Erik Neilson on May 27, 2016 0 Comments Sicily is one of the most misunderstood, yet important wine regions in the world. One look at the island’s rolling hills and mineral-rich soil is enough to know that the area is as fertile as a winemaker could ever ask for, and Sicily does indeed have a winemaking history that dates back to ancient times. Up until just a few decades ago, however, Sicilian wine was not exactly known for being high in quality. Most grapes grown on the island were exported and used for blending, and few Sicilian-made wines were sought-after by collectors. Today, a new generation of winemakers is rewiring prior notions about Sicilian grapes, creating unique, lively wines that showcase the vibrant character of the island. Here are just a few of the most important styles and varietals that Sicily has become known for throughout the world. Sicilian Reds Surprisingly enough, red grapes make up only approximately 33% of Sicily’s wine grape production. They’re some of the diverse reds in all of Europe, however, especially considering just how small of an area they come from. Common Sicilian reds include: Nero d’Avola: One of the oldest of the island’s indigenous grapes, Nero d’Avola has built quite a reputation for itself as being a premier grape that matches perfectly with much of the food Sicily is known for. It’s without a doubt the most widely-planted red grape varietal on the island, and though once used primarily as a blending grape, it now produces standout wines on its very own. Literally translating to “Black of Avola,” Nero d’Avola wines are characterized by high tannins, strong body and a medium acidity, not to mention the inky-black color. Barbera: Barbera is a red wine grape that is grown throughout Italy, yet its presence in Sicilian wine is undeniable. Used in blends commonly referred to as Perricone and produced near Agrigento, Barbera is considered everyday table wine. Its high yield and hearty nature played a role in reestablishing the wine industry in parts of Italy following World War II and can often be found blended with Aglianico. Frappato: Frappato is one of the most unique grapes that Italy has to offer, producing an extremely light and floral red wine that perfectly captures and highlights the minerality of Sicily’s volcanic soil. While not quite as pale as rosé wine, Frappato can easily be treated as such when paired with food and is often served slightly chilled. Nerello Mascalese: Though it has historically lived somewhat in the shadow of the popular Nero d’Avola grape, Nerello Mascalese is considered by many wine lovers to be perhaps the most defining grape of Sicily. It is commonly grown along the slopes of Mount Etna, giving the grape a mineral-rich body and flavor that contributes to its mysterious and full nature. Sicilian Whites Much can be said about the reds that are characteristic of Sicily, but it’s the whites produced on the island that many locals tend to enjoy on a daily basis. Rich in minerality and pleasantly refreshing, Sicilian white wine can be paired with a wide variety of different foods and is truly enjoyable when consumed alongside fresh seafood. There are a large number of different styles of Sicilian whites, though some are more commonly consumed than others. These include the following: Catarratto Bianco Comune: There are few grapes grown throughout Sicily that are grown as extensively as Catarratto, which accounts for nearly 36% of Sicily’s vineyards. It is low in acid, typically dry and has characteristics of muted flavors that make it perfect for blending into Marsala. Though its reputation may not be as impressive as many other Sicilian grapes, Catarratto serves an important purpose and should not go overlooked. Grillo: Grillo is similar to Catarratto in that it once served as the primary blending grape used in Marsala wine. Today, the grape is often bottled as single-varietal wine, showcasing its bright range of citrus flavors that make it perfect for pairing with seafood or drinking on a hot summer day by the beach. More and more wineries throughout Sicily are planting the Grillo grape, with approximately 5,000 hectares located on the island. Inzolia: Inzolia is another one of the most popular white grapes grown in Sicily, though it’s not commonly known by many peoples off of the island. It can produce a remarkably pleasant table wine that is rich in aromatics and soft on the palate, showcasing flavors of walnut and tropical fruits. While often used for single-varietal production, it also tends to find its way into blends alongside grapes such as Grillo and Catarratto Bianco Comune. Pairing Sicilian Wines with Food The food found throughout Sicily is some of the most rustic, flavor-rich Italian cuisine there is. Rich in bright flavors such as olives, lemons, capers, tomatoes and a plethora of seafood options, Sicilian food can be perfect when augmented by the right wine. Though there are no hard and fast rules in wine pairing, here are a few starting points to help you get the most out of your dining experience: Reds Nero d’Avola: Its bold flavor, robust tannins and sharp acidity make Nero d’Avola the perfect pairing for beef stew or a simple burger. Barbera: Barbera is rich in cherry flavors, making it a perfect match for duck, glazed chicken breast or roasted game hen. Frappato: Frappato begs to be drank alongside fish dishes, especially those which incorporate tomato sauce. Nerello Mascalese: Nerello Mascalese is about as perfect as it gets for pairing with a red sauce pasta or pizza — just avoid white sauces with this wine. Whites Catarratto Bianco Comune: The perfect pairing for tuna and caper salad or sautéed prawns. Grillo: The citrus elements characteristic of most Grillo wine is ideal for pairing with green curry, tandoori chicken or seafood of any kind. Inzolia: A go-to wine for antipasti, and one that can be drank throughout the rest of the evening. Sicilian wine is unique to itself, and those who get to know it will quickly learn the beauty of the island it comes from.