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WSET Diploma: Unit 3: Italy > Sicily > Flashcards

Flashcards in Sicily Deck (29)
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Largest area under vines in Italy, spread widely around the island. Own quality designation. Symbol Q appears on label, denotes wine of good quality at any level. Indigenous varieties, Nero d'Avola common or blends with international varieties. Much bulk wine production. Better quality from the interior mountains with cooler climate. A few estates are making very high quality wines. Cataratto, Grillo and Inzolia are used for fortified Marsala and blended dry whites.


Alcamo DOC

Northwest Sicily, west of Palermo. Centred on the town of Trapani. Trapani's vineyards are the most important extensive in Italy. White, red and rose produced but predominately white from Cataratto.


Cerasuolo DOCG

Promoted to DOCG in 2005. Long- lived red produced from the Frapatto grape in the Ragusa province of Sicily.


Passito di Pantelleria DOC

Small island of Pantelleria near North Africa. Luscious dessert wine produced from Moscato grapes. Similar to flavours as Rutherglen Muscat, with a lighter palate.



Volcanic island at the extreme southern limit of Italy and closer in fact to Cape Bon in tunisia than to the southern coast of sicily, to which it belongs administratively. Moscato di Pantelleria is one of Italy’s finest dessert wines, made from the zibibbo (muscat of alexandria). The wine has enjoyed a certain reputation since the 1880s, when the marsala house of Rallo began to market it. The viticulture of the island is unusual: vines are gobelet trained but buried in a hole (called a ‘conca’ by local growers) and vineyards surrounded by stone walls built from volcanic black rock to prevent dehydration by the hot scirocco winds that sweep across the island. Moscato di Pantelleria comes in two different versions. The first is the regular Moscato, with at least 11% alcohol level and 68 g/l of residual sugar, although many of the better producers raisin the grapes for 10 to 12 days to achieve a higher total alcohol level and a greater quantity of residual sugar (see dried-grape wines). The second version is lusher and richer and is true dessert style, which made the wine’s reputation. This Passito di Pantelleria must have at least 14% alcohol and 100 g/l residual sugar, although a current trend is to seek a more decadently sweet style, raisining the grapes for up to 30 days and arriving at close to 140 g/l of residual sugar. This search for power can come at a cost: the Moscato perfumes tend to be destroyed by the very high level of volatile acidity that may result from prolonged drying under the hot sun. Both the Moscato and the Passito can come with the suffix ‘liquoroso’ indicating the addition of ethyl alcohol, which arrests the alcoholic fermentation while leaving a substantial amount of unfermented sugar in the wine. They may be additionally labelled Vino Dolce Naturale, the Italian equivalent of vin doux naturel, but rarely achieve the complexity of the unfortified versions. And changes in the production rules in the early 2010s created a new category of dry white wines labelled as Pantelleria Bianco as well as sparkling wines. After a period of neglect and decline, Moscato di Pantelleria continues to experience a period of revived popularity and recognition in Italy, with an undeniable increase in overall quality driven mainly by ambitious small-scale producers, notably Marco de Bartoli and biodynamic avantguardist Salvatore Ferrandes. French actress Carole Bouquet’s Sangue D’Oro estate has also played a part in shining a spotlight on one of Italy’s greatest sweet wines.



Known as Sardegna in Italian (the Italian adjective is Sardo), Mediterranean island 200 km/125 miles off the coast of Italy at its nearest point, governed by carthage before conquest by Ancient rome, and subsequently by Byzantines, Arabs, and Catalans. (See map under italy.) Sardinia became an integral part of Italy only in 1726, when it was ceded to the House of Savoy. Historically, linguistically, and culturally, as well as geographically, the island seems detached from the mainstream of Italian civilization, and it is no surprise that at least two of its significant grape varieties—cannonau (garnacha) and Carignano (carignan), also known as bovale Grande—are of Spanish origin. Vines in any case play only a small part in a total agricultural economy in which much of the land is dedicated to the grazing of animals—sheep in particular—for milk and meat. Although the total area under vines and the total production of wine underwent a significant increase in the post-war period, due to the wholesale replacement of its low-yielding bush vines with high-yielding tendone and wire-trained vineyards aided by lavish subsidies both from Rome and from the regional government, the result has not been a self-sustaining wine industry. As markets for Sardinian wines contracted and the flow of public funds to co-operative wineries dwindled to a trickle, the total vineyard surface decreased from a high of 70,000 to under 19,000 ha/47,000 acres in 2010. This dramatic contraction, however, has helped Sardinia’s slow but certain transition from quantity to quality producer: of a total of 510,000 hl of wine produced in 2010, more than 330,000 hl qualified as doc and over 80,000 hl of igt, while basic bulk wine represented a mere 15% of the total. Little has been done within the DOCs to match individual vine varieties to proper soils and climates. The production zones of the most popular varieties—Vermentino and Cannonau—have been extended to include the entire surface of the island. Four smaller subzones have been created for Cannonau: Capo Ferrato, Jerzu (the smallest), Oliena, and Classico (comprising the provinces of Nuoro and Ogliastra and wines declared as such need to be at least 95% Cannonau compared to 85% in the other subzones), but they are still too large to represent a faithful expression of a specific terroir. With a maximum yield per ha of 11 tonnes (9 tonnes for the Classico zone) for Cannonau and an absurdly generous 16 tonnes for Vermentino, it is only logical that most quality-oriented producers turn their backs on the official DOCs, preferring the lowly IGT, which also has the benefit of less bureaucracy. The Arborea DOC, approved in 1987 and geared solely to producing enormous volumes of sangiovese and trebbiano in a zone of commercial fruit cultivation, established 135 hl/ha as its official maximum permitted yield, and has not been a commercial success. The existence of four different types of wine—dry, sweet, a liquoroso, or higher-alcohol, dry wine, and a liquoroso sweet wine—in many of the DOCs (Malvasia di Cagliari, Monica di Cagliari, Giro di Cagliari, Nasco di Cagliari, Cannonau di Sardegna) may seem confusing but at least reflects some of the island’s traditional and highly original wine styles. If the overall picture is far from encouraging, small quantities of good wines do exist and suggest that Sardinia’s soil and climate have potential. Vernaccia di Oristano, although produced in dwindling quantities, can be a good approximation of a dry sherry with a clean and bitter finish, and the hard-to-find legendary Malvasia di Bosa justly enjoys a certain reputation as a dessert wine. Refreshing bottles of Vermentino di Gallura, produced in the island’s north, do exist, though hardly in sufficient quantity to merit the wine’s promotion to DOCG status in 1996, even though it was accompanied by the sensible lowering of yields to 10 tonnes/ha. An occasional good bottle of Nuragus di Cagliari only underlines the absurdity of allowing such high yields. Carignano del Sulcis has been responsible for some of the island’s best wines, especially those from the co-operative in Santadi, Argiolas, and Barrua, a joint venture between Santadi and the Incisa family of sassicaia set up by winemaker Giacomo Tachis. In the province of Alghero the giant Sella e Mosca has begun putting its energy into re-evaluating the local white torbato while also producing fine, long-lived Cabernet Sauvignon. But the real custodians of Sardinia’s original wine styles and cultivation methods are several small producers who, following organic or biodynamic methods while tending old bush vines, succeed in turning out wines that truly reflect their origin. Prime examples include Dettori in Sennori, Panevino in Nurri, Giovanni Battista Columbu in Bosa, and Contini in Oristano. These mavericks demonstrate the versatility and potential that Sardinia has in spades, but is frustratingly slow to develop.


Nero d' Avola

The characteristic red grape variety of southern Siciliy, also known as Calabrese, suggesting origins in Calabria on the mainland. The 2010 Italian vine census cited 16,595 ha/40,990 acres of ‘Calabrese’, still the island’s most planted red wine grape. Producers on the island value the body, deep colour, and sweet-cherry fruit which Nero d’Avola can bring to a blend. varietal Nero d’Avola responds well to barrel maturation. Like Syrah, Nero d’Avola requires a good site, warmth, and low vine training to succeed. Avola itself is in the southern part of the province of Siracusa, and nearby Pachino, on the extreme south eastern tip of the island, is particularly reputed for the quality of its Nero d’Avola grapes.



Increasingly celebrated Sicilian red grape variety, which can add fruit and floral freshness to nero d’avola and nerello Mascalese in the south east of the island, notably Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOC. Probably a descendant of ciliegiolo, it wasgrown on a total of 752 ha/1,857 acres in 2010.



Sometimes spelt Insolia, white grape variety grown mainly in Sicily and to a much more limited extent in Tuscany, where it is known as Ansonica Bianca, under which name the 2010 vine census lists an Italian total of 6,132 ha/15,050 acres. Its genetic roots seem to be in western Sicily where it was valued as a relatively aromatic ingredient, with Grillo, in top-quality marsala. Today it is more often encountered as a varietal, or blended with the much more common catarratto, in dry white table wines. The best examples show a certain nuttiness, the worst could do with more acid and more flavour.



Sicilian white grape variety once used as the base for the best marsala. Grown on bush vines, it produced potent, full-bodied base wines that were supplemented by a proportion of the more aromatic inzolia. dna profiling established that Grillo is a natural cross of Sicily’s Catarratto with Muscat of Alexandria. At its best, it gives full-bodied wines of real interest, although they lack the aromatic intensity that has made Inzolia’s transformation from fortified to dry white wine variety so much easier. Plantings have grown substantially. Virtually all of Italy’s 6,294 ha/15,553 acres in 2010 were in Sicily, although the Rossese Bianco of Liguria has been shown to be identical to Grillo.


Sicilia: General

Traditionally only known for Marsala but modernisation in viticulture, winemaking and marketing.


Sicilia: Climate and Weather

Mediterranean climate w hot & dry summers and mild & wet winters. Low rainfall


Sicilia: Topography and Soils

Mostly hilly or mountainous w slopes up to 900m hi made of poor soils. Most vineyards are near the coast.


Sicilia: Viticulture and Winemaking

1960-80s: concentration on quantity meant the traditional gobelet was replaced with more productive wire- trained or tendone systems.

Guyot is now the large majority with some bush vines and tendone remaining. Move to mechanisation

Modernisation in winemaking with refrigeration for better temperature control at fermentation. Chaptalisation is
not permitted as in the rest of Italy.


Sicilia: Calabrese aka Nero d' Avola (13% of total plantings)

Performs in hot & steamy climates, esp. around Noto

Sweet tannins, plum or peppery flavours (//New World


Sicilia: Frappato

Light-coloured, cherry-scented native grape w hi acidity

Blended w Nero d’Avola in Cerasuolo to add fruit &

DNA linked to Sangiovese


Sicilia: Nerello Mascalese

Deep coloured, hi in alcohol w less concentration vs. Nero d’Avola often blended


Sicilia: Other Red Wine Grapes

Syrah (3.5% of total plantings), Cabernet, Perricone, Merlot


Sicilia: Cataretto (38% of plantings)

Garganega’s possible offspring

Can make interesting full bodied wines w lemon

Found only in Sicilia’s western province of

2nd most widely planted in Italy - Also used for Marsala


Sicilia: Inzolia

Relatively aromatic

Grown mainly in western Sicilia

Also used for Marsala


Sicilia: Grillo (3% of plantings)

Base grape for Marsala


Sicilia: Other White Grape Varieties

Chardonnay (4%), Malvasia, Zibbibo, Carricante, Grecanico


Sicilia: Key Appellations and Characters

IGTs & DOCs. The key DOCs from the Salento peninsula are:
- Alcamo DOC (R/W/R) – 20,000ha: North-western of Island, south-west of Palermo; mostly around the town of Trapani; DOC since 1972.

Whites: predominantly Cataratto but also Sauvignon, Grillo, Inzolia and Grecanico

Reds: Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot & Syrah

- Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG: Sicilia’s only DOCG since 2005; south-east of the Island; made from blend of min 40% Frappato and no max 60% Nero d’Avola. Best long-lived example from the Ragusa province

- Passito di Pantelleria DOC: Small island near North Africa, south-west of Sicilia. Dessert wine made from Zibibbo aka Moscato di Pantelleria w similar flavours to Rutherglen muscat but lighter

Others: Etna Rosso DOC, Malvasia di Lipari DOC


Sicilia: Key Producers and Production

- 130,000ha for 7m hl/yr – #1 area under vine & 2nd largest producer (after Puglia) w 13% of total wine • DOC represents only 2% of the production. ‘Q’ on label to denote higher quality level.

- Traditionally dominated by large cooperatives but now more than 500 quality producers

- Key producers:

Cantine Settesoli – 650ha / 15m btls
- Founded in 1958 by a group of farmers; now largest cooperative and biggest bottler on the island.
- Produces everyday wines as well as high quality varietals and blends.

Duca di Salaparuta Group – 100ha / 9.5m btls
- Group now owns 3 brands: historic Corvo, Florio and Duca di Salaparuta.
- Corvo: leading brands in Italy; first Sicilian company to bottle Nero d’Avola & use cold fermentation for whites - Signature wine: Duca Enrico red



Sicilian white grape variety that may well be the most widely planted grape variety in Italy. According to the 2010 Italian grape census, which distinguishes between Catarratto Bianco Comune and the less common but better quality Catarratto Bianco Lucido, probably two clones of the same variety, plantings still totalled 34,793 ha/ nearly 86,000 acres, despite eu efforts to diminish this total. The variety is planted almost exclusively in the far western province of Trapani and was in the past much used for the production of marsala. Today, it can be expected that much of the vine’s produce is regarded as surplus and is therefore either compulsorily distilled by the eu, or transformed into grape concentrate. Despite its profusion, the variety is specified in the regulations of just three doc zones; familiarity seems to have bred the usual contempt from locals.



(known as Sicilia in Italian), large, often hot, varied, and viticulturally important island off the toe of italy


Sicily- Ancient History

In startling contrast to the present day, Sicily was famed throughout classical antiquity for its agricultural produce, not least its wines. The settlement of colonies of Greeks around the island in the 8th century bc was an undoubted spur to the development of viticulture. Flourishing vineyards are testified for the 5th century at the later Greek settlement Akragas (Agrigento). Sicily may have played a key role in the development of viticulture on the Italian peninsula (see italy, ancient history). Vines from Morgantina and Tauromenium were transplanted to pompeii around Vesuvius, the Colli albani, and southern Etruria, where they were well established by the 2nd century bc (Pliny, Natural History 14. 25, 35, and 38). The most notable characteristic of Sicilian wines was their sweetness. The most famous were Mamertine, a sweet, light wine from the north east of the island around Messina, and a very similar wine from Tauromenium (Taormina); but there is evidence for wine production right down the east coast. Much of the rest of the island had its own wines. Inland there was the Murgentina vine from Morgantina (Serra Orlando). Inscriptions on amphorae testify to a so-called ‘Mesopotamian’ wine from the south coast near Gela. Sicilian wines were certainly exported (references to Tauromenian, for example, appear on amphorae), but the scale of the trade is difficult to judge, since the identification of Sicilian amphora types remains a tantalizing problem.


Sicily- Medieval History

Throughout the Middle Ages, Sicily’s main export product was grain. It also produced olives, citrus fruits, and wine, but wheat has the advantage of being far less capital intensive: whereas olive trees, citrus fruit trees, and vines take years to come into full bearing, wheat can be harvested months after it has been sown. Medieval Sicily owed its wealth to grain, and wine was not its most important commercial product.

Under the Normans, who governed Sicily from 1130 to 1194, smallholders owned most of the land, and they made their living mainly by growing wheat or, in the mountainous parts of the island, keeping livestock. They grew vines as well, but the wine made in these small vineyards was usually for domestic consumption. In the course of the 14th century, demand for high-quality wine rose, and vineyards spread through Sicily. Many of these vineyards, which produced wine for well-to-do Sicilians or for export, were owned by members of the feudal aristocracy or the local nobility. The principal winemaking towns were strung along the north eastern and eastern coasts: Cefalù, Patti, Aci, Catania, Augusta, and Syracuse. These not only produced large surpluses of wine, they were also able to ship their wine safely to Messina, from where it was taken to Africa and the Levant. From Patti, wine was carried to Constantinople, and Syracuse traded with nearby malta. Messina also imported wines from calabria, which it then shipped to northern Italy; Messina and Palermo also carried Sicilian wines to the towns of northern Italy.

Palermo was Sicily’s largest and most important city. In the early 14th century, it had 100,000 inhabitants, as did naples; in the whole of Europe, only venice and Milan, with populations of 200,000, were larger. Because of its size, Palermo and its surrounding countryside could never make enough wine for the city’s needs, and so it imported wine from Naples and Calabria, which was cheaper than transporting wine overland from eastern Sicily. This provoked the wrath of the citizens of Catania. Palermo exported wine as well.

From the late 14th century onwards, more and more vineyards around Palermo, Messina, and Catania came to be owned by members of the upper classes, and so, after 1400, did taverns. In the 15th century, most of the wine continued to be made in areas near ports: Aci, Catania, Messina, Taormina, and, in the west, Trapani. But further inland, Noto and Randazzo were also important. By far the biggest exporter was Messina, but Francavilla, Patti, Trapani, and Palermo handled a lot of the foreign trade in wine, too.

The wines that Sicily exported were, for the most part, the strong, sweet wines which were capable of surviving the sea voyage, such as vernaccia and Muscatello. Other names of wines mentioned in documents are Mantonico (also called Mantonicato), which could be red or white; a white wine named Cuctumini; and finally Mamertino, which shares its name with the classical Mamertinum, which pliny tells us was grown in Messina (Natural History 14. 66).


Sicily- Modern wines and other vine products

With a total vineyard area of 114,290 ha/282,296 acres, Sicily produced 6 million hl of wine in 2013, making it Italy’s second most important wine region after the Veneto. The 12,834 ha of doc and igt vineyards represent only 14% of the total, however, with 86% of the total still dedicated to the production of bulk wine. The concentration on quantity over quality, systematically encouraged between 1960 and 1987 by the regional government’s subsidies for the transformation of traditional bush vines into more productive wire-trained or tendone systems led to a chronic cycle of over-production, with the eu’s compulsory distillation regime encouraging co-operatives to produce wine they knew would be distilled and grape concentrate used for enrichment. However, the current increase in good wines produced is a strong indicator that Sicily is slowly beginning to turn the corner from a bulk wine to a quality producer, or at least that both can co-exist. The slow decline in the production of bulk wine is partly because of a decline in demand, and partly because compulsory distillation has largely been abandoned.

Sicily’s bulk wine is still used, legally or not, to beef up weaker wines and vintages throughout Italy as well as in France and Germany. Nevertheless, Sicily produces much more white than red wine, notably from the island’s 34,454 ha of the white wine grape Catarratto in 2010, more than twice as much as the second most planted variety Nero d’Avola with 16,342 ha. Although most Sicilian vineyard is planted with indigenous varieties, there was 5,284 ha of Syrah, 4,865 ha of Chardonnay, 4,426 ha of Merlot, and 1,197 ha of Pinot Grigio, showing that Sicily was quick to adapt to demand for these varieties on the bulk market, while its diverse mesoclimates, elevations, and soils can supply even the ficklest of these with the right environment. Syrah shows particular potential in the province of Palermo, with Peter Vinding Diers’ Montecarrubo near Modica probably the finest, if not exactly underpriced. From the 1980s these international varieties not only satisfied international demand, they also spearheaded the production of quality wines, alerting the world to Sicily’s potential, while blending them with indigenous varieties increased awareness of the likes of Grillo, Inzolia, Catarratto, and, especially, the widely planted Nero d’Avola.

In terms of climate and geology Sicily is often, rightfully, considered a continent itself, running counter to its perceived image as a hot, arid island. Climates range from distinctly alpine on Mount Etna, where vineyards up to 1,000 m/3,280 ft elevation are no exception, to the subtropical on the island of pantelleria, which is closer to Tunisia than it is to the province of Trapani to which it administratively belongs. The island’s centre can be hot and dry, although at higher elevations there can be favourable diurnal temperature variability, while many regions are close enough to the coast to benefit from such constant winds that fungal diseases are a rarity except in the wettest of years.

The drive for quality began at the end of the 1980s when producers such as Planeta and Regeleali introduced smartly packaged international varietals that seemed to copy wines from the New World, especially Australia. This drew the attention of large producers from Italy’s north, who, attracted by low land prices, and the virtual absence of a stringent DOC system, created large, fully mechanized estates, typically in the island’s centre, which had traditionally been devoted to grain because of its arid climate. irrigation and wire-trained international varieties were key ingredients in the recipe. It is partially owing to the influence of these large enterprises that the IGT Sicilia was promoted to DOC in 2012 without either stricter production rules or the requirement that the wines be bottled in the region of origin. Since by law IGTs may not take the same name as an existing DOC, the IGT Terre Siciliane was approved alongside the new DOC Sicilia.

All these recent developments tend to ignore Sicily’s long history of producing wine from an abundance of indigenous varieties. Several ancient wine regions have been rescued from the brink of extinction. From the island’s eastern tip near Messina to Catania and the slopes of Etna, the distinct red Nerello Mascalese, in tandem with Nerello Cappuccio and Nocera, dominate the vineyards. The Faro DOC, which until 1994 existed only virtually since so many of the steep terraces had been abandoned, was resuscitated when the Palari estate began producing fine reds there. They have been followed by others, confirming Faro’s exceptional terroir. Between Messina and Milazzo the DOC Mamertino, a wine region already appreciated by the Romans, declined fast after the introduction of international varieties and a controversial mandatory addition of Nero d’Avola to the elegant, local, crisp Nocera. Etna has seen an enormous rise in popularity resulting in huge investments and an influx of newcomers all keen to explore the cool volcanic terraces and the ungrafted and often centenarian Nerello Mascalese bush vines. The exposition of this sickle-shaped vineyard area situated around the volcano’s snow-capped crest ranges from the south, where the white Carricante excels, to the north, where vineyards can be found up to 1,000 m and higher. The area is divided into contrade or hamlets, which have conveniently provided the first tentative steps towards a system of crus. Local consultant oenologist Salvo Foti educates newcomers in the ancient design of high-density vines trained on individual stakes and planted in a square, called quinconce, consisting of 13 vines each. He vinifies grapes from smallholdings in the ancient palmenti, large cellars which used to process the enormous production of grapes until phylloxera devastated what was then Europe’s largest single wine-producing region. Such cellars are no longer allowed under EU law, which considers these edifices unhygienic.

Cerasuolo di Vittoria, situated near the town of the same name near Ragusa on the south eastern coast is Sicily’s only docg so far. Several producers, notably COS, which ferments some of its wine in amphorae, and Arianna Occhipinti, who espouses biodynamics, are producing high-quality examples of the classic Nero d’Avola–Frappato blend, while in the south-east the Eloro DOC with the subzone Pachino is Nero d’Avola’s place of birth. The success of this accommodating variety is such that it has been planted in every corner of the island, regularly at the cost of other local varieties. The wines tend to be richly concentrated, and often oaked, which can disguise their origin.

Sicily’s ancient sweet wine traditions can be found on the island of Lipari, where late-harvest or dried-grape examples of malvasia are turned into Malvasia delle Lipari, while Passito di pantelleria is the greatest expression of zibibbo, or Muscat of Alexandria. Many alberello vineyards can be found in Sicily’s extreme west between Erice and Trapani, but their future seems uncertain now that so many have been grubbed up thanks to EU subsidies. Meanwhile, marsala, once western Sicily’s raison d’être and one of the world’s famous fortified wines, languishes on the margins, without any immediate prospect of being returned to its former glory.