Sicily has everything you could ever imagine when it comes to wines! The native grapes produce various styles that can't really be found anywhere else.
Getting a Lay of the Land
The west of Sicily is home to Marsala. But it also has an amazing selection of wines from elegant and fresh white wines to full-bodied red wines and includes sweet wine from a volcanic island – Pantelleria.
Sicily Wine Region Facts
- Sicily is Italy’s largest wine region at 242,000 vineyard acres (98,000 hectares).
- There are 23 DOCs and 1 DOCG in Sicily.
- The two most planted grapes are Catarratto and Nero d’Avola.
- 34% of Sicily’s vineyards are organic.
- Sicily is home to more than 65 native varieties. The best known are Grillo, Nero d’Avola, Catarratto, Carricante, Nerello Mascalese, and Frappato.
- Vineyards sit as high as 3,900 ft (1200 m) above sea level. That's 25% of the way up Mont Blanc!
Wine Regions of Sicily
Sicily is a huge island, with 23 DOCs and one DOCG (Italy's official quality wine designations). First, we'll cover the main wine region: Sicilia DOC. Then, let's sort the remaining 23 wine appellations into Sicily's three historic regions, the Three Valleys.
Pronounced “Sih-chill-ee-ya” and officially established in 2011, this region covers the whole island of Sicily and offers a mosaic of flavors, grapes, and styles. Many of these wines are labeled by variety from Grillo to Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon to Nero d’Avola. You'll find sparkling wines, rosé, and dessert wines too.
The Three Valleys of Sicily
Going back almost 1,000 years, Sicily was divided into three valleys:
- Val di Mazara, the west of Sicily
- Val di Noto, the south-east of Sicily
- Val Demone, the north-east of Sicily
While we don't see these valleys mentioned much today, it's a great way to break this large island into more digestible sections to understand the wines.
Val di Mazara (Western Sicily)
Val di Mazara has a long history going back to Phoenicians and contains most of the grapes in Sicily. Home to Marsala, but also home to many different indigenous grape varieties.
Here the soils are high in calcium carbonate and full of minerals, so it's possible to have refreshing white wines, especially at higher elevations in the Sicani mountains. That soil is also responsible for bringing freshness to the red wines too.
The Ponente winds bring dry, warm air from the west. The Maestrale brings cooler, humid winds from the north, so full-bodied red wines are made here, with Nero d'Avola being the most planted grape, and fresher white wines from Catarratto and Chardonnay along with other native grapes.
Heady aromas of walnuts, figs, caramel, toffee, and dried fruits, Marsala is definitely not just for cooking! If you're a fan of Sherry or Madeira, or if you like dry, intensely flavored, and complex fortified wines, then Marsala is for you! If you've never tried a great Marsala, we've got all the info you need to find one you'll love.
Intensely perfumed, aromatic aromas of honey, peaches, dried wildflowers, and a salty edge to balance the intense sweetness of its wines, Pantelleria is going to blow your mind!
Yet another UNESCO site, this volcanic island, sitting only 37 miles (60 km) from the coast of Africa, is actually closer to Tunisia than it is to Italy. Famed for its amazing sweet wines made from sun-dried Zibibbo grapes (aka Muscat), this island offers a lot.
A region currently experimenting with Syrah and seeing great results. Because this appellation is higher in altitude and gets more rain, the resulting wine is closer to a Northern Rhône example - ripe fruits, but also elegant and fresh with a peppery edge.
Contea di Sclafani
This region is located very close to the island's center, surrounded by mountains, and sits at high elevations. In the summer, it's an oven during the day and quite cool at night, meaning many of the wines have refreshing acidity and preserve their aromas well.
The red wines, mostly made from Nero d'Avola, are lighter here than other parts of Sicily with more freshness. Catarratto is piercingly high in acid, and if you like Riesling, you'll love the white wines from this area. Some international grapes like Chardonnay have found a home here with some exceptional results.
With a very warm climate, many of the wines here are red, full-bodied, and robust with ripe fruit flavors and high alcohols. Syrah and Nero d'Avola blends reign supreme here.
Found around the town of Marsala, this DOC focuses on making white wines from indigenous grapes like Inzolia, Grecanico, and Grillo, and red wines made from Nero d'Avola and Perricone.
“Er-ee-ch-eh” Situated around the fortified hilltop town clinging to the slopes of Mount Erice, which rises above the Tyrrhenian sea, this DOC has vineyards planted at 820-1640 feet (250-500 m). The high altitude makes for refreshing white wines made from Catarratto blends, and the red wines are Nero d’Avola blends.
One of the warmest places on the island, with Saharan winds keeping it very dry and warm, this area has seen a lot of experimentation with international grape varieties like Tannat, Viognier, and Chardonnay. As it's so warm here, many of the grapes are harvested at night to help retain acidity.
Located close to Alcamo DOC, this is another region that has experimented with Syrah and is producing some great results! It's also one of the few appellations in Sicily that focuses on a lesser-known red grape, Perricone. Perricone wines are deep in color with lots of tannin and intense black fruit flavors.
This small DOC produces mainly refreshing white blends made from Catarratto and Nero d’Avola blends for its red wines.
Santa Margherita di Belice
This region is known for ripe and fruity red wines made of Sangiovese, Nero d'Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon, and white wines made from local varieties such as Catarratto. Expect full-bodied wines here due to the warm, arid climate.
"She-Ak-ah" Situated close to Menfi, this is another warm place in Sicily with a mixture of local and international grape varieties. You can find blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Nero d'Avola for the reds and Chardonnay and Inzolia for the whites! They all tend to be full-bodied and ripe in flavor due to the warm, arid conditions.
Val di Noto (South East Sicily)
This area is a UNESCO world heritage site thanks to its amazing Baroque architecture, found in the towns of Ragusa, Modica, and Noto. After a massive earthquake that razed the whole area to the ground in 1693, the area was rebuilt in a dramatic fashion and is a jewel of architecture today.
It also happens to have the ancient Greek city of Syracuse too! Luckily for us, there are some fantastic wines here, and it's really the homeland of Nero d'Avola and Frappato! This area has some white wines, but most of the production focuses on red wines.
The warm winds of the Scirocco and the intense sun mean we get full-bodied, ripe, and smooth styles of Nero d'Avola, but we can also find fresh and fruity examples of Frappato here.
Cerasuolo di Vittoria
“Chair-a-swo-low–dee-V-ih-tore-ee-a” This is Sicily's only DOCG and the wines are blends of Frappato and Nero d'Avola. Cerasuolo means "cherry-colored," so you'll find some red cherry colors and flavors in these wines! The sandy soils here mean you can get elegant, floral notes in the wine, with a freshness that you wouldn't expect from such a warm climate.
For some of the best wines from this region, look for “Classico” on the label.
Nero d'Avola is the primary dedication of this DOC, which is not surprising given its proximity to the town Avola, where Nero d'Avola is thought to have originated. These wines are ripe and juicy with lots of ripe tannin and alcohol. Almost planted at sea level and with warm winds from all directions, there's little respite from the heat in the DOC and little rainfall, meaning ripe red wines reign supreme.
“Ree-eh-zee” The only DOC in Sicily to ensure that Cabernet Sauvignon is part of the wine – these wines are blends of Nero d'Avola and Cabernet Sauvignon. It's also possible to find rosé, white and sweet wines here.
A neighbor of the Eloro DOC and centered around the breathtaking town of Noto (which, by the way, has possibly the best bakery in Sicily), this is the home turf of Nero d’Avola. Ripe, bold, and high in alcohol, these red wines pack a punch. Noto also has some aromatic sweet wines made from Muscat, some of which use sun-dried grapes. These are called Moscato di Noto.
Named after the Greek city that still partially exists on the eastern coast, it is best known for its aromatic sweet wines made from sun-dried Muscat grapes. However, it's also possible to find full-bodied red wines made from Nero d'Avola.
The larger area surrounding the DOCG of Cerasuolo di Vittoria, this DOC has a bit more flexibility. Instead of being a blend, we can find single-varietal wines of Frappato and Nero d'Avola. They all have a floral freshness to them due to the sandy soils. It's also possible to find a single varietal of white wine made from the native grape of Inzolia.
Val di Demone (North East Sicily)
Val di Demone is home to Europe's tallest active volcano, the Aeolian Islands, and excellent tourist destinations like Taormina. Visiting this region is a must.
Its most famous wines are based on the slopes of Etna, producing some of Italy's finest, invigorating, fresh, and aromatic white and red wines. But this area is more than just a volcano! Discover what else northeast Sicily has to offer.
If you like Red Burgundy or Barolo, you have to check out Etna. With mountain slopes reaching 10,990 feet (3350 m) above sea level, and vineyards planted as high as 4,000 feet (1200 m), this region offers some exquisite yet powerful red and white wines.
Often thought of as the Barolo of the south, the red wines are elegant, structured, perfumed and age-worthy, and made from Nerello Mascalese blends. The white wines are refreshing, racy, and like high-quality Riesling, but made from Carricante. This volcanic soil has lots to offer, so learn more about one of Sicily's most iconic regions.
Mamertino di Milazzo
Protected from the Scirocco winds, this area is drier and hotter than Faro, making the perfect climate for Nocera. Nocera is a grape with tons of color and acid, like Mourvèdre in France. The wines are blends of Nero d'Avola and Nocera, with ripe fruit flavors but refreshing acid. The white wines are blends of the triad Inzolia, Catarratto, and Grillo, producing refreshing examples.
Faro means lighthouse in Italian and the location of this DOC, right on the straits of Messina, would be a perfect spot for one. This area sees high winds and quite a bit of rain brought by the humid and warm Scirocco wind. Only red wines are produced here and they are always blends of Nerello Mascalese, Nocera, and Nero d'Avola. Many of the grapes are planted in the mountains, giving them freshness and delicate aromatics.
Malvasia delle Lipari
This DOC is all about sweet copper-colored wines made from Malvasia's aromatic grape. The intense floral and honeyed notes paired with the refreshing acidity make for a fun wine.
Planted on the Aeolian islands, some of which are active volcanoes, this wine has been known as one of Sicily's best wines for centuries. If you see "Passito" on the label, that means the grapes have been dried in the sun and the wine will be extra sweet. Oh, and by the way, yep, it's a UNESCO world heritage site.