Sicily is one of Italy’s 20 administrative regions. It is separated from Calabria on the Italian mainland by the narrow Strait of Messina (‘Stretto di Messina’). Sicily is the biggest island in the Mediterranean, and the 45th biggest island in the world. Sicilians call their home ‘a continent’. Sicily is now a key player in Italy for organic wine production (see below).
Political geography: Capital city: Palermo. Provinces: Agrigento (AG). | Caltanissetta (CL). | Catania (CT). | Enna (EN). | Messina (ME). | Palermo (PA). | Ragusa (RG). | Siracusa (SR). | Trapani (TP).
History: Sicily has a long and distinguished history of viticulture and winemaking, since the second millennium BC, however the island was controlled for centuries by a series of teetotal conquerers, chief among which were the Arabs (1077–827BC) who brought table grape seeds (Patricia Guy: 1997).
David Gleave MW (1989, p.132) says Sicily’s various invaders have left their stamp on the island ‘over the centuries. Sicily has been occupied by numerous foreigners since the Greeks made it part of Magna Grecia in the 8th century BC. They were succeeded by the Barbarians, who in turn were supplanted by the Saracens. The Normans replaced the Saracens in the 11th century (see the Norman Kingdom of Sicily), and were followed by the forces of the Anjou and Bourbon Kings of Naples, whose reign was ended by Garibaldi in the 19th century.’
The Greek temples at Agrigento and Segesta are among the Mediterranean’s best preserved. There is also a Roman amphitheatre at Taomina.
Ole Udsen told me his ‘two main Sicilian periods of interest are the Greek and the Norman. The latter, in particular, is little-known but deeply fascinating,’ he says.
Historical records show production has always been significant; for example, during a trip “Polyclitus visiting with the troops found a cellar with 300 barrels dug into the rock and a huge barrel from which the wine was distributed in smaller barrels”. Over the years, production fell increasingly because of recurrent Arab invasions which brought an improvement in agriculture but not in grape growing. Grapes were produced only for drying and to create sweet wines according to their use and taste. Historically, Sicily’s most famous wine was Mamertino, a favorite of Julius Caesar. In the eighteenth century, John Woodhouse, a merchant who used to send dry “white wine of Marsala” to England by fortifying it with alcohol to help it keep during the voyage, started modern day Marsala wine production. The rest of Sicilian wine production did not stand out, with its wines at that time being mainly used for blending purposes.
Terroir: Sicily is 25% mountainous, 61% hilly and flat for the remainder 14% of its surface. The proximity to the sea is very important and affects the island’s climate. The landscape is characterised by many different formations. The hills to the east are mainly sandstone and clay-schistose rocks with quartz. The Madonie mountains have mainly calcareous soils. The central zone is composed of chalky clay with sulfur and the western area of clays and sandstones. The islands (Pantelleria and the Aeolian Islands) are of volcanic origin. The vineyard area is among the largest in Italy, about 107,000 hectares (about 15% more of Puglia, for example, and Puglia is a large grape producer!).
Vineyard area: 2015 Sicily was Italy’s largest wine region in 2015 with 110,000ha of vineyards or 17% of the national total of 637,000ha.
Vineyard area–organic: 2016 Sicily had a 38.6% share of Italy’s vineyard surface area under certified organic and organic in conversion management (Source: Sinab, ISTAT 2016).
Wine styles: Sicily makes many great sweet wines: Malvasia delle Lipari produced from grapes Malvasia di Lipari and Corinto Nero; Moscato di Siracusa and Moscato di Noto from Moscato Bianco grapes; Moscato di Pantelleria from Zibibbo or Moscato di Alessandria.
Sicily DOCGs: Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG.
Sicily DOCs: Alcamo DOC. | Contea di Sclafani DOC. | Contessa Entellina DOC. | Delia Nivolelli DOC. | Eloro DOC. | Erice DOC. | Etna DOC. | Faro DOC. | Malvasia delle Lipari DOC. | Mamertino di Milazzo or Mamertino DOC. | Marsala DOC. | Menfi DOC. | Monreale DOC. | Moscato di Siracusa DOC. | Noto DOC. | Moscato di Pantelleria DOC. | Pantelleria DOC. | Passito di Pantellaria DOC. | Riesi DOC. | Salaparuta DOC. | Sambuca di Sicilia DOC. | Santa Margherita di Belice DOC. | Sciacca DOC. | Sicilia DOC. | Siracusa DOC. | Vittoria DOC.
Wine grapes: Damaschino (w).
David Gleave, The Wines of Italy (Salamander Books, London, 1989).
Patricia Guy, ‘Passage of Time’, Wine Magazine, January 1997.