As a famous Italian proverb says “a San Martino, ogni mosto diventa vino” (that is: on Saint Martin’s Day, all the must become wine). This day has a special value for the Sicilian wine production, as by mid-November the fermentation traditionally completes its course. Therefore, on November 11th people gather to taste the new wine and enjoy the product of the Vendemmia. In some areas, it is usually accompanied by roasted chestnuts; others prefer to prepare typical biscuits that they can then soak in the new wine.
Wine is, in fact, an excellence of Sicily, for it is affirmed, admired and exported all over the world. Many Sicilian wineries rank at the top of the national wine market: Florio, Planeta, Romano, Firriato, Cusumano, Tenuta Valle delle Ferle, Fazio Wines and Donnafugata. Moreover, on Saint Martin’s some of them are open to the public to give the possibility of tasting their wine and discovering its production process.
But what has made Sicilian wine so special? To answer this question, we can basically think of three main reasons:
The vine and the wine production in Sicily have a long history based on the influences and contributions from the various civilizations that have occupied the island.
It was the Greeks who introduced the proper viniculture, although vine had presumably grown spontaneously long before their arrival. The Phoenicians, daring navigators and merchants, made Sicilian wines one of the most important products for the commercial exchanges of that time. At the time of the Roman Empire, Sicilian wines were already among the most famous in the ancient world; then, the barbarian invasions caused the decline of vine cultivation.
It was the Arabs who resumed the cultivation, although luck for the Sicilian wine production came around 1773. It was an English trader, John Woodhouse, who used his intuition and merchant skills to support a Sicilian wine; in fact, he promoted the Marsala, destined to compete as “travel wine”, in the market.
The wine-growing territory of Sicily includes, in addition to the island itself, also the Aeolian Islands and Pantelleria; its planted area is one of the largest of Italy, about 107.000 hectares (about twice as much as a region like Emilia-Romagna or Tuscany).
Many are the native grapes of the islands, both white and red.
The most famous red native variety is Nero d’Avola, whose wines are characterized by intense aromas. Among the white grapes, the best known is the Zibibbo; this is the base of the sweet wines of Pantelleria, now considered among the best in Italy.
In regards to the production areas, the largest one is located in the western part of Sicily, between Trapani and Palermo. The renowned productions of this area are the Marsala, the Alcamo and the numerous versions of the Contessa Entellina Doc.
The south-eastern area, between Ragusa and Syracuse, is where the only Docg of Sicily, the Cerasuolo di Vittoria is produced; also, typical of this area are also the Eloro, the Moscato di Noto and the Moscato di Siracusa Doc. The province of Catania, at the base of the volcano, is famous for the productions of the Etna Doc; Messina is famous for the Faro. Regarding the smaller islands, we find the Malvasia delle Lipari Doc and the Moscato and the Passito di Pantelleria Doc.
Weather conditions are affected by two types of climate, the Mediterranean and the Continental. The first one characterizes the hilly areas and the coastlines; the latter, cold and rigid, and predominates on the mountains and inland areas, especially on Etna and on the Madonie. The diversity of climate is, however, a blessing for the ripening process of the grapes; in fact, it translates in different qualities once the vinification process is complete. This means having both fresh and fragrant white wines as well as structured and elegant red wines.
Focusing on the soil, a special mention goes to the lavic one in the Etna area. In fact, the eruptions of the volcano Etna affect the soil by making it rich in minerals and acid components. These properties are in perfect balance with the prerogatives of the Carricante and the Nerello Mascalese. In the westward area, the calcareous soil is suitable for the cultivation of Nero d’Avola grape; this gives a particular scent to the final product. Also clay soils tend to give the wines a greater intensity of color; finally, tufa soils of volcanic origin give a high sugar content and a refined fragrance to the wines Malvasia delle Lipari, Moscato of Noto and Syracuse and Passiti of Pantelleria.