Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean, a continuous producer of wine for over 2500 years. For years known just for sweet Marsala and Moscato wines, and high volume dry wines both red and white, richly diverse Sicily is making a name for itself with well-structured reds and whites. Private wine estates are on the rise in Sicily, although 75% of Sicily’s wine is still in the hands of co-operatives. Growers have been reducing yields and trying new vine training methods and fermentation techniques, and much investment has come to the island from central and northern Italy.
Sicily has one DOCG, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, and 23 DOCs.
The product of Sicily’s southeast, Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG has the light red color that gives the wine its Cerasuolo name, but aromatic and flavor notes are intense, with bright cherry, adding prune, chocolate, leather, and tobacco with age. The wine is 50–70% Nero d’Avola (aka Calabrese); 30–50% Frappato, and is gaining world renown as the flagship wine of the new Sicily. Eloro DOC next door, although less prestigious, produces standard reds and rosés from the same range of grapes.
Between Eloro and the city of Siracusa, the Noto DOC uses 100% Moscato to produce white, sparkling, Passito and Liquoroso wines. Red blends are 65% Nero d’Avola, and the Nero d’Avola varietal is 85%. The Siracusa DOC is similar, except that the whites add a minority of other grapes to the Moscato, and the red offerings include a varietal Syrah.
In northeastern Sicily, the Etna DOC covers the slopes of the still-active volcano that gives the DOC its name. Vineyards on the eastern side of the volcano stand as high as 4000 feet above sea level, while others grace lower slopes. The high climes guarantee a long growing and ripening season. The soil is rich and, of course, volcanic. The Rosso and rosato here is 80% Nerello Mascalese, maximum 20% Nerello Cappuccio. The Bianco: minimum 60% Carricante; maximum 40% Catarratto; maximum 15% Trebbiano, Minella Bianca and other authorized non-aromatic grapes. Spumante is made from Minimum 60% Nerello Mascalese.
The Faro DOC covers the wines of the Messsina area, in Sicily’s extreme northeast. Faro is exclusively Rosso: 45–60% Nerello Mascalese; 15–30% Nerello Cappuccio; 5–10% Nocera; maximum 15% Gaglioppo, Nero d’Avola, and/or Sangiovese.
Malvasia delle Lipari DOC covers white wine made from Malvasia Bianco (with up to 5–8% Corinto Nero) in the volcanic Aeolian Islands, off the northeastern coast of Sicily. Lipari is the largest of the eight Aeolian Islands, and sees the greatest level of plantings. The wine goes back to antiquity, but relatively little is produced today. These Malvasia wines run the gamut of sugar levels, and include Passito and Liquoroso, which both must have at least 60 grams per liter (or 6%). The Passito can be up to 15% abv, the Liquoroso has 20.0% potential.
Pantelleria DOC is located on the island of Pantelleria just 45 miles from the coast of Africa. It was formerly known as Moscato di Pantelleria DOC. The Bianco here is minimum 85% Zibibbo (Moscato di Alessandria), the sweet Zibibbo Dolce and the varietal Moscato are both 100% Zibibbo. All sparkling and dessert wines here are 100% Zibibbo. These include a sparkling Spumante, a dried grape Passito, a wine called Moscato Dorato, a Moscato Liquoroso and a Passito Liquoroso. The Moscato Dorato has a minimum sugar level of 100 grams per liter (10.0%)
Contea di Sclafani DOC from central Sicily produces just about every form of wine known to the human species. The Bianco (as well as the Spumante and the sweet dessert wines) are minimum 50% of Ansonica (called Insolia here), Catarratto, and/or Grecanico, while the Rosso and rosato are produced from Nerello Mascalese and/or Perricone. Varietal wines are produced from Ansonica, Catarratto, Chardonnay, Grecanico Dorato, Grillo, Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon Blanc for whites, and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Nerello Mascalese, Nero d’Avola (Calabrese), Perricone, Pinot Nero, Sangiovese, and Syrah among the reds. The denomination makes a late harvest Vendemmia Tardiva from grapes that must dry on the vine until at least October 1, as well as a Dolce and a Dolce Vendemmia Tardiva.
We move to Sicily’s western prong. Here the Contessa Entellina DOC produces a Bianco from Ansonica, varietal whites from Catarratto, Fiano, Chardonnay, Greciano, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, a Rosso and rosato from Nero d’Avola and Syrah, varietal reds from those two grapes and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir, and a Vendemmia Tardiva wine from Ansonica. Given that Sicilian grapes here founder in the swells not only of grapes from France, but from three prime regions of France—Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhône—it is difficult to ascribe either character or philosophy to Contessa Entellina
Sambuca di Sicilia DOC has no connection to the Italian liqueur also called Sambucca. Sambuca makes a Bianco from Ansonica, varietal whites from Ansonica, Chardonnay, and Greciano, a Rosso and rosato from Nero d’Avola, varietal reds from Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese and Syrah and a Vendemmia Tardiva wine from Ansonica blended with Grillo or Sauvignon Blanc.
Sciacca DOC offers what seems to be a typical Sicilian mix of local denizens with international colonizers. Rosso and Bianco are led by Nero d’Avola and Ansonica respectively. The rosato allows a possible mix from Ansonica, Cabernet Sauvignon, Catarratto, Chardonnay, Grecanico Dorato, Merlot, Nero d’Avola, and/or Sangiovese. Varietal possibilities are Chardonnay, Ansonica, Greciano, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Nero d’Avola and Sangiovese. No sweet or sparkling wines are made here.
Santa Margherita di Belice DOC inland from Marsala has a relatively simple structure. Bianco blends Grecanico Dorato and/or Catarratto Bianco Lucido with Ansonica. Varietal whites are Ansonica, Catarratto, and Greciano. Rosso combines Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, and Nero d’Avola. Varietal reds are authorized from Nero d’Avola and Sangiovese but not Cabernet. No rosato, sweet or sparkling wines.
Delia Nivolleli DOC is an enclave within the larger Marsala DOC. Its wine range is nevertheless wide. Varietal wines are made from Perricone, Nero d’Avola, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, Ansonica, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Damaschino and Müller-Thurgau (yes, a German variety). The Rosso is a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Nero d’Avola, Perricone, Sangiovese, and/or Syrah, the Bianco Ansonica, Greciano and Grillo. A sparkling Spumante is made from Ansonica, Chardonnay, Damaschino, Grecanico, and/or Grillo in any proportion.
Erice DOC in the northwest corner overlaps the Marsala area. Erice’s Bianco is 60% Catarratto, Sicily’s most widely planted white grape and a common Marsala component. The Rosso is led by Sicilian stalwart Nero d’Avola. The German Müller-Thurgau pops up once again among the numerous varietal possibilities.
Alcamo DOC produces varietal wines from Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah for reds and Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Grillo, Catarratto, Ansonica and Greciano, and the German Müller-Thurgau for whites. Bianco is minimum 60% Catarratto; maximum 40% Ansonica, Chardonnay, Grecanico, Grillo, Müller-Thurgau, and/or Sauvignon Blanc; Rosso is minimum 60% Nero d’Avola; maximum 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, Frappato, Merlot, Perricone, Sangiovese, and/or Syrah. Rosato is Cabernet Sauvignon, Frappato, Merlot, Nerello Mascalese, Nero d’Avola, Perricone, Sangiovese, and/or Syrah in any proportions. Alcamo has a classico zone.
Monreale DOC produces the full range of Bianco, Rosso, rosato varietal wines and Vendemmia Tardiva wines from Ansonica, Catarratto, Chardonnay, Grillo, Pinot Bianco, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Nerello Mascalese, Nero d’Avola, Perricone, Pinot Nero, Sangiovese, and Syrah.
Marsala DOC produces Sicily’s (and indeed Italy’s) most well known fortified wine. Marsala is fortified with distilled alcohol either during or after fermentation depending on style desired. There are three styles (colors) – Ambra, Oro, Rubino. Ambra and Oro are made from white grapes, a blend of Grillo, Cataratto, Inzolia (Ansonia) and Damaschino. Rubino wines are produced from Perricone, Nero d’Avola, and Nerello Mascalese.