Updated: Jun 28, 2021
Sicily is technically part of Italy, but ask a local and they are SICILIAN not Italian. It's a different way of life - different climate, weather, a significantly different cuisine, and historically they've always been at a Mediterranean crossroads for the influence of other civilisations that mainland Italy hasn't had the privilege of. The difference between Piedmont in the north, and Palermo in the south makes the north / south divide between Liverpool and London pale to insignificance. I'll briefly explain what makes Sicily so different, and why the largest autonomous zone in Italy has the right take some of your vinous attention for their unique grapes and bottles; and you can point that attention toward our Etna Twin Pack where you can get a delicious example of each colour delivered direct to your dining table.
For a little country (it's not a country, but may as well be), Sicily has a huge range of geography. Being an island there's lots of coast, but because it's so big those in the interior don't really think themselves in any maritime light, instead there's plenty of vibrant agricultural growings on between the flatlands, mountains and even the active Etna volcano! With the baking sun growing some of the best fruits and vegetables on the planet - think lemons, limes, pistachios, almonds, and wheat, as well as obviously the most important: Grapes. Similarly to the variety in topography and microclimates, there's also a larger variety in grapes and styles of wine that are often completely unrelated to a lot of the mainland wines. Don't get me wrong, because of the sunshine and fertile land, Sicily is also a site of huge mass produced plonk. But dig a little deeper with a little info that I can hopefully provide and you'll unearth some gems.
In white wines you'll find the main grapes of Cataratto, Grillo and Caricante (see what I mean about different?). I find the whites of Sicily always evoke a slight almond nuttiness in them but while remaining light fresh and somehow cooling. The main thing to look for here is finding wines that have been made from grapes grown at altitude. Obviously you've got so much sun here that on the flatlands the grapes will bake and cause a wine of huge alcohol but no acid or freshness, whereas vineyards at altitude or with a coastal aspect will be cooled by winds and cooler evenings which preserve that acid so well. We often stake our name on the Paolini's Grillo as one of the best midweek whites you can get your hands on, giving you grapefruit and tropicals with that signature nuttiness. On a similar sort of vibe but with a more 'natural' leaning, Ciello Bianco is also hands down the best value natural wine on the market. It sees a little skin contact and is bottled hazy and unfiltered, it's high acid and tart but there's a lot of unripe pineapple and mango there too. When you're looking for something a bit more fancy, you want to look toward Mount Etna, where the volcanic soils to the East of the island provide an unmissable minerally smokiness to both the reds and the whites, with our current favourite being the olive and apple filled Etna Bianco from Senteri Siciliane.
The reds are what Sicily is really known for, which as I said before are sometimes a little bit too mass produced, with much of it being tankered up north to act as a blending wine to provide colour and intensity to bulk wine made in less sunny climes. Once again, that cooling effect is vital in good red wines of the area, but I do find the reds on the flatland can put up with the sun a lot better and as such they can still produce some nicely drinkable wines. Nero d'Avola, Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio and Frappatto are the common red grapes of the area. Nero d'Avola usually producing the jammy rich and comforting wines most people think of when they think of Sicily. The good ones combine jammy stewed fruit with a with pleasant round tannins for a very crowd pleasing bottle. Paolini is a cooperative that makes fantastic accessibly priced organic wines, and their Nero is a banger for the price, while COS makes a natty example which gives a very light, sour cherry glass that has a delicious earthiness to it. Frappato is a grape that can produce a fun light and fruity like wine, similar to a the COS Nero d'Avola to be fair. My preferred style of the Sicilian reds tend to be the more ethereal and elegant expressions, and the best area on the island for these, once again is - you guessed it - Mount Etna. Using the Nerello grapes on the volcanic soils they give wines of amazing richness and structure, black cherry and plum fruit but there's always that dark smokiness, balsamic and liquorice underlining the great bottles like that of Senteri Siciliane's Etna Rosso.
So Sicily, not just home to Marsala (though aged Marsala's can be absolutely unreal), and not just home to huge production tanker wine. Look for the wineries at altitude, and keep an eye on the alcohol levels especially in the whites! A particularly high alcohol level in a white is a good hint that there's been lots of sun on the flatlands to make lots of sugar and lots of alcohol but not much freshness. But mainly, always look to Etna if you can! The quality here is amazing and they stand as some of the noblest wines of Italy, brushing shoulders with the Barolos and Brunellos. You can get a taste with our Etna Twin Pack to get a taste of both the red and the white in the comfort of your own home.