Sicily, located off the southernmost tip of Italy, is the largest island in the Mediterranean, extending nearly 175 miles from east to west. As a winemaking region, Sicily’s history dates back nearly 2500 years, to the very beginning of Mediterranean viticulture.
Today, Sicily is best known for the production of Marsala, a fortified wine. At one time, Marsala rivaled Sherry, Madeira and Port as one of the most famous fortified wines of the world. Production of Marsala first started in 1796 along the island’s western coast. Marsala is typically made from Grillo, Catarratto or Inzolia grapes
Other popular grape varietals in Sicily include Primitivo, Malvasia, Nero d’Avola and Moscato. It is also possible to find Syrah, Trebbiano and Chardonnay. Historically, Sicily has always been known for its sweet Muscats and its white wines made from Grillo and Inzolia.
Today, however, the focus has shifted to Primitivo and Nero d’Avola. Primitivo is actually nearly the same grape varietal as Zinfandel and is said to have been brought to Sicily by traders from the Balkans sometime in the 16th century. Nero d’Avola is similar to Syrah and can produce some hearty, full-bodied red wines.
In terms of climate, Sicily has nearly perfect growing conditions, which is why the region has always been one of Italy’s top-producing wine regions. Moreover, its separation from the Italian mainland has reduced the risk of disease and infections. Volcanic soils – the result of being in the proximity of Mount Etna – and year-round sunshine are particularly noteworthy. From year to year, vintages remain very consistent.
The downside, however, is that the ability to generate higher-yielding vineyards than elsewhere in Italy has meant that Sicilian wines have acquired a reputation for being low-quality and low-budget.
That seems to be changing in recent years, especially with the focus on Primitivo and Nero d’Avola. Primitivo (which means “early ripening” and not “primitive”) is especially interesting because a wine drinker who enjoys California Zinfandel now has an alternative.
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