Master of Wine Nicola Arcedeckne-Butler from Private Cellar specialises in Italian wine. Here she shares her insights into why the island of Sicily has become a hotspot for wine – and not just because it’s home to an active volcano.
Vines and wines have been intrinsically linked to Sicily since 4,000 BC. Today, its moderate climate cooled by coastal breezes, varied topography and improvements in viticulture and winery management has led to the island becoming one of Italy’s most exciting and sustainable wine regions. Mt Etna’s volcanic wines may draw visitors in search of its unique expression of terroir, however Sicily’s multitude of wine producers provide an inspiring array of wines to discover.
What would you say is the most popular grape variety grown in Sicily?
As Sicily is the Mediterranean’s largest island and Italy’s largest wine growing region, it makes this question difficult to answer as there is so much wonderful diversity. The climate is dry and sunny, freshened by island breezes, while the myriad soil, microclimate and vineyard combinations mean that just about any variety of grape grows on the island.
However, Sicily is perfect if you are keen to try native varieties such as Nerello Mascalese, Nero d’Avola and Frappato for the reds and Grillo, Catarratto, Malvasia and Carricante for the whites. These grapes are adapting well to climate change, so we should all get to know them better.
Which local wine producers do you recommend investing in?
Any wine purchase is an investment – if only in your future drinking. The jury is still out as to whether Sicilian wines are a good financial investment but it’s worth seeking out wines from the slopes of Mt Etna, where parcels of old vines can be found growing at altitudes of up to 1,000 metres.
This area has attracted the attention of stellar names such as the late Andrea Franchetti from Tuscany and the Gaja family from Piemonte. Available in small quantities, wine produced around Mt Etna finds its way into collectors’ cellars.
Are there any unusual types of wine emerging in Sicily?
The big story for Sicily is the resurgence of indigenous varieties and a focus on sustainable wine production. Sicilian wines are increasingly focused on quality with environmental, social and economic sustainability at the top of the agenda.
Look out for dry, saline, mineral white wines made from Grillo, a grape more typically associated with sweet Marsala, and amphora-aged wines matured in large clay pots. This ancient style of producing wine is making a comeback, producing textured, multidimensional wines with delicious freshness.
What’s the best way to approach a wine list in Sicily?
Become friends with the Sommelier, Mauro Lo Iacono at Villa Igiea and Nando Papa at Verdura Resort. Sicilian wine begs to be partnered with local cuisine: fresh vegetables, salads, cheese and pasta. Your Sommelier will know how to bring out the menu’s best flavours, will know their list back to front and will love nothing more than sharing their knowledge of local wines with you.
What are your favourite Sicilian wines for 2022?
When I lived in Italy, I fell in love with the local wines and the fascinating diversity of aromas and flavours. I am rediscovering my love for these and will certainly be looking out for the dry, mineral whites from the west of the island made from Grillo, Carricante and Catarratto.
I also enjoy the vibrant, juicy, expressive reds produced on the slopes of Mt Etna; precise, breezy wines from the local grape Nerello Mascalese which are ripe but crisp and refreshing, as well as the vibrant reds from Frappato. While you are in Sicily, I strongly advise you to enjoy the local wine – because Sicilians tend to keep the best for themselves, and rightly so.
Visiting the vineyards of Sicily makes for an exhilarating day out. One of Sicily’s most notable wineries, Cusumano, is a 40-minute drive from Villa Igiea, while Verdura Resort is two hours by car from the established Tasca d'Almerita winery.
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