Sicily is a wine lover’s dream. With Sicilian wine being spread across 25 DOC and DOCGs and more than 65 grape varietals, the island has something for everyone. But with so many wine regions, it can be hard to know where to start. This guide will help you navigate Sicily’s wine country and hopefully inspire you to visit Italy’s island in the South.
History of Sicilian Wine
Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and is located just off the coast of southern Italy. It is one of the country’s most important wine-producing regions. It is home to some of the oldest vineyards in the world, and Sicilian wine has a long and fascinating history. The island’s climate is ideal for growing grapes, and the first vines were probably planted by the Greeks who settled here in the 8th century BC.
Over the centuries, Sicily has been ruled by a succession of civilizations, each of which has left its mark on the island’s wines. Sicilian wine was highly prized by the Romans, and later became popular in northern Europe during the Middle Ages.
Today, Sicilian wines are enjoyed all over the world, and the island’s winemakers are working to revive traditional styles while also experimenting with new techniques. Whether you’re a fan of reds, whites, or sparkling wines, there’s sure to be a Sicilian wine to suit your taste.
Wine Grapes in Sicily
There are many different types of wine grapes grown in Sicily, and many of them are unique to the island. Nero d’Avola and Nerello Mascalese are the predominant red varietals, while Catarratto, Grillo and Inzolia/Ansonica are the most planted whites. Island-wide, Catarratto is the most planted grape.
Regionally, different grapes become more prominent. For instance, on Etna, Etna rosso is made from Carricante and Etna bianco is made from Nerello Mascalese. Silicy’s only DOCG wine is made from Frappato, a very old grape varietal that makes for low sugar low alcohol reds with unusual strawberry notes.
Fortified wine is made in Marsala from Grillo and other native grapes like Catarratto and Inzolia, while Zibibbo (Muscat) is found in the southern island of Pantelleria. Other native Sicilian grapes include Nerello Cappuccio, Negroamaro, Perricone, and Garganega.
Being such a large wine growing region, many international varieties have been grown over time, so it’s fairly common to see grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and even some Pinot Noir.
Sicilian Wine Regions
Sicily has the largest area of vineyards of any wine-growing region in Italy. The island’s climate is varied, with hot, dry conditions in the interior and cooler, wetter conditions near the coast. This results in a wide range of wines being produced in Sicily, from light, refreshing whites to full-bodied reds.
Many Sicilian growers practice organic farming. The wine in Sicily is notably different from other Italian wines, because the grape varietals, climate, and terroir are all distinct from other Italian wine regions.
Italy DOCG, DOC, IGP Explained
The DOCG designation in Italy means the grapes were grown and vinified in that location, plus a winemaker must submit their wine every year for a government agency to verify they followed the strict winemaking rules for that specific region.
DOC is less strict than DOCG, but the wine must be made in the same region the grapes are grown. In other words, the entire process of growing to bottling must happen in the same region to be labeled a DOC wine. Within each DOC there may be specific rules for certain wines, whether that means aging or grape blend requirements.
Aside from wine being designated DOC or DOCG, Italy also classifies food products based on the region they originate. These will come with a label IGP to indicate that a minimum of one important step of the wine production takes place in that geographical designation. Here are the IGP designations for Sicily: Avola, Camarro, Fontanarossa di Cerda, Salemi, Salina, Terre Siciliane (also called IGT), Valle Belice.
Here is a breakdown of all the DOCs and DOCG regions in Sicily.
Southeastern Sicily Wine Regions
Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG
Cerasuolo di Vittoria is the only Sicilian wine region with DOCG status. The wines produced here are made entirely from Nero d’Avola and Frappato grapes. The climate in this region is hot and dry, which helps the grapes to ripen fully and develop complex flavors. Cerasuolo di Vittoria wines are typically full-bodied with soft tannins and a long finish.
Wines from Vittoria that aren’t classified as Cearsuolo di Vittoria DOCG will use the Vittoria DOC label. Vittoria has a very warm climate, and the main grapes grown there are Nero d’Avola and Frappato. The Nero d’Avola wines produced here are full-bodied with firm tannins, while the Frappato based wines are lighter in body with softer tannins.
The climate in this region is warm and sunny, with a moderate amount of rainfall. Wines from Siracusa are made from Nero d’Avola, Moscato, and a little Syrah.
Riesi DOC has several grape varietals, but Riesi Rosso must contain at least 85% Cabernet Sauvignon or Nero d’Avola. Nerello Mascalese, Ansonica, and Chardonnay are also widely grown in this region. Late harvest dessert wines are made with Ansonica or Chardonnay in Riesi.
Nero d’Avola and Moscato are the predominant grapes grown in the Noto DOC. The climate is slightly varied, as it extends inland from the coast. There are white, red, and sparkling wines from the region. Noto is a beautiful baroque town surrounded by this wine region, and a great place to base yourself on a trip to southeastern Sicily, as there are many modern villa rentals in the area.
The climate is warm in Eloro DOC, so it is a red wine producing region. Nero d’Avola, Frappato, and Perricone grape varieties are grown Eloro has a smaller area within it called Pachino, and Pachino Rosso must have a minimum of 80 percent Nero d’Avola and no more than 20 percent Perricone and/or Frappato. There is also a reserve version that must meet an aging requirement.
Northeastern Sicily Wine Regions
The Etna DOC is home to Sicily’s most prominent natural landmark, Mount Etna, an active volcano sitting just west of Catania.
The volcanic soils are rich in minerals and extremely varied from one vineyard to the next, creating lots of unique blocks of terroir. Because of this and the unique climate (huge diurnal shifts), there are more than 130 contrade, or smaller wine growing areas within the larger Etna DOC.
The predominant grapes farmed in the region are Nerello Mascalese and Carricante, but many other varietals are grown as well. Etna Rosso is mainly Nero d’Avola, and Etna Bianco is mainly Carricante, but there are rules that define the overall composition of these Sicilian wines.
Many single varietal wines are being produced in Etna DOC, and you’ll even find spumante produced in the traditional method of Champagne.
For wine tourism, visiting Etna is a real treat! It’s a different world on the volcano than the rest of the island, and should be on your next Sicily itinerary.
Most of the grapes grown in Mamertino are Ansonica, Catarratto, Grillo, Nocero, and Nero d’Avola. Wine styles vary in this north coast region, from intense dry red to sweet dessert wine.
Malvasia delle Lipari DOC
Located on the Aeolian island of Lipari, this wine growing region is known for its white wines made from the Malvasia Bianca grape. These Sicilian white wines are fresh with fruity aromas and a hint of salt and sea breeze.
Faro DOC is at the strait of Messina, so the vineyards are extremely exposed to the strong Sc
Sirocco winds coming from the Sahara. Red blends are popular in Faro, combining Nerello Mascalese with Nerello Cappuccio, Nocera, Gaglioppo, Nero d’Avola, and Sangiovese. Wines from Faro have notes of dark red berries, spice (cinnamon, cloves), and moderate tannins.
Western Sicily Wine Regions
Many varietals of wine grapes are being grown in Alcamo, from Catarratto, Grillo, and Grecanico to Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. White wine from Alcamo is traditionally made as a blend with predominantly Catarratto grapes and has fresh tropical notes. Late harvest whites and sparklings also come from the region as well.
Contea di Sclafani DOC
This wine growing region is home to many different grape varietals. In fact, more than 20 wine types are being made in Contea di Sclafani. Catarratto and Nero d’Avola, are often featured here, as the climate is a bit different than other parts of the island. These hills experience large diurnal shifts in summer, resulting in more acidic wines that you’ll find from the same grapes in other regions in Sicily.
Contessa Entellina DOC
The Contessa Entellina region is located south of Palermo, with a landscape of mountains and valleys with limestone and some clay. While the soil is not as diverse as Mount Etna, the western Sicilian wine growing regions also have volcanic soil. With a hot climate, bold reds are common, as are whites made from Catarratto, Grillo, and Grecanico.
Delia Nivolelli DOC
Delia Nivolelli is a small wine growing region near the west coast, predominantly vinifying local grape varietals. To be called a bianco or rosso wine from this DOC, at least 65% of each must be from one grape varietal. Wines are also being produced as single varietal wines, and those only require 85% to be from one grape. Much of the wine from the region is classified as Terre Siciliane IGP, since that designation allows a little more freedom for creativity.
Another wine growing region in the far west of Sicily near Trapani, Erice has a very diverse list of grapes grown for still, sparkling wines, and dessert wine. Passito, a dessert wine made from dried grapes, from Erice DOC must be 95% Zibibbo, a Sicilian grape varietal. Bianco and rosso wines are required to have at least 60% Catarratto and Nero d’Avola, respectively.
Marsala is known for its famous fortified wines, a style brought by an English wine merchant. Many years of relaxed rules for the region resulted in mass production of Marsala wines with added sugars and artificial flavors, giving it a bad reputation. Now, the focus is on higher quality wines. There are five different styles of Marsala sweet wine in the DOC, and the aging ranges from one year to ten years, with designated time in the barrel for each.
Menfi is a quiet inland region in the southwest of Sicily near Sciacca. Sicilian wines from Menfi can be made from around 24 different grapes, with native varieties and some non-native. Like other Sicilian wine regions, the bianco and rosso wines from Menfi DOC must contain at least 60% of one grape from mostly native varieties.
The closest Sicilian DOC to Palermo, Monreale wine region is a great option for a day trip from the city. Though a fairly small region, producers grow all types of grapes here, including Syrah, Nero d’Avola, Perricone, Cabernet, and several white grape varieties. Single varietal wines must be 85% of that grape, but Monreale rosso and bianco blends only 50% Perricone or Nero d’Avola for red and Ansonica or Catarratto for white.
Pantelleria is a very unique wine growing region for Sicily, because it is another island, but very close to Africa. The climate is hotter than the rest of Sicily, and sweet wine is king. Muscat/Zibibbo is the main grape here, and you’ll find all versions of wine celebrating it. Sweet wine, various levels of sparkling wine, and passito, another sweet wine made from dried grapes.
Salaparuta has only been designated a DOC since 2006, so it’s fairly young for the island. This inland region is solely focused on wine grape production, with other regions might be a mix of agricultural products. The predominant grapes in the region are Catarratto and Nero d’Avola, with DOC blends needing to contain 60-65% of each, respectively. Other grapes commonly found here are Ansonica, Grillo, Chardonnay, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.
Sambuca di Sicilia DOC
Adjacent to Sciacca and Menfi, Sambuca di Sicilia is another small wine growing region making Sicilian wines with native varietals, plus a little Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Blends are most common (white, red, and rosato), as the region is mainly olive groves.
Santa Margherita di Belice DOC
The Belice river is probably most known for the olive groves that grow along it in Castelvetrano. However, it also runs through Santa Margherita, a very small wine producing region for Catarratto, more local white grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Nero d’Avola, and Sangiovese. Not very many wines take on the label of this DOC, but consider it worth a visit when in Agrigento for the temples.
Sciacca is a picturesque port town in the southwest of Sicily. Cliffside vineyards in Sciacca benefit from coastal breezes, especially during the very hot summer months. White wines from Sciacca DOC are made from Izolia/Ansonica, Grecanico, Catarratto and Chardonnay and pair well with the famous seafood here. Subzone Rayana can produce riserva whites from 85% Ansonica or Catarratto. Red blends are mostly Nero d’Avola, Cabernet, and Sangiovese, though other grapes can be used.
A wine with a Sicilia DOC label covers many different grapes and wine styles grown and vinified in Sicily that do not fall into one of the other specific DOC regions listed above. There are too many grapes and specifications to list, but usually you’ll see the Sicilia DOC label used on single varietal wines. Those wines are usually (with exceptions) a minimum of 85% of a single varietal blended with other grapes.
Taste Sicilian Wines in Sicily
Sicily is a huge island with a lot to see. In fact, one trip is usually not enough time. Whether you are drawn to beaches in the summer, wandering historic baroque towns, touring wineries, visiting olive groves or tasting all the seafood pasta humanly possible, there is something magical waiting for you in Sicily.
If you plan a trip, be sure to include a visit to at least one of these wine regions. If you only pick one, our top recommendation would be to visit Etna. You can spend a couple of days in a totally different universe on the volcano and also see Taormina, a picturesque coastal hillside town with great food and a small beach.