Discover the wines of Sicily

Sicilian wines.

Sicilian wines. - Credit: Archant

Oenologically speaking Sicily has a long tradition and history though not always as a producer of quality wines. Greek, Roman, Norman, Spanish and German influences have left their mark on this island which is perceived as a separate country with its own language and culture together with its not so appealing links to the Mafia.

Despite its ideal climate and soils for vines, Sicily has had a reputation for large scale production of bulk wines that are dull and lacking style and quality, with little or no investment in either the vineyards that cover vast swathes of this island or in the wineries. As a result, the wines have been dull, oxidised and poor making up a large proportion of Italy’s basic wine production.

It was easy to see that investment was essential for Sicilian wines to compete for worldwide trade and the Settesoli cooperative that was established by farmers in the late 1950s to give them a collective opportunity to overcome the problem of poor quality wines. This is now an extremely successful cooperative with 2,300 growers owning 5 per cent of Sicily’s vineyard area. Companies like Settesoli invested in better vineyard management, planted better quality vines and built modern wineries using technology to improve quality. They initially developed the wines from their native vines such as Nero d’Avola and Catarratto, and then later in the 1980s introducing international varieties such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon sold under the Mandarossa label in the UK.

Today, the reputation of Sicilian wines is being enhanced by companies like Feudo Maccari (pictured) which is in Noto on Sicily’s south-eastern tip near the town of Avola.

It is owned by Antonio Moretti Cuseri and his daughter Monica who bought it in 2000 and they make wines from native grape varieties such as Grillo - this makes wine with fresh floral aromas and crisp, citrus flavours. Their Nero d’Avola is full of ripe cherry and damson fruit notes with spicy character.

Tasca d’Almerita is another innovative company producing delicious contemporary wines from native and international varieties. A lovely example of which is the Regaleali which is a blend of native grapes including Inzolia, Cataratto and Grecanico – a delicious light refreshing dry white wine.

Companies like Baglio Gibellina are creating styles like the richly fruity U. Passimiento from a blend of Frappato and Nero d’Avola that capture the fresh vibrant flavours of the Frappato blended with the natural sweetness from late harvest Nero d’Avola grapes. The wines of Etna in Eastern Sicily are gaining a reputation for quality especially of red wines as a result of investment in the vineyards and wineries.

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A round-up of Sicilian wines today would be incomplete without mention of Marsala, a fortified wine, is a Sicilian product that was renowned for its quality two centuries ago and the production of which has been revitalised since the 1980s. In the UK it has long been a cooking wine though until the mid-20th century was favoured as much as port and sherry by consumers. However, with the growth in popularity of worldwide table wines Marsala sales fell in tandem with those of port and sherry. Marsala is produced in the west of Sicily using Grillo and Catarratto grapes and aged before its release onto the market to gain depth and complexity.

The summer sun and lovely landscapes have always attracted tourists, now there are wine tourists too and for good reason.