For the student of fine wine and food, there is no better place to learn than Italy. The Italians are extremely proud of their flawless ability to pair food and wine together.
Those who are seeking the Italian wine experience are often drawn to the likes of popular regions such as Tuscany and Piemonte. But, the more sophisticated wine connoisseurs are now turning their focus down south to Sicily. There they are finding a vast number of impressive wineries showcasing both indigenous varietals and new blends taking Italy — and the world — by storm.
Sicilians have been harvesting grapes and making wine since the 8th century BC; and today, the newly-launched Sicilia DOC — a consortium of wine producers developed to motivate people to think differently about Sicilian wine — is once again putting Sicily in the forefront of wine producing.
In the last 15 years, Sicily has been working tirelessly to revitalize indigenous grapes while crafting sophisticated red and white wines in its own backyard. Antonio Rallo, the President of Sicilia DOC and co-owner of Donnafugata Winery, heads up the initiative in an effort to create educational forums where Sicilian wines can shine. With now 73 wineries participating in the consortium, they are working together to showcase the regional indigenous grape varietals including grillo, nero d’Avola, inzolia, catarratto, frappato, grecanico, and perricone.
Not all wines in Sicily are designated by the Sicilia DOC. To receive the honor, the wine and winemaking process must guarantee specific practices respectful of the natural varieties of the wine. It all comes down to the pedo-climatic conditions under which the grapes are grown. To achieve this, the wine making process must strike the perfect balance between soil, climate and human intervention. They are strictly against the usage of any type of chemical fertilizers in the soil, according to the DOC Sicilia regulations, in order to produce the highest quality of wines.
The beauty of the Sicilian wines is how seamlessly they pair with meals. Grillo, for instance, can be compared to a pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc, — with very bright tasting notes that leaves a fresh flavor on one’s palette. As for pairing, think of warm weather dishes, including salads and raw or cooked seafood such as grilled swordfish with capers, as well as classic dishes from the region like caponata. A red wine, frappato, is also light enough to enjoy with such seafood dishes like oysters, among many others.
Next time you think Italian wines, think Sicilian. Take a look below for a list featuring Sicilian wineries and winemakers that are worth looking into.
Planeta Winery, established in 1995, has six vineyards throughout Sicily found in Menfi, Etna, Noto, Capo Milazzo, Vittoria and Sambuca Di Sicilia — totaling a staggering 363 hectares of vineyards. The family-owned and run operation often pays homage to the traditional wine varietals of the region producing the likes of frappato, nerello and nero d’Avola. In an effort to stay current with the market and a new way of producing grapes, planeta has also embraced growing new varietals such as chardonnay, merlot and syrah in traditional Sicilian soil — putting a new spin on such iconic wines. While Planeta — run today by Diego Planeta — is committed to producing the best tasting wines, it has also pledged to have an environmental impact through its initiatives of landscape conservation, renewable energy and sustainable agriculture.
Located in the southeastern part of Sicily, Valle Dell’Acate produces over 400,000 bottles per year featuring Sicilia DOC wines such as the Il Frappato, Insolia and Zagra. The family-run winery, which is now in its sixth generation, understands and appreciates the tried tradition of winemaking. It places a great deal of importance on sustainability by implementing irrigation systems that maximize efficiency by avoiding wasting water.
The Tasca family has been producing wine at the Regaleali estate that stretches over 500 hectares in the countryside of Sicily for eight generations. Today, Alberto Tasca is at the helm of the operation producing a numerous wines throughout its varied vineyard locations. At the Regaleali estate, the family produces such gems as the Riserva del Conte, Rosso del Conte, Nozze d’Oro and the Guarnaccio Perricone, among many others. While the winery plants indigenous grapes, it also produces many of the international variety such as chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. Additionally, the estate prides itself on its vegetable garden and cooking school that attracts the most sophisticated food and wine lovers from around the world.
The winery’s name and essence is a nod to traditional Sicilian culture. To translate, “Donnafugata” means “woman in flight.” Given that the name in it of itself speaks volumes, so does its wines. Co-owner of the winery, Antonio Rallo is passionate about blending his wines along with music and art. With three vineyard locations in Marsala, Contessa Entellina, and the stunning island of Pantelleria, the winemakers learn to work with the natural agricultural setting of the island in the case of Pantelleria, as well as the other locations. While they are known for a myriad of varietals, many of their white wines such as the Prio — made from the indigenous catarratto grape — and their SurSur — showcasing their grillo grapes — truly shine.
Stemmari vineyards is at the forefront of the sustainable wine movement in Sicily. Through its parent company Mezzacorona, the winery provides 150 liters of fresh water per vine, while solar panels throughout the property are used to create energy. As for the properties, Stemmari estate vines are cultivated on two locations along the south coast of the island, one in Sambuca di Sicilia in the Agrigento province and the other in Acate in the province of Ragusa. They produce a variety of wines including four single-variety wines: nero d’Avola, pinot noir, pinot grigio, and native moscato — as well as two distinctive blends: Dalila (featuring the Sicilian white varietal Grillo and Viognier) and Cantodoro (with nero d’Avola and cabernet sauvignon).
Family-run Cusumano Winery has seven estates throughout Sicily that produce the grapes for its bountiful production. The winery today is run by brothers Diego and Alberto Cusumano, whose main goal is to express the diversity of the terroir of Sicily through their wines. The vineyard is most famous for its 700 Brut (that they produce 11,000 bottles per year) as well as its sweeter varietal, the Muscato dello Zucco. The winery also has a cellar in Partinico where they allow the wines to sit and mature. The architectural style of the property dates back to the 1800s that can only be described as “contemporary craft.”