Sicily is located in the southernmost region of Italy, and constitutes the biggest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Through the last decades, wine enthusiasts have experienced huge changes in style and quality when it comes to Sicilian wines. Formerly known for its sweet Muscats, then for its famous fortified Marsala, one can appreciate today good value Terre Siciliane IGT and delicious DOC wines.
The Sicilian vineyard first flourished under the Greeks long time ago. A wine named Mamertime, a sweet wine, was one of Julius Caesar’s favourite. Romans and Phoenicians perpetuated the trade of Sicilia wines through the centuries. Indeed, Sicily is doted with several strategic port cities: a highly profitable way to spread their wines all over Europe at the time. Englishmen in the XVIIIth century felt in love with Marsala and began to import and popularize it. Through new regulations, Sicilian winemakers resorted to higher yields in the XXth century, leading to a decline of the general quality of the wines. Thankfully the trend has been reversed with the new generations of winemakers since the 1980’s.
Sicily is blessed by bright sunshine and moderate rainfall all along the year, reducing the risks of mildew and rots. Not to mention the hot and dry winds of the Sahara desert that help to prevent various diseases. Both the Mediterranean climate and the coastal breezes allow winemakers there to grow their vines according to the organic farming principles. The last thirty years have seen a great rise in quality thanks to lower yields and better understanding of the Sicilian soil specificities.
There are dozen of DOC (Denominación de Origen Controlada) in Sicilia, more than 50 native grapes, and plenty of international cultivars. Most common grapes are Nero d’Avola, Catarratto, Muscat of Alexandria, Grecanico, Alicante, Perricone, Nocera, Frappato, Nerello Mascalese, and Nerello Cappuccio.
Most Sicilian wines are dry, well structured, and can range from quite simple to stunning quality. Red wines are slightly coloured, yet very powerful and charming on the palate. Still, most Sicilian native grapes are not widely known today. Three bottles in four are made by cooperatives, and the whole vineyard amounts to 250 000 acres. Cerasuolo di Vittoria is the only one DOCG of the island. The vines are planted on high and rolling hills with poor soils: the Island was tailor made to produce wine.
With a rich mosaic of terroirs, quality driven winemaking techniques combined with ancestral traditions, Sicilian wines are today exported across the world. The path towards quality and fine wine producing has clearly been engaged. For the moment, prices have not skyrocketed, so it’s still time to enjoy really great wines from there at very reasonable prices.
Information supplied by Jean-Baptiste Martin