Sicily - Food and Wines - Wines
Contrasts are not the least of those things in which Sicily abounds. So perhaps it is not surprising that this ancient island boasts one of Italy's most modern wine industries of that a region noted chiefly in the past for strong and often sweet amber Marsala and Moscato has rapicly switched the emphasis toward lighter, dryer wines - whites and reds.
Sicily, the largest Mediterranean island, has more vineyards for wine than any other region. Production in recent years has reached awesome levels - frequently the greatest in volume among the regions. The westernmost province of Trapani alone turns out more wine than the entire regions of Tuscany or Piedmont or such wine nations as Hungary, Austria or Chile. But the proportion of DOC wine in Sicily's total is a mere 2.5 per cent and a major share of that is Marsala, which with some 22 million litres a year ranks among Italy's top ten DOCs in volume.
Marsala, which was devised by English merchant traders nearly two centuries ago, has remained Sicily's proudest wine despite decades of degradation when it was flavoured with various syrups and sweeteners. Recently it has enjoyed a comeback with connoisseurs, who favour the dry Marsala Vergine and Superiore Riserva with their warmly complex flavours that rank them with the finest fortified wines of Europe.
The only other DOC wine made in significant quantity in Sicily (about 2.5 million litres a year) is the pale white, bone dry Bianco d'Alcamo. Moscato di Pantelleria, from the remote isle off the coast of Tunisia, is among the richest and most esteemed of Italian sweet wines in the Naturale and Passito Extra versions. Malvasia delle Lipari, from the volcanic Aeolian isles,is a dessert wine as exquisite as it is rare.
The dry white and red wines of Etna, whose vines are draped over the lower slopes of the volcano, can show notable class, as can the pale red but potent Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Production of the others DOCs - the dry, red Faro and the sweet Moscatos of Noto and Siracusa - has been virtually nonexistent in recent times.
By contrast, a number of unclassivied "vini da tavola" are thriving. Increasingly prominent are the pale, faintly scented, delicately fruity whites which derive largely from native grapes such as Inzolia, Catarratto, Grecanico and Verdello. Such outsiders as Sauvignon and Chardonnay have also proved promising. Certain reds have achieved prominence, too, mainly those from such admired native varieties as Nero d'Avola (or Calabrese) and Nerello Mascalese and Perricone (or Pignatello).
The most admired brands in Sicilian tables wines - Corvo-Duca di Salaparuta and Regaleali - do not qualify under any DOC. Yet Corvo's consistent quality in dry whites and reds from grapes selected throughout the island has made them prizewinners at home and abroad. Regaleali from the Tasca d'Almerita family estate high in the island's central hills, has been producing white, rose' and reds that have won international acclaim.
The Region of Sicily distinguishes wines of consistent quality - whether DOC or not - with a Q, which appears on labels as a seal of approval.
Sicilian wine has not enjoyed universal success, however. In an era of dwindling consumption world-wide, much of the island's production is either shipped away as blending wine or designated for distillation into industrial alcohol.
The region's wine production - four-fifths of which is centred in cooperatives - has been gradually reduced as new emphasis has been given to premium quality. New methods of viticulture in the sunny, temperate hills are helping to realise wines of real character and individuality. Sicily has taken the lead in winemaking in the modern south as producers seem increasingly determined to live up to the promise that was so well known to the ancient Greeks.