It’s the biggest island in the Mediterranean, and has more land under vine than any other Italian wine region. With a warm, arid climate it serves as a powerhouse for great value red wines. But that’s far from all there is to delve into. As a sommelier near you will confirm, the wine world is very excited about Sicily. There’s an amazing breadth of styles to discover, so we thought we’d give you the low down.
Reds a plenty, but a local looking for refreshment from the heat doesn’t have to go far for a glass of white either. In fact there’s more land under vine with white varieties than red. For straight forward, fresh drinking to pair with your next Vongole pasta, try Catarratto, the most widely planted white variety on the island. This Ciello Catarratto is the place to start. For more amped up fruit flavour, Grillo (a grape variety related to Catarratto) is a joy. Nicosia make a bright, fruit forward style. Valdibella Ariddu is more rich and textural. And then there’s Caricante. This is grown widely around Mount Etna, and tastes like fine, understated Chardonnay - mineral and taut. Alta Mora is our go to.
As far as those aforementioned great value reds go, Nero d’Avola is where it’s at. It’s the most planted red grape variety in Sicily, and is made into medium to full bodied wines that are smooth and generous in fruit and spice. Mont’Albano is a great example of the value available. It’s organic too, and draws our attention to the fact that 30% of Sicilian vineyards are certified organic, a higher proportion than both mainland Italy and New Zealand. Nero d’Avola is grown widely across the island, particularly from west to east along the southern coast.
For reds that are lighter and more Pinot Noir like, delve into Frappato. It has bright red fruit and a satisfying crunchy palate. It suits being served a little chilled, like this organic example from Nicosia. Frappato is grown mostly around the south east of the island.
The Sicilian reds that have become the most celebrated of late are grown on the active volcano of Mount Etna. Etna Rosso is predominantly made from Nerello Marscalese, a light, ethereal variety akin to serious Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo. Paired with a cooler climate due to altitude and volcanic soils, Etna Rosso has eschewed stereotypes that southern Italian reds are just big and bold. These detailed and poised wines have earned a place at the table with Barolo and Burgundy, and we’re thrilled to have some of the best of them on our books here at By The Bottle - I Vigneri, Girolamo Rosso and Frank Cornelissen.
Our final discovery is from Pantelleria, an island 100 kilometres to the south west of the main island of Sicily. From this windy, hot and exposed place comes one of the great sweet wines of the world - Passito di Pantelleria. Made from the highly aromatic variety Zibibbo, each bush vine is grown in its own hollow in the ground, providing a little shelter from the elements. Once harvested, fruit is laid out on mats to dry in the heat, further concentrating sugars and flavours. Ben Rye from Donnafugata is one of the best examples if you’re looking for a treat.
From our little island down here at the end of the world, it’s great to see that such an incredible range of Sicilian wines are being imported. These heartwarming and characterful wines are well worth discovering, and we strongly suggest you do.