This post comes to us courtesy of wine expert Jordan Mackay.
For the massive island that sits in the middle of the Mediterranean, little credit is given to the diversity of Sicilian wine. With a prominent location near Greece, Sicily’s wine history dates back to antiquity. But its modern reputation was forged in the 1700s with the rise of Marsala, the famous fortified wine made in the hills on the western edge of the island. But as that style waned in popularity (you know you’ve hit rock bottom when a wine becomes more famous for cooking as opposed to drinking), Sicily fell into obscurity, instead creating oceans of anonymous bulk wines that were blended into more famous wines that needed a boost.
But, today, Sicily is experiencing a renaissance, thanks to improved winemaking and viticulture and a wine drinking public that’s voracious for all things new, indigenous, and delicious. Sicily’s red wine spotlight has been grabbed by a hearty grape called Nero d’Avola. Grown all over the island, it makes many satisfying, inexpensive table reds that are darkly fruity and earthy and perfect for casual weeknight meals.
On the eastern edge of Sicily rises Mount Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe that has been quietly spitting out dark magma and ash for centuries and still is today. On the mountain’s high black, volcanic soils you find a wine called Etna Rosso, made from the Nerello family of grapes. Known as the “Barolo of the south” these wines are often fine-boned, high-toned, subtle and ethereal—the opposite of burly Nero d’Avola.
Sicily is no slouch when it comes to white wines, either. The two most common native varieties are Grillo and Inzolia, the former being light and crisp and the latter being more structured with hints of almonds and lemon zest. Check out the fresh, floral wine called Zagra from Valle dell’Acate.
And all this is but to scratch the surface of Sicilian wines, whose best overall quality may be the way it pairs with food. Cuisine is an obsession in Sicily, which grows some of the most beautiful produce in Europe. And luckily, they have a bounty of wine to go with every dish.
Check out a few of our favorite Sicilian wines at the Williams-Sonoma Wine Shop.
About the author: Jordan Mackay is the James-Beard-winning wine and spirits writer for San Francisco magazine and writes the drinks column, “The Juice,” for Chow, the online food magazine owned by CBS. His writing on food, wine, spirits, and beer has also appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Decanter, Wine Enthusiast, Wine and Spirits, Food & Wine, Gourmet and others. His first book, Passion for Pinot, was published in 2009, and his second, Secrets of the Sommeliers, was released in October 2010, winning a James Beard award in 2011. He is excited to be a new member of the Williams-Sonoma Wine team.