Sicily, an island, its volcano, its wines

Over the weekend, by coincidence, happy coincidence, I ended up drinking a couple wines from Sicily. Since I already wrote about another Sicilian wine last month, I thought it would be time for a little presentation of the island before I give my tasting notes for the wines. Also, I have actually been to Sicily, and for once, I can actually illustrate the article with pictures I took, not what’s available on Commons…

A square in Syracuse

A square in Syracuse

Sicily is an island in the Mediterranean, it’s actually the largest island in the Mediterranean, it belongs to Italy now but it’s probably one of the regions of Europe that passed hands the most in history. There are Latin, Arabic, Greek, Viking, French, Spanish and Germanic influences in the arts, the culture, the architecture and of course the cuisine of Sicily. I guess everyone wanted to control an extremely fertile centrally located island along the busiest trade routes in the Mediterranean. People are weird.

The main feature of Sicily is the Etna, one of the largest active volcanos in the word, with the particularity of always being in eruption. There are constant clouds of smoke over the main crater; it’s a little unnerving when you hike it. Because you can hike it, in fact I did hike it. The Etna is relevant for wine because volcanic slopes can be quite fertile and lots of vines are planted on its volcanic soils, there is actually a regional appellation (DOG) for wines made from these grapes. The DOG is called Etna (simple yet efficient) and produces white, red and rose wines.

Volcanic rock on the Etna slopes

Volcanic rock on the Etna slopes

Sicily has 7 other DOGs and only one DOCG (higher level geographic appellation). It’s Cerasuolo di Vittoria whose wines have to be a blend of two Sicilian varieties, Nero d’Avola and Frappato. A lot of varieties are used all over the island, Nero d’Avola is the most common variety but other Sicilian, Italian or even French varieties are also used. There is however a recent trend to focus on the more Sicilian grapes.

The Etna erupting

The Etna erupting

For a long time Sicily was mainly known for its fortified and sweet wines like Marsala, Moscato or Malvasia, but along with the return to native grapes that I mentioned earlier, there is more and more interest in developing dry wine production, moving away from the bulk wine production and focusing on higher quality products.

That was Sicily in a nutshell, I’ll go into more details when I do the tasting notes but I encourage you to do two things: visit if you have the chance, it’s an incredibly beautiful and varied place with great food. If you cannot visit, read The Leopard (Il Gattopardo) by Tomasi di Lampedusa, it’s one of the best novels I ever read and it takes place in Sicily. In fact, a Sicilian winery took its name from the novel, Donnafugata, and named its wines after the characters in the novel (or other literary characters).

Donnafugata wine lineup

Donnafugata wine lineup

Anyway, that was my teaser for this week, stay tuned for the reviews and read the Leopard, or watch the 1964 movie with Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale, but get on it, I’m serious.


3 thoughts on “Sicily, an island, its volcano, its wines

  1. Pingback: A black rock in a bottle, SP68 Sicilia Rosso | Wine Ramblings

  2. Interesting post, Antoine, and very true that nowadays one can find some excellent Sicilian wines. Some of my favorite producers are in fact Sicilian wineries (Planeta and Donnafugata being two good examples)!
    Only a couple of things to bear in mind regarding the Italian wine appellation system: the three levels from bottom to top are IGT, DOC and DOCG. Sicily has 23 DOCs and only one DOCG. While every appellation is linked to a specific territory (which is generally larger for an IGT and much smaller for a DOCG), the main distinction among them lies in the requirements of the relevant regulations. These are fairly loose for IGTs, which allow winemakers a fair extent of flexibility in their choices of varieties and winemaking styles, stricter for DOC’s and very strict for DOCGs, which generally only permit the use of a limited number of grape varieties and require the use of specific winemaking processes as well as maximum yields and minimum aging periods.
    Looking forward to your reviews!

    • Thanks Stefano, all very good points and a great comment.

      As a rule, the Old World wine regions are more heavily regulated in terms of requirements for using specific appellations names. In Sicily for instance, to use the Cerasuolo DOCG you need to have between 50% to 70% Nero d’Avola and 30% to 50% Frappato. You also need to grow your grapes within the delimited territory and the yields are limited too.

      The two wines I tasted however are both IGT, which makes sense since their owners and winemakers have a “maverick’ approach to wine were they want to experiment and do things their own way.

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