The sizable island of Sicily at the south-west tip of Italy’s “boot” is a wine region unto itself, one of 20 in Italy, and is considered to produce some of the country’s best. With vineyards mostly on the west and east coasts of the 28,000-square-kilometre island, much of the wine here benefits from excellent climatic and soil conditions, as well as know-how that dates back centuries. We take a look at some of the top producers.
A relative baby in the vinous world, Donnafugata was founded in the 1980s by the Rallo family, whose ancestors settled in Sicily in 1851. The winery’s name translates as “Woman in Flight”, a reference to Queen Maria Carolina, who escaped the advancing French forces by fleeing with her husband, Ferdinand IV, to Sicily in 1798
The winery, which uses grapes from across the island, has won critical acclaim for its two iconic wines: the sweet Ben Ryé, made from old bush vines of Muscat de Alexandria; and Mille e una Notte, an elegant blend of Nero d’Avola, Petit Verdot and Syrah, created in partnership with Giacomo Tachis, the name behind Super Tuscans such as Sassiacia, Ornellaia and Tignanello.
Class oozes from every Donnafugata bottle, with ripe fruit and silky tannins to the fore, and excellent ageing ability.
Available from Sino Vantage Asia
Tenuta Sallier de La Tour
Sallier de La Tour’s vineyards are beautifully positioned between the rolling hills and the sea in Camporeale commune, around 35 kilometres south-west of Palermo. Now managed by renowned Sicilian wine company Tasca d’Almerita, Sallier de La Tour champions single-varietal native grapes such as Grillo, Inzolia, Nero d’Avola and Monaca Cru, which thrive in the fertile soils.
Falling under the Monreale DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata, official demarcated wine-growing sub-regions), the estate’s first wine was an early-1900s Rhône Valley-style Syrah, Monreale, now still embodied in the winery’s flagship wine, La Monaca Syrah.
These wines are characteristically rustic, earthy and hearty with underlying finesse.
Available from Kerry Wines
Marco De Bartoli
One of the most famous names in wine today due to his tireless work in preserving and cajoling the Marsala grape back into existence, Marco De Bartoli has a relatively tiny family baglio (winery) of 20 hectares near Marsala where his children Renato, Sebastiano and Giuseppina now produce an elegant range of sweet passito, dry white and excellent sparkling wines.
The three scions are also resolute in further highlighting Sicily’s indigenous grape varieties, including Grillo, Zibibbo, Catarratto and Pignatello (also known as Perricone) and have planted vines on the island of Pantelleria, a volcanic outcrop between Sicily and Tunisia.
Bartoli whites display zippy minerality and crisp acidity; the famed passito provides luscious hazelnut, honey and ripe raisin notes.
Available from Berry Bros
Nestled deep in the heart of the island’s south-east, Gulfi is one of the most talked about names in Sicily today. Located in the province of Ragusa, home of the Nero d’Avola grape, Gulfi prides itself on single-vineyard, single-varietal bottlings of Sicily’s iconic red grape.
Until recently, Gulfi was headed by ex-engineer Vito Catania, who sadly passed away in May of this year. He will be remembered for his refusal to irrigate the sun-drenched vineyards strewn between Ragusa, Syracusa and Mount Etna, and for his insistence on farming organically.
The Gulfi team continues to harness the fruits of its old bush vines and uses careful vineyard management to make some of the most elegant Nero d’Avola expressions – expect these wines to be bold and fruit-driven, filled to the hilt with black cherry and liquorice.
Available from Jebsen Fine Wine
The continually cool temperatures on moody Mount Etna have contributed to the production of some of the very best wines made from the Etnean grape Nerello Mascalese, and Passopisciario, owned by Vini Franchetti, is at the forefront of volcanic winemaking.
Upon his arrival at Mount Etna in 2000, winery founder Andrea Franchetti said: “At the top of the steep Passopisciaro property looms a hump of black gravel. It’s the lava spill from a big eruption in 1947 … on Etna you can lose it all.”
The icon wine here, Franchetti, is an elegant “Super-Etnean” blend of Petit Verdot and Cesanese d’Affile grown in a fertile but harsh environment dominated by volcanic rock and ash.
Franchetti’s skills at harnessing Etna’s temperamental terroir have created wines that are refined and fresh, with upfront savoury notes that include sage, cedar and rosemary.
Available from Corney & Barrow
Technology and timelessness meet at the Arancio Estate in south-eastern Sicily. Made from grapes grown in fields bathed in sunlight and swept by dry light winds, Feudo Arancio wines are rich, full-bodied and intense, championing the best of Sicily’s own grapes of Nero d’Avola, Grillo and Inzolia as well as international varieties of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio.
One flagship wine, Hedonis, is a potent and punchy red blend of Nero d’Avola and Syrah, whereas its white counterpart, Hekate passito is abundantly aromatic – think dried apricots, chamomile and white peaches – and is named after the Greek Goddess of Light.
Available from Kedington Wines