Vineyards in Sicily: discovering characteristic volcanic landscapes and glistening saltpans

Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean, has been home to vineyards since ancient times. Sicily vineyards are still some of the most extensive in Italy, with the island one of the most prolific producers in the country.

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Sicilian wine was long famous for producing bulk red wine to bolster the more insipid wines of the north. However, this has now changed and Sicily is one region of Italy that should be on the radar of any serious Italian wine lover. Sicilian wine is becoming increasingly trendy and a tour of vineyards in Sicily is a great way to see the island and sample some of its wines.

Sicily produces a variety of wines from crisp whites from Insolia, Grillo and Catarrato through lighter red Frappato and Cerasuolo di Vittoria (a blend of Frappato and Nero d’Avola), medium-bodied Nero d’Avola and Perricone and the mineral blends found on Mount Etna. Etna wines are becoming increasingly trendy with Etna Rosso produced from Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio and Etna Bianco mainly from Carricante. Mount Etna is an active volcano with striking black sands, black terraces constructed from lava and lava flows even protruding into the vineyards themselves, making it one of the most enticing spots to visit a vineyard. Sicily boasts more volcanic landscapes, some of which are on islands lying off its coasts. The Aeolian Islands, also known as the Lipari islands after its principal island, Lipari, are home to the deliciously sweet, apricot-scented passito wine Malvasia delle Lipari. The eight-island archipelago also affords the possibility to visit Sicilian vineyards with the stunning backdrops of its volcanic islands: the highly active volcano Stromboli, which still continues to erupt constantly, with the results of its explosions generally falling back into its crater; the ancient volcano Vulcano, quiet since the end of the nineteenth century, but with constant gaseous emissions, here you can take a ‘jakuzzi’ in the sea, but be careful, the bubbles will burn you, or bathe in a stinky muddy pool; and Salina, famed for its capers.

Some of the best vineyards in Sicily lie a little further afield, on another volcanic island, Pantelleria, closer to Africa than Sicily itself. Here the Zibbibo grape, the local name for Moscato di Alessandria, produces the luscious Passito di Pantelleria. The vines cling onto the slopes in the baking, windswept landscape before being air-dried in the sun on mats to concentrate the flavours and sugars.

Taking a trip to the Sicilian vineyards in the southwest of the Island, you can taste the nutty fortified Marsala. This most famous product of the vineyards in Sicily has unfortunately fallen somewhat out of fashion of late, as have many fortified wines. Marsala wine is aged in an in perpetuum system, somewhat like the solera system in Jerez, meaning that the wines you sample may contain a proportion of wine that is decades old, or even longer. This oxidative ageing process affords the wine its golden or amber colour and nutty, dried fruit flavours. There is a range of types of Marsala depending on the ageing and the grapes used, and it may be sweet or dry. It is generally produced from white Catarrato grapes, but a red version is also produced from Perricone, Calabrese, aka Nero d’Avola, and Nerello Mascalese. It was traditionally drunk as an aperitif between the first and second courses, but the dry versions are now more likely to be found served chilled with spicy hard cheese or blue cheese and the sweeter versions at room temperature as a dessert wine.

If you are in Marsala to visit Sicily vineyards, you should also not miss visiting the characteristic landscape of the saltflats with their red-topped windmills and piles of salt glistening in the sun.

At Wine Paths, our team of local experts can help you put together the ideal tour of the vineyards in Sicily.

 

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