Sicily was also referred to in ancient times as “the island of the Sun.”
There are two key red grapes: Nero d’ Avola and Nerello Mascalese. Nero d’Avola is predominant in all Sicily, except for the northeast where Nerello Mascalese shines, particularly on Mount Etna. Two other important native red grapes are Frappato joining Nero d’Avola in the blend of Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Sicily’s first DOCG designated wine, and Nerello Cappuccio, which joins Nerello Mascalese in the Etna DOC wines. For white wines, Cataratto is the most planted grape in Sicily, followed by Grillo and Inzolia. They are used in the base blend for Marsala and are also bottled as dry white wine. The Carricante grape, which thrives in mountain vineyards, is emerging as one of Sicily’s greats and is responsible for Etna Bianco wines. It is dry, medium-bodied with intense minerality, and age-worthy. Sicilian cuisine is just as exciting as its wines. It is exotic and bears the imprint of the different peoples that have occupied the island over the centuries: Greeks, Romans, Normans, Spaniards, Arabs, French and northern Italians.
In the Sicilian dialect, Nero d’Avola means “black from Avola.” It is a very dark-skinned grape varietal that is typically high in tannins with medium acidity and a full body. This varietal can express itself in many different ways, from years of aging in oak barrels, to young and fresh wines made for immediate consumption. Since Nero d’Avola is so generous in color, it is also commonly used to produce rosé wines.
Nerello Mascalese is a dark, thick skinned grape varietal that mostly grows on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna. The characteristics are medium to small oval grapes of light blue color. The varietal is actually part of the extended Sangiovese family.
Nerello Cappuccio is a dark-skinned grape variety that takes the name “cappuccio” from the appearance of the vine having a thick crown or cap that hides the grapes from view. Nerello Cappuccio produces a soft wine with intense color, with cherry flavors on the palate that can reach high acidity levels and boisterous tannins.
Negroamaro’s name is derived from the Greek and Latin words “mavros” and “niger” both meaning black, and refers to the dark color of the berries. Wines are medium bodied, with typical aromas of black fruit, tobacco and dried berries.
Malvasia delle Lipari is a white grape variety from Sicily that offers great depth and complexity. The berry is white, with tender and thin skin, golden-yellow flesh and a sweet and aromatic flavor. Malvasia di Lipari is generally vinified after drying, making its condensed flavors ideal for dessert wines. It has a sweet and delicate scent, with notes of honey, ripe apricot and tamarind.
Grillo is another word in Sicilian for “pips,” referring to the seeds in grapes. It is an ancient white grape variety, most famous for its role in the island’s fortified Marsala wines. The berries are small, with thick skins covered with bloom. The color of their peel is a greenish yellow that takes on reddish hues in the final stage of maturation. The wines obtained from Grillo are of a pale and bright straw yellow color. The fruity and citrus scents integrate with the floral notes of wild flowers and orange blossom. On the palate the wine is fresh and well structured with a pleasant, slightly sapid and mineral finish.
Frappato is one of Sicily’s oldest grape varieties. The bunches are compact, in a pyramidal shape, with medium size round-oval berries. This variety is characterized by low acidity, low tannins and low sugar concentration, which means shorter fermentation and low alcohol levels. Frappato comes from the Latin word “fresia” which means strawberry – the main aroma that characterizes the wine and suggests its light red color.
Carricante is an ancient white grape variety indigenous to Sicily. This late-ripening white variety is commonly blended with Catarratto, but as a varietal wine, it produces a fresh, lightly fragrant wine with marked acidity. Like Chardonnay, Carricante is often subject to malolactic fermentation. The word Carricante comes from the Italian “caricare” meaning to “load up,” referring to the grape’s heavy yields and to when grapes were carried on a cart pulled by donkeys down the steep slopes of Mt. Etna.
Cataratto is a semi-aromatic white grape variety mainly planted in Sicily. Catarratto wines are generally fresh whites with a medium to full structure, mild acidity, and a moderate alcohol level. The aromatic profile tends toward citrus fruit such as lemon, flowers, and tropical fruit with a touch of fine herbs and sweet spices. It typically has excellent salinity and a mineral feeling on the finish. It is commonly blended with Carricante or Inzolia.
The island was once most famous for sweet Muscats (see Pantelleria), and later fortified Marsala. Today many of its best-known wines are dry table wines produced under the regional IGT title Terre Siciliane, or the Sicilia DOC. Blessed with consistently bright sunshine and reliably moderate rainfall, Sicily's classic Mediterranean climate is ideally suited to the production of wine grapes. The warm, dry climate means that mildews and rots are kept to a minimum, particularly in well-ventilated areas that benefit from coastal breezes. This low disease pressure means that chemical sprays are hardly needed, so much Sicilian wine is produced from organic grapes.