Wine in Sicily
Visiting Sicily without tasting its incredible wines is “not to have seen Sicily at all, for wine is the clue to everything”… We think Goethe might forgive us for borrowing his words. But it’s true, you can’t say that you have fully experienced Sicily if you haven’t tasted the sweet nectar of its land.
Archeological findings (cups, drinking vessels, or coins dated 550 BF depicting Dionysus - Bacchus – and grapes) demonstrate that wine was a crucial component of ancient Sicilian culture for millions of years.
Botanists say that vines grew in Sicily long before man is supposed to have appeared on Earth, as many important fossil discoveries on Mount Etna and Eolian Islands have recently revealed. Indeed, wine consumption has been popular among the Elymians and other populations that inhabited Sicily since the Bronze Age.
The word «wine» was in use in Sicily long before the Latins welcomed it into their vocabulary. It derives from the Mycenaean word wo-no, then absorbed into the Greek -oinos, and was in use between 1800 and 1400 BC, where Mycenaeans merchants and colons introduced the Sicilians to the use of wine for libations.
Viticulture started to spread all over the island during the Phoenician colonization and it became a key factor in the development of the economic power of Sicily during the Classical antiquity, after Greek colonies were founded along the coast as early as 8th century BC.
Ancient Greeks introduced new techniques and new grape varieties like Inzolia, Grecanico and Catarratto, which are still widely cultivated now-a-days.
Then, the Romans did much to further develop and spread viticulture across the island up to the most isolated Regions of the Empire: they brought wine and winemaking to Spain, France and Germany, and diffused at once wine and literature to unify Europe under one language and one citizenship. It is said that Julius Caesar's favourite wine in those years was Mamertino (DOC wine from Milazzo).
Precisely in the Imperial Era, the Sicilian wine economy experienced an extraordinary expansion: the mosaics of Villa Romana del Casale in Piazza Armerina and the rustic villas of Syracuse, Patti, Eraclea Minoa, Marsala and Gibellina are amazing examples of wealth and exquisite culture.
Produced and exported during the Middle Ages by the Aragonese, which led to the production of Marsala wine during the Bourbon period, wine has always been part of Sicilian culture and history.
Closely tied to the history of the Mediterranean, Sicilian viticulture is today renowned worldwide for the outstanding quality of several wine productions.
The last century saw the introduction of new forms and techniques for grape growing, which enabled us to produce a mildly alcoholic product that is rich in body and colour, but also in bouquet and aroma that are perfectly in line with Italian and international standards.
Over a hundred indigenous grape varieties are grown today in Sicily, and at least twenty of them are able to give birth to exceptional quality wines.
Sicily owes much of its debt to its fortunate climate – the typical Mediterranean conditions with constant sunshine and occasional and light rainfall make it an ideal environment for the cultivation of grapevines, and thanks to its fertile land, this incredible island is now home to some of the favorite wines of top sommeliers from around the world.
Consequently, Sicilian wineries and vineyards have become tourist attractions not to miss during your holiday in Sicily.
The largest island in Italy not only produces amazing wine, but it also provides a diverse range, from the famous and traditional wines like Marsala to the latest contemporary and experimental wines.
Typical Sicilian wines
When talking about Sicilian wines, the most known red grape is surely Nero d’Avola but there are also Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, Frappato, Alicante, Perricone and Nocera. Among the white grapes, besides Grecanico and Catarratto and the beautiful Inzolia, we can’t forget to mention Carricante, Malvasia, Zibibbo, Moscato di Siracusa and Grillo.
In Sicily, wine is produced almost in every province, it is difficult to say where the best wine is produced, we can say that the best fortified wines are produced in Marsala, with Marsala in fact. Whites have a strong influence of the sea, so the coastal areas produce great whites; in the Etna area, a very special place for viticulture and for other agriculture products, great reds and great sparkling wines are produced.
Sicilian wine is instantly recognizable due to its fresh, fruity, and elegant undertone, whether it's a Nero d'Avola or an Etna Bianco.
It's as if the wine wants to stand out from its rivals, conveying a sense of elegance and importance.
Not by chance, there are 23 DOCs and 1 DOCG in Sicily (Italy's highest quality wine designations).
A wine with the designation Sicilia DOC guarantees quality and a deep respect for ancient traditions wine-making of the island.
The below wine map reports the DOCs in Sicily:
As shown on the map, the western edge of Sicily has 11 DOC zones (12 including Pantelleria) and you can find amazing wineries to visit in this area, close to our beautiful villas in Menfi – Selinunte area or either if you find yourself in the wonderful houses we have in Marsala.
The most known, typical Sicilian wine, is Nero d'Avola; between the sweet wines, Passito di Pantelleria, and last but not least the fortified wine Marsala.
Nero d’Avola and Catarratto are the two most important native grapes to fall under the Sicilia DOC umbrella as they make up 16 and 32 % of Sicily’s vineyard area respectively and are responsible for some of the most loved wines to come out of the island.
However, between the several vines cultivated in Sicily, you need to undoubtedly try, at least once in your life, the following:
- Moscato bianco
- Malvasia delle Lipari
- Nero d’Avola
- Nerello Mascalese
and last but not least the sweet wines: Passito di Pantelleria and Marsala.
A DOC you cannot miss when visiting Sicily, excellent representative of Eastern Sicily beauty and opulence, is ETNA doc. At 1100 meters above sea level, the vine has found its unique habitat on Mount Etna.
The Etna DOC zone in the province of Catania is often described as ‘an island within an island’ since the characteristics of this territory are really unique.
The volcanic soil enhances the taste and longevity of grapes, especially white wines, by providing a unique and pleasurable taste.
Etna DOC red wine is a blend of Nerello mascalese 80% minimum and Nerello cappuccio. The organoleptic characteristics of Etna DOC red include a ruby red color, with garnet reflections, hints of ripe red fruit and the palate is dry, full-bodied, harmonious.
Its name comes from habit of the crown that like a cloak hides the clusters from sight.
It is a very ancient vine cultivated mainly in the province of Catania and Messina in association to other vines.
Well known red grape variety, primarily grown near Mount Etna in the present time. Nerello Mascalese is famous for producing wines with exceptionally rich flavour profiles. It usually offers aromas that range from red fruits, cinnamon, and herbs to earthy volcanic notes.
Nerello Mascalese is the primary grate variety used in Etna and Faro DOC red wines.
Nero d'Avola is a native grape of Sicily. The Nero d'Avola variety shows a certain territoriality in the organoleptic properties of its wines. In fact, there are several differences in character between the Nero d'Avola produced in the central-western part of Sicily and that of the south-eastern area. The first is almost always more fruity and sweet on the palate, while those from grapes grown in the south-eastern area are decidedly finer and more articulate, with distinct hints of dried flowers and spices, in particular those cultivated in the denominations of controlled origin: Eloro DOC and Noto DOC.
Nero d’Avola is characterized by an intense color, aromas and important tannins and a long taste olfactory persistence.
Perricone is a unique and rare grape that produces beautiful, full-bodied red wines. This grape variety was widespread in Sicily during the 1800s but it had all but disappeared by the late 20th century. Perricone vine is very little appreciated and difficult to manage but it can give excellent wines, though. Only the most daring oenologists and truly linked to the territory cultivate it succeeding.
Historical vine of Sicily, where it has been cultivated since immemorial time, Catarratto is a large white grape that can produce full-bodied white wines that are easy to drink.
Catarratto produces medium-acidity wines with intense citrus and resin flavors.
It usually serves as a blend and is used in Etna DOC, Alcamo, Menfi, Santa Margherita di Belice DOC, and IGT wines. Although its reputation for being a lower-quality blending ingredient, the grape is increasingly used in unique wines, with refreshing results.
Mainly grown in the western part of Sicily. This famous white grape is believed to have been cultivated on the island since the Phoenicians arrived before the common era. Historically, it is most well-known for its use in Marsala wines. Nowadays it is more often blended with Catarratto to produce elegant summer wines.
Muscat of Alexandria (Zibibbo)
This incredible grape, which thrives in hot climates, is used to make wines with unique flavours popular among experts, it features orange, jasmine, peach, apricot and almond aromas.
Belonging to the great group of 'Moscati', also called "Vitis Apianae", it is preferred by bees for its sweetness. Cultivated in Sicily presumably from the times of the Phoenicians, this vine was used mainly to produce aromatic sweet wines but it is also used to produce dry aromatic wines.
Grillo is a versatile white vine commonly cultivated in Sicily and the Aeolian Islands. The grape is best known for being used in Marsala wines, but its rich range of aromas, which include floral, herbs (thyme), and citrus, makes Grillo attractive in a range of wines.
In addition to Marsala wines, Grillo is most frequently used in the wines of Monreale, Alcamo, Delia Nivolelli and Contea di Sclafani.
Carricante is a historical sicilian white grape from Etna area, it plays a vital role in Sicily’s wine industry.
Its name comes from the Italian word 'caricare' ('loading') — because this vine is capable of producing incredible volumes of grapes.
Carricante's wines have a fresh fruity flavor with citrus and floral tones, and they also have a higher acidity.
The origins of this vine cultivated in Sicily for several centuries are unknown.
Fine wine of golden yellow color, discretely alcoholic, of neutral smell and taste, fresh and harmonious. Due to its good productive characteristics is a variety cultivated widely in Sicily, and in particular in the western areas of the island, historically in the provinces of Trapani and Agrigento.
A special place must be offered to Marsala wine, fortified wine made in Sicily since 1773. It is appreciated everywhere for its very personal organoleptic characteristics and for its great versatility.
The fame of this wine must be attributed to the Englishman John Woodhouse who in 1773 due to a storm was forced to dock at the port of Marsala, while sailing to Mazara del Vallo. Forced to spend a few days on the ground he went to the taverns of the city. He came across a very special wine, the Perpetuum. It was the best wine produced in the area, which the inhabitants reserved for great occasions. The Englishman Woodhouse was so impressed that he decided to send a considerable quantity of that wine to Liverpool, for the British gentlemen. Before sending the wine, he added the same with an adequate amount of brandy that would allow its storage during the trip. Marsala was therefore a great success at the court of the English nobility.
Historically Marsala is most commonly used in cooking to create nutty, rich caramelized sauces. It’s an amazing addition to the chef’s kitchen.
Truly, Marsala is so much more than a cooking wine! Many styles are fine enough for sipping, like Sherry or Madeira.
Right now, Marsala is undervalued. We hope to bring you up to speed on this unique wine that has some striking taste similarities to Madeira wine.
In Marsala you can discover the precious wines of the main wine factories (offering degustation tours) such as:
- Florio (the first Marsala wine and a long and powerful family story)
- Donnafugata (one of the best Passito di Pantelleria – sweet wine: Ben Rye)
- and Fina.
Neverless, some social less known wine factories offer great products with nothing to envy at the privates. Among them:
- Cantine Europa (extraordinary white wine: Viognier Corone)
- Cantine Birgi (Gorgo’).
The most common flavours are vanilla, brown sugar, stewed apricot and tamarind. Marsala wine ranges from a nearly dry style to sappy sweet and are served slightly cool around 55° F. If you get the opportunity to try a high-end Marsala, you will experience a larger range of nuanced flavours including Morello cherry, apple, dried fruits, honey, tobacco, walnut and liquorice.
Marsala wine pairs wonderfully with some hard-to-match foods such as asparagus, brussels sprouts and chocolate.
Marsala wine will stay fresh open for about a month. If you’d like to keep it longer, put it in a cool dark place and remove the oxygen before putting on the lid by using a can of wine preserver.
Marsala wine is split up into different styles based on the type of grapes used (white or mostly red) and the winemaking method. You’ll discover that most Marsala made for cooking is Fino or Fine Marsala which is the lowest quality level of the wine.
Marsala wine has a unique taste for two reasons: the use of only Sicilian indigenous grapes and a complex winemaking process. Making Marsala wine is difficult: it is fortified with brandy or neutral grape spirit usually made with regional grapes.
A cooked grape, called ‘Mosto Cotto’, gives Amber Marsala its deep brown color. A sweetened fortified wine called ‘Mistella’ is often blended, made from Grillo grapes.
High-end Marsala wines employ a special aging system called Soleras.
If you are wondering where is better to buy wines during your stay, we suggest to buy wine directly to the main wineries.
Wineries in Sicily are always open for guests’ visit and can't wait to share their heritage and winemaking with them. Amazing wineries can be found near Palermo, Marsala, Menfi or around Mount Etna and south-eastern Sicily.
Among the best wineries both in terms of the magnificence of the place and the exceptional nature of the wines produced, we absolutely suggest:
- Florio and Curatolo Arini in Marsala
- Planeta and Mandrarossa in Menfi - Selinunte area
- Salier de la tour or Regaleali in Palermo area.
- Tasca d’Almerita or Benanti in Etna area
- Cantine COS close to Ragusa
- Cantine Pupillo or Marilina in Siracusa area.
Sicily has found the perfect balance in wine production, with the majority of its wines made using the indigenous grape varieties of the island (Nero d'avola, Carricante, Frappato, Catarratto, Grillo, Inzolia, Nerello Mascalese, and Perricone, to name only a few).
However a combination of traditional grapes and more internationally recognized varieties, such as Chardonnay, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc has helped Sicilian wines to appeal to wine connoisseurs from all over the world.
Best wines selection
Please find below a best wines selection by a top sommelier who can also offer you wine tasting in our villas.
- Bianca di Valguarnera Duca di Salaparuta
- Pietra Marina Benanti
- Vigna Di San Francesco Chadonnay Tasca d’Almerita
- Rosso del Conte Tasca d’Almerita
- Ribeca Firriato
- Vrucaria Feudo Montoni
- Duca Enrico Duca di Salaparuta
- Santa Cecilia Planeta
- Etna Rosso Tenute delle Terre Nere
- Passopisciaro Etna Rosso
- Marsala Cantine Curatolo Arini
- Marsala Pellegrino
- Vecchio Samperi – Vino Perpetuo