Sicily is not only located in the heart of the Mediterranean—at the intersection of civilization’s greatest cardinal points—but its vulnerable, beautiful coastline is a permeable membrane that has enabled the passage of people and ideas for millennia. As those foreign influences accumulated, they created the base of the ever-fluid Sicilian identity, one both hospitable and protective of regional character.
They are also among the Mediterranean’s most prolific farmers with grapevines planted across the island. The history of modern Italian wine starts with Marsala, the fortified wine that became a global export in the late 1770s. More recently, a group of savvy vintners with a keen eye for international trends spurred the “Sicilian wine renaissance” in which the “Sicily” brand became synonymous with value and quality, Nero d’Avola became a powerful symbol of the indigenous varieties craze that has since defined much of Italian wine, and the romantic Mt. Etna denomination became synonymous with savvy emerging subzones.
The theme of borderless vision can also be applied to the wines of Sardinia, the Aeolian archipelago and Pantelleria (where delicious sweet wines are made). Sardinia is poised to become the next great wine island thanks to its wealth of indigenous grapes and forward-looking producers.
Festa Del Vino
On November 11, St. Martin’s Day in the Catholic Church, Sicily holds its annual Festa del Vino. Supposedly this day marks the moment when the new wine is ready for consumption: “Il giorno di San Martino il mosto diventa vino,” they say (“On St. Martin’s day grape juice becomes wine”).
Common Grape Varieties
Inzolia: Among Sicily’s most prominent white varieties, Inzolia (also “Insolia”) opens with a bright, crystalline appearance and aromas of citrus, pear and blanched almond.
Vermentino: Planted widely in Sardinia and Tuscany, Vermentino makes a quintessentially fresh Italian white wine with crisp acidity and herbal hints of dried sage and Mediterranean scrub.
Cannonau: The Sicilian grape name for Grenache, Cannonau finds its natural home in Sardinia where it has emerged as the island’s flagship red wine with intense berry aromas and velvety tannins.
Frappato: A rising star in Sicilian enology, Frappato delivers a light ruby color and vibrant aromas of wild berry and blue flower. Sometimes served slightly chilled, it pairs beautifully with fish.
Nerello Mascalese/Nerello Cappuccio: Often likened to Pinot Noir, these two native varieties farmed on Mt. Etna are particularly well suited to rich volcanic soils. They show power, elegance and the ability to age with grace.
Nero d’Avola: This hearty red grape helped inspire international consumers to try wines made from Italy’s patrimony of indigenous grapes. It shows soft tannins and aromas of red cherry, wild fennel and toasted pistachio.