicily in 1693. I want to see the town’s spectacular central piazza where the grandiose Chiesa di San Francesco sits atop a long sweeping staircase. I would sit there and watch people going by and breathing in the sultry Sicilian air. If the heat becomes unbearable, I can hide inside the splendid Palazzo Ducezio, where I will be surrounded by 19th century frescoes and enormous mirrors in the Sala degli Specchi.
I want to wave “hello” to the mythical beasts, stern griffons, delicate nymphs and chubby cherubs staring down at the passerby from the balconies of the Palazzo Nicolaci and Palazzo Villadorata. I hear that the town’s splendour is crumbling giving in to the pervasive salty breeze from the sea and merciless time but I want to see and touch those cracks and shabby buildings that can tell you stories of the place like no historian ever would.
I will make sure to climb the narrow spiral staircase up the bell tower in the Chiesa di San Carlo to take in the views of the town and the fertile Noto Valley. Deep ravines scar the craggy terrain around Noto and rough ridges of the Hyblaean Mountains pile up on the horizon. Rivers and canyons criss-cross the landscape. Over the course of many centuries, people have managed to tame this land planting vines, almond, olive and citrus trees.
This beauty is fragile as earthquakes always threaten this area. It is here that the enormous Eurasian and African tectonic plates meet making the land tremble. Yet Noto is a living proof of how resilient the people are in Sicily, they continue to live here and love their land. They respond to natural disasters by building splendid towns; everyday difficulties are eased by cooking large delicious family meals; economic crisis is outbraved by making excellent wines.
A sip of Nero D’Avola wine made me think of Sicily’s warmth, the strength of its people, complexity of the terrain. It is all there, in a glass of good Nero D’Avola from the area of Noto.
Photos by: Steve Silverman/Flickr, Baglio di Pianetto