Sicily has been producing wine for millennia. Greeks introduced grapes here, and the plant adapted so well producing so prolifically that colonizers called it Enotria, the land of wine.
Ever since, Sicilians have been producing and consuming huge quantities. In the 14th century production far surpassed consumption forcing wineries to export bulk to mainland Italy for blending, and vermouth to Piedmont. Millions of hectoliters landed in France to improve low alcohol and anemic looking wines.
In the last 30 years, there has been a noticeable improvement of quality. Local families invested in vineyards located on high altitude, and suitable land. Northern Italian wineries also invested heavily in vineyards located on carefully selected sites. All of these vineyards are scientifically laid out and planted with varieties best suited to the terroir.
Sicily, the biggest island in the Mediterranean Sea, enjoys a suitable climate for grape cultivation. Sicilian wine not only represent but, excellent value, if selected judiciously. The problems that consumers think of Sicilian wines poorly.
DOC Siciliana (Denominazione die Origine Controlata) was created specially for the Island, and encourages growers and wineries to strive for quality, yet only two percent of the total wine production is labeled D O C.
Production hovers around eleven million hectoliters, half of which comes the province of Alcamo in the west, the region of Marsala.
Etna, Agrigento, Syracuse, Eolian Islands and Pantelleria are other important regions of production.
The soil of this enchanted island varies from volcanic, to alluvial and clay mixed with chalk. The agriculturally poor soil, and hot summer climate combined with little rain make it possible to produce fine table wines as many modern wineries have proved. Diurnal temperature changes are significant enough to create and maintain desirable levels of acidity.
Now new vineyards are planted on 500 – 900 meter altitudes with good exposure and drainage, making it possible to create not only fine wines, but products that sell for more than some very well known brands from France, and other traditionally expensive regions.
Yields are still low around ten metric tones per hectare, and quality oriented wineries keep it down to seven metric tones.
For white wines, Inzolia, Catartto, Grillo and Malvasia (Malmsey) are planted. French and internationally popular varieties have been planted in the last 20 years with good results.
They are: chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and viognier, even Mueller Thurgau which is decidedly a cool climate grape.
For red wines, the most important and indigenous grape variety is nero d’avola, followed by nerello mascalese, perricone and frappato di vittoria. Cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah are also planted for blending. Mr Giacomo Tachis, an internationally known winemaker, now retired, thinks highly of nero d’avola, and believes its potential here is great.
Unquestionably, Marsala, a fortified wine invented by the English brothers Woodhouse, is the most famous. It can be bone dry (marsala virgine), or deliriously sweet, and every shade of sweetness in between. Marsala is an excellent and versatile wine if produced skillfully and with care.
Moscato di Pantelleria Passito and Malvasia delle Lipari are sweet but exquisite, fruity, fragrant wines that can be enjoyed with dessert, ripe fruits, or on their own instead of dessert after an extended meal.
Alcamo, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Contessa Entellina, Etna Rosso, Faro, Marsala, Malvasia delle Lipari and Moscato di Pantelleria are classified D O C, but modern wineries using international grapes blend superior quality wines. They carry either varietal or brand labels.
Regaleali (red or white) from Duca di Salaparuta, Corvo, Azienda Agricola Cos, C. Pellegrino, Donnafugata, Rallo, De Bartoli, Fazio, La Planeta and Tasca d’Almerita are modern, quality wineries with exceptional wines at reasonable cost.
Zonin, a huge wine concern from Veneto, bought land and planted vineyards ion Sicily to take advantage of low costs. The super modern winery produces fine wine worth seeking.
Government and EU subsidies have helped many established wineries to increase research activity and invest in better technology. All of this helped create a viable and vibrant wine industry poised to compete with the best in world markets.