Our virtual trip through Italy’s wine regions continues with our exploration of two large island regions: Sardinia and Sicily. While these two islands are often lumped together, they are 400 miles apart and very distinct from one another. Both islands were exposed to many cultural influences due to being the targets of many invasions.
When you think Sicily, think Mediterranean romance. Vineyards, olive trees, rugged coastlines and sunshine abound. Sicily is one of Italy’s largest producers of wine (first or second, depending on the year) and has the largest number of vineyards. In spite of its prolific production, Sicily’s percentage of DOC wines is very low: only 2.5%. Also, Sicily has Italy’s lowest per capita wine consumption. Interesting!
Sicily, like much of Southern Italy, focused more on quantity than quality. So while the region’s ancient wines were famed for their amazing quality, its modern wines were mediocre at best. In the 1980s, a number of the top wine producers made an effort to turn this around. The result thankfully has been greatly improved wines.
Marsala. Marsala was “created” in the late 1700s by an Englishman who knew that a sweet, fortified wine would have a huge following back in England. This wine, which is made using grillo and catarratto bianco grapes, comes in a range of sweetnesses and colors. You can find many Marsala copies at the grocery store. But look for an authentic Sicilian Marsala to really get a feel for what this wine is all about.
Moscato di Pantelleria. This outrageous sounding dessert wine is made from a grape variety called Zibibbo (also known as Muscat of Alexandria). Legend has it that the ancient people dedicated the wine made from this grape to the goddess of love. Boy, would I love to try some!
Malvasia delle Lipari. This is the final famous dessert wine from Sicily. If you’ve tried it, please tell us about it.
Table wines. Sicily’s table wines are made predominantly from the Nero d’Avola grape (also called Calabrese). These wines are very dark and juicy and apparently very good.
Sardinia is a much more isolated island than Sicily. Sardo, the local language, is a mix of many different languages, including Italian, Spanish and Arabic. Sardinia had a lot of Spanish influence over the years, which is reflected in its mix of wines.
Spanish varieties. Cannonau, which is related to Spain’s Grenache, is the most widely planted and most important red grape on the island. Giro and Torbato were also imported by the Spanish.
Italian varieties. Barbera, Sangiovese and Trebbiano all came from Piedmont.
Other wines. Other popular reds include Carignano and Monica. Other popular whites include Malvasia di Sardegna, Moscato Bianco, Vermentino and Vernaccia d’Oristano. Vermentino is the leading white grape variety on the island. Vernaccia and Vermentino are both dry.
I would love to hear about your experiences on Sicily and Sardinia. Please share them with us here. Thanks.