All about Sicilian wine! A short guide to discover the wines from Sicily and their elegance
Tasting Sicilian wine you will feel the sea and the sun in your glass! The wines from Sicily are known all over the world and their fame is due to the specific characteristics that this land gives them.
Sicilian grapes are used to produce the best Sicilian wines. They are the result of the combination of tradition and innovation. Fine wines that pair perfectly with local dishes.
A colourful culinary tradition. The footsteps left by different peoples in Sicily, from the Greeks to the Arabs, are well known. There is therefore a contamination of techniques and flavours that led to the creation and evolution of the Sicilian food culture that we all know today.
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The fascination of Sicilian wine growing
Sicily is a land of art and culture. As well as enchanting our eyes and captivating our minds, it satisfies our gastronomic curiosity and delights our taste buds. This southern Italian island fascinates us with its ancient winemaking tradition.
Sicilian viticulture has been present and developed for centuries. Vines probably grew wild in Sicily even before the Greeks arrived.
The Greeks introduced viticulture to Sicily, laying the foundations for the winemaking culture that is still passed on and improved today. From this point onwards, Sicilian wine growing was rationalised, the vine was no longer left to grow spontaneously but was trained using pruning and training techniques brought by the Greeks.
Sicilian wine, made from Sicilian grapes, is famous and appreciated as early as the Roman Empire. In particular, there was a sweet wine called “Mamertino”, much appreciated by the nobility. It seems to have been Julius Caesar’s favourite wine.
With Christianity, Sicilian grapes and Sicilian wine experienced a prolific period. Indeed, the monks improved wine growing to produce mass wine.
With the domination of the Arabs and the barbarian invasions, Sicilian viticulture faced a dark period. There was a decline in wine growing and no evolution in winemaking techniques.
The turning point with the Aragonese
With the arrival of the Aragonese, Sicilian viticulture resumed its dynamism, the process of improvement continued. One event in particular marked the history of Sicilian wine:
- 1773 – an English merchant named John Woodhouse tasted sweet Marsala wine and was struck by its goodness. The English already appreciated sweet wines, so he decided to send about fifty casks to England, adding aqua vitae so as not to compromise its organoleptic characteristics. In this land Marsala found its fortune.
We recall two other important dates in the history of Sicilian wine growing:
- 1870 – when phylloxera devastated French vineyards and the demand for Sicilian wine grew so much that vineyards in Sicily tripled.
- 1970 – when Sicilian viticulture decided to embark on a path of improving the quality of its wines. Until recently, Sicilian wine had been blended, full-bodied and highly alcoholic, but since 1970, production has focused on quality.
Sicilian winemaking today
Wine growing is a lively and dynamic practice in this land. In fact, today vineyards in Sicily amounts to 103,000 hectares for a production of about 6,200,000 hectolitres.
With its DOCG and DOC wines, the island preserves, enhances and passes on its ancient winemaking tradition. The only DOCG we find in Sicily is Cerasuolo di Vittoria, produced in the province of Ragusa. There are several DOCs produced from different Sicilian grapes: Eloro DOC, Siracusa DOC, Etna DOC, Malvasia delle Lipari DOC and many others.
Wines from Sicily: the peculiarities
Native grapes create the best Sicilian wines thanks to the special relationship between climate, vine and soil. These grapes thus acquire very precise characteristics, the strong point of Sicily’s winemaking culture.
In Sicily wine is produced in areas with different climate conditions:
- Mediterranean – in the hilly areas and along the coast, characterised by mild, low rainfall winters and hot, sultry summers.
- Continental – in the inland and mountain areas, characterised by harsh winters with large daily and seasonal temperature ranges.
This climatic diversity gives many benefits to the Sicilian grapes: depending on where they are grown, they will express different characteristics, thus enriching Sicily’s wine heritage.
Soil & vine training systems
The other unique factor for native Sicilian grapes is the soil in which they take root and with which a valuable exchange takes place.
The different types of soil that contribute to the growth of Sicilian grapevines are as follows:
- Lava soil – due to the presence of Mount Etna volcano, this soil is suitable for the cultivation of Carricante, Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio grapes.
- Calcareous soil – suitable for growing the world’s most famous and appreciated Sicilian grape, Nero D’Avola.
- Argillaceous soil – for wines from Sicily with a high colour intensity.
- Tufaceous soil – it ensures a high sugar content and refined fragrance, making it suitable for the cultivation of Sicilian grapes used for the production of Malvasia di Lipari, Passito di Pantelleria and Moscato di Noto and Siracusa.
Another characteristic to be taken into account in order to understand Sicilian viticulture are the most commonly used vine training systems.
It is well known that a vine bred and cultivated in a certain way will produce a rich and aromatic fruit, which will then be translated into a high quality wine. This land offers great emotions thanks to the care and attention devoted to native Sicilian grapes.
The main vine training systems are as follows:
- Spurred cordon
Sicilian grapes give birth to the best Sicilian wines
A pact of love between sun and vine has contributed to the evolution and refinement of Sicilian viticulture. In fact, wines from Sicily are often called “wines of the sun”.
Sicilian grapes are illuminated by the rays of a warm sun, typical of southern Italy. Then, once vinified, they give rise to full-bodied wines with a perceptible and distinguishable majesty.
Let us now take a detailed look at the most famous native grape varieties.
1. Black grape varieties from Sicily
This is the Sicilian grape par excellence. It is cultivated on around 12,000 hectares on the island. This grape variety expresses a certain territoriality: in fact, depending on where it is grown, it will manifest different characteristics. It is used to make the only Sicilian red wine DOCG, Cerasuolo di Vittoria wine.
It is one of Sicily’s most important black grapes. It is mainly cultivated in the provinces of Siracusa and Ragusa. It is a robust grape variety that does not give high but rather constant yields. Together with Nero D’Avola, it is used to make Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG.
This vine originated on Mount Etna and is still cultivated mainly on the volcano. It is also called “Negrello” because of the intense colour of its grapes. This Sicilian grape is used in the production of Etna DOC and Faro DOC, two important Sicilian red wines.
Nerello Cappuccio is also one of the Sicilian grapes linked to Mount Etna. In fact, it grows and originates on the slopes of the volcano. This grape variety is also part of the Faro DOC.
This Sicilian grape is also called “Pignatello”. It originated in Western Sicily, where it is still cultivated today. This grape variety is mainly used for the production of Marsala Ruby.
2. White grape varieties from Sicily
This is an aromatic grape variety belonging to the Muscat family. It is also known as Moscato d’Alessandria. The name comes from the Arab term for dried grapes and is in fact used in the production of Passito di Pantelleria DOC.
This is an ancient Sicilian grape found in two forms: common white Catarratto and shiny white Catarratto. It is cultivated throughout Sicily, particularly in the western area. It is one of the main indigenous Sicilian vines because it is used as the base to produce Marsala DOC.
This is an ancient grape variety found on this land, where we also find the Sicilian black grape of the same name. It is mainly used in the production of fortified wines such as Marsala.
It is an indigenous grape variety widespread in western Sicily, which has expanded rapidly in recent years. Together with Cataratto and Inzolia grapes, it participates in the composition of Marsala DOC.
This Sicilian grape is more precisely called “Grecanico Dorato” and was probably introduced to Sicily by the Greeks. There are two clones, one grown mainly in the Trapanese area and the other in almost all of the island.
It belongs to the Sicilian grapes that are children of the volcano. It is in fact indigenous to Etna and is included in the composition of Etna DOC.
Malvasia di Lipari
A Sicilian grape variety originally brought by the Greeks. Today it is mainly cultivated on the three islands of Lipari, Salina and Vulcano. Malvasia delle Lipari Passito DOC is made from it.
A land for great productions: native Sicilian grapes & beyond!
As we have seen, the island is characterised by many famous Sicilian wineries and an important production deriving from native Sicilian grapes.
But with regard to grape varieties Sicily is a generous land. It offers its space as well as its varied climatic and territorial complexity also to non-native grape varieties.
The national grape varieties widespread in Sicily are the following: Sangiovese, Barbera and Trebbiano. International grapes such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Muller-Thurgau, Pino Nero and Syrah are also cultivated.
Native Sicilian grape varieties are the special feature of Sicilian wine growing tradition!
With Italia Delight, you have the chance to taste and fall in love with Sicilian wine. Choose your wine experience in the best wineries in Sicily and discover the Sicilian grapes that best suit you in this enchanting land! 🍇