Image by AJ Baxter via Flickr
By James Iozia
Sicilian wine is regarded as one of the best wines in the world. With the ideal growing conditions present in Sicily, namely the warm temperatures, the hilly terrain and the rich soil caressed by sea breezes, it is not surprising that Sicilian wine has been an integral part of the Sicilian diet for centuries-and that it is gaining in popularity world-wide today. Originally, Sicilian wine was really only identified with Marsala, which is a sweet wine often used for cooking or served with dessert. Recently however, even top wine experts from America are taking note of the good, world-class wines being offered in Sicily.
Marsala is definitely Sicily's most famous wine. It is a fortified wine with an alcohol content of about 20%, usually made from a blend of several native grapes such as Grillo, Catarrantto, or Inzolia grapes. It is generally classed as a dessert and aperitif wine, and as being almost an equal of Sherry, Madeira and Port. There are three different standards of Marsala, oro (golden), ambra (amber) and rubina (ruby), and there are both sweet and dry types. There are also several categories of Marsala, such as 'Fine' (aged for a minimum of one year), 'Superiore' (aged for a minimum of 2-3 years), 'Superiore Riserva' (aged in wood for 4-6 years, as well as other categories. Larger vintners have always dominated the Marsala wine trade, but smaller firms have recently entered into the Marsala wine making trade.
Sicilian wine is usually defined by its denomination of origin ('designation of origin' or D.O. or D.O.C.) This encompasses the region and locality of where the wine was made. Of course, Marsala is included in this group, but there are a number of other Sicilian wines that are identified in this way. Sicilian vintners offer a range of other vintage D.O. wines, such as Alcamo (made from Catarrato and other grapes), Cerasuolo di Vittoria (made of Grosso Nero and Nerello Mascalese grapes) or even Etna white wines (made from Carricante , Catarrato, Trebbiano or Minnella grapes. Etna red wines and rosés produced around the legendary active Etna volcano are made from Nerello grapes. And, Faro (which means 'lighthouse') is a typical wine from the area of Messina.
In recent years a number of 'new' wines have emerged from small wineries about the island. Although many of these smaller wineries have produced wine for centuries, it is only now that they are being presented to the more sophisticated consumer markets and are being toted as some of Sicily's best wines.
A few of Sicily's wines that are gaining in popularity in the American market are Nero d'Avola (also called Calabrese), which has a pleasant ripe fruit flavor with earthy-after tones, or Duca Enrico, the flagship wine of Duca di Salaparuta, which is a notable, historic winery founded in 1824 by prince Giuseppe Alliata. Another Sicilian red wine that has gained recent acclaim is Nerello Mascalese (or Nero Mascalese), which presents a sweet-dry, currant-like flavor. This wine is dubbed as being an excellent compliment to pasta in red sauce or served with roasted meats or tuna.
The house wines of Sicily are usually thought of as wines being made by a restaurant or an individual from local grapes, with views of strong home-made vinegar-like wine. This, however, is not really the case. Some of Sicily's best house wines are excellent, but because there are made in small quantities, these wines don't usually make their way into the international marketplace. A tourist to Sicily should definitely explore these gems.
Although Sicilian wine is often thought of as strictly being Marsala or one of the other dessert wines (which account for about 90% of the total D.O.C. production), the several good red and white wines now being produced should not be overlooked. And, if you happen to be traveling to Sicily around November 11th, it may be a great adventure to attend the local Festa del Vino or "Festival of Wine" to sample the great selection of new Sicilian wine.
I have loved Sicily for as far back as I can remember and I return to this island paradise every chance I get. My grandparents came to America from this beautiful land in the early 1900's, bringing with them all the tradition and passion that is Sicily. From the beautiful beaches and Roman architecture, to the heavenly food and romantic charm, I hope you will come to love Sicily as much as I do! Stop by for a visit at http://www.beauty-and-romance-of-sicily.com
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