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.
Nearly forgotten, a white grape of Sicily [re]captures the imagination.
Looking for a cool new white? Meet Grillo (pronounced GREE-lo). Hailing from Sicily, Grillo produces crisp and savory wines—some structured enough to offer moderate aging potential. Lighter styles have citrus blossom and peach nuances, while more aromatic versions deliver passion fruit, grapefruit and herbal sensations reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc. Lees contact and barrel aging create more complex, mineral-driven wines loaded with apple and citrus flavors. Vineyards closest to the sea produce wines with pronounced saline notes.
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.
A young trio who started making wine during a long summer break, spurred a viticultural renaissance in southeastern Sicily. Kerin O’Keefe reports.
Hanging around waiting for the university term to commence in 1980, friends Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti and Cirino Strano came up with an unusual project to fill their vacation: using a small vineyard and abandoned cellars owned by Cilia’s father on the island of Sicily, they decided to resurrect a local winemaking tradition.
At the time, they had no idea they were embarking on an adventure that would not only change their lives, but also the destiny of an entire denomination.
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.