Chef Gabrielle Hamilton meets the independent winemakers who bottle the flavor of Sicily.

by Gabrielle Hamilton for AFAR – I was married for more than 10 years to an Italian. An Italian Italian, from Rome, and we traveled to Italy frequently. But somehow, we never went to Sicily. More confounding, for the 14 years I’ve had my Manhatttan restaurant, Prune, I’ve been selling, drinking, and championing certain Sicilian wines, never having met the people who make them. These excellent bottles from distant, faceless winemakers have arrived at my restaurant door stacked up on a hand truck and been lunked down the stairs to the basement by some indifferent, burly Brooklyn truck driver wearing a weight lifter’s belt, while I’ve signed the shipping receipt.

But I’ve always felt connected to these wines. When Prune opened in 1999, if you were eating in serious dining rooms throughout the United States, you found the same tuna tartare and goat cheese and beet salad being served by Nehru-jacketed waiters to a Gypsy Kings sound track. At that time, Sicilian wines were still generally thought of as cheap, mass-produced wines. Prune’s quirky dishes, such as monkfish liver on toast and roasted marrow bones, and the restaurant’s unapologetic East Village demeanor (graffitied-over front gate, tattooed waitresses) were as unfamiliar in the dining scene as Sicily’s peppery nero d’Avola, curiously chilled frappato, and nearly mentholated nerello mascalese were in the wine world.