A Guide to Sicilian Wine

Sicily is the perfect place to produce wine

It doesn’t take more than a look at the island’s arid, warm climate, hills and mountains, and young volcanic soil to understand that Sicily is the perfect place to produce wine. It’s no surprise that Sicily is Italy’s leading wine-producing region, while Italy remains the top wine producer in the world. Are you a casual wine drinker who’d like to become a connoisseur? Becoming intimately acquainted with Sicilian wine is an inevitable step on your journey. Start here.

What Makes Sicilian Wine So Special?

Nature and nurture play equally important parts in Sicily’s thriving wine industry — and it’s impossible to understand the exciting wines the island produces without learning a little about both.

Sicilians have been making wine for at least six millennia. The young, fertile volcanic soil, dry, warm climate, harsh coastal breezes, and mountainous terrain all contribute to excellent wine-making conditions.

However, this Mediterranean paradise has also caught the attention of numerous foreign invaders over the centuries. The Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Spanish, and Arabs were among the more important foreign powers that invaded and conquered Sicily in the past. Each saw the island’s potential, and many brought novel wine-making techniques with them. Some even introduced new grape varieties to the island.

The wine cooperatives of the 1960s cast a dark cloud over Sicily’s reputation as a wine-producing region. Yields spiked as many local landowners sold their vineyards to giant communes that focused on quantity over quality, and Sicily became known as a bulk wine producer creating mediocre wines.

That all changed in the 1980s when many of the winemakers still famous today (Planeta, Tachis, De Bartolli) spearheaded a revival movement. This return to quality focused on modern wine-producing techniques and the indigenous grapes that make Sicilian wines so unique.

Sicily’s denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) appellation system ensures that the region’s superb wines receive official recognition — allowing eager consumers to determine which wines stand out with ease. DOC wines aren’t just guaranteed to be excellent, you also know exactly what’s in them.

A Look at Sicily’s Most Important Grapes

Sicily’s vineyards are home to a wide range of native and foreign grapes today, but you can’t get up close and personal with Sicilian wine without sampling its famous indigenous varieties.

Nero d’Avola is Sicily’s most widely-cultivated red grape. Named for the town of Avola, this dark grape is grown all over the island — producing full-bodied red blends and varietals with complex fruity, spicy, and leathery flavors. It is included in many DOC wines.

Nerello Mascalese is a red grape primarily cultivated on the slopes of Mount Etna. These grapes and the volcanic soil that nourishes them lead to fresh, light-bodied reds with high acidity levels and surprising fruit flavors.

Frappato is a red grape that features prominently in Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG wines, where it is blended with Nero d’Avola. Thanks to novel wine-making techniques and experimental winemakers, varietal Frappato wines are making their way onto the market as well.

Catarratto is Sicily’s most important white wine grape. It produces fresh, acidic wines with lovely citrus and floral flavors and a hint of the sea that surrounds the island. Wine lovers can find excellent DOC wines that include Catarratto, including Etna Bianco DOC and Marsala DOC wines.

Carricante is a white grape grown at the higher altitudes of Mount Etna, and it’s used to produce complex aged white wines with citrus and herbal flavor profiles. Look for Etna Bianco DOC wines or check out the Planeta winery to experience the best this grape has to offer.

Grillo is famous for its place in Marsala wines, but the white grape is now often used to produce varietal wines or blended with Catarratto. Cultivated across Sicily, Grillo has floral, citrus, and herbal notes that shine in full-bodied table wines you can enjoy year-round.

Inzolia is another grape native to Sicily. The crisp white wines with nutty, fruity, and floral flavors that this white grape produces have started to attract more and more international attention in recent years. Once used mostly in Marsala wines, Inzolia is now used to make exciting varietals and blends. In addition to being included in many DOC wines, Inzolia also features in IGT wines.

What Do You Need to Know About Sicily’s Wine-Producing Regions?

Sicily has 23 DOC appellations, including the island-wide Sicilia DOC. The most important ones include:

  • Etna DOC comprises the region immediately surrounding Mount Etna. Nerello Mascalese and Carricante are its most important grapes.
  • Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG wines are extremely high in quality. Grown in Sicily’s southeast at lower elevations and closer to the sea, Nero d’Avola and Frappato are its main grapes.
  • Marsala DOC wines are grown in the southwest of Sicily. Famous for its sweet wines, the DOC produces dry and semi-dry wines as well now. Grillo is one of the most important grapes in the Marsala DOC.

These DOC wines may represent the start of your Sicilian wine-tasting journey, but they should never signal the end! Sicily’s amazing geological variety means every region offers unique wines — and tasting them all will keep you busy for a very long time!