cannola is a good wine pairing with moscato

Is Sicily Known for Wine?

Is Sicily a wine country? With its Nero d’Avola, innovation, and multiple wine regions, Sicily is a big player in the wine world. Here’s a tour of the viticulture that makes Sicilian wines famous worldwide and what makes each variety and region special.

Key Points

  • Sicily has a 6,000-year wine history, influenced by many civilizations. Thanks to the island’s different climates and soil, it produces many excellent wines.

  • Sicilian winemakers focus on quality and sustainability. A third of the vineyards, and growing more, are organic, and native grapes like Nero d’Avola and Nerello Mascalese make the island’s signature wines.

  • Sicily has multiple DOC and DOCG designations, like Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG and Marsala DOC. Each represents Sicilian wines’ character and quality, which pair perfectly with the local cuisine.

Sicily’s Storied Viticulture: A Legacy of Wine

A vineyard in Sicily with rows of grapevines under the Mediterranean sun

Sicily’s wine region is steeped in history. Over 6,000 years, Indigenous tribes and successive civilizations shaped its viticulture, and this rich heritage produces some of the world’s most renowned wines. Different climates and soils, like the mineral-rich terrain of Val di Mazara, give birth to many styles, from citrusy whites to peppery reds.

Ancient Roots and Modern Fruits

The story of Sicilian viticulture starts in the archives around 4000 BC. It was the dawn of wine culture when the island’s first inhabitants were making wine in a very basic way. The arrival of the Greeks around 800-700 BC marked a new era, and the island was named ‘Oenotria’ in their honor. They brought the techniques to make Sicilian wine famous during the Greek Empire.

These ancient practices still exist today, with Sicilian winemakers nurturing a fantastic array of grape varieties, from indigenous to international, each adding their notes of fruit, minerals, and flowers to the island’s wine portfolio.

Sicily’s Wine Renaissance

The latter part of the 20th century was a turning point for Sicilian wines. After decades of quantity over quality, a movement led by visionary winemakers in the 1980s brought quality back to the fore. They promoted the potential of the island’s indigenous grape varieties and invested in modern winemaking techniques. This led to international recognition of quality wines from family-run estates, foreign investments, and collaborations that further propelled Sicilian wines onto the world stage.

Roughly 33% of Sicily’s vineyards are organic.󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

The Pillars of Sicilian Red Wines

Nero d'Avola grapes, the signature grape of Sicily, hanging on the vine

Sicily’s Mediterranean and volcanic soul are in its red wines, and the key grape varieties that make them are as old as they are delicious. Some of the main red grape varieties in Sicily are:

  • Nero d’Avola: Sicily’s most planted red grape, behind the full-bodied and bold reds that have put Sicily on the wine map.

  • Frappato: A light-bodied red grape that adds something special to Sicilian wines.

  • Nerello Mascalese: Thriving in the volcanic soil of Mount Etna, this grape is part of the Sicilian wine puzzle.

These grape varieties and others make Sicily’s red wines so varied and delicious.

Nero d’Avola & Nerello Mascalese: Sicily’s Signature Grape

Nero d’Avola is the essence of Sicilian wine. As the most planted red grape on the island, it produces bold, full-bodied wines that are a symphony of dark fruit, spices, and sometimes chocolate. These wines are part of the Sicilian wine fame and show that the island can produce local wines that stand alongside international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon.

The deep reds of Nero d’Avola wines are a taste of Sicily’s sun-kissed vineyards in every glass.

Nerello Mascalese: Etna’s Volcanic Virtuoso

The slopes of Mount Etna, with its volcanic soil, are the stage for Nerello Mascalese, a grape that produces wines so elegant and complex they are often compared to the great reds of Burgundy. With aromas of cherries, violets, and herbs, these wines result from volcanic viticulture—a sensory symphony.

Etna DOC reds. Big structured wines. Like a Burgundy. Nerello Mascalese.

Celebrated White Grapes of the Mediterranean’s Largest Island

Catarratto grapes, a celebrated white grape variety in Sicily, in a rustic vineyard setting

While Sicilian reds are praised for their power and complexity, the whites are just as good and a welcome relief from the Mediterranean sun. Catarratto is Sicily’s most planted white grape and has been a critical player in the island’s wine scene for the last century. It’s the backbone of white wine production in western Sicily and produces wines with great acidity and freshness, as seen in Erice DOC.

Carricante: The Star of Etna Bianco

Up the slopes of Etna, you’ll find the Carricante grape, the star of Etna Bianco wines. These wines are like a breath of fresh air, pale yellow with greenish tints and a promise of a crisp, mineral palate. Carricante must be at least 60% of the blend, often with Catarratto for added flavor.

The volcanic soils and dramatic landscapes of Etna give these wines:

  • Minerality

  • Freshness

  • Terroir expression

  • A hint of smokiness

Compared to high-end Riesling and sparkling wines, these wines are exceptional.

Sicily’s Other White Wine Gems: Zibbibo and Grillo

Zibbibo (also known as Muscat of Alexandria) loves the Sirocco winds from North Africa. This ancient grape has a long history and gives its character to various wines, from floral and light to sweet dessert wines. The dry style has balanced acidity and notes of orange blossom, citrus, apricot, and honeysuckle, perfect for seafood, salads, and lighter pasta dishes.

Grillo, one of Sicily’s native grapes, is finally getting the attention it deserves in the white wine world. Long used in Marsala blends, Grillo is now being recognized for its ability to produce great dry white wines. It’s an easy-to-love grape where bright acidity meets citrus and tropical fruit, perfect for seafood and summer.

Exploring Sicily’s Wine Regions: A Guide to DOCs and DOCGs

A scenic view of a vineyard in the Sicilian wine region with Mount Etna in the background

Sicily is a patchwork of denominations, each with its character and wines. With 23 DOCs and 1 DOCG, Sicily offers many wine experiences, including Sicily wines. The creation of Sicilia DOC in 2011 was a big step forward for the island’s wines, raising overall quality.

This denomination showcases local grape varieties, also used in other local denominations, such as Alcamo and Marsala.

Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG: A Blend of Elegance

Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG is the top of the Sicilian red blends. It received the DOCG in 2005 and blends elegance and depth. This red blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato perfectly marries the former’s tannins and dark fruit with the latter’s freshness and aromaticity.

The ‘Classico’ on these wines means a higher quality level, so connoisseurs can taste some of the best wines of Sicily.

Marsala DOC: More Than a Cooking Wine

Beyond the still wines of Sicily, there is the fortified treasure of Marsala DOC, a wine with a history dating back to the 18th century. Sherry or Madeira lovers will find heaven in Marsala wines’ nutty, figgy, caramel, and toffee aromas. These famous fortified wines are not a relic of the past but a living tradition, classified in age-related categories that reflect their depth and complexity. Some features of Marsala wines:

  • 18th-century history

  • Fortified wine with nutty, figgy, caramel, and toffee aromas

  • Living tradition with age-related categories that reflect depth and complexity

With indigenous grapes like Inzolia and Grillo in the spotlight, Marsala DOC proves that Sicily can produce great fortified wines that last.

Etna DOC: Wines Born from Fire and Fury

Beyond the sunny vineyards of Sicily, there is a world known as Etna DOC. Here, on the slopes of Europe’s tallest active volcano, the volcanic soil and steep slopes create outstanding wines. Etna DOC is not a place; it’s proof of nature’s power, where every sip tells the story of fire and fury.

Here’s what’s unique about Etna DOC:

  • Volcanic soils: Ash and mineral-rich soils from Mount Etna give the wines a minerality and a layer of complexity and mystery.

  • Vibrant character: The cool nights and high altitude create the perfect conditions for grapes with high acidity, making the wines crisp and age-worthy.

  • Particular terroir: Each vineyard on Etna has its character due to the different altitudes, slopes, and volcanic influences, so every bottle is a unique expression of the place.

  • Natives rule: Indigenous grapes like Nerello Mascalese and Carricante are the stars of the Etna DOC wines, the true face of this volcanic terroir.

The Wine Lover’s Tour of Sicily

A traditional Sicilian meal paired with a glass of local wine, capturing the essence of Sicilian gastronomy

For the wine adventurer, a trip to Sicily is like visiting some of the world’s most extreme wine-producing areas. From the volcanic slopes of Etna to the almost North African shores of Pantelleria, each area has its taste and its wine to discover.

Tenuta di Castellaro in the Aeolian Islands, in the Mediterranean Sea, and the wines of Pantelleria, closer to Tunisia than to Italy, are the geographical extremes that give Sicilian wines their character.

Toasting on the slopes of Etna

Etna, Europe’s most active volcano, is a one-of-a-kind viticulture experience. Famous wineries like Passopisciaro and Pietradolce will give you a glimpse into the island’s wine tradition, with Passopisciaro for its Nerello Mascalese and Pietradolce for its ancient organic vineyards.

The Etna Wine Lab offers guided tours that fully immerse you in the Etna wine story.

Western Sicily’s wine wonders

In Val di Mazara in Western Sicily, you can find different wine styles, from elegant whites to full-bodied reds. This area is famous not only for its wine tradition but also for producing some of the most famous wines in Sicily, including the Marsala.

Val di Mazara is proof of the island’s viticultural versatility; each wine style showcases the region’s ability to produce bold and tasty wines.

Sicilian Wines and local cuisine

The best way to match the Sicilian wine experience is with the gastronomical pleasure of Sicilian cuisine. Famous for its simplicity and use of fresh, high-quality ingredients, Sicilian gastronomy offers many pairing opportunities that will enhance both the dishes and the wines.

For antipasti, a light red or a full white is perfect to match the flavors. Full-bodied reds like Nero d’Avola are the perfect match for meat dishes, both substantial and savory. If you prefer something different, sweet wine can be a treat.

Nero d’Avola and Sicilian cuisine

The full-bodied Nero d’Avola, with its black cherry and raspberry flavors, is perfect for Sicilian comfort food. Pasta alla Norma, rich tomato sauce and eggplant, or anelletti alla Salernitana, a baked pasta, pair perfectly with this red wine.

Nero d’Avola is even versatile. Some fish dishes, like tuna steak, show the grape’s ability to match many flavors of the Mediterranean diet.

Sweet wines and Sicilian desserts

cannola is a good wine pairing with moscato

Sicily’s sweet wines, like Moscato di Pantelleria, perfectly match the island’s desserts. These wines, made from sun-dried Zibibbo grapes, are highly aromatic, with notes of jasmine, lavender, honey, peaches, and a touch of salt that balances their sweetness.

Pair a glass of Moscato di Pantelleria with a classic cannolo filled with sweet ricotta, and you’ll find the perfect Sicilian sweet pleasure.

The Last Pour

Sicily’s wine heritage is as old as the Mediterranean sea that laps its shores. The island’s wine journey is a story of passion, tradition, and innovation, from the ancient roots of its viticulture to the modern rebirth that has put Sicilian wines on the world map. Sicilian wines’ complexity and variety are drinks and cultural ambassadors of this Italian gem. As we toast Sicily, we celebrate the island’s contribution to the wine world, its never-ending spirit, and the beauty that flows from the vineyards to our hearts.

FAQs

What is the history of winemaking in Sicily?

Sicilian winemaking dates back to around 4000 BC. The Greeks improved viticulture around 800-700 BC and produced many different wines that reflect the region’s history and geography.

What are the three main red grapes in Sicily?

Sicily’s three main red grapes are Nero d’Avola, Frappato, and Nerello Mascalese. Each produces different wines.

What is the most planted red grape in Sicily?

The most planted red grape in Sicily is Nero d’Avola, which produces full-bodied red wines with dark fruit and spice.

What are the main grapes in Etna DOC wines?

Nerello Mascalese is used for red wines, and Carricante is used for white wines. These grapes give the wines of this region their distinctive flavors.

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