What Makes Sicily Wines So ‘Hot’ Right Now?

What Makes Sicily Wines So ‘Hot’ Right Now?

Sicily, Italy, is the largest populated island in the Mediterranean Sea, situated just off the toe of Italy’s boot and 100 miles north of Tunisia. This island was first populated 100,000 years ago, bringing many ethnic groups, empires, and merchants to its shores. The Sicilians have been making wine since 4000 B.C., thanks in part to the warm climate, regular sunshine, moderate rainfall, and the Greeks' advanced viticulture techniques. The arid climate makes wine the best option for higher yields and allows it to be grown organically. Sicily also has more vines than South Africa, which is 7th in the world for wine production!

All that aside, let’s talk about how unique Sicily is. The island has more white grapes grown than red, and at least one fourth of the island is mountainous, with one mountain being an actual volcano, Mt. Etna.

Mt. Etna: The Volcanic Advantage

Mt. Etna is Europe’s highest active volcano and makes Sicily rich in terroirs and terrains due to the lava that flows down when erupting, bringing iron, copper, phosphorus, magnesium, and other important nutrients for viticulture. Due to the complexity of the area, everything is done manually, including training the vines and reducing space with the ‘Albarello style’ to form terrace vineyards. Mt. Etna also has parcels of vines that are over 130 years old, making the area immune to the disastrous Phylloxera plague. These vines did not even have to be grafted! Amazing, right?

The soil from the volcanic eruptions, the high concentration of silica sand and little clay, in addition to surface waters from typical Etna heavy rains, help seal the soil and drown the phylloxera louse. It also helped that, unlike France, there was not a lot of commercial farming, and the terrain made it difficult to produce high amounts of wine and draw traffic to the area. It takes a special person to want to climb 800-1100 meters and avoid black lava rock to have a glass of wine! Either way, this area survived and has since thrived thanks to Mt. Etna.

The Varied Grapes of Sicily

Prominent Red Grapes

  • Nero d’Avola: The most widely planted grape dating back to ancient times. This grape has black fruit flavors with medium body and medium tannins. Initially shipped to France and Northern Italy for blending, it has gained notoriety on its own in recent years.
  • Nerello Cappuccio: Grown on Mt. Etna, this grape is rich in color with cherry fruit flavors, soft and spicy. Often blended with Nerello Mascalese, but is gaining popularity on its own.
  • Nerello Mascalese: Also grown on Mt. Etna, it is often called ‘Noble’ as it is compared to Italy’s and France’s finest wines. This is an up-and-coming grape that sommeliers all over are talking about. It is complex, powerfully elegant with earthy herbaceous qualities, hints of spice, tobacco, and good tannins.

    Prominent White Grapes

    • Catarratto: The grandfather of grapes and the most planted white grape, it has good acidity, low alcohol, subtle melon or peach aromas, and some salinity. Perfect for the beach.
    • Grillo: A natural mix of Zibibbo and Catarratto with fresh peach or passion fruit, rich body, and lovely texture. One of the grapes used to make Marsala wine.
    • Carricante: Grown on Mt. Etna, it grows easily and abundantly. This grape makes a crisp and refined wine with structure that allows it to be aged.

    Featured Wine: COS Contrada Nero d’Avola

    This month we are featuring an amazing wine made with the Nero d’Avola grape. COS Contrada Nero d’Avola is from a biodynamic, organic vineyard that started with three friends in 1980 who wanted to recreate the work of their ancestors. They are the youngest winemakers in Italy’s history, and their passion and love for the land and viticulture make them leaders ahead of their time. The wine is powerful, rich, and has a lush bouquet of black cherries and plum. The palate is fruity with aromas, notes of leather, spices, and licorice. The vitality and freshness of this wine make it very distinguished and elegant.

    I cannot wait to try this wine and save my pennies to visit Sicily, Italy and drink my way through the island. Who wants to join me?!

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