The island of Sicily, is the largest in the Mediterranean and is home to the most active volcano in the world, Mount Etna. This island was subject to numerous conquests and has seen the rise and fall of several empires.
With the long list of intruders and settlers habituating in this strategically located island, there developed an interesting culture, delicious cuisine as well as a unique wine-making tradition. Sicilian food is full of big flavours and bright colours. The wines of Sicily are equally robust and pompous in their flavor notes which effectively match up to the regional cuisine.
The region of Sicily is known widely for its sweet and fortified wines. One of the sweet wines of Sicily, Moscato di Pantelleria is made from the Muscat of Alexandria or locally known as Zibibo grape variety. This Sicilian dessert wine is fresh and aromatic with a bold sweetness that pairs incredibly well with Italian cheeses and baked pastries. This sweet Sicilian wine unlike many of its counterparts does not undergo the ‘passito’ method which involves drying the grapes to concentrate the sugars before crushing and fermenting them. The grapes used in making the Moscato di Pantelleria must effectively come from the highly protected D.O.C of Pantelleria. A deeper gold variety of this same wine is the Passito di Pantelleria, which as the name suggests, does undergo the drying process prior to being converted into the devilishly aromatic and heavy bodied Sicilian dessert wine.
Another dessert wine Sicily has to offer is the Malvasia di Lipari DOC wine. This protected wine is a sweet Sicilian wine made by the ‘dolce naturale’ or passito or the drying method. The ripe grapes after the harvest are laid out on bamboo mats in the sun for 10 days ensuring an optimal concentration of the grape-sugars. The wine hence produced must have a high level of alcohol, about 18%. A liquor is also produced in a similar manner which undergoes a few extra months of ageing. This liqouroso is a sweet liquor with an alcohol percentage on 20.
To add to the delicious list of sweet Sicilian wines, we have the widely known fortified wine of Sicily, Marsala. Much like its Portuguese and Spanish counterparts namely Port wine and Sherry, Marsala is made by arresting the fermentation of the grape must by addition of a liquor. This ensures a high level of residual sugar as well as an increased level of alcohol in the wine. This fortified wine from Sicily also undergoes a similar ageing process which evokes a host of signature flavor notes in the wine.
The ageing process, perpetuum, was discovered much like the solera system of Sherry and estufa of Madeira, as a result of the long ship voyages that the wines were subjected to during the early stages of world- exploration. This resulted in a Sicilian fortified wine with complex aromas and flavours which would also keep for a long time.
Marsala is made using native grape varietals like Grillo, Inzolia, Catarratto and Damaschino. It usually has around 15-20 % of alcohol and can be classified based on the level of sugar, the colour or the duration of ageing.
The sweetness of the fortified wine Sicily proudly produces, can range from 40gms to more than 100 gms per litre. The colours of the Marsala wine show an array of shades of gold, amber and ruby. The ageing of the Marsala wines contributes heavily to the flavor and quality of the wine. With the youngest wine or Fine aged for one year, the oldest or Vergine e/o Soleras Riserva can be aged for more than 10 years.
The list of Sicilian sweet wine shows incredible promise to everyone with a sweet tooth and a penchant for trying delicious produce from this historic and celebrated Mediterranean island. From light and fresh dessert wines to heavy and complex fortified wines, a tasting of any of the sweet wines of Sicily will leave you wanting to live the dolce vita!
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