Viticulture in Sicily
Which are the main Grape Varieties of Sicily?
Nero d’Avola is the most widely grown red grape, followed by Frappato and Perricone. Catarratto, Grillo, Zibibbo, and Inzolia are the key white grapes.
Beyond indigenous grapes, Sicily also houses a large quantity of international grapes – predominantly Chardonnay, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot but also Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Muller Thurgau, Pinot Nero, and Pinot Grigio.
- Native grapes of Etna: Nerello Cappuccio and Nerello Mascalese shape Etna Rosso, while Carricante gives Etna Bianco (sometimes with a dollop of Catarratto, Minnella and other lesser-known grapes). Owing their mid-weight and almost cool-climate personality to high altitude and cooler average temperatures than in the rest of the region, Etna Rosso and Etna Bianco stand out for their uncommon refinement, often drawing parallels to the wines of Burgundy.
- Nero d’ Avola: Native to the namesake town, Nero d’Avola gives a plethora of different wines, varying from light and gluggable, with lots of sweet red fruits and moderate acidity, to bold, structured and oak-aged. Nero d’Avola is the key red variety in Sicily, covering 15% of the total surface. Naturally resistant to hydric stress and diseases, it gives good crops and retains high even in extremely warm growing environments. Mainly owing its success to simple and fruit-forward reds, it actually produces a wide variety of different wines, including ambitious, oak-aged wines that feature among Sicily’s finest.
- Frappato: Typical of Southeastern Sicily, Frappato usually yield usually lighter-bodied and more perfumed wines than Nero d’Avola, at times recalling Gamay or light and simple Pinot Noir. The best versions come from the Vittoria plateaus, also producing Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Sicily’s only DOCG wine, consisting of a Nero d’Avola – Frappato blend.
- Perricone: Also known as Guarnaccio and Pignatello, Perricone is a late-ripening variety that gives full-bodied reds with imposing tannins and good acidity to balance. It performs especially well in high altitude areas such as the Monreale DOC in Western Sicily.
- Zibibbo: the equivalent of Muscat of Alexandria, Zibibbo is Sicily’s key aromatic grapes. It is often used to make Passito, especially on the island of Pantelleria where local growers farm old alberello vines and pick the grapes in mid-August to retain high acidity, then let them wither under the sun to concentrate sugars and aromas. In mainland Sicily, Zibibbo produces both Passito and dry wines: the latter are fresh and fruity with good acidity and a touch of astringency on the finish. Skin-contact examples are rarer but equally interesting.
- Catarratto: the region’s most widely grown variety, still used to make bulk wine or Vermouth, Catarratto is a completely neutral grape, yielding zesty and citrusy still and sparkling whites. These wines are especially refined and captivating, with an almost Riesling-like personality, when the yields are moderate and the fruit comes from higher elevation vineyards.
- Grillo: Born in the 19th century as a crossing between Catarratto and Zibibbo, Grillo originates from the province of Agrigento in Western Sicily but the township of Marsala currently houses the largest surface planted to this grape. Dry wines made with Grillo are subtly aromatic but also crisp and minerally. As they spend longer time in bottle or on the lees, they take on more complex nuances of gasoline, lanolin, and honey, while retaining good acidity and complementing salinity. Oxidative aging further emphasizes these characteristics, and that is why Grillo has become the key grape of Solera-style wines like Marsala or non-fortified Vino Perpetuo.
- Inzolia: equivalent to Ansonica from Tuscany, Inzolia gives neutral wines with moderate acidity, performing best when blended with more perfumed and higher-acid varieties.