Sicily: Italy’s Oldest Wine Treasure
Sicily is distinct and recognizable in the wine world. Being one of the most significant contributors to the Italian wine trade, wine enthusiasts worldwide hold Sicilian wines in high regard.
Sicily’s attachment to excellence, however, did not happen overnight, nor did it come with ease. The region had to undergo a series of trials before it earned its current reputation.
Carrying an ounce of legend, a pint of ordeals, a giblet of innovation and a keg of success, Sicily’s wine tale is definitely worth a read. Wine aficionados, after all, would love to know how Sicilians crafted such fine tipple and why Sicily is at the forefront of the Italian wine trade.
Singapore Wine Vault probes further.
Sicilian History: Visiting Ancient Traditions
Out of the all the wine-producing regions in the country, Sicily has the oldest tradition in viticulture. Its history dates back to 1500 BC when Mycenaean traders began cultivating grapes in the Aeolian Islands. The Greeks also brought in a wide variety of vines when they settled in Sicily during the 8th century BC.
This was the starting point of grape growing in Italy. At first, the fruits were taken as table grapes, but after a lengthy period, locals discovered that these can be turned into a fine beverage other than grape juice. Viticulture was soon developed and winemakers tapped the potential of the region’s land to grow varietals suitable for both reds and whites.
In 1773, Sicily became home to what would become one of its most famous products, the Marsala. Thanks to an English trader named John Woodhouse, the Marsala found its place in the far west side of the island. Aiming to transform the local wine, Woodhouse applied in perpetuum techniques to fortify the wine by adding alcohol. This allowed the wine to be transported back to England without being damaged. Marsala gained success in England. In fact, other entrepreneurs were attracted to it that they decided to tap the wine’s popularity. The British control over its production, however, ended in the 19th century when Italian business tycoon Vincenzo Florio bought most of the land where the vines were planted. The Florios, bolstering the winemaking effort even further, held the acclaim of being the leading producer of the Marsala. Currently, it is considered one of the greatest fortified wines in the world.
Sicily’s wine production continued in the 20th century, with winemakers processing large quantities of grapes. The island became a winemaking epicenter, as production was more focused on quantity than quality. It earned a favorable reputation among wine enthusiasts, since bulks of tipple reached parts of the continent. However, favoring quantity over quality bears serious consequences.
Sicilian wine’s reputation hit a snag in the late 1960s when the quality of local wine significantly declined. An oenologist named Franco Giacosa even described it as “rustic, strong, heavy, and oxidized.” It did not improve in immediate fashion, as wine producers continued planting ill-suited grapes. The revival of Sicily’s wine production only started when Marco de Bartoli began working on improving the production of Marsala. He refined the methods used in winemaking and carefully chose the varietals to be produced for export and national consumption.
For the past 20 years, Sicilian wine rose to prominence and became a darling among wine aficionados, casual drinkers and wine critics globally. Local producers began winning international awards. It was soon recognized that some of the finest wines in Italy came from the island of Sicily.
Apart from Bartoli, much of Sicily’s success in the modern world is attributed to a new generation of producers who advances winemaking methods and wine warehousing techniques. They also recognized the potential of Sicily’s climate, soil, and autochthonous grape varieties, and took full advantage of it all.
The Sicilian Soil
The island’s grape-growing condition is instrumental in wine production. The soil, coming from surrounding mountains, plays a major role in the island’s viticulture.
For instance, Mount Etna, which dominates the eastern skyline, is what makes the soil of Etna DOC vineyards rich in minerals. Moreover, winemakers began planting vines up the volcanic slopes because the cooler air and richer soils there will likely result in higher quality yields.
The vineyards in Sicily far outnumber those from other Italian regions. A wide range of grape varieties grow in the island given its healthy climate, altitude and topography. Thanks to this, Sicily was once dubbed a “continent of wine.” Currently, there are 22 DOC zones in Sicily, with each one building its own identity based on geography, local branding, and grape variety.
Though its wine industry took a hit in the past, Sicily bounced back and is currently one of the leading players in Italy’s wine trade. Sicilian wines have also become a benchmark globally for exceptional winemaking.
Many prestigious wine cellars carry Sicilian wines, and the best ones can be found at Singapore Wine Vault. A trip to its cellars will grant you access to wines from Sicily’s different regions. Aficionados are more than happy to sample collections of whites and reds, as they taste a combination of fruity notes, middling astringency, and the notable effects of a storied heritage.