When you picture Sicily, or Sicilia (Suh-chee-lee-uh) as the Italians would call it, you probably conjure up images of the very active Mount Etna and scenes from “The Godfather.” However, modern Sicily is one of Italy’s up and coming wine regions for quality. While oceans of cheap Marsala are still produced every year, Sicily has made giant strides in the production of its wines. I believe we have only just begun to see what fantastic wines Sicily is capable of producing.

Winemaking began in Sicily 3,500 years ago. The Phoenicians and the Greeks used the centrally located island of Sicily as a major trading stop on their journeys around the Mediterranean. They brought vines with them wherever they went, but they also found native vines growing on the island. The Romans followed the Greeks. Such was the bounty of the island that Sicily was Rome’s first province; Sicily was the breadbasket for Rome’s masses.

Native white grapes such Inzolia, Cataratto and Grillo are used to make Marsala, yet modern producers can coax great freshness and minerality from these crisp, dry wines. Sicily is known for its local seafood, and going by the maxim of “what grows together, goes together,” these wine pairings are a match made in heaven. Here in Southwest Florida, we also have access to fresh, local seafood to pair with these wines – snapper, grouper and fresh Gulf shrimp all spring to mind when thinking of pairings. Producers of Sicilian dry whites which you may want to try are Valle dell’Acate and Donnafugata. Local Italian restaurants should have some of these wines readily available for you to try, and (best of all!!!), they won’t break the bank.

Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio and Frappato are red grapes native to southern Italy and the island of Sicily. Nero d’Avola is the current darling of Sicilian winemakers in styles from extremely light bodied to full and rich. Ripe black cherries, coffee and rosemary are balanced by plenty of acidity, making this wine the perfect accompaniment to Arancini (risotto balls stuffed with cheese or other fresh ingredients and then breaded and deep fried), Pasta alla Norma (eggplant, tomato and salted ricotta over short pasta) and Caponata (cooked vegetables with fried eggplant in a sweet-and-sour sauce). Additionally, Nero d’Avola makes a great pairing for many dishes other than Italian. I like to think of this wine as a great Southwest Florida wine for summertime. It can be served slightly chilled poolside while you’re waiting for bratwurst, chicken or barbecued pork to come off the grill. Some of my favorite producers are Tasca d’Almerita’s bottling called “Lamurì” or Feudo del Pischiotto. Again, we’re talking great value-to-price ratio! These wines can be found in local wine shops and restaurants.

Try the wines of Sicily, and you won’t be disappointed! These crisp, easy-drinking, lighter bodied wines are a perfect match for our South Florida taste and lifestyle!

-Dinah Leach is the Wine Director and Sommelier for Angelina’s Ristorante of Bonita Springs.  Please feel free to contact her with any wine questions at dinah@epicfoodconcepts.com.

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