Wine from Sicily - from Marsala to Avola and Etna
The dark berry grape variety Nero d'Avola stands like no other grape for the rise of the Mediterranean island. The strong and well-structured red wine internalizes the warmth, the winds, the temperament of Sicily. But it is predominantly white wine that reaches us from the south of Italy. With the local grape varieties Grillo, Catarrato and Fiano as well as imported Chardonnay and even Riesling vines, the winegrowers succeed, through modern cellar work, in producing a large variety of light, lively and fresh white wines.
Specialities such as Etna Rosso and red wines from the autochthonous grape variety Nerello open up a much wider field of wine types from Sicily. Thanks to volcanic rock, the wines acquire a strong minerality. The long and strong hours of sunshine, on the other hand, are evident in the world-famous Marsala liqueur wine, which with its wonderful sweetness and soft structure is an indispensable ingredient for and alongside food.
Wine-growing in Sicily has much to offer and even more to discover - not least thanks to the eventful history that has shaped the Mediterranean island into what it stands for today: variety, taste, world class.
History of winegrowing in Sicily
Volcanic underwater activities and tectonic shifts mark the beginning of history, because Sicily is not least the home of the slumbering Etna, which, with volcanic rock, is able to produce a unique aroma in wine.
What followed were innumerable tribes and peoples, who sometimes more and sometimes less promoted viticulture. The first traditions come from Phoenicians and Greeks, who distributed local wine in the Mediterranean area with the first trading centres in Sicily. Ancient Greek colonies such as Syracuse suggest that many grape varieties have Greek origins. Especially the grape variety Grecanico sounds very Greek.
The changeful history is further divided among different peoples and occupiers. While the Romans and Phoenicians were inclined towards viticulture, Carthaginians, Arabs and barbarian tribes from the north had little interest in viticulture. Nevertheless they shaped the economy of Sicily - Arabs strengthened the cultivation of olives and almonds. All of these agricultural products still adorn the Sicilian countryside today.
At the latest the British appreciated the speciality Marsala around 1780. The sweet wine was certainly not uninvolved in the high morale of the sailors of Her Majesty's English fleet.
The old strengths are fading
Marsala sweet wine from Sicily had claimed a lucrative market for itself through the British Empire. However, this special status did not remain - Marsala liqueur wine went out of fashion. Although the sweet wine from Sicily is still popular and used in Italian cuisine for meat dishes, the taste of countless wine drinkers had changed. A fatal collapse of viticulture on the Mediterranean island was the consequence - the winegrowers simply missed the opportunity to adapt to the demand and to create new structures. Only a few winegrowers exported the wine, most of it remained in the hands of cooperatives, which at the highest level exported the wine to other regions as blending partners.
A rethink in Sicilian viticulture
It is very surprising why viticulture has declined so much, as the island offers a unique terroir that provides ideal conditions for many grape varieties. This did not remain hidden from local winegrowers and farmers in the 1980s. In a big hurrah, new vineyards sprouted from the ground and international top_resborts were mined. Often with more mass instead of class in mind, cultivation boomed, but quality was low. It was only the return to local grape varieties, high quality standards and the reduction of the area under cultivation that strengthened viticulture and put it on the road to success. Large investments were made and the techniques that came to light became innovative viticulture.
The new Sicily
Modern Sicily and its viticulture have made a name for themselves in the world of wine thanks to the local terroir and the choice of first-class and local grape varieties. The autochthonous grape varieties Frappato, Inzolia, Grillo, Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio and Cataratto abound with finesse and character. Last but not least, the powerful Nero d'Avola succeeded in raising the flag of Sicily among the best red wines of Europe. Many high-quality wines are decorated with the IGT or DOC status in addition to the Sicilian label. Absolute wine specialities such as Le Sabbie dell'Etna Rosso made from the Nerello Cappuccio and Nerello Mascalese grape varieties can be found in Sicily, but are rarely available.
The Sicilian wine types
The Sicilian wine variety offers a fine treat for every taste. Fizzy spumante sparkling wines and fresh rosé wines are as much a part of it as the famous dessert, white and red wines.
Marsala - sweet wine from Sicily
Rich in tradition and sweetness, Marsala liqueur wine combines the qualities of the indigenous grape varieties Grillo, Cataratto and Inzolia. After a year in wooden barrels, the Marsala pampers the palate with a soft harmony and aromatic spice. A little more creamy is the Cremovo Vino Aromatizzato, which, with the addition of egg yolk and sugar, makes a delightful aperitif.
Nero d'Avola - the black from Avola
One might think that the entire success of Sicilian viticulture is built upon the shoulders of the Nero d'Avola grape.. These dark grapes have always been growing on the sun-drenched slopes of the small town of Avola - hence the name Black from Avola: Nero d'Avola. The red wine is round and soft and has a ruby-red colour with dark accents. Fruity hints of cherry, plum and blackberry are complemented by the Mediterranean spice. Whether aged in wooden barrels or stainless steel tanks - the driving force of Sicilian viticulture is always brilliant.
Etna Rosso - Sicily wine from Etna
On the slopes lined with volcanic rock around the volcano Etna, two grape varieties thrive quite excellently. They are Nerello Cappuccio and Nerello Mascalese, which together produce mineral and balanced red wines under the DOC Etna Rosso. The force of nature of Sicily's highest mountain can be felt in its intensive aromas and vital structure. At the very least, the palate is able to put the long finale with overflowing velvety texture into words: pure power of la montagna.
Grillo - the Lightness of Sicily
Although Sicilian viticulture is primarily famous for the velvety Nero d'Avola red wine, most wines from the island are white. The indigenous grape variety Grillo is particularly popular among them, which is vinified to produce wonderfully fruity, fragrant and straw-yellow white wines.
IGT Terre Siciliane and DOC Sicilia
The constant improvement of the quality and of the wine from Sicily in particular has led to the honour of an own DOC status from the 2012 vintage onwards. DOC Sicilia and IGT Terre Siciliane thus dropped the outdated Sicilia IGT.
The quality grade IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) includes the country wines, which, unlike in Germany, have first-class qualities. A very large part of the cultivation areas and cellar work is carried out under the guidelines of the IGT Terre Siciliane. The country offers different soils and conditions. Mountain ranges in the north, hills in the southwest and central Sicily, a vast plateau and the volcanic subsoil of Etna in the east.
The DOC Siclia (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) was also introduced from the 2012 vintage onwards and covers all wines on the island. This means that the top wines of Sicily can now also be recognised as genuine Sicilians. Wine lovers can thus see at first glance that wines from the DOC Contea di Sclafani come from the DOC Siclia Contea di Sclafani. Without this appendage only those would at least know that it is a Sicilian wine. And thanks to the growing reputation of the area, the DOC and DOCG wines from Sicily can only benefit from the DOC Sicilia, even if strict guidelines and controls go hand in hand with the status.
DOC production areas of Sicily
Marsala DOC, which is mainly known for its famous dessert wine, extends around the port city of Marsala, embedded in the west of the island. In accordance with the DOC guidelines, therefore, almost exclusively grape varieties are cultivated that are approved for Marsala, including Nero d'Avola along with Grillo and Catarratto.
With the DOC Menfi, the provinces of Agrigento and Trapani own a high quality production area, which produces both white and red wines of the highest quality. Naturally, only selected grape varieties may be used for the wines from the DOC Menfi: Chardonnay, Grecanico, Sangiovese and Nero d'Avola.
Also in the west of the island is Alcamo, a DOC appellation not far from the city of Palermo. The Sicilian growing area has a lot to offer from the blend wine to the varietal wine. Among them for example Alcamo Rosso and Alcamo Rosato. For the former, at least 60% Nero d'Avola is required and the Rosato also likes to use dark grapes.
At the north-eastern tip of Sicily lies the DOC Faro production area, with the city of Messina as its centre. Here, excellent wines with a unique character are produced. The main focus is on the varieties Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio. The high location and cool temperatures at night ensure the incomparable freshness of the red wines from the DOC Faro.
Cerasuolo di Vittoria
The Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG wine, from the homonymous production area, has its own list of guidelines that clearly describe grape varieties and harvest. It requires a percentage of between 50 and 70% of Nero d'Avola, supplemented by Frappato. The grapes for this grow from Ragusa to Catania in the south of the island.
Not far from Cerasuolo dei Vittoria are the vineyards of the Eloro area, which is particularly famous for rosé and red wines. Between Syracuse, Noto and Ragusa grow the grape varieties Pignatello, Frappato and Nero d'Avola, which according to the DOC regulations make up the majority of the almost pure wines.
At the foot of mighty Etna, the vines grow on mineral-rich volcanic soil. The white grape varieties in particular flourish under these conditions, especially the Carricante, Catarratto Bianco and Trebbiano varieties. As far as red wine is concerned, the most important variety is Nerello Mascalese, which for DOC wines from Etna must be 80% in the wine.
Malvasia delle Lipari
The Aeolian Islands north of Sicily are famous for the sweet white wine Malvasia, which is made from Malvasia di Sardegna and Corinthiaki. Thus, the DOC Malvasia delle Lipari occupies a special position, as hardly or no trace of the typical Sicilian grape varieties are cultivated.
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