Regions and Appellations Italy Sicily

Sicilian Wine

Sicily is Italy's southernmost region, and the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. For more than 2500 years Sicily (Sicilia in Italian) has been a significant center of Mediterranean viniculture, although the reputation and style of its wines has changed significantly over that time.

The island was once most famous for sweet Muscats (see Pantelleria), and later fortified Marsala. Today many of its best-known wines are dry table wines produced under the regional IGT title Terre Siciliane, or the Sicilia DOC (see below).

Rural viticulture and blue skies, Sicily

At its widest point Sicily measures 280 kilometers (175 miles) east to west, and about one third that distance north to south. Its roughly triangular shape led the island to be dubbed Trinacria (the triangle) during the Middle Ages, and is reflected in the triskelion (a motif with three protrusions) at the center of the regional flag.

Blessed with consistently bright sunshine and reliably moderate rainfall, Sicily's classic Mediterranean climate is ideally suited to the production of wine grapes. The warm, dry climate means that mildews and rots are kept to a minimum, particularly in well-ventilated areas that benefit from coastal breezes. This low disease pressure means that chemical sprays are hardly needed, so much Sicilian wine is produced from organic grapes.

Alongside grapes and wine, Sicily's key exports are cereals, olives and citrus fruits. Its economy has been based on these commodities for centuries.

Ironically, the island's near-perfect viticultural conditions played a key role in the downfall of Sicilian wine in the late 20th Century. Reliable sunshine and low disease pressure have always made it easy for Sicilian vinegrowers to push their vineyards into generating high yields. When the Italian government offered subsidies for "upgrading" to higher-yielding vine management techniques, the temptation was too much to refuse. Many thousands of acres of low-yielding bush vines were rapidly converted to high-yielding tendone (pergola) or guyot (cane-pruning) training methods.

These higher yields naturally led to imbalanced, flavor-lacking wines – a drop in quality that was soon mirrored by a drop in consumer confidence. The market was soon awash with low-quality, low-priced Sicilian wine. Happily, the movement to reverse this reputation is well underway, and Sicily is now one of Italy's most promising and interesting wine regions.

Sicily's soils, and the mountains from which they came, are of particular interest when it comes to studying the island's viticulture. Mount Etna, the towering stratovolcano, dominates the island's eastern skyline, and is responsible for the mineral-rich, dark soils that characterize the Etna DOC vineyards. Vines are now being planted higher up on the volcanic slopes, to capitalize on the cooler air and richer soils there.

Fifty miles (80km) south, the Iblei Mountains stake their place in eastern Sicilian wine. On their lower slopes and the coastal plains below them, the DOCs of Siracusa, Noto, Eloro and Vittoria sweep from east to west, forming a crescent that mirrors the arcing coastline.

In western Sicily, the volcanic hills are less individually dramatic but just as influential to the soil types. The western fifth of the island is covered by the Marsala DOC, and also within this area fall the DOCs Alcamo, Contessa Entellina, Delia Nivolelli, Erice, Menfi, Monreale, Salaparuta, Santa Margherita di Belice and Sciacca. Also of note is the small Sambuca di Sicilia DOC, whose wines are not to be confused with Sambuca, the potent anise liqueur.

The key grape varieties used in Sicilian viticulture are a combination of native varieties (those historically cultivated on the island) and newer, more fashionable imports. Nero d'Avola and Catarratto are the most important natives, occupying 16 and 32 percent of Sicily's vineyard area respectively in 2008. The sheer volume of Catarratto juice created each year means much of it is shipped to cooler Italian wine regions, where it is used to increase the body and weight of otherwise thin, over-acidic wines.

A large proportion of what remains on the island is used to make Marsala, for which it is joined by the white varieties Grillo and Inzolia. Although less famous than Marsala, another sweet wine of significance to the island is Moscato di Pantelleria, the Moscato grape in question being Muscat of Alexandria.

Other grape varieties of note are Grecanico, Alicante (Grenache), Perricone, Nocera, and Frappato, the latter being the key ingredient in Sicily’s only DOCG wine Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Sibling varieties Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio are also small players in terms of volume, but are of vital importance around Mount Etna.

Syrah has been brought here from its home in southern France, where hot summer sunshine and sandy, rocky soils are also key components of the terroir. The robust red Rh?ne Valley variety shows every sign of adapting well to the Sicilian heat, and certainly better than Chardonnay, which is less able to produce balanced wines here. Trebbiano, the ubiquitous, high-yielding white variety found all around Italy, is also present in the wines of Sicily, although it has no role of particular distinction among them.

The island's topography has affected more than just how, and where, Sicilian wines are created. It has also had a significant impact on the way commerce and customs have developed on the island.

In the late Middle Ages Palermo was one of the largest city populations in Europe, and had a correspondingly voracious wine appetite. Despite large quantities of wine being made in the east of Sicily, Palermo's wine supplies came as much from Campania and Lazio as they did from the other end of the island, so mountainous is the landscape surrounding the port city.

Given the frequent contact Palermo had with the central western coast of Italy, and the proximity of Messina to southern Italy (it is separated from southern Calabria by the Strait of Messina, just two miles wide), these two key Sicilian cities were more influenced by the mainland at this time than they were by one another. And while Palermo was importing Italian wines, Messina was actually exporting eastern Sicilian wines to Africa and the eastern Mediterranean.

Modern transportation and communication technologies mean that Sicily's dramatic, volcanic landscape has less of an impact on the region's social and cultural structures today. They remain, however, a vital part of its viticulture and winemaking, and may prove to be its unique selling point in the modern wine world.

Sicilia DOC

The relationship between the island-wide DOC and IGT designations creates plenty of room for confusion. In 2011, Sicilia IGT was promoted to DOC status, and replaced by Terre Siciliane IGT. The move was controversial as production regulations were not made noticeably more stringent.

Some producers moved to the new IGT, preferring to benefit from the maxiumum levels of flexibility. However, new regulations in 2017 required that all varietal wines made from either Grillo or Nero d'Avola had to be classified as Sicilia DOC rather than Terre Siciliane IGT.

The popularity of these varieties means that many wines were affected. This is reflected in recent production figures. In 2017, around 3.7 million cases of Sicilia DOC wine were recorded. This figure is estimated at just less than 6.7 million for 2018. By way of comparision, 14.5 million cases of IGP Terre Siciliane wine were recorded for 2016.

A large number of grape varieties are permitted in red, white and rosé wines varietal Sicilia DOC wines. A Sicilia Bianco blend must feature a minimum 50 percent component of Inzolia, Catarrato, Chardonnay, Grecanico Dorato (a variant of Garganega) and/or Grillo. The same percentage of Sicilia DOC Rosso and Rosato must be Frappato, Nerello Mascalese, Nero d'Avola, Perricone, Pinot Nero, Sangiovese and/or Syrah.

Spumante wines may be produced at various sweetness levels and as bianco and rosato. The permitted grape varieties vary according to the style. Vendemmia tardiva (late-harvest) and passito wines may also be made, both in bianco and rosso forms.

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Most Popular Sicilian Wine

Based on search frequency, updated monthly
Wine Name
Grape
Popularity
Score
Avg Price
Donnafugata Ben Rye Passito di Pantelleria, Sicily, Italy Muscat of Alexandria 1,328th 93 $66
Tenuta delle Terre Nere Prephylloxera 'La Vigna di Don Peppino' Calderara Sottana Rosso Etna, Sicily, Italy Nerello Cappuccio - Nerello Mascalese 1,372nd 93 $114
Frank Cornelissen 'Susucaru' Rosato Terre Siciliane IGT, Sicily, Italy Nerello Mascalese 2,070th 89 $34
Donnafugata 'Mille e Una Notte' Contessa Entellina, Sicily, Italy Nero d'Avola 2,087th 91 $70
Tenuta delle Terre Nere Rosso Etna, Sicily, Italy Nerello Cappuccio - Nerello Mascalese 2,291st 90 $22
Frank Cornelissen 'Magma' Terre Siciliane Rosso IGT, Sicily, Italy Nerello Mascalese 2,537th 91 $253
Planeta Chardonnay Menfi, Sicily, Italy Chardonnay 3,073rd 90 $33
Tasca d'Almerita Tenuta Regaleali 'Rosso del Conte' Contea di Sclafani, Sicily, Italy Rare Red Blend 3,330th 92 $48
Passopisciaro Passorosso Terre Siciliane IGT, Sicily, Italy Nerello Mascalese 3,463rd 91 $37
Azienda Agricola Arianna Occhipinti Il Frappato Sicilia IGT, Sicily, Italy Frappato 4,317th 91 $40
Frank Cornelissen 'Susucaru' Rosso Terre Siciliane IGT, Sicily, Italy Nerello Mascalese 4,469th 90 $32
Passopisciaro 'Franchetti' Rosso, Sicily, Italy Petit Verdot 4,748th 93 $117
Cusumano Nero d'Avola Terre Siciliane IGT, Sicily, Italy Nero d'Avola 5,198th 88 $11
Tenuta delle Terre Nere 'San Lorenzo' Etna Rosso, Sicily, Italy Nerello Cappuccio - Nerello Mascalese 5,266th 92 $59
Planeta Santa Cecilia Noto, Sicily, Italy Nero d'Avola 5,675th 91 $32
Donnafugata 'Tancredi' Terre Siciliane IGT, Sicily, Italy Cabernet - Nero d'Avola 5,877th 91 $34
Azienda Agricola Arianna Occhipinti SP68 Sicilia Rosso IGT, Sicily, Italy Frappato - Nero d'Avola 5,877th 90 $26
Palari Faro, Sicily, Italy Rare Red Blend 6,013th 93 $51
Feudo Maccari Saia Sicilia IGT, Sicily, Italy Nero d'Avola 6,403rd 90 $26
Azienda Agricola Serragghia Bianco Zibibbo Secco, Sicily, Italy Muscat of Alexandria 6,449th 89 $87
Azienda Agricola Cos Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico DOCG, Sicily, Italy Frappato - Nero d'Avola 6,480th 91 $29
Benanti Etna Rosso, Sicily, Italy Nerello Cappuccio - Nerello Mascalese 6,529th 89 $23
Tenuta delle Terre Nere Calderara Sottana Rosso Etna, Sicily, Italy Nerello Cappuccio - Nerello Mascalese 6,587th 92 $58
Duca di Salaparuta Duca Enrico Rosso Sicilia IGT, Sicily, Italy Nero d'Avola 6,653rd 91 $63
Tenuta Fenice 'La Fenice Risorge' Nero d'Avola, Sicily, Italy Nero d'Avola 6,704th 87 $14
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To see how Wine-Searcher uses average pricing and professional wine critic scores on this page, please see Average Wine Prices and Wine Scores. To find out about popularity, please see Wine Ranks.
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