Early in October (2009) I made a trip to Sicily, traveling most the way around the island with relatives. Though my interest was about Sicilian wine, I was in awe of the ruins, architecture, landscapes and traces of Magna Graecia, as ancient Sicily was called when the Greeks colonized it. Viticulture flourished in Sicily under the Greeks, and the island's wines soon became some of the most famous of the ancient world.
Italy ranks first in the world in wine production, and Sicily is often the most productive and largest region - 10,000 square miles (1,000 more than in Tuscany, itself a fairly large region). For most of the twentieth century, however, Sicily produced quantity, with little emphasis on quality. The yield from vineyards was pushed to the limit and winemaking techniques were poor. The decline of Sicilian wines caused top producers to launch a mini revolution to control quality in the 1970s and 1980s. Though Sicilian wines are not well known, many of them could now rank with the best wines produced in the entire country.
Marsala is Sicily's most famous wine; it takes its name from the ancient port city in the western part of the island. Marsala is made from grillo and catarratto bianco grapes, which grow on the plains and low hills of the region. Marsala comes in three colors: oro (golden), ambra (amber) and rubino (ruby, which is extremely rare). Each type can be made at three levels of sweetness: fairly dry, noticeably sweet or very sweet, and each is fortified to 17 or 18 percent alcohol. Within each category, there is a hierarchy based on how long the wine is aged. Fine Marsala is aged one year; superiore is aged two years; superiore riserva is aged four years; vergine is aged five years; and the oldest, vergine stravecchio, is aged 10 years. The largest producer of Marsala is Florio & Co., which we visited and had an informative tour of (in English!). In addition to Marsala, two of Italy's most famous dessert wines come from Sicily: moscata di Pantelleria and malvasia delle Lipari.
Sicily also makes some surprising reds. Many of them come from the grape variety nero d'Avola (also called calabrese), a variety that can produce intensely black-colored wines of real depth, juiciness and charm. We enjoyed many bottles of nero d'Avola! The whites we enjoyed were Corvo Bianco, from the inzolia grape, Anapo white from the Catania area, and from the Mt. Etna area we enjoyed a white wine from the cataratto grape. The white wine tended to be light, dry and floral, while the reds were heavy and fruity.
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