The Surprising Scope of Sicilian Wines

By Julia Jenkins, 19th February 2022

Oenologically speaking Sicily has a long tradition and history though not always as a producer of quality wines. Despite its ideal climate, soils for vines Sicily have had a reputation for large scale production of bulk wines that are dull and lacking style and quality with little or no investment in the vineyards that cover vast swathes of this island or in the wineries. As a result, the wines have been dull, oxidised and poor making up a considerable proportion of Italy’s basic wine production.

It was easy to see that investment was essential for Sicilian wines to compete for worldwide trade and the Settesoli cooperative that was established by farmers in the late 1950’s to give them a collective opportunity to overcome the problem of poor quality wines. This is now an extremely successful cooperative with 2300 growers owning 5% of Sicily’s vineyard area. Companies like Settesoli invested in better vineyard management, planted better quality vines and built modern wineries using technology to improve quality. They initially developed the wines from their native vines such as Nero d’Avola and Catarratto, later in the 1980’s introducing international varieties such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon sold under the Mandarossa label in the UK.

Today, the reputation of Sicilian wines is enhanced by companies like Feudo Maccari which is in Noto on Sicily’s south-eastern tip near the town of Avola. It is owned by Antonio Moretti Cuseri and his daughter Monica who bought it in 2000 and they make wines form native grape varieties such as Grillo- this makes wine with fresh floral aromas and crisp, citrus flavours flavours. Their Nero d’Avola is full of ripe cherry and damson fruit notes with spicy character.

Companies like Baglio Gibellina are creating styles like the richly fruity U. Passimiento from a blend of Frappato and Nero d’Avola that capture the fresh vibrant flavours of the Frappato blended with the natural sweetness from late harvest Nero d’Avola grapes. The wines of Etna in Eastern Sicily are gaining a reputation for quality especially of red wines because of investment in the vineyards and wineries.

Sicilian producers Pellegrino also has a reputation for making amazing, luscious passito dessert wines such as the Passito Pantelleria Liquoroso which has an intense aroma with scents of apricots, honey and dried figs with a honeyed palate plus dried figs and light hints of apricots and sweet fruit pickles. It is made from Zibibbo grapes, and these wines are widely regarded as Italy’s finest sweet wines produced on the tiny, volcanic island of Pantelleria which lies 100km southwest of Sicily.

A round-up of Sicilian wines today would be incomplete without mention of Marsala, a fortified wine, is a Sicilian product that was renowned for its quality two centuries ago and the production of which has been revitalised since the 1980’s. In the UK it has long been a cooking wine though until the mid-twentieth century was favoured as much as port and sherry by consumers. However, with the growth in popularity of worldwide table wines Marsala sales fell in tandem with those of port and sherry. Marsala is produced in the west of Sicily using Grillo and Catarratto grapes and aged before its release onto the market to gain depth and complexity.

Sicily is an island full of wine surprises that are well worth trying.








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