Located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea & known for its greek temples, stunning beaches & unrivaled food, Sicily is the largest Italian island.
Thanks to its strategic position between Africa & Europe it has been the crossroad for the most important trade routes over the millennia: this led the island through a turbulent history. Sicily was indeed ruled by Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabic, Normans & Spaniards before, finally, joining Italy after the unification in 1861. This is the reason for the amazing amount of well-preserved archeological sites, cathedrals & buildings made in various styles & for Sicily’s incredible culinary legacy.
Food lovers come from all over the world to taste the famous Arancini, Cannoli, Cassata Siciliana, Spaghetti alla Norma, the Red Prawns of Mazara & the highly prized Chocolate from Modica.
This island seems to have it all: mountains, active volcanoes, a picturesque coastline, luxurious beach resorts & most importantly (for us!) it is Italy’s largest vineyard! And winemaking on the island dates to 4,000 B.C. - before the Greeks showed up.
Today, Sicilian wine is as diverse as Sicily’s multicultural history.
In the past, the island was known for bulk wine production, as most of Italy anyway.
Thankfully, in the 1980s a handful of Sicilian producers began restricting yields and elevating indigenous varieties to focus on premium wine production: Sicily’s wine revival started!
Now, the wines from Sicily have acquired their own distinctive personalities with an elegance that sets them apart from other wines of the South.
Sicily condenses diverse climates, soils, and topography
Its climate is mild all over the year but the high elevations of Mount Etna (the volcano) & Madonie Mountains as well as its good ventilation create a multitude of microclimates: consequently, producers can successfully make a wide range of wines. These factors also mean Sicilian harvest happens over a three-month period ( at night in many areas!), with the high-elevation grapes of Etna being some of the last to ripen.
Today’s Sicilian wine producers understand that their true strength lies in the island's biodiversity and highlighting its unique heritage: more than 65 indigenous grape varietals some of which are used in the production of Sicily’s predominant DOC & DOCG wines.
The history of Sicily is so varied and fascinating
Sicily has 1 DOCG wine
Amazing view from Erice outside Trapani
Top 5 Grape Varieties of Sicily
Mount Etna’s slopes provide rich, volcanic soil and create a juicy acidity & earthy minerality. This red grape variety is one of the main grapes in Etna Rosso DOC & it makes lighter-bodied, elegant red wines with evident red fruit flavors like wild strawberry and sweet cherry.
This red grape is the predominant grape in Sicily, used in the blend of many Denomination wines like Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG. Nero D’Avola has got a dark ruby color, loud black cherry aromas, plus a touch of spice & chocolate flavors. With medium to high tannins, alcohol, and body, Nero D’Avola is known for its powerful yet approachable style which is the reason for its success in many international markets.
Commonly used in the blend with Nero d’Avola, the red grape Frappato is now starting to show its full potential to make really good single-varietal wines.
These wines have a brilliant ruby violet color with red berries and flowery aromas.
They’re light-bodied with medium acidity, alcohol, and low tannin, which is why it’s frequently blended with Nero D’Avola for increased complexity.
It was once a white grape variety used in Marsala wines thanks to its high sugar content, making it ideal for fortified wines. Grillo is now one of the most versatile grapes of Sicily, produced in a wide variety of styles: from light to full-bodied and dry to lusciously sweet. Wines made from this grape express lemon zest flavors, along with notes of melon, white peach & more flowery aromas; today, this grape frequently makes high-quality single-varietal wines, though it’s also often blended with Catarratto, Chardonnay, and Inzolia under the Sicilia DOC label & Alcamo DOC.
One of Sicily’s most planted white varieties, Catarratto claims around one-third of all vineyard plantings on the island.
Catarratto is used in several DOC wines, including Etna Bianco DOC and Marsala DOC. The variety makes vibrant white wines bursting with aromas of citrus, tropical grapefruit, salinity, and orange blossoms. They’re typically medium-bodied with fresh acidity, though Catarratto from Mount Etna will be especially mineral driven with elevated acidity.
Traditionally vines in Sicily were head-pruned (albarello)
Top 5 Wine Regions of Sicily
Etna Rosso & Bianco DOC
Etna has been in wine lovers’ spotlight in recent years thanks to the zone’s uniqueness due to its high elevations and volcanic soils.
Etna is indeed an active volcano: this imparts particular characteristics like minerality, salinity, and vibrant acidity to Etna DOC wines. Unlike other areas on this Mediterranean island, Etna has an almost alpine climate but receives a ton of sunlight, as well as remarkably more rainfall than anywhere else in Sicily.
Founded in 1968, the Etna DOC covers white, rosato, red, and sparkling wines. Carricante is the main white grape variety, while Nerello Mascalese is the main red grape used.
Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG
Established in 2005, this is the only Denominazioni di Origine Controllata e Garantita in Sicily.
The town of Vittoria is in southeastern Sicily & always been a premium wine region for red grape growing. Here elevations are lower and temperatures are generally higher, so red Sicilian wine grapes thrive.
Only Nero D’Avola (50-70%) and Frappato (30-50%) are permitted in the wines of the Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG. All wines must reach a minimum 12.5% abv and must be aged for a minimum of 8 months, or 18 months if designated Classico.
Located in the southwestern corner of Sicily, the town of Marsala has been renowned for centuries for its fortified wines. Like Sherry, Marsala wines are made using the solera system. Most of the produced Marsala wines are sweet and underwhelming, but this fortified wine goes under 5 different classifications by aging & 3 diverse designations by color & sweetness. So, whereas the sweet version is the most well-known, the best versions are the dry ones that resemble the original style, vino perpetuo, and can be aged for decades.
While Catarratto and Inzolia were once the main grapes used, today the more elegant Grillo (a recent crossing of Cataratto and Zibibbo) is often favored.
The beautiful, little island of Pantelleria is off the West coast, halfway between Sicily & the African continent.
The sweet Passito di Pantelleria DOC is made by drying the white grape Zibibbo or Muscat of Alexandria, on or off the vines. This technique concentrates sugar & flavors. This dessert wines feature aromas of dried apricot, peach, figs, and dates, along with candied citrus notes, & honey. Perfect to be paired with cheeses, chocolate, or dried fruits that Sicily is also famous for.
Besides the famous sweet wine called Passito, is renowned for its capers, widely used in Sicilian cuisine.
The Sicilia DOC is an island-wide appellation that was created in 2011 by a consortium of wine producers to promote Sicilian wine made with native varieties like Grillo, Catarratto, Frappato, Nero D’Avola, etc. The appellation was in origin an IGT that could be bottled off the island. In order to prevent this practice, the DOC was introduced. The appellation covers white, red, rose, sparkling, and dessert wines. The catch-all appellation IGT on the other hand is now called Terre Sicilliane, and it substitutes the old Sicilia IGT, and is also island-wide.
Lava flows are common to see in the vineyards around Etna
Top 5 Wineries of Sicily
This is very traditional Sicilian wine producer owned by a noble family, located between Palermo and Caltanissetta in the southeast Tasca is been producing wines for over 8 generations, and today choosing a sustainable approach for their vineyards.
The wine cellar at Donnafugata is reminiscent of a top Chateau in Bordeaux
Donnafugata Winery has various estates throughout the island, including the island of Pantelleria off Sicily’s southwest coast. It's interesting to visit their immense establishment in the area of Marsala (which is a wine they ironically don't produce). Donnafugata is owned by the Rallo family who has been in the wine business for over a century and who has contributed to put Sicily on the map of quality wines.
Ulmo - Planeta's original estate near Menfi
Located near the town of Menfi, this historical winery bears the name of Diego Planeta who got the idea to prove Sicily's potential as a quality wine-making region by planting international varieties such as Chardonnay and Merlot. Today Planeta has estates across the island and cultivates all the major grape varieties of Sicily & produces a few famous ‘CRU’ that made it very popular among wine lovers.
Buried clay amphorae at COS
COS is a natural winery located in the southeast corner of the island. Vittoria is the home to the only Sicilian DOCG, Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Founded by 3 school friends, is always been known for a more experimental winemaking flair: today indeed, as well as barrels for aging their wines they are also using a 400 liters clay amphorae, sunk into the ground, for some of their red and white wine fermentations.
Jacopo is the manager of Tenuta di Fessina
In 2007, Silvia Maestrelli founded Tenuta di Fessina in the village of Rovittello on the northeastern side of Mt. Etna. The vineyards are located on different sides of the mountain in order to produce the best expressions of the indigenous varietals. There has also been a strong focus on hospitality: Seven rooms for guests were built inside a 17th-century structure on the property.
Tasting room at Fessina
Sicily is like a mini-continent of its own with incredibly diverse terroirs.
Are you a wine lover and want to visit Sicily and learn more about its wines, foods, and culture? Join Grape Tours for a small group escorted tour - we organize a 7-night coast-to-coast trip that you can join!
by Ilaria Miele & Rebecca Christophersen Gouttenoire