Sicily is one of the richest and most varied Italian wine regions with an excellent selection of both white and red grape varieties. There is no shortage of niche productions, almost heroic, such as those that dot the slopes of the Etna volcano where the Nerello Mascalese dominates and returns balsamic wines of incredible finesse.
But there are also intense and sumptuous wines, historical such as Marsala, the fortified wine that has conquered the world with its particular aromatic charge and irresistible aromas.
The two red threads that run throughout the island are the sea, which gives the wines flavor and depth and a certain minerality common in many parts of the region. We are not talking about exaggerated peaks, but the whole area is hilly and windswept.
But to better understand the location of the various vines in their historical habitat, let’s divide the region into sub-zones.
The most characteristic and noble wine is Marsala, born from the Soleras method, thanks to the intuition of the merchant Woodhouse, who started the production of Sicilian Sherry when he sent Marsala barrels cut with brandy to England. The wine is complex, maderized, aromatic, rich in caramel, spicy and candied citrus scents. More than a wine, it is a real work of art. We find it on the western coast, in the province of Trapani. The simple whites produced on the coastal coast are also very interesting: savory, practically salty that bite in the mouth, but with great potential, both in terms of elegance and longevity. Catarratto, Grillo and Ansonica are among the most cultivated vines.
If we move further east and stop just above the city of Vittoria, we will find a precious wine of great elegance: Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Born from the blend of Frappato and Nero d’Avola and has intoxicating and balsamic aromas, character, but a sinuous body, soft tannins and great finesse. Quite the opposite of the cliché that wants muscular, fruity and muscular wines.
On the contrary, let’s immediately dispel this myth, apart from the large mass productions, Sicilian wines have been transformed by an epochal reform, from alcoholic and fruity super-strong wines, we have moved on to “local” and precise wines, which show signs of evident elegance. The yields are low, the stumps dense, the cultivation is more cared for and the focus is on quality. Without a shadow of a doubt, Cerasuolo di Vittoria is the most interesting wine that the land of Sicily has to offer, with artisanal productions of great depth.
Continuing towards the east coast we find Moscato di Siracusa, which the legend wants to be the famous Pollio Syracusano, mythical wine of Magna Graecia, but there is no evidence to confirm this thesis. The fact is that it is a very fresh wine, sweet like honey and with a beautiful structure for a Moscato.
If we continue our journey going up the east coast we find the wines of the Etna Volcano. Already these alone would justify a holiday in Sicily! Nerello Mascalese was born here and thrives here, returning silky wines, with an agile body and great depth.
For the whites, on the other hand, Catarratto and Carricante are used, which in the layers of lava and granite find a unique mineral wealth.
Seeing the low trees that climb the slopes of the volcano up to an altitude of 1300 meters is a unique spectacle. As unique as these wines, which have now lost that dryness, that ashy warmth that once characterized the wines born in this area.
If we sail north we will arrive at Lipari, the cradle of Malvasia, a nectar of infinite sweetness. But it is not only sweet and persuasive, it is once again the sea that makes this wine fresh and deserving. The grapes are left on the plants until they are completely overripe, they are then harvested and left to dry on the racks for another two weeks. In this way the clusters concentrate the sugars and are ready to be pressed, the resulting must is aged in small barrels, kegs like those used for the Tuscan Vin Santo. The result is a splendid wine for sweetness and aromaticity, but also for the mineral vein that plays down the sweetness, adding a unique salty touch. There has been a reason for sweet wine in these islands for more than 2500 years.
We close with another myth that is produced on the island of Pantelleria, a true heritage of humanity. Zibibbo, or Moscato di Pantelleria, so-called from the Arabic word zabīb, which means raisins. We know that the Arabs used this vine for the production of raisins, but if you make us a sweet wine it’s even better! The bunches ripen until September, are then collected and dried for 20 days on the racks.
We move on to the pressing and the must rests in small barrels. Here, too, the concentration of sugars is amazing, equal only to the intensity of the ethereal and caramelized aromas that this nectar can offer. They use the alberello training system, the plants almost crawl to defend themselves from the wind and grow on obsidian, on the black granite from which this island immersed in the blue of the sea is formed. Even this wine was already renowned in the time of the Greeks and since then little has changed in the processing, when the conditions are excellent, there is no need to invent anything new.
But don’t think that the wine of Sicily is a prisoner of its tradition or history, there are many natural wineries, small winemakers who dare and produce macerated wines, wines of character that trace the territory. By now the times of the great fiefdoms are over, yes there are still mass productions, but the panorama is very varied and the consumer can choose from many proposals of all kinds.