Sunny Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, sits just off the tip of the boot-shaped peninsula of Italy. Dotted with ancient Greek temples and Norman cathedrals built by former invaders, the island has a rich history and multifaceted cultural legacy.
It also boasts miles of pristine beaches, breathtaking scenery and the highest active volcano in Europe, Mount Etna.
On top of those wonders, Sicily makes fantastic wines from native and international grapes. It produces everything from full-bodied reds to vibrant, mineral-driven whites. Pair them with the fantastic local cuisine, and you understand why this is a wine-lover’s paradise.
While quality wine is the new normal across Sicily, the most exciting areas of the island right now are located in the east, namely Mount Etna, Vittoria, Noto, and Faro. Boasting ideal growing conditions where native grapes excel, these four growing zones produce some of the finest wines on the island, and the best are among the most compelling bottlings coming out of Italy.
Italy is a land of contradictions, and as Italians love to declare, this is part of the country’s fascino, or charm. The country’s new breed of white wines is a perfect example.
At first glance, you’d expect whites from the country’s deep south, known for its Mediterranean climate and constant sunshine, to be powerfully structured, with superripe fruit, high alcohol levels and low acidity. While this used to be true of many bottlings, today the whites from select denominations in Campania and Sicily boast the complexity and minerality often associated with cool climates.
How? Winemakers now focus on indigenous grapes, which have adapted to the region’s climate over hundreds or thousands of years. “Rather than make wines geared for international palates that taste like they could be made anywhere, we want to make wines that express Campania’s native grapes and our unique terroir by identifying the best vineyard sites, harvesting at the right moment and using less invasive cellar techniques,” says Antonio Capaldo, president of leading Campania firm Feudi di San Gregorio. Here’s a breakdown of Italy’s southern whites that should be on your table this summer.
It’s generally assumed that Italian white wines are cheap, cheerful and made to be consumed during the first year after the harvest. And while this may be the case for most Italian whites, and for the majority of white wines made around the globe, Italy produces some stunning whites that break the drink-now stereotype by developing depth and complexity as they age.
Once infamous for making industrial quantities of concentrated musts and uninspiring sweet wines, Sicily is fast shaking off its bulk-wine and sticky Marsala image. Kerin O’Keefe identifies the island’s best growing areas and the dynamic estates that are transforming its reputation.
Photography by Paolo Tenti
Thanks to almost ideal growing conditions and a patrimony of unique native grapes, Sicily’s once stagnant wine scene is undergoing a much deserved quality renaissance. Now a wellspring of experimentation and investment, the largest island in the Mediterranean is quickly becoming Italy’s most exciting wine-producing region, as winemakers discover the island’s ancient grapes and classic growing areas.
Though the recent past was devoted to industrial-quantity winemaking, the future is focused on top-quality wines of relatively good value that are both modern and indisputably Sicilian. Sprinkled with ancient Greek temples and Norman cathedrals built by former invaders, Sicily has long been a land of contradictions, and this is especially evident in its flourishing wine sector, where new boutique wineries can be found alongside sprawling cooperatives the size of oil refineries. Even though Sicily is no longer merely a vast reservoir of grapes and concentrated must, the island’s determined drive toward quality is hindered by its steadfast image as a bulk-wine producer.
Its lingering reputation is not groundless: Sicily remains one of Italy’s most prolific wine-producing regions, with as much land under vine as all of Australia and more than double that of Piedmont or Tuscany. Surprisingly, only 17 percent of Sicily’s massive output is bottled on the island, and only 3 percent of this is under Italy’s Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) appellation system. The island remains a leading producer of strong grape must (vino da taglio), which is covertly used by many northern producers to give their more delicate wines an injection of southern muscle, while the brunt of the harvest, of dubious quality, is still sold in bulk or distilled. But side by side with these dismal remnants of mass production, dynamic winemakers have carefully revived ancient grapes and are now making some of Italy’s most innovative wines.