As we wrap up this month’s feature on Sicily, we’ll be covering some of Sicily’s prominent wine regions. Sicily is a melting pot of cultures, rich in architecture with varied geographies and climates from the coastal parts of the region to the high altitudes of its mountains and volcanoes. We are drawn to its warm, sunny climate and coastal beaches, but Sicily has been standing out amongst Italy’s 20 regions for travelers to visit. Sicily’s wine scene in recent decades has taken a turn for the better from the reputation of producing bulk and quantity wines to becoming a wine region to keep a close eye on. Many producers are experimenting and are driven to focus on producing quality wines throughout the island and highlight Sicily’s native grapes. Let’s take a look at some of Sicily’s prominent wine regions from east to west.
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Cerasuolo di Vittoria is the only DOCG in Sicily, granted in 2005. It is located in the southeastern corner named after the town it is located around, Vittoria, in the province of Ragusa. This area is situated between Hyblaean Mountains (aka Mount Iblei) and the Mediterranean Sea. This is a dry and hot climate in which the grapes grow. The wines under this DOCG are red and are a blend of Nero d’Avola, between 50-70%, and Frappato. Between 30-50%. Both grapes lend their own characteristics to the blend with Frappato lending aromatics and freshness and Nero d’Avola adding color and body.
The Etna DOC is one of Sicily’s most talked about wine regions now. It was one of the first DOCs that were separated and defined by their villages, or contrade. You may see this located on some of the bottles. This is due to the diversity of terroir and climate that form a semicircle around the volcano.
What’s unique about the vineyards here is that many of the vines escaped the vine diseases, phylloxera, that took place in the late 19th century. It couldn’t survive in the volcanic, sandy soils. You can find both reds and whites here with the red wines based mostly on Nerello Mascalese and NErello Cappuccio and the whites mostly based on Carricante and Catarratto.
The Etna DOC has some of the higher altitudes found throughout the region and is rather cool climate with large diurnal shifts in temperature. This area also has higher rainfall than most of the Sicilian wine regions. To harvest and take care of vineyards here can be quite challenging since many of them are terraced amongst volcanic rocks. The soils are sandy along with lava, ash and pebbles and are well-drained with a high mineral content. These soils absorb the heat during the day, which is released to the vines at night.
If you follow my social media, I highlighted this region this week for my Italian wine word Wednesday. Although this is a small production region it’s worth seeking out if you can find wines from here. It was established in 1976, but took a couple decades to come to life via the Palari winery. It’s located in the northeast amongst the foothills of the Peloritani Mountains near the Tyrrhenian and Ionians Seas. The climate here is Mediterranean with a high amount of rain and wine. The wines are known for their elegance and are made from both Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio along with a rare grape, Nocera, that has once faced extinction.
There are a number of of DOCs on the western side of Sicily including the known Marsala DOC and other smaller ones to include Monreale, Alcamo, Mefi, Contessa Entellina (which I covered this month with Donnafugata). Another region worth noting before we move off the mainland to the islands is the Contea di Sclafani DOC. In this region the main grapes are Perricone and Nero d’Avola for reds and Catarratto for white wines. It’s a rather newer DOC established in 1996 located inland from the Palermo province. It’s named after a medieval city, Sclafani Bagni, and the powerful Sclafani family. Originally this area had a broad focus of mostly bulk wine, but that has changed. One of the most known wineries in this area is Tasca d’Almerita.
Both of these islands shared are known for their sweet wines. Pantelleria is Sicily’s largest island, very close to Africa (Tunisia) with a rocky landscape making it challenging to harvest. This area it very hot and dry with drought challenges. It also receives very strong winds known as the scirocco that blow in from Africa so the vines grow uniquely low on the ground to protect them.
This DOC was also another early established one in Sicily in 1971 that was originally called Moscato di Pantelleria that changed its name in 2013 to what it is now. Although still wines are produced here, they are known for their sweet wines made from dried grapes. A perfect example is the Ben Rye from Donnafugata shared earlier this month.
Malvasia delle Lipari DOC
This DOC is located on the Aeolian islands about 30 miles off the southeastern shores. Lipari is the largest island of the 7 islands located in the archipelago. The Aeolian islands also contain 2 active volcanoes, Vulcano and Stromboli. You can find most of the vines located on the island of Lipari and Salina, which are both mountainous landscapes. Here you will find sweet wines based on the Malvasia di Lipari grape.
Lastly, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the all encompassing Sicilia DOC that covers a broad range of Sicily's native and non-native grapes across the island. Their "aim is to ensure Sicily's complex wine heritage continues...focusing on improving the established quality standards, including the reduction of maximum yields in vineyards and conservation of the island's historic area". It includes whites and reds from all size wineries.
If you’ve missed any of the other posts from this month focused on Sicily’s wines and native grapes check them out! Next month I’ll be covering the Puglia region.
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