Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and has been a major hub for travel within the region for thousands of years. Greeks called it Trinacria because of its triangular shape, and it was also nicknamed the Island of the Sun. In addition to the Greeks, Sicily was also invaded and influenced by the Muslims, who brought their process for drying grapes into raisins, called “uva sultana” or the “Sultan’s grapes,” in their honor. In addition, the name Marsala comes from the Arab Marsah-el-Allah, or Port of Allah. Among Italy’s 20 wine-producing regions, Sicily ranks 3rd, and among its 5% DOC production, 70% are white wines. Sicily has one of the longest histories with winemaking and is believed to be the first place where the word “vino” was used.
Italy’s “Island of the Sun,” as it has been known for centuries, is a brilliantly colorful and fascinating study of striking contrasts where age-old tradition blends with modern technology and rural serenity juxtaposes contemporary classic.
Sicily, at the foot of the Italian boot, is separated from the southernmost point of the Italian peninsula by the Straits of Messina. It is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and the country’s largest region.
Its strategic position has made it an attractive mecca for foreign civilizations such as the Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Saracens, Normans, French and Spanish who used it as a stepping stone to Europe and Africa.
The ancient Romans named the island Trinacria, after its triangular shape. It was re-named Sicily after the Siculi, a people who later inhabited the island.
Sicily, as a region, includes a number of other islands and archipelagoes. Among them are the Lipari, Egadi and Pelagian groups and the islands of Ustica and Pantelleria. It is an autonomous region under a special statute.
According to modern researchers, viticulture was practiced here before the Greek colonists settled on its shore, long before the birth of Christ.
Initially, the wines were rich, sweet, heavy and high in alcohol. Today, the use of modern viticultural techniques and temperature-controlled fermentation result in delightfully fragrant, crisp whites and light, fruity reds. The wines are made primarily with native grape varieties.
Whites are produced with Inzolia, Catarratto, Damaschino, Grecanico and Verdello. Red varietals used are Perricone, Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese and such mainland varieties as Lambrusco and Barbera.
Trapani is Sicily’s most important wine producing province. The dry Bianco Alcamo, the fragrant Moscato from the island of Pantelleria and the prized Marsala are the better-known offerings. Incidentally, the town of Marsala takes its name from the Arab (Saracen) “Marsah el Allah” or Port of Allah.
Marsala’s rich, complex flavors rank it among the world’s most popular fortified wines. Marsala has been produced and appreciated since the days of the Romans. But it took two Englishmen, John and William Woodhouse, in the 18th century, to catapult it to worldwide prominence when they fortified Marsala to give competition to the enormously popular Madeira.
Marsala is perhaps Sicily’s best known wine. Made with Catarratto and/or Grillo varieties with the possible addition of Inzolia, it may be sweet, demi-sec or dry. It is marketed as Marsala Fine when aged for a minimum of one year; Marsala Superiore means a minimum of two years of aging; and Marsala Superiore Riserva requires a minimum of three years.
Then there is the highly prized Marsala Vergine or Solera, aging in oak casks for a minimum of five years according to the solera system and Vergine Stravecchio Riserva which requires a minimum of ten years aging.
Sicily is a treasure trove of other wines as well. They range from such DOC offerings as Cerasuolo di Vittoria and Etna to distinctive, popular, proprietary, non DOC wines such as Corvo, Regaleali, Segesta and rich dessert or Passito wines which include the DOC Malvasia delle Lipari and Moscato Passito di Pantelleria.
Sicilian producers disdain the DOC and consequently the regional government sets its own standards. A “q” on a wine label is the indication that the wine has met the region’s “quality” criteria.
THE DOCG of SICILY
CERASUOLO di VITTORIA
Cerasuolo di Vittoria is a lovely red produced with no less than 50-70% Nero d’Avola and 30-50% Frappato. The wine is born in and around the town of Vittoria in Ragusa.
Cerasuolo di Vittoria may not be consumed before June 1st of the year following the vintage. When all of the grapes are grown in the historic zone, the wine can be called Classico and must be aged until March 31st of the second year after the harvest. The wine is bright cherry red in color with a delicate perfume and dry, full, harmonious taste.