Guide to Wine

Wines from Sicily

Producing more grapes than any other Italian wine region, Sicily is ripe for wine exploration. Located off the coast of Italy’s “toe,” the island—which is the largest in the Mediterranean—offers a surprisingly diverse array of sunny climatic conditions for viticulture.

PalermoFeatured Region

Map of Sicily [Enlarge]

The best place to begin the journey is in the bustling island capital of Palermo, where Sicilian wine, cuisine, and culture converge. This northwestern coastal city has it all: picturesque historic architecture, waterfront hotels and world-class gourmet restaurants. Along with the Mediterranean Sea, city views include the majestic Mount Pellegrino towering on the north horizon and the impressive coastal rock formation of Capo Zafferano to the south. From here, visitors find easy access to many of Sicily’s distinguished vineyards, and later they can take their trip up the volcano on the other side of the island.

Certain grapes and styles thrive within the hot, arid coastal regions in the west, particularly near Palermo, in a terrain that is often compared to Napa Valley. Meanwhile, eastern vineyards excel at higher elevations upon the cooler slopes of Mount Etna, Europe’s highest active volcano. According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, this “hilly and mountainous terrain with poor soil, intense summer heat and low rainfall” make Sicily “ideal” for viticulture.

Historically, Sicilian winemakers focused on high-quality sweet, fortified wines, such as Marsala, which could withstand long sea voyages in route to international markets. Much of the table wine for the local population tended to be heavy and high in alcohol.

But a new generation of winemakers has begun to capitalize on Sicily’s premium growing environment in recent decades, applying both modern grape growing practices and technology to make world-class modern-style and traditional wines. These include international varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as some exciting Sicilian native grapes. Even Marsala wines—whose quality once suffered from reduced interest—are making a high-quality comeback as wine lovers celebrate traditional styles.

Sicily’s native grapes yield the most exciting wines and an opportunity for experienced wine lovers to discover something new. Sicily’s Nero d'Avola grape (Calabrese)—the island’s most important—makes a dark, black-fruit-driven wine that many compare to Syrah, offering notes of currant, clove and even vanilla. Other native red grapes—particularly Perricone (Pignatello) and Nerello Mascalese—are growing in importance and are often used in blends with Nero d’Avola. For some traditional flair, the Cerasuolo di Vittoria—produced near the southeastern city of Vittoria—is a blend of at least 40 percent of Frappato and no more than 60 percent of Nero d'Avola.

Sicilian white wines are also better than ever thanks to modern techniques. They include fresh and delicate fruity selections that suit both the island’s hot climate and seafood-dominated Mediterranean cuisine. Able to maintain refreshing acidity, many of these grapes thrive in and around the area south of Palermo. Among the most important are Inzolia, Grillo, Catarratto Bianco and Damaschino.

FatasciàFeatured Palermo Producer

Fantacià's husband and wife team of Giuseppe Natoli, Owner, left, and Stefania Lena, Wine Maker.

Stefania Lena (who trained with the winemaker of the world famous Sassicaia) and husband Guiseppe Natoli, take full advantage of the sun and the sea, which have kissed the fruits of their labor since their inaugural grape harvest in 2000 and the first bottled Fatascià offering in 2002. With Palermo as the backdrop to their small village of San Giuseppe Jato, Fatascià combines the traditions of top winemaking and modern winemaking practices in their newly renovated facility. The result is handcrafted and bottled excellence that combines the uniqueness of the Sicilian landscape with Fatascià expertise.

A pioneer of Sicilian winemaking, Fatascià is now synonymous with Sicilian excellence, with wine garnering dozens of honors and accolades from the most discriminating palates in the industry as well as recognition in top wine publications worldwide.

In addition to the Fatascià brands, the winery also produces wine under the Kaila and Buceci labels. Intended as affordable, Kaila and Buceci wines include distinctive reds, such as Nero'd'Avola, and versatile whites, such as Grillo and Inzolia. Made with an attention to quality and detail rarely found in today's quantity-oriented wine market, Kaila and Buceci emphasize winemaking as a very personal pursuit. In the last two decades, Sicily's red wine varietals—once a well-kept secret—have become some of the world's most popular wines.

Fatascià Almanera SiciliaProduced from 100 percent Nero d'Avola grown in the rich soils of native Sicily overlooking Palermo, this Sicilian red wine delivers a powerful aromatic impact of ripe and rich black cherry fruit, tar and floral notes. Its palate is broad with plenty of depth, finishing firm, yet elegant, spicy and complex. Almanera’s rich style combines modern winemaking techniques, aging in French Allier oak barrels and ancient knowledge delivering a wine of harmony and substance. Shop Fantacià Almanera Scilia >

Kaila Grillo Inzolia SiciliaThis blend of indigenous grapes offers notes of lemon rind, orange skin and apples. On the palate it is crisp, medium-bodied, fresh, fruity and ripe. Grillo, known as the base of Marsala, now delivers citrus flavors, body and earthiness. Shop Kaila Grillo Inzolia Sicilia >

Kaila Nero d'Avola SiciliaFresh ruby color, ripe and expansive black cherry aromas and warm, silky, well-sustained flavors bring out the lush softness of the fruit in this wine produced by Sicily's newest star. Shop Kaila Nero d'Avola Sicilia >

Buceci Myrina InzoliaStraw yellow color with a broad, complex nose of clear floral notes, this white is slightly fruity with hints of yellow apples and citrus fruit. Its fresh, fruity flavor is also floral, prompting memories of fresh apples, lemon and herb. Shop Buceci Myrina Inzolia >

Buceci Myrina Nero d'AvolaA spicy, aromatic red, this delicious Nero d'Avola has enough weight to support—but not overwhelm—rich pasta dishes. Notes of red fruits, spice and vanilla wander through the palate, which finishes with hints of spice and blackberry. Shop Buceci Myrina Nero d'Avola >

Mount EtnaFeatured Region Sicilians produce most of their premium wine in the island’s western coastal regions near Palermo, yet the eastern vineyards of Mount Etna have begun to rival even the best from the west. Many Etna wines now don collectors’ cabinets as well as fine restaurant wine lists around the world. While many wine pros compare them to the great wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa and Barolo, they offer their high quality at value prices.

Italian wine expert Walter Speller notes at JancisRobinson.com that Etna possesses “a climate that is distinctly different from most of Sicily, with a long ripening season, as well as high-quality red and white grape varieties.” He even goes so far as to say that “Etna will undoubtedly be named in the same breath as Barolo and Brunello,” if producers focus on expressing this great terroir. Indeed, Mount Etna wines are increasingly compared to Italy’s Barolo wines, made with the famed Nebbiolo grape. Both Barolo and Etna boast high-elevation vineyard sites, but Etna wines rely on native Sicilian Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio grapes. Thanks to Mount Etna’s sandy, volcanic soils, the Phylloxera louse—an insect that destroyed much of Europe’s vineyards in the 19th century—is unable survive on the mountain. As a result, many old vines—whose planting began 70 years ago—remain on their original rootstock. These old vines offer low-yielding, highly concentrated, rich fruit that make powerful wines. Mount Etna also produces white wines made with indigenous Carricante and Catarratto grapes.

With increased interest and investment in Mount Etna, winemakers have placed great care in both viticulture and vinification. They limit intervention to allow local terroir to dominate, and farming practices comply with European laws for sustainable agriculture.

Filippo Grasso Wine EstatesFeatured Mount Etna Producer

Filippo Grasso, 2nd from right, and the Grasso family have been producing wine on the slopes of Mt Etna for over 150 years.

True pioneers of the region, the Grasso family has tended vineyards through four generations over 150 years, upholding principles of “tradition, passion, quality and character of Sicily.” These traits shine through as every handcrafted wine by this traditional Sicilian family expresses the force of Etna.

Grasso Ripiddu Etna RossoRich and supple, this elegant red crafted from native grapes bears the mark of the rocky, volcanic soils of Mount Etna. Spice and dark berry intermingle on the full-bodied palate, while hints of oak come through at the finish.

 
 
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