Sicilian Wines. Wine making is about wine, naturally. http://www.SensationalSicily.com But it's also about the vines and the land. And, of course, the people who produce it. The human element is often overlooked when "experts" talk about vintages, grapes and all the elements that distinguish a fine wine. Sicilians have been producing great wines for about three thousand years. That's almost a thousand years before the Romans introduced wine to their northern dominions, places now known as France, Germany, Britain and Romania.
Sicilian wine is Marsala, a delicious dessert wine also used in cooking. It's Malvasia, Passito and Moscato, three heavenly dessert wines becoming increasingly popular around the world. It's Grecanico and Insolia, white varietals often blended with Chardonnay to produce a unique flavour, at once "fruity" and exotic. It's Nero d'Avola, a uniquely Sicilian red distinguished for its enchanting bouquet, a wine that will make you fall in love with hearty reds even if you've sworn your loyalty to whites.
Have a lok at http://www.sensationalsicily.com to experience the real Sicily.
Most of all, Sicilian wine is Sicily itself. It's part of Italy today, and Sicily was the Roman Empire's first province, an island anything but provincial. This unique island, the Mediterranean's largest, is about half the size of Ireland, or about the size of the American state of Vermont, but the hills and mountains bestow upon it a surface area larger than what can be described. Beyond the mountains there are more mountains.
From the earliest of times, Sicily was the crossroads of European, north African and western Asian civilization, and each continent has left its mark here. Phoenician monuments, Greek temples, Byzantine churches, Norman-Arab castles and Baroque palaces are just a few of the things you'll find in Sicily. The polyglot culinary influences of this varied heritage make Sicily, perhaps the world's most conquered island, an experience that will leave a lifelong impression on you. It's part of the Sicilian wine experience.
And yes, it's an impression reflected in Sicily's wines, which are almost like tasting Sicily without ever actually visiting. This is not just a colorful phrase. Every wine is a reflection of its environment, and Sicily's wines are part of a cuisine shaped by a dozen civilizations. We don't wish to suggest that Sicilian wines should only be consumed with Sicilian dishes. Quite to the contrary. Many of Sicily's best table wines are a perfect complement to non-Italian cuisines, while the dessert wines, brandies and regional liqueurs (made from lemons, oranges, strawberries and all the flavors of Sicily) are fantastic --traditional yet mildly eccentric.
Sicilian wines are great with almost any cuisine. The ways wine is served are not as rigid as they were in the past. It's no longer considered inappropriate to serve white wine with red meats, or red wines with chicken or fish. This is a question of culinary evolution, perhaps, but also a recognition that some white wines are stronger than certain reds. That's not usually the case among Sicilian wines. Generally speaking, the dessert wines (Malvasia, Marsala, etc.) are best for sipping with aged (hard) cheeses, cakes, ice creams or even cookies. The typical Sicilian reds, such as Nero d'Avola, are table wines generally better suited to stronger dishes. But, as we've said, this is an increasingly individual, subjective matter. A strong red can also serve as a complement to lighter dishes, as a way to highlight the flavor of the wine. As we've mentioned, the most popular white table wines produced in Sicily are blends of local varieties with "international" ones, and these seem well-suited to the widest variety of dishes. Some of the traditional Sicilian white varietals (Grecanico, etc.) should not be overlooked, either. Even the "updated" cuisine presented in many of the world's better "ethnic" restaurants is remarkably robust compared to the bland flavors of a few years ago, and a new culinary freedom seems to have emerged. However you enjoy them, you'll find that Sicily's wines bring something different to your meal, your home, your life.
Sicily's wine history parallels that of other Mediterranean regions. It's generally agreed that viticulture and wine making, like so many other developments, gradually spread from East to West in ancient times. Around 800 BC (BCE), when the Phoenicians and Greeks began to settle on the island, amalgamating with the "native" Elymians, Sicans and Sicels, viticulture and winemaking began to develop to a sophisticated stage, with fermentation of native and "imported" grape varieties reaching a standard previously unknown. Classical Greek and Roman authors frequently mentioned the quality of Sicilian wines.
As a fertile and strategic island, Sicily was much sought after by colonizing and conquering powers throughout antiquity and the Middle Ages. Most of the civilizations that ruled Sicily until the "modern" era (which could be said to have began around 1500) brought with them particular contributions to agriculture and cuisine. This partly accounts for the wide variety of grapes historically cultivated on our island. Grecanico was introduced by the Byzantine Greeks, Zibibbo by the Saracen Arabs and, later, "Primitivo" (known in the Americas as "Zinfandel") by Albanian refugees from the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans.
Though Sicily's sunny, mild climate, which today is somewhat dry compared to what it was even a century ago, has always been well suited to viticulture, there is little evidence to suggest that our wines were a profitable export product before the 1700s.
In 1773, a unique oenological development put Sicily on the international wine map. The ruling classes of the British Empire had long had an interest in Sicily for its cultural heritage (as part of Magna Graecia), but more importantly for its strategic importance and, most of all, its sulphur production. It was sulphur, after all, that fueled the Industrial Revolution. Relations with the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily were cordial, and commercial ties well rooted in economic reality. Seeking new sources of fortified wine that traveled well (similar to Port and Sherry), John Woodhouse established a winery at the coastal city of Marsala, producing a wine made from local grapes. Benjamin Ingham founded a competing firm in 1812, followed by Vincenzo Florio, a Calabrian, in 1832. The Whitaker family also entered the field. Often aged (reserve), Marsala is made in the same general categories as the heavier Port (ruby, amber, dry, sweet, etc.) and is popular as a dessert wine and also for cooking.
Made from grapes of the muscatel group, including Sicily's Zibibbo (a variety of Muscat of Alexandria), Marsala, Malvasia and Moscato are fortified dessert wines, distinguished from most table wines for being sweeter and for having a relatively high alcohol content --usually over fifteen percent. Marsala is made using a process quite similar to that used in the production of Port, Sherry and Madeira, with the addition of grape juice cooked down to reduce its original volume by about sixty-five percent.
With the new industry, Sicilian oeniculture advanced by leaps and bounds as local families started raising vines instead of grain. Interestingly, many of these agricultural families came from outside the feudal economy controlled by the nobility. Sicily has grappa (a brandy) and its own table wines. Marsala, and a number of regional liqueurs, formed the basis of the Sicilian export market for wines for many years. Malvasia, Moscato and Passito, varietal dessert wines different from Marsala, became popular. In the twentieth century, northern Italian wineries began to purchase Sicilian concentrate, typically higher in alcohol content, to blend with the juice of Piedmontese and Tuscan grapes. With a few prominent exceptions, such as the wineries of the late Count Giuseppe Tasca d'Almerita (Regaleali, etc.) and the Dukes of Salaparuta (Corvo), the state of Sicilian oeniculture remained static until the 1980s.
That's when, under the auspices of some entrepreneurial vintners from Sicily but also from Italy's northern Veneto region, a number of smaller vineyards were converted, or established, to produce native varietals from Zibibbo, Cataratto and Nero d'Avola, sometimes blending these with popular "international" varieties like Chardonnay. It's not that these wines did not previously exist, but a new generation of oenologists applied methods for reducing their overwhelming alcohol content to produce more "drinkable" wines. The field of fruity liqueurs also began to evolve, with products like limoncello (lemon liqueur) finding new markets.
Journalists and wine industry writers like to cite one person or another as the magical reason for Sicily's wine "renaissance." With all due respect for those authors, their idea is pure fantasy. No single individual or firm is responsible for the gradual changes that have taken place in Sicily's wine industry over the last fifteen years. Rather, it has been a general trend if not a collective effort, characterised by indivual vintners working independently. There are many fine wineries, including some smaller ones, but no single one that could be considered Sicily's best.
Sicily is a fascinating place to visit, and visitors to the island, who invariably sampled the local varietals, spread news of these wines upon returning home. Sicily's Nero d'Avola, a hearty red reminiscent of Syrah, has become popular in this way. Sicilian wines have won numerous awards over the last decade, and while wine judging is nothing if not subjective, nobody would have thought of Sicily as an important wine region a generation ago. Sicily may be thought of as the latest Italian region to benefit from Italy's general development of distinguished wines since the 1960s, and the government has supported the "new" industry by establishing controls defining certain Sicilian regional wines.
People often associate central and norrthern Italy with winemaking, but most years Sicily produces more wine than any other region of Italy, with Apulia (the "heel" of the italian boot) sometimes surpassing Sicilian production. Sicily is geographically the largest of Italy's twenty regions, and one of the most populated. (Lombardy, Milan's region, now has slightly more residents, and Veneto, near Venice, is more densely populated.)
Winemaking is, of course, a business, and financial considerations are important. Recently, several of Sicily's large, state-owned vineyards and wineries ("cooperatives" in Italy's Socialist vernacular), most notably Corvo, have been privatized. This is probably a good thing, since Italy's most successful businesses are family affairs.
Into the 1990s, even more wineries evolved from being bulk suppliers for the Marsala makers or northern vintners to striking out on their own to produce high-quality wines under their own names. This meant that they had to confront the challenge of advertising and marketing, but European Union subsidies softened the financial blow of this expense. It also meant that they had to consult, or hire, professional oenologists if they were to produce fine vintage wines instead of the economical bulk wines that Grandfather had made. In a society decidedly geriatric and male, a new way of thinking was needed. Unlike their conservative, if not reactionary, parents and grandparents, many of the "new" vintners are from a newer generation now in their 40s, if not younger. A few even speak passable English --still a rarity in Sicily. It's a welcome change and a good sign of things to come.
Indeed, the Sicilian wine renaissance is one of the hottest topics on the international wine scene in recent years.
Sicily's most important grape growing regions are still the vast western areas, the Etna area and southeastern Sicily, but today the field has a whole new face. It's the face of the future.