Wine Culture and Information - Volume 12
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  ABC Wine Issue 25, December 2004   
SicilySicily  Contents 
Issue 24, November 2004 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 26, January 2005

Sicily

The largest island of Italy is an enchanting territory rich in history, art and culture, as well as a region with deep and ancient enological traditions, land of great and renowned wines

 Land of sun and sea, as well as very ancient traditions and cultures, Sicily - the largest Italian island - is a region among the richest in history and art, a place in which many of the great civilizations of the past met. Sicily is also a land which enchants the visitors with countless natural beauties of which is rich, with its aromas, the variety of cooking and - last but not the least - the charm of its wines. In these places are being made famous wines such as the majestic Marsala - a historical and extraordinary wine which should deserve a better consideration - the aromatic Passito di Pantelleria and Malvasia delle Lipari, without forgetting about Moscato di Noto and Moscato di Siracusa, as well as full bodied red wines and interesting white wines. These wines, responsible for the rebirth of Sicilian enology, have made famous the grapes used for their production: Grillo, Catarratto, Inzolia, Muscat of Alexandria or Zibibbo, Malvasia and Nero d'Avola are the names of some of the most renowned grapes cultivated in Sicily.

 Wine and vine have accompanied the history of Sicily since its very beginning up to recent times. It is believed wild vines were present in Sicily far earlier than Greeks came to the island and many grapes - now considered as autochthonous - were introduced by Phoenicians. It is likely viticulture was introduced in the island during the eighth century B.C. by the first Greek colonizers therefore setting the beginning of the future wealth for Sicilian enology. Greeks introduced their techniques, such as pruning, cultivation of low trained vines and varietal selection, radically changing the local habits of allowing the vine to a spontaneous growth which, thanks to the particular environmental and natural conditions, was however capable of giving abundant yields. Despite Greeks contributed to the development of wine making in the island, archaeological findings proved the consumption of wine were common since the seventeenth century B.C., however Greeks significantly contributed to the development of viticulture and enology in Sicily.


Sicily
Sicily

 Since Roman times, wines from Sicily were among the most famous ones of the ancient world, they were largely exported and very appreciated in every place. At those times one of the most famous Sicilian sweet wine was Mamertino, very appreciated by noble social classes and it seems it was the favorite wine of Julius Caesar. Among other famous wines of that time are also mentioned Potulanum, Tauromenitanum e Haluntium. In later times, Christianity - in Sicily as well as in other part of Europe - by means of monastical settlements, played a fundamental role in the development of enology. During this period - from 585 to 872, which corresponded to the Byzantine domination - more than the half of the Sicilian lands became properties of religious communities, for which vine and wine were essential for the celebration of the mass. During the domination of Arabs (872-1061), wine production of the island faced a period of decay: it will only with the advent of Normans (1061-1194) and in later times, of Swabians (194-1266) that Sicilian enology showed signs of reprise.

 Sicilian wine continued its development with Aragoneses (1288-1512) and the result was the reprise of exports. During this period viticulture contributed to the improvement of economic conditions in Sicily. During Bourbon times the wine mainly produced was very alcoholic and it was usually destined for giving structure to other wines. It will be only at the end of 1700's, precisely in 1773, to record one of the most significative events in the history of Sicilian wine. This historical event was characterized by a young English merchant that with his intuition, as well as his commercial skill, contributed to the birth of one of the most renowned and important wines of Italy: Marsala. John Woodhouse - this is the name of the enterprising English merchant - after having tried the wine produced in Marsala, realized it could compete with the famous and uncontested wines from Jerez and Port - two wines which made many English merchants rich - and decided to send some pipes to England. It was a striking success which represented the commercial fortune of Woodhouse and with him the fortune of Sicilian enology.

 During 1800's, also thanks to the celebrity of Marsala, wine production in Sicily had a large development and the trade of wine become one of the main factors for local economy. It was in this period the historical and prestigious wineries in Sicily were established: Duca di Salaparuta (1824), Florio (1836), Amodeo (1837), Rallo (1860), Curatolo Arini (1875), Carlo Pellegrino (1880) and Lombardo (1881). The development of Sicilian viticulture during the 1800's was mainly concentrated in the Etnean area and in 1880 Catania was the province in Sicily having the largest acreage destined to viticulture with about 92.000 hectares (227,336 acres) and a production of wine of about one million hectoliters (about 835,000 barrels). The production of wine in the area of Catania was so important that for its transportation was also constructed a railway, which connected the port of Riposto and from there the wine was shipped to other countries. This flourishing period was interrupted in 1881 when phylloxera destroyed vineyards followed in 1888 with the breaking of the commercial agreement with France therefore causing a strong decrease in exports.

 The recovery of vineyards destroyed by phylloxera lasted more than half a century and ended during the 1950's. During this period the market drastically changed and the request for wines destined to the enrichment of others decreased significantly. This event forced Sicilian wineries to a drastic change in production, but it was during the 1970's Sicilian enology recorded a new development towards current results. The development of the last twenty years of the Sicilian wine production has allowed the wines of the island to become successful worldwide. From the rebirth of majestic Marsala to the revaluation of the rich and local wealth of grapes, Sicily proved - once again - to be an extraordinary wine land. The most successful Sicilian wines among consumers are the ones made with local grapes, such as Grillo, Catarratto, Inzolia, Muscat of Alexandria or Zibibbo, Malvasia, Nero d'Avola and Frappato. Today Sicily is mainly distinguished for the production of its rich and enchanting sweet wines - in particular Passito di Pantelleria and Malvasia delle Lipari - and with one of its red grapes, Nero d'Avola - once forgotten and today rightly revaluated - are being produced interesting and important red wines.

 

Classification of Sicily

 Sicilian wines are classified according to the quality system used in every Italian region. The system consists in the classification according to the geographical origin of grapes and wines, in which the surface of the area decreases as the quality of the appellation increases. The system is made of categories defining ascending quality levels according to the following order: Vini da Tavola (table wines), IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica, Typical Geographic Indication), DOC (Denominazione d'Origine Controllata, Appellation of Controlled Origin), DOCG (Denominazione d'Origine Controllata e Garantita, Appellation of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin) and DOCG con indicazione di sottozona (DOCG with indication of the subarea). Although in Sicily there are no DOCG areas, the enological production of the island is of high quality. Particularly interesting are the wine tables classified as IGT, a category particularly used in Sicily and in which are found many prestigious and famous wines of the island. In Sicily are currently present 19 DOC areas and precisely: Alcamo, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Contea di Sclafani, Contessa Entellina, Delia Nivolelli, Eloro, Etna, Faro, Malvasia delle Lipari, Marsala, Menfi, Monreale, Moscato di Noto, Pantelleria, Moscato di Siracusa, Riesi, Sambuca di Sicilia, Santa Margherita di Belice and Sciacca.

 

Production Areas

 The cultivation of vine and the production of wine are spread in all the Sicilian territory and the ampelographic wealth of the island is pretty interesting. Efforts made in the last twenty years have allowed the revaluation of many autochthonous grapes of the island and now - after having concretely faced extinction - are considered among the most important grapes of Italy. In the region are also cultivated many international grapes, mainly used for blends with local grapes. Despite the region is rich in autochthonous grapes, the most famous one is Nero d'Avola - a red berried variety - that from “humble” grape has been transformed in few years into one of the most interesting varieties of Italy. There are many wine lovers who appreciate the wines made with this grape, most of the times characterized by intense aromas and full body. Among white berried grapes the most successful one is probably Zibibbo - the name with which is locally called Muscat of Alexandria - also thanks to the revaluation of sweet wines from Pantelleria, today considered among the best Italian wines in this category.


 

 Among the most important autochthonous white berried grapes are mentioned Carricante, Catarratto, Grecanico, Grillo, Inzolia - also known as Insolia or Ansonica - Malvasia delle Lipari, Muscat Blanc and Zibibbo or Muscat of Alexandria. Among the most important autochthonous red berried grapes there are Frappato, Nerello Cappuccio or Mantellato, Nerello Mascalese, Nero d'Avola or Calabrese and Perricone or Pignatello. The main international grapes are Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Müller Thurgau, Pinot Noir and Syrah. In Sicily are also found other Italian grapes - introduced in the island because of their high productivity in times when quantity was more important than quality - such as Sangiovese, Barbera and Trebbiano Toscano. Despite the reason why these grapes were introduced in Sicily, they are still used today by some producers for their quality wines. Sicilian enology is mainly oriented to the production of wine with autochthonous grapes, both monovarietal or blended with other grapes including international varieties, the latter also used for the production of monovarietal wines.

 Among the DOC areas of Sicily, the most famous ones certainly are Marsala, Pantelleria and Lipari, however the other wine areas are of particular interest as well. Sicily is a land of sweet wines and besides the renowned wines of Pantelleria and Lipari, two other DOC areas in which are being produced sweet wines with Muscat Blanc grapes should be mentioned as well: Moscato di Noto and Moscato di Siracusa. Among the most representative areas for the production of white wines are to be mentioned the DOC areas of Alcamo and Etna, whose wines are characterized by interesting qualities of longevity. Among red wines are to be mentioned the DOC areas of Cerasuolo di Vittoria - produced with Frappato grape - and Faro, a very interesting area but scarcely used. In almost all red wines produced in Sicilian DOC areas is found Nero d'Avola, therefore confirming its importance in the viticulture of the island. As far as white berried grapes are concerned, the most common ones in Sicilian DOC areas are Catarratto and Inzolia.

 

Marsala

 Among the most important wines of Sicily, a special place is occupied by his majesty Marsala. This wine, among the most renowned ones of the island, was capable in the past of contrasting the domination of Port, Jerez (Sherry) and Madeira in the trades of English merchants. Marsala - which owes its notoriety to an English merchant, John Woodhouse - after having had more than a century of notoriety, has also faced a ignoble decay lasted up to about twenty years ago. Thanks to the efforts of remarkable producers who invested in quality and in the revaluation of this wine, Marsala is getting back the esteem and interest of many wine lovers. Marsala, fortunately, is abandoning the unjust image - result of a deprecable quality which was common until the beginning of the 1980's - which wanted this wine to be used for cooking only. Marsala is a great wine, capable of an extraordinary longevity which can also be more than 50 years. It is a fortified wine produced with Grillo, Inzolia, Catarratto and Damaschino grapes. A glass of Marsala Vergine Stravecchio - that is with at least 10 years of aging - is an explosion of aromas and flavors which can even catch senses for many hours. Marsala is produced in the following styles: Fine (at least 1 year of aging), Superiore (2 years), Superiore Riserva (4 years), Vergine or Soleras (5 years), Vergine Stravecchio or Riserva (10 years). There is also Marsala Ruby or Rubino, with a red color and produced with Nero d'Avola, Perricone and Nerello Mascalese grapes, pretty rare but however interesting.

 

Pantelleria and Lipari

 Among sweet wines of Sicily, the ones from Pantelleria and Lipari certainly are the most renowned ones. Moscato and Passito di Pantelleria are produced in the homonymous island, south from Sicily, with Muscat of Alexandria grape, locally known as Zibibbo. Passito di Pantelleria is currently very successful and its quality is in constant growth: a success which made it become among the most famous and appreciated sweet wines of Italy. Aromatic, sweet, enchanting and charming, Passito di Pantelleria is an excellent match for hard cheese and confectionery, in particular the one made with almonds. Another very interesting Sicilian sweet wine is Malvasia delle Lipari produced in the Eolian islands - north from Sicily - of which the most representative island is Salina. This enchanting and excellent wine is produced in limited quantities with Malvasia delle Lipari grape as well as a small part of Corinto Nero grape. Malvasia delle Lipari has elegant and complex aromas, a sweet and refined taste, suited for the matching with hard cheese and the rich Sicilian desserts, as well as appreciated alone as a meditation wine.

 




 Editorial  Share this article   Share on Google+   Summary of ABC Wine column Wine Tasting 
  ABC Wine Issue 25, December 2004   
SicilySicily  Contents 
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