Sicily is one of the largest and most productive wine regions in Italy, with over 100,000 hectares under vine.
The island with its classic Mediterranean climate has a long history of viticulture and a long-standing reputation as a food and wine paradise. Its most famous wine in antiquity was the deeply coloured Mamertino, a favourite of Emperor Julius Caesar, thought to have been produced from the Nocera variety from the north-eastern part of the island.
Sicily has a wealth of indigenous grapes to discover, ensuring wine tours in Sicily will offer something new to even the most seasoned of wine tourists. Along with its signature red grape, Nero D’Avola, also known locally as Calabrese, this sun-drenched island is also home to white varieties such as Catarratto, Carricante, Grillo, Inzolia, Grecanico, Malvasia di Lipari and various Moscatos. Sicily also has its fair share of reds including Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Frappato and Perricone. Naturally, international varieties have also achieved success here, with Syrah finding the hot climate especially to its liking.
As the Mediterranean’s largest island with a history as the crossroads of trade and commerce, its appealing mix of civilisations and wide range of terroirs, it offers an unforgettable experience for those seeking unique wine tours. Sicily has 20 appellations, known as Denominazione di Origine Controllata (e Garantita) – DOC or DOCG – and one which covers the whole of the island, Sicilia DOC. Wines sold under these appellations are strictly controlled for quality.
Some of Italy’s highest vineyards can be found on the fertile slopes of Etna, a still active volcano, where Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio give rise to Etna Rosso, whereas Carricante and Catarratto form the backbone of Etna Bianco. Near to Etna you can also take in breath-taking coastlines and visit the ruins of the Roman theatre in Taormina with spectacular views over the crystal-clear sea.
The south of the island gives you the opportunity to explore ancient Greek temples near Agrigento, visit the historic port of Siracusa and wander the streets of the well-preserved Baroque towns of Noto and Ragusa before savouring some Nero D’Avola or Cerasuolo di Vittoria reds. Cerasuolo di Vittoria is Sicily’s only DOCG and is made from a blend of Nero D’Avola and Frappato, a light, refreshing raspberry-scented variety. Siracusa and Noto are also famed for their sweet Moscatos. Indeed prior to the red wine revolution of the nineties, Sicily was more famed for its luscious sweet wines.
Marsala is historically the most important wine in Sicily. Wine tours to the west of the island will give wine lovers the opportunity to sample this unique fortified wine, created by Englishman John Woodhouse in the eighteenth century for export to the British market. The dusty port of Marsala conjures up images of the Arabic world, which Sicily was once part of.
Wine tours in Sicily may also take in the spectacular black island landscapes of Pantelleria, located just 52 miles from Tunisia, where visitors can sip the unctuous Passito di Pantelleria made from the Zibibbo grape, the local name for Moscato di Alessandria. This name may come from Zabib, which means raisins in Arabic, reflecting the fact that the grapes are dried in the sun to produce this wine. The traditional head-training of the vines practised on the scorched island are listed as UNESCO world heritage.
An unmissable stop on any wine tour in Sicily is the still-grumbling volcanic Aeolian Island archipelago which can be reached by hydrofoil from Milazzo. Here you can sample the fragrant sweet Malvasia delle Lipari with its scents of freshly picked apricots, produced mainly on the island of Lipari and nearby Salina.