About Sicilian wine
The island of Sicily, kicked by Italy’s toe on the map into the Mediterranean sea, has a wine culture going back thousands of years. Its warm climate and fertile soils grow grapes in abundance but, until recently, it was best known for churning out cheap bulk wine in massive quantities that was of little interest.
These days Sicily is a real player in the quality wine market, celebrating its many indigenous grapes, whose names roll off the tongue like poetry and give hints to the rich history of the island, influenced by occupants including the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and French – zibibbo, catarratto, nero d’avola, inzolia, damaschino and the rest.
In the east is the Etna region, its eponymous volcano still spitting out plumes of ash and lava from time to time, whose wines are causing most excitement right now. Its volcanic soils produce wines with a distinctive minerality, mainly from its native carricante (white) and nerello mascalese (red) grapes, the best of which are likened to fine burgundies for their elegant structure and sleek finish.
Hailing from the rocky, wild west of the island, marsala is Sicily’s most famous fortified wine, made in styles both sweet and dry. Both have their charms – the sweet styles are fantastic with cheese, and I often have a bottle of inexpensive dry marsala in my fridge which gives a nutty depth to sauces (it works magic in a gravy for roast chicken) and also makes a fine aperitif to sip while you’re cooking.
Sicily’s hot summers make great sweet wines from sun-dried grapes – look out for malvasia delle lipari, made just off the north coast on the Aeolian Islands, or moscato di pantelleria, from the island of Pantelleria which is closer to Africa than it is to Etna.
The Sicilians are a proud people who consider themselves very different from the mainland – their dialect is almost indecipherable to Italian speakers, and their food often nods more to North Africa than to that of their northern neighbours – couscous, dried fruits, nuts and spices are commonly used. Now they’re making really interesting wines with typical Sicilian exuberance and infectious love of life. Â saluti!
The best Sicilian wines to try…
Fruity, juicy and really versatile with food. The Sicilians use a lot of dried fruit in their cooking – this would be ace with 0ur chickpea, pepper and bulgar wheat salad.
Slightly under-ripe cherries warmed in the sun. Serve this lightly chilled with dishes such as our tuna with marinated tomato and olive salad.
Zibibbo is the Sicilian name for the muscat grape – floral, fragrant and great with Asian-spiced food. It would be ace with our Thai salmon parcels.
A textbook Etna rosso – fresh, crunchy and reminiscent of French pinot noir. Lovely with our spinach, mascarpone and ham hock rotolo, and other light, summery foods.
Malbec fans will love nero d’avola, the widest planted grape on the island, for its dark berry fruits and silky texture. Try it with this chargrilled courgette and smoked bacon pasta.