TWENTY three members of Garstang Wine Circle visited the island of Sicily during late September for what can only be described as a week of sheer indulgence.
The base for the group was the family run Hotel Colle Acre in Palazzolo Acreide, which is situated 40 km inland from Syracuse.
Sicily has been inhabited since the end of the Palaeolithic period and has been an important crossroads for trade and migrating peoples ever since.
It bears the stamp of Greek, Carthaginian, Arab, Norman and many other civilisations.
As a consequence, the south-eastern corner of the island is packed with outstanding attractions, from superb Graeco-Roman ruins to lavish Baroque cities.
Among these Wine Circle members visited the diminutive island of Ortigia (the ancient heart of Syracuse) Noto, Ragusa and Modica.
However, the main purpose of the visit was gustatory. Sicily is the cradle of Italian wine and its natural advantages have long been exploited to put it, in volume terms, top of the league of Italian regions. In the last decade there has nevertheless been an acceleration in the shift away from the production of bulk wines towards the premium market.
Six daytime events were organised by Mr Bruno Rafala, of Fran.Ca Wines, to allow the tasting of some of the very best modern wines that Sicily can offer, including those from Cusumano, Firriato, Milazzo and Planeta to name but a few.
Bruno is a Sicilian native but long time Preston resident and businessman specialising in the importation and distribution of Italian food and wine. His expertise and sure touch with these, together with his extensive local contacts, were the foundation on which the whole experience depended.
Less formal tastings and entertainment supplemented dinner each evening at the hotel, which in its turn held a very pleasant surprise. Drawing on vine plantings extending to close to a thousand hectares it was also the very discreet winemaking and storage site for members of a local growers co-operative, with almost all production facilities hidden away underground.
Guy Pugh of the Wine Circle commented: “By common consent the trip was hailed as the experience of a lifetime.
The friendliness and generosity of all we met on the island will live long in our memory – and here’s to the next time.’’