Long considered the poor relation of Italian winemaking, the engine room for hot and fruity table wines or bland liquid for bulk export (who buys it I don’t know), Sicily has since revolutionised its reputation and is now a source of interesting territories, grapes and wines. The island is still one the biggest producers of non-bottled wine, but there are now more than enough quality focused wineries for Sicily to be taken seriously as one of Italy’s top wine producing regions.
Just off the mainland of Italy, Sicily benefits from a Mediterranean climate which as we well know, provides perfect grape growing conditions. The potential for lots of heat mean certain varieties do better than others, and the wines made here are undoubtedly warm climate styles, yet that doesn’t mean there is no room for terroir. Far from it. There are over twenty DOC wines all given status for their unique micro climates and potential to produce village level subtleties. One of course has to bare the Italian propensity to play politics in some of these areas but even so, there is lots to explore and discover.
On an international scale the most important grape is the red Nero d’Avola. It is grown across the island and produces bold, fruit forward wines that range from very good to absolutely dreadful.
In terms of geography, Etna has been the runaway success story on the East of the island. It’s ethereal red wines made with Nerello Mascalese on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna have capitalised on the long standing understanding of vineyard sites and in recent years exploded into a buzzing scene of great wines and continued investment. White wines from Carricante can also be exceptional here offering exotic, stone fruit character and crisp mineral complexity.
There are gloriously sweet wines made in the passito style on both sides of the island. In the south east Moscato vineyards around the towns of Noto and Siracusa make very good dessert wines while on Pantelleria, just off the western coast, a more internationally recognised DOC is producing world class stickies that boast hedonistic marmalade and apricot driven wines (also from Moscato) from very old bush vines that hug the windswept vinous outpost.
Although the regional IGP appellation of Terre Siciliane should be fairly generic, its extensive list of permitted varieties and its flexibility in production rules means that many producers are using the classification to label premium quality wines. As such, this is an appellation in which following trusted producers is a wise move.