If you’re like most wine enthusiasts, you’ve probably heard of Italy’s top wine regions, like Tuscany and Veneto. But did you know that Sicily also produces high-quality wines? With mountainous, dry terrain, Sicily has a history of winemaking dating back thousands of years to the time when the island belonged to the Greeks. Sicily even boasts numerous regions with their own Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC), or denomination of origin, appellation.
The following are Sicily’s top wines:
Perhaps the most well-known wine made in Sicily, Marsala is named after the city of Marsala on the island’s west coast, where the wine was first made. This fortified wine is similar to Port and Sherry (from Portugal and Spain, respectively), with an alcohol by volume of approximately 20%. Made from Grillo, Inzolia, or Catarratto grapes, Marsala is classified into three categories: oro (golden), rubino (ruby), and ambra (amber). Sicilian winemakers further categorize Marsala by age, with “Fine” Marsala aged for at least one year and Superiore aged for at least two years. Superiore Riserva ages in wood for four to six years, and Vergine ages in wood for no less than five years.
Although Marsala lost its popularity in the first half of the 20th century and was mostly used as a cooking wine by 1950, it has recently regained its place among popular aperitifs and dessert wines. This is due in part to the amendment of Italy’s strict appellation laws in 1986.
Moscato and Passito
Derived from the Muscat grape, Moscato is an amber or golden-colored dessert wine produced in the Syracuse area of Sicily. Syracuse’s DOC Moscato wine, Don Nuzzo, has a history going back more than 2,000 years.
Moscato Passito, made on the nearby islands of Lipari and Pantelleria, is a Moscato variation that contains Appassito grapes. Traditionally, Passito winemakers follow a unique “dry” production process, which includes semi-dry grapes and raisins in the must. Because vintners don’t add spirits during the production process, Passito is not a fortified wine like Marsala or Port.
Made from the Zibibbo grape variety (another member of the Muscat family), Zibibbo is similar to Marsala. However, it undergoes fermentation and then partial distillation naturally, without the incorporation of spirits. Another difference is that the Zibibbo grape experiences partial fermentation under the sun. Moreover, the alcohol-by-volume level of Zibibbo is slightly lower than that of Marsala.
A Sicilian grape variety that Albanians might have brought to the island several hundred years ago, Primitivo produces a white wine that is usually dry and has a moderate alcohol by volume. According to genetic research, the Primitivo grape is the ancestor of the Zinfandel grape that is so popular in California, which is why the two types of wine are so similar.
A sweet wine similar to Moscato, Malvasia comes from the Malvasia family of grapes, which originated in Greece and now grow near Messina in northeastern Sicily, as well as on the island of Lipari. There are several varieties of Malvasia wine, the most common of which is Malvasia Bianca.
A red wine often compared to Syrah, Nero d’Avola is the most popular non-fortified wine in Sicily. Some of the best Nero d’Avola wines undergo a unique process whereby the grapes rest on cold vats to prevent premature fermentation.
Believed to have originated in the southern province of Ragusa, Frappato grapes yield light, fresh wines that have a silky feel and feature a full bouquet. This red grape is also a component of Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Sicily’s only wine that bears the label Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), which guarantees the wine’s quality and the geographic region it comes from.
In addition to the six wines listed here, Sicily produces a number of other varietals, including whites like Cataratto, Inzolia, and Grecanico, the latter of which is named after its Greek origin. Sicilian winemakers also produce a number of other white wines, including Chardonnay, Bianco, and Pinot Grigio.
When visiting Sicilian wine country, it’s important to try Novello wines, which are Sicily’s nouveau vintage wines. Sicilian vintners sell Novello wines only a few months after harvesting and pressing the grapes, which results in a fruity, robust wine.
By tasting the wines listed here, you can develop a deeper appreciation for Italian wines beyond the famous Chianti and Prosecco in the northern regions. If you visit Sicily, be sure to sample some of the lesser-known DOC wines, including Etna and Alcamo. Also, don’t limit yourself to DOC wines. Some wine enthusiasts find they enjoy some non-DOC wines, such as Regaleali, even more than those with a formal quality designation.