Sicily has something for everyone. Whether you want to relax on a sandy beach, discover ancient ruins, scale the slopes of an active volcano or indulge in some food and wine tasting, Sicily and its mosaic of flavours and culture is sure to please.
The landscape with its mountainous centre, remote endless vineyards and rolling hills provides the perfect backdrop for olive groves, carob trees, prickly pears, wheat fields, citrus trees and pistachios, which furnish the plentiful produce gracing any table in Sicily. Wine tasting is of course a wonderful accompaniment to Sicilian cuisine, one of the most richly diverse in Italy.
Sicily offers a rich palette of wines from refreshing, crisp white wines produced from Grillo, perfect with an aperitif or to accompany seafood, grilled swordfish with capers or the traditional vegetable stew, caponata. Bright and fresh on the palate, with aromas of cut grass and grapefruit and attractive zip of acidity, it is sometimes compared to Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc.
At the other end of the scale, Sicily was and is renowned for its sweet wines. Malvasia di Lipari is the basis of the wonderful apricot-scented Malvasia delle Lipari from grapes dried on the vine or on mats in the sun on the stunning Aeolian Islands. Moscato Passito di Pantelleria, produced from the Zibbibo grape on Pantelleria, closer to the African coast than to Sicily, delivers unctuous flavours of ripe yellow fruit and sunflowers, dried figs and honey, with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a citrussy finish. Dry and spumante (sparkling) versions are also produced.
Marsala was for long Sicily’s most well-known wine export. A fortified wine produced in a kind of solera system, it can be made in a confusingly large range of styles, which are categorised based on colour – Oro, Ambro and Rubino, sugar content – Secco, Semisecco and Dolce, and by its ageing – a whole gamut of possibilities here. It may be nutty and dry or caramel sweet, with an indescribably long list of flavours. It simply has to be experienced.
Wine tasting in Sicily presents a bewildering range of varieties for even experienced wine enthusiasts. However, most people will be familiar with the island’s most versatile, adaptable and widely planted grape, Nero D’Avola, associated with strawberry, sour cherry and red flowers, it can also deliver more structured wines with sweet spice, liquorice and cocoa, enveloped in smooth, velvety tannins. A new generation of winemakers are winning accolades for their elegant, iconic wines, combining balance and freshness with a capacity to evolve over time. Indeed, it is said to be particularly expressive of its terroir, with microclimates giving different aromatic properties.
Let’s look at some of the other less familiar varieties or blends you may encounter when wine tasting in Sicily.
Catarratto is the mostly planted of Sicilian whites and can present a delicate bouquet of white flowers, citrus, melon and herbs. Perfect with seafood and vegetable dishes.
Insolia, or Ansonica as it’s known in Tuscany, is elegant and floral with hints of herbs and soft acidity. Savour it with some freshly caught seafood.
Etna Bianco is created from Carricante and Catarratto, a straw yellow wine with intense pear, ripe apple and citrus fruits. It may have some hints of sage, but always a persistent mineral, grapefruit finish.
Etna Rosso, its pair, is a blend of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio and delivers red fruit with floral hints and pronounced spice.
Cerasuolo di Vittoria is a combination of Nero D’Avola and Frappato. A bright cherry red wine with wild strawberry flavours, marjoram and a mineral finish. More Frappato gives it a lighter body and more perfume, whereas Nero D’Avola delivers more tannin.
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