The history of Sicily could be said to be the history of wine. The tradition of Sicilian wine goes back millennia as we have evidence that grapes have been grown in the Aeolian Islands as early as 1500 BC. Many Sicilian wineries to this day still have various portions of ancient vineyards living and growing on their properties.
Marsala, one of Sicily’s best known exports, is actually the result of some English influence. In 1773 John Woodhouse realized that the local wine could be fortified (in a method similar to that used to make sherry), enabling it to survive long ocean journeys. This kicked off the Marsala industry, which was dominated by the English until the 19th Century when Italian merchants started buying up the land in the region.
A Guide to the Grapes
If you visit Sicily you’ll find 23 DOC recognized regions containing a wide array grapes. We’ll break down some of the most important wines you’ll find on any wine tour of Sicily.
Sicilian Red Wines
Sicily produces a wide range of red wines, but there are three you should be familiar with if you’ll be sampling wine across the island.
Etna Rosso: This wine is a blend of two different grapes that grow best in the volcanic soil of Mount Etna: the Nerello Mascalese and the Nerello Mantellato.
Cerasuolo di Vittoria: From Ragusa, this is the only DOCG wine from Sicily. It’s a blend of Nero D’Avola and Frappato grape varieties. Cerasuolo is Italian for “cherry red”, referring to the striking color of this famous wine.
Nero D’Avola: One of the most ancient grapes native to Sicily, this grape variety has risen to global prominence in recent years. With a sweet plum and peppery flavour this grape is considered the pride of Sicily.
Sicilian White Wine
Bianco D’Alcamo: This is the standout white wine of Sicily, made from a blend of Cataratto, Damaschino, Grecanico, and Trebbiano grape varieties. It can be found all over the island.
Sicily has a variety of other white wines, often made from a blend of Grillo, Inzolia, Cataratto, Grecanico and Chardonnay grapes. Many of these blends are of extremely high quality.
Going on Tour
Wine tasting in Sicily provides a lot of options to choose from — one reason is that the island boasts about 20 different native grape varieties. The geography of Sicily makes it an excellent place to grow wine as it’s a volcanic island with a wide array of climates, soils, and altitudes.
Where to go on a Sicily wine tour? Fortunately, there are many options. Planeta is a famous wine producer that has brought Sicily to the forefront of critical wine appreciation over the last 20 years. They offer visits to their vineyards and tastings at their wineries throughout the island in places like Menfi and Etna. Planeta produces many DOC wines, for example, Moscato, Chardonnay, and Nero D’Avola.
C & S Biondi also provide a wide array of tours but some of these are best scheduled by appointment. They focus on a wide variety of native Sicilian grapes, including Nerello Cappuccio, Nerello Mascalese, Carricante and Catarratto.
Wineries in Sicily have been going through a Renaissance in recent decades — now is truly the time to visit.