When I think about wine in Italy, my mind wanders to a glass of satisfying, ruby Chianti or a bright and bubbly prosecco, and I envision the green carpets of vineyards in Tuscany.
Only until spending some time in Sicily and visiting some of the best Sicilian wine producers did I realize just how incredible wine in this region of Italy is as well.
You may have come across a sweet Marsala before (a fortified wine produced on the western edge of Sicily) or seen Sicilian wines on the menu at some of your favorite Italian restaurants but may not know it beyond that.
Well, this region has a rich history of making outstanding wines — some of which may just become your next favorite glass of vino.
How Long Has Sicily Been Producing Wine?
Sicily has a long, rich history of winemaking. The region has produced wine for centuries and started growing grapes for wine back in the 8th century, B.C.
With a dry, warm climate, consistent sunshine, and average rainfall, the island stands provides an excellent location for growing grapes. Coastal breezes also help to reduce the chance of rotting vines, so organic, low-intervention farming happens much easier.
Until the mid-1900s, though, winemakers exported their products to perfect the vino in other places like northern Italy and France. It’s only been relatively recently that Sicily has had the chance to stand on its own in the wine world.
Now, as trends in travel skew more towards what’s undiscovered, Sicily has become an even bigger topic in the wine conversation. For instance, Sicilia DOC has over 400 wine producers in their wine consortium, and you may have already noticed some Sicilian wines in your local wine shop.
Whether you’re Sicily bound or simply want to enjoy some new and refreshing flavors, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about Sicilian wine.
What Makes Sicilian Wine Unique
“The different terrain and elevation create unique soil components creating indigenous grapes that can only be grown on the island,” explained Antonio Rallo, President of Sicilia DOC. “Sicily’s climate makes it perfect for sustainable farming with roughly 300 days of sunshine per year, winds that protect against frost and mildews, and one of the longest harvests on the planet lasting more than 90 days.”
Sicily has 24 wine regions, including 23 Denominazioni di Origine Controllata (DOC) and 1 Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG).
In the west you’ll find Marsala DOC, where the famed fortified wine is produced. Etna DOC is on the east coast where peppery Etna Rosso (or red wines) come from. Rich reds from Nero d’Avola grapes hail from one of sunniest, warmest parts of Sicily, Noto DOC. Grapes used in Sicilian wines are grown throughout the island, though.
Why Try Sicilian Wines
Although Sicily has produced wine for ages, traditionally the region exported much of its product throughout Europe and beyond to fortify other wines. In the mid-1900s they began exporting less and bottling more locally as Sicilian wine. While you may not have heard of some of the best wines from Sicily, you’ll find they’re definitely worth your attention
During a wine trip through Sicily I discovered so many new types of wine that immediately made their way onto my list of favorites — even a few reds, which I don’t drink as often.
Sicilian wine brands haven’t received quite the recognition wines from Tuscany have yet. From a consumer’s perspective, though, that means you’ll pay considerably less for equally amazing wine.
So What Are Sicilian Wines?
When shopping around for the best Sicilian wine, this guide will help you better understand what tasting notes to expect and what meals to pair it with. Below you’ll find descriptions of the grapes indigenous to Sicily and what they bring to a nice glass of vino.
Main Sicilian White Wine Grape
Famous for making Marsala wines, you can also find Grillo grapes in both varietal and blended white wines. Light and fresh, expect fruity flavors like ripe citrus and even some spice.
Pair it with: seafood pastas, roasted fowl, and baked casseroles
Expect bold fruity and flower aromas from this yellowy green grape which get balanced out beautifully with a gentle touch of fine herbs and spices. Catarratto grapes generally produce wines with a full body and generous amount of acidity.
Pair it with: seafood, marinated antipasti, and vegetarian courses
Also called Ansonica, you’ll find this grape grown primarily in Western Sicily. An aroma of nuts and herbs gives wines from Inzolia grapes a bit of understated elegance, along with a soft, mineral finish. You might also sense some subtle aromas of flowers and fruits.
Pair it with: mushroom pasta, baked or grilled fish, white meats
Major Sicilian Red Wine Grapes
A rich ruby hue, Nero d’Avola grows on clay and deep soils which contributes to its more intense aromas and flavors, not to mention a full body and healthy acidity and tannins. Get ready for enticing aromas of red fruits, like strawberry and sour cherry, sweet spices, licorice, and even cocoa.
Pair it with: charcuterie and antipasti, grilled swordfish, grilled or roasted meats, mushroom risotto
This grape produces light-bodied wines, making it easy-to-drink and perfect for a lazy afternoon. It often gets blended, but you may also find it bottled alone. Frappato has strong aromas of violet, spices, and red cherry.
Pair it with: pasta, pizza, roasted meat, potatoes, soft cheeses
Sometimes called Pignatello, this grape gets used to make full-bodied wines with deep hues and typically a higher alcohol content. You’ll discover aromas of spicy red fruits, herbs, and earthiness, along with bramble fruit flavors.
Pair it with: charcuterie, salty antipasti, pasta with ragu, eggplant parmigiana, roasted vegetables, cheese
How To Go Wine Tasting In Sicily
Headed to Sicily soon? You can sip on these wines right where they get produced, so make sure to save some time to go wine tasting while you’re in Sicily. In general, you can get between the vineyards by car (we can help arrange a driver and a whole day of tasting if you’d like) and the wine tasting experiences are more laid-back and less touristy than a better-known region like Tuscany.
Keep in mind, most wineries require some kind of reservation, so make sure to email or call in advance, or book a Sicily food and wine tour to have all the fine details handled for you.
Imagine touring a winery with Mount Etna in the background — it’s possibly some of the most extraordinary scenery to have with a glass of vino. As expected the wines here have a bit more minerality, and you can even find some certified organic vegan wines here.
Make sure to make a reservation for a meal at the osteria as well, where you can enjoy traditional Sicilian fare in a relaxing garden.
A visit to this winery feels more like visiting family for the weekend, which makes sense considering they’ve had four generations of winemakers. Definitely plan to do a tasting lunch here, as you’ll find the wines just as delightful as the hospitality. Make sure to try Donnatà, made from the Nero d’Avola grape.
Built on a nature reserve, Gorghi Tondi makes their wines with a particularly environmentally-friendly attitude. Before your tasting, you’ll get the chance to tour the reserve a bit as well, showcasing the unique terrain they work with when producing their wines. You really can’t go wrong with any of the wines they produce, but definitely make a point to try the Coste a Preola made from 100% Grillo grapes.
Have you ever had Sicilian wine? Let us know in the comments below what you drank and what you liked so much about it!
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Photo Credit: Mauro Grigollo