Think of Sicilian wine and you’ll probably think of its full-bodied reds, notably Nero d’Avola. However, this sun-baked Mediterranean island surprisingly hides a host of crisp dry white wines and plenty of sweet white wines for you to discover.
Dry Sicilian white wine comes in many shapes and forms, produced both from local and international varieties. Sicily is home to Catarrato, Grillo, Insolia (aka Ansonica in Tuscany), Carricante and the rare Minella variety. Plenty of international varieties, such as Chardonnay, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc, are also planted and may be used in blends or produced as varietal wines.
Catarratto is the island’s most widely planted white variety and has two different phenotypes, Catarratto Bianco Lucido and Catarratto Bianco Comune, which may be differentiated by the white bloom on their grapes; the Lucido phenotype has less and thus the grapes are more glossy, or lucido, hence its name. Overproduction of this variety in recent years made it a key contributor to the country’s wine lake; however, it can produce attractive full-bodied wines with lemon notes. In Etna DOC it is blended with Carricante and Minella Bianca. Minella Bianca is a rare white Sicilian grape, indigenous to and cultivated on the slopes of Mount Etna. Its name means ‘breast’ in the local dialect, thus gaining its name from the shape of its grapes.
Carricante is the most typical and widespread white Etna grape and is known for its high acidity. It offers a broad range of refreshing citrus aromas and herbal notes, such as mint. The best examples display an underlying slatey, mineral character. Weightier versions may have honeyed notes and a creamy character from lees contact. Carricante is a perfect match for grilled fish with lemon.
Grillo is the variety most famous for its contribution to Sicily’s famous fortified wine, Marsala. With the wane of interest in fortified wine, Grillo is now often vinified as a dry varietal wine or in a blend. As a varietal, Grillo makes a fresh, light, fruit-driven nutty wine with flavours of apple and lemon. Sicily’s hot dry climate is well-suited to Grillo and the ease with which it generates sugar and oxidises made it ideal for the production of Marsala, but it was ousted in favour of the higher yielding Catarratto. Quality of Grillo wines have also improved greatly with the introduction of more modern viticultural and wine-making techniques and Grillo is now also in the running for the title of quintessential dry, Italian white wine. Light, easy-drinking and good value for money, it can now compete with the northern Pinot Grigio, Gavi and Soave in this regard.
The other key Sicilan white wine grape is Insolia, often also spelled as Inzolia. Again, most traditionally used as an ingredient in Marsala wines, it is now also increasingly turned into a crisp, white nutty, citrussy white with herbal notes. Like Catarratto, it is found across Sicily, particulary in Agrigento and Palermo, and is used in many of the island’s DOC blends. Its nutty flavours make it a great pair for clams or any other seafood or perhaps a northern-style risotto.
When speaking of Sicilian white wine, its sweet Passito and Moscato wines should most definitely not be forgotten. Ranging from the lighter Moscato di Noto or Moscato di Siracusa, with their attractive aromatic profiles, through the luscious Malvasia delle Lipari with its honey and apricot aromas to the pinnacle of all Sicilian stickies, Passito di Pantelleria, produced from raisined grapes. Historically of great renown, these sweet wines are still a fabulous match for the many Sicilian sweet treats, such as Cannoli, Cassata or with some delicious frozen goodies, like gelato or granita.
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