Italian Wine Regions - Quattrocalici
Table of Contents for the Sicily Region
The Sicily Wine Region
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Sicily and wine
Sicily is a land rich in history, art and culture, but also a region with deep and ancient wine traditions. Sicily can be enchanting for the visitor with its countless natural wonders and its perfumes, but also for the variety of the cuisine and the charm of its wines. Sicilian wines are the fortified an with a long history Marsala, but also scented dessert wines, as the Passito di Pantelleria or the Malvasia delle Lipari, not to mention the Moscato di Noto and Moscato di Siracusa, many structured red wines and interesting white wines. These and many other are the makers of the wine renaissance of Sicily and their fame involved also the grapes they are made from, such as Grillo, Catarratto, Inzolia, Zibibbo, Malvasia and Nero d’Avola.
The wine region of Sicily
The wine region of Sicily also includes, in addition to the island itself (the largest in the Mediterranean), the Aeolian Islands and Pantelleria. Other islands and minor groups of islands are not relevant in this respect. The vineyard area is among the biggest in Italy, about 107,000 hectares (about twice as the Emila-Romagna or Tuscany and about 15% more of Apulia). The Sicilian territory itself is hilly for about 60%, mountainous 25% and flat for the remaining 15%.
Viticulture in Sicily
The wine production of Sicily has been focused for many years to obtaining blending wines (high alcohol content and bulk quantities). More recently, the Sicilian oenology made impressive progress in the recent years, achieving remarkable results in the wine industry. Sicilian wines are characterized by the strong structure, due to the varieties involeved from one side, and the soil and climate from the other. Thanks to the quality improvements of wine-making and aging techniques, many wines are now having great success both on domestic and international markets. Coming to viticulture, the most diffused training methods for vines used to be sapling and trellis. Nowadays more than half of the vineyards use sespaliers.
The history of viticulture in Sicily
In Sicily wine and vineyards have always characterized the history of the island. It is believed that vines have been growing spontaneously in the island even long before the coming of the Greeks. Many varieties of vine today considered autochthonous, were introduced in Sicily by the Phoenicians. Proper viticulture was introduced in the island by the Greeks during the eighth century BC. They introduced several pruning techniques, the sapling training for vines and techinques for varietal selection, before them totally unknown in the island. During the Roman Empire the wines from Sicily were already among the most famous of the ancient world, widely exported and highly appreciated everywhere. One of the most famous Sicilian sweet wines was the Mamertino. Other wines from that period were the Potulanum, the Tauromenitanum and the Haluntium. In later times the monastic settlements played a key role in the modern development of winemaking. During the Byzantine Empire over half of the land of Sicily became the property of religious communities, for which wine was essential for the celebration of Mass. During the Arabic domination (872-1061), the production of wine in the island suffered a decline, but with the Normans (1061-1194) and later the Swabians (194-1266) Sicilian winemaking showed signs of recovery. During the Bourbon period mainly wine with high alcohol content was produced, designed for blending. In 1773 John Woodhouse a young English businessman, contributed to the birth of one of the most famous and important wines of Italy, the Marsala, intended to compete on the market for “travel “wines with the then undisputed Jerez and Porto. In 18th century the most historical and prestigious wine cellars of Sicily, the Duca di Salaparuta (1824), Florio (1836), Rallo (1860), Curatolo Arini (1875) and Carlo Pellegrino (1880) that saw the light. In 1880 Catania was the most vine-planted province of Sicily with about 92,000 hectares and about one million hectoliters of wine produced. In 1881, phylloxera decimated the Sicilian vineyards and in 1888 the breakdown of the commercial agreement with France led to a sharp drop in the export. The subsequent restoration of the vineyards was then completed only after the year 1950. The market, however, was changed and there was a drastic reduction in demand for wines for blending purposes. During the 1970s finally the new developments of Sicilian brought the first visible results. Today not only Marsala, but the whole rich local grape variety heritage are famous around the world.
The vine varieties in Sicily
The vineyards are spread throughout the whole territory of Sicily and the heritage of grapes of the island is quite interesting. Many of the island’s indigenous grapes were reassessed after a concrete risk of extinction and are now among the major grape varieties of Italy. Sicily also different international varieties of grapes are cultivated and used in assemblies with local grapes. The most famous autochthonous black grape is the Nero d’Avola, whose wines are characterized by intense and impressive structures. Among the white grapes the best known is the Zibibbo (Moscato d ‘Alessandria) used to produce the sweet wine of Pantelleria, now considered among the best in Italy. Other important native white grapes in Sicily are the Carricante, Catarratto, Grecanico, Grillo, Inzolia (also known by the names Insolia or Ansonica), Malvasia di Lipari and Moscato Bianco. Native grapes with black berry include the Frappato, the Nerello Cappuccio and Nerello Mascalese, the Perricone or Pignatello. The main international grape varieties grown in Sicily are Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Müller-Thurgau, Pinot Noir and Syrah. In Sicily also there are also other Italian varieties such as Sangiovese, Barbera and Trebbiano Toscano.
The appellations of origin in Sicily
The only Sicilian DOCG appellation is the Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, located in the area of Ragusa and produced from the grape variety Frappato. The Vittoria DOC also includes white wines made with the grape Inzolia. The Eloro DOC is focused on red wines, with Frappato, Nero d’Avola and Pignatello wines. In the area of Siracusa the Siracusa DOC and Noto DOC, based on the same grapes. The Moscato di Siracusa (Moscato bianco grape) was before an indipendent DOC, now included as a wine in Siracusa DOC. In the area of Catania, the Etna DOC, whose vineyards are located on the volcano’s slopes and give wines with a strong mineral characterization. In the province of Messina the Faro DOC, one of the first in Sicily, based on Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio and Nocera varieties. In the Lipari islands themain wines are the Malvasia delle Lipari DOC and the white wines of the Island of Salina (Salina IGT). In the province of Palermo the Sclafani DOC and Contessa Entellina DOC, which include almost all wine types of the island, while in the province of Agrigento the Sciacca DOC, Sambuca di Sicilia DOC and Santa Margherita di Belice DOC are the main appellations. In the province of Caltanissetta to be mentioned is the Riesi DOC. The province of Trapani count for more than half of the planted area and of the wine production of in Sicily. This is also due to the Marsala DOC, with the namesake fortified wine based on Grillo and/or Catarratto (all varieties and all clones), and/or Ansonica (locally named Inzolia or Insolia) and/or Damaschino for Marsala types gold and amber;on Perricone (locally named Pignatello) and/or Calabrese (Nero d’Avola) and/or Nerello Mascalese for Marsala Ruby. Other DOC in the province are Delia Nivolelli DOC, Erice DOC and Salaparuta DOC. Finally, the Moscato di Pantelleria DOC also available as raisin wine, made from grapes Zibibbo or Moscato d’Alessandria (100%). In all, the region counts 23 DOC and 7 IGT.
The food and agricultural products are represented by 14 PDOs among which we mention the cheeses Ragusano DOP and Piacentinu Ennese DOP and the extra virgin olive oils (7 DOP designations). The 10 PGIs include Cappero di Pantelleria IGP and the Pomodoro di Pachino IGP.
The wine production areas in Sicily
Among the DOC areas of Sicily Marsala, Pantelleria and Lipari are certainly the best known, but also other areas deserve particular attention. Sicily is known for its dessert wines aincluding the two Moscato di Noto DOC and Moscato di Siracusa DOC. White wines include the Alcamo DOC and Etna DOC, whose wines are known for their unusual longevity. As red wines we recall the Cerasuolo di Vittoria, the only DOCG of the region, and the Faro DOC, a very interesting area even if little known. The most important Sicilian red wine is the Nero d’Avola, while among the most widespread white grape varieties in Sicily the Catarratto and the Inzolia.
Among the most important Sicilian wines a special place certainly goes to Marsala. This fortified wine managed in the past to compete with the dominance of Porto, Jerez (Sherry) and Madeira as “voyage” wine, marketed by the British. The Marsala owes its fame to the English merchant John Woodhouse. After a century of blazing notoriety, the Marsala experienced a period of decline which began about thirty years ago. Today Marsala has left the unfair image that saw it being used only to marinate various foods, ansùd is now considered a great wine, capable of an extraordinary longevity. The Marsala is a fortified wine made with the grapes Grillo, Inzolia, Catarratto and Damaschino. The Marsala Vergine Stravecchio (with at least 10 years of aging) is an explosion of aromas and flavors, with an almost endless persistence. Marsala is produced in the following styles: Fine (at least 1 year of aging), Superiore (2 years), Superiore Riserva (four years), Vergine or Soleras (five years), Vergine Stravecchio Riserva (10 years). There is also the red Marsala Rubino, produced from grapes Nero d’Avola, Perricone and Nerello Mascalese.
Pantelleria and Lipari
The sweet wines of Pantelleria and Lipari are certainly the most famous in Sicily. The Moscato and Passito di Pantelleria are produced in the namesake island, south of Sicily with the grape Moscato d’Alessandria, better known under the name Zibibbo. Currently the Passito di Pantelleria is finding strong interest in the markets. The Passito di Pantelleria is a fragrant, sweet wine, seductive, charming, an excellent pairing for seasoned cheese and Sicilian pastries, especially with almonds. The Malvasia delle Lipari is a sweet wine produced in the Aeolian Islands (north of Sicily), especially in the island of Salina. This charming raisin wine is produced from grapes Malvasia di Lipari with a small percentage of Corinto Nero. The Malvasia delle Lipari is a elegant and complex wine, with a sweet and refined taste, suitable for pairing with seasoned cheeses or with the rich Sicilian pastry, but it is also appreciated alone as meditation wine.
The Sicilian cuisine
The Sicilian cuisine is the expression of a tradition that refers to the ancient times, closely linked to the historical, cultural and religious traditions of the island. Already at the time of the Ancient Greece style and culinary habits of the island they had their own distinctive character, which over the centuries has been enriched by new tastes and new dishes, following the historical vicissitudes of the Mediterranean island. The Sicilian food culture shows traces and contributions of all the cultures that have settled on the island over the past two millennia, passed down from generation to generation. This explains why some recipes of ancient origin are still prepared and served in the Sicilian houses.
Some of the most famous dishes, now globally popula, are the Sicilian cassata, the iris, the Sicilian cannoli, the granita and the arancini di riso (fried rice balls). Sicily, thanks to its mild climate, is rich in herbs and plants like oregano, mint and rosemary, which are part of the most popular Sicilian condiments. Oranges and lemons are present in large quantities. Almonds, prickly pear, pistachio and olives are other fruits always present on the Sicilian table.
Characteristic of the Sicilian cuisine is to find typical foods restricted to specific areas, for which a local dish shows always variants unavailable in other areas. The panelle palermitane (pancakes) or the muccunetti of Mazara del Vallo (almond cookies) are practically available only in their area of origin. This defines distinct gastronomic districts such as Western Sicily, Central Sicily and Eastern Sicily .
Among the Sicilian appetizers the famous caponata , the orange salad, the eggplant parmigian. Other typical starters of this region are the raw anchovies with lemon, the Sicilian bruschetta, the babbaluci a ghiotta (snails in soup), the battered vegetables, the cold Sicilian omelet.
Among the pasta courses the couscous with seafood, fresh and tasty, the famous pasta with sardines and pasta carrettiera (with chopped tomatoes), the vermicelli alla Siracusana, with tomato sauce, olives and peppers, the macaroni timbale, red or white, the rice soup with chickpeas, and many others.
The main courses from both sea and land food are an explosion of flavors and ingredients. Among the fish dishes, the Sardinian warbler and the swordfish Syracuse style. Among the meat dishes, the roasted meat breadcrumbs Palermo style, the lamb stew, the Sicilian veal rolls, the meatballs with bread, the eggs with peas.
Sicily is also the land of street food before its time, with an incredible variety prepared to be consumed on the fly. For example the inevitable Arancini (fried rice balls), but also the Sicilian mafalde, typical semolina rolls of durum wheat, the pankackes from Palermo, tasty and delicious chickpea flour pancakes, the ravazzate, stuffed dough with peas and sauce meat and baked oven and the rizzuole, similar to the previous but fried.
The desserts and Sicilian pastries are second to none, with their typical local ingredients and traditions handed down from generation to generation. Some examples are the Sicilian cassata and cannoli, famous throughout the world, but also the sfincia, a sweet typical of the feast of St. Joseph, the base of which is formed from a spongy mixture fried and served with ricotta cream and embellished with candied fruit and chopped pistachio. The biancomangiare is made with almond milk and flavored with lemon peel and chopped dried fruit, the buccellato, made with dried figs filling, enriched with almonds, walnuts, raisins, cinnamon and chocolate. Not to be forgotten is the granita with brioche, an institution throughout Eastern Sicily, to try in different flavors: strawberry, coffee, almonds, mulberries, pistachio, lemon, etc …