Sicilian Wine Region

The viniculture custom in the sun drenched Sicilian wine region goes back as far as four thousand years. Over that period, the Sicilians, named for the colonists who introduced farming there, have lifted wine grape growing to the level of the Italian Renaissance artist.

In the secluded west, nestled amongst the craggy Gibellina Mountains is their masterpiece, the Mazara Valley. Bigger than Piedmont or Tuscany, the grapes here that mature below the hot sun are frequently used to enhance the weaker wines produced in northern Italy.

The center of the region lies between Salemi and Marsala, the last mentioned giving its name to the traditional full-blooded wine originating there. As a result of warm temperatures, mountainous terrain, ocean breezes as well as rich soil, conditions combine to match the best found in California.

Gifted with such terroir, the country produces more wine annually than Australia and New Zealand combined. Merlot, Chardonnay and Sangiovese are grown, but there are also endemic varieties like Insolia and Catarratto.

A major percentage of that output is the dessert wine Marsala, which was originated by English merchant traders two centuries ago. In the past, despised for its connection with cooking wines, there are connoisseurs nowadays that prefer its complex flavors in the form of Marsala Vergine and Superiore Riserva. During some years, the Sicilian wine region supplied a full third of Italy's total output of this sweet nectar.

Nonetheless, far from one-trick wizards, the craftsmen in one of the world's oldest viniculture areas also create delightful whites made from a combination of Insolia, Damaschino and Chardonnay. Furthermore, the reds, at one time spurned as overbearing, now count amongst their number such pleasures as Nero d'Avola. Occasionally equated to Syrah, they age well and sell for as much as sixty bucks a bottle in the finest restaurants in New York and London.

Such works of art emanate from processes developed over centuries. The sophisticated winemakers might prune the vines by as much as thirty-five percent in order to concentrate the flavor, and then harvest the fruit in the dark to avoid the hot Sicilian autumn sun. The grapes are then stored in chilled vats to avoid untimely fermentation. From this is produced the high-reputation vino da taglio grape must (young wine).

Grapes run the gamut of Carricante to Chardonnay, Grillo to Malvasia. In addition to the Italian version of the Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, one can also discover the traditional Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Amongst the reds, the mainstay Cabernet Sauvignon is grown everywhere, although Gamay along with Negrello Cappuccio, from the foothills of the Etna volcano, form part of a huge assortment of vines.

However, only fifteen percent of this immense output is bottled on the island, with a mere two percent controlled under the Italian Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) designation system.

Most of the Sicilian wine region vineyards reside on the west of the island in the Trapani region, where over seventy percent of Sicily's wine is produced. Amazingly, the biggest percentage of this output is white wine not red. Amongst these is the Alcamo, enjoying a revived rise in quality.