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Known for its sandy beaches, salty seafood, and volcanic-influenced wines, Sicily is a mecca for lovers of all things smoky, saline-tinged, and terroir-driven. If earthy reds, refreshing whites, or sweet dessert wines are your thing, then this island has something delicious for you.
Where Does Sicilian Wine Come From?
Sicilian wine is produced on the Italian island of Sicily, located off the southern tip of mainland Italy. It is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, and it’s best known for its ashy, volcanic terrain.
How Is Sicilian Wine Made?
Wines from Sicily are vinified in a variety of styles, and their final flavor profiles depend on where the fruit was grown, how it was vinified, and in what type of vessel it was aged. Wine from Sicily is produced in red, white, rosé, and orange (skin-contact) format. Although most of the island’s wines are vinified dry, Sicily has a robust sweet-wine production as well, namely in the areas of Marsala and Pantelleria.
Which Grapes Are Used in Sicilian Wine?
Sicily is home to a number of indigenous varieties, and most wine produced on the island is made from these native grapes (as opposed to international, more easily recognizable varieties). Popular white grape varieties include carricante, catarratto, grillo, and inzolia. For reds, common grapes include frappato, nero d’avola, nerello mascalese, and perricone.
What Is Sicily’s Terroir Like?
Although many smaller microclimates exist, Sicily is best known for its volcanic soils, coastal sea breezes, and mountainous terrain. The region is home to 23 DOCs scattered over a handful of regions, the most well known of which are Etna, Marsala, and Vittoria.
What Does Sicilian Wine Taste Like?
The exact flavors found in Sicilian wines are very specific to their producer, variety, and region. However, most Sicilian wines from the Etna region are marked by distinct mineral-laden notes of ash and smoke due to their proximity to Mount Etna. Coastal white wines from other parts of the island tend to be fresh and saline-tinged.
Nero d’avola-based reds tend to be earthy and fruit-driven (think pinot noir-meets-nebbiolo), whereas frappato-based wines tend to be more light on their feet, similar to gamay from Beaujolais. Sweet, zibibbo-based wines from Pantelleria are aromatic and flavor-packed, while fortified wines from Marsala can range all over the spectrum. In short, no matter what your palate preference may be, there’s definitely a Sicilian wine out there for you.
What Makes for Good Food Pairings with Sicilian Wine?
Due to their versatility, Sicilian wines pair with a plethora of dishes. Salty, unoaked expressions of inzolia, grillo, or Etna bianco (carricante, catarratto, etc.) come to life when served with briny seafood and fresh raw-bar favorites. Bright fruit-driven frappatos are delicious with a variety of charcuterie and appetizers, especially when served with a slight chill. Ashy Etna rossos are a match made in heaven with smoky meats and veggies on the grill. And to end the meal with a bang, nothing beats a passito-style zibibbo with Italian-inspired pastries. Cannoli, anyone?
These are six bottles to try.
Benanti Etna Bianco
The Benanti family’s Etna-based roots date back to the late-1800s, when Dr. Giuseppe Benanti began cultivating his father’s old vineyards on the slopes of Mount Etna. Today, brothers Antonio and Salvino carry on the family tradition, focusing on native varieties and organic farming. Their Etna bianco is produced from 100% carricante hailing from 20-to-60-year-old alberello (head-trained) vines. The fruit is fermented with native yeasts and aged on fine lees stainless steel. The resulting wine is crisp, fresh, and loaded with mineral-laden flavors of apple skin, Meyer lemon, crushed rocks, and coarse sea salt.
Love refreshing, easy-drinking reds that benefit from a slight chill? Then frappato is for you. Frequently compared to gamay, this tasty grape is Sicily’s version of bright fruit-driven and thirst-quenching wines. Considered the leader of Sicily’s natural-wine movement, the influence of this estate has radiated throughout southern Italy. This accessible, budget-friendly wine ferments with native yeasts and ages for nine months in concrete tanks. Expect juicy flavors of red cherries, cranberries, blood orange, and rose petals. (And for a tasty skin-contact wine from Sicily, check out the Pithos Bianco bottling.)
Feudo Montoni Grillo della Timpa
Feudo Montoni’s Sicilian roots can be traced back to 1469, and although the family has always been dedicated to honest agricultural farming, its winemaking story is still rather youthful. Now spearheaded by third-generation winemaker Fabio Sireci, this certified-organic estate focuses exclusively on native Sicilian varieties. “Timpa,” which means “strong slope” in the local dialect, pays homage to the site from which its fruit comes. The wine is fresh and fruit-driven, marked by saline-tinged flavors of ripe peach, apricot, grapefruit rind, and freshly cut herbs. For a crowd-pleasing and affordable white wine, this bottle is an easy choice.
Girolamo Russo 'a Rina Etna Rosso
After inheriting his father’s small plots of grapes, winemaker Giuseppe Russo began studying under the likes of Frank Cornelissen, Marco de Grazia (Tenuta della Terre Nere), and Andrea Franchetti (Passopisciaro), three key figures in Sicliy’s natural-wine movement. Today, Russo is crafting some of the island’s most thoughtful and terroir-driven wines, with influences from each of the above winemakers evident in every bottle produced. ‘A Rina is Russo’s entry-level Etna rosso, though make no mistake: This wine is special. Fruit for this cuvée comes mostly from his younger vines, though smatterings from his vines of more than 100 years old are also included. Smoky ash-driven flavors of red berries, cracked black pepper, and a touch of spice dominate the wine’s complex palate. It combines the earthiness of Old World pinot with the tannic structure of Langhe nebbiolo.
Manenti Cerasuolo di Vittoria
Husband-and-wife team Marita and Guglielmo Manenti have been organically farming their four small hectares in the heart of Sicily’s Vittoria region since 2005. All of their vines are planted in the traditional bush system and range from 20 to 40 years in age. This 50/50 blend of nero d’avola and frappato jumps with lively flavors of red cherries, strawberry jam, tart cranberries, and savory dried spices. Sip it chilled with charcuterie boards or flavor-packed salads. Fun fact: Cerasuolo di Vittoria is the only DOCG on the entire island of Sicily.
Marco de Bartoli Bukkuram Sole d'Agosto Passito di Pantelleria
Former professional race-car driver Marco de Bartoli ventured out to Pantelleria in 1984 to begin his passito-style winemaking project. Today, his children now hold the reins at the estate, producing wines from organically farmed fruit and native yeasts. This dessert wine is one of the family’s two passito-style wines, each produced from 100% zibibbo (muscat di Alexandria). Passito-style winemaking involves letting the grapes dry out in the sun, which concentrates their sugars. Expect sweet-yet-balanced flavors of golden raisins, honey, apricot marmalade, and a touch of burned sugar to lead to a lasting flavor-packed finish.