Sicily is most famous for its dessert wine, Marsala, but the region also produces outstanding dry red and white wines - discover the 6 native Sicilian grape varieties you deserve to know.
Red Wines of Sicily
Some call this the Cabernet of Sicily because it has the rich, black fruit flavors (think blackberries and plums) and often lots of rich, smooth body. We liken it to Malbec because we're seeing it produce exceptional, elegant, and age-worthy styles when grown in Sicily's mountainous regions.
It's useful to note that Nero d'Avola has smooth tannins, making it very approachable. Overall, it's a great example of a Sicilian red that everyone deserves to know.
Nerello Mascalese ("Nair-rello Mas-kah-lay-zay") is a fast up-and-comer in sommelier circles all over the earth because of its delicate red cherry fruit flavors, structured tannin, and pale ruby-red color. In other words, it looks and smells a lot like Pinot Noir and tastes similar to Barolo!
Despite its growing popularity, Nerello Mascalese is pretty rare on the island, mostly growing at elevation (1000 feet and above) on the foothills of Mount Etna. It's a major grape in Etna Rosso DOC.
The most delicate of Sicily's reds, Frappato grows well in Sicily's Terra Rossa and sandy soils, where it delivers perfumed aromas of candied sour cherry, raspberry, and flowers. Because of its light color and delicate flavors, it's often blended with Nero d'Avola in Sicily's only DOCG: Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG ("chair-ah-swolo dee Vit-toh-ree-ya").
White Wines of Sicily
Sicilian winemakers dedicate most of their vineyard land to white wines, and Catarratto (now often called "Lucido")is the most planted white grape. It's been here for a long time, perhaps thousands of years, and we know this because there are many subtypes and clones.
As a wine, expect good acidity and low alcohol with subtle melon or peach aromas and a bit of salinity. These wines are refreshing "beach wines" and also make up a large portion of what goes into Marsala.
Grillo ("Gree-low") is a natural crossing of Zibibbo (Muscat of Alexandria) and Cataratto. On the palate, expect fresh, peach or passion fruit notes similar to what you might find in Sauvignon Blanc. Still, the wines have a rich body and mouth-filling texture, and some put it in oak barrels to add more richness and subtle vanilla notes, much like Chardonnay.
Carricante ("Kare-reh-kan-tay") is a bit of a rarity growing alongside Nerello Mascalese and a major grape in Etna Bianco DOC. It has a cult following who liken this high acid, subtly aromatic white wine to Riesling because it exudes petrol-like notes as it ages.
Despite its often deep, brown-amber color, Marsala is made mostly (if not entirely) from white wine grapes. The more you learn about it, the more you realize that Marsala isn't just for simmering mushrooms and chicken. It's a serious sipping wine that rivals fine vintage Port.