A quaffer you can't refuse
Sicilian wines used to be considered too syrupy or strong. But in the 1980s, excellent chardonnay was produced in Sicily. Subsequently, quality wines were made from nero d'avola and other indigenous grapes that match Sicily's rich and varied food perfectly.
The producers have taken advantage of the possibilities offered by a grape harvest which lasts three months between the lowlands, whose southernmost point is closer to the equator than the top of Tunisia, and the cool heights of Mount Etna. Here are five wineries that are having an impact on the quality of the island's wine output. The dramatic scenery, history and great food are all bonuses.
Donnafugata's range of 28 wines reflects the energy of one of its proprietors, Jose Rallo, whose initiatives include singing the praises of the wines in 'jazz tasting videos' and contributions to research funds for the Entellinia archaeological site near the main Donnafugata vineyard in west-central Sicily. Donnafugata produces a fulsome dessert wine on the island of Pantelleria, poised between Sicily and Tunisia, and has been producing Marsala in the town of that name since 1851. Its best-known product is the red Mille e Una Notte (A Thousand and One Nights). Last year it had a record of more than 10,000 visitors at its four production centres.
On August 10 every year, visitors can see a moonlight grape harvest.
Planeta has five wineries - Ulmo in Sambuca, Dispensa in Menfi, Dorilli in Vittoria, Buonivini in Noto and La Baronia in Capo Milazzo - with a sixth, Sciara Nuova on the slopes of Mount Etna, expected to open next year. In Menfi, where the vineyard slopes to the sea, Dispensa also produces excellent olive oil. Its relaxing visitors' quarters complete with swimming pool are attached to the family residence where guests dine and can take cooking lessons.
Count Luigi Tasca d'Almerita is a descendant of an aristocratic family who established their Regaleali estate in west-central Sicily in 1830. One of the pioneer producers of quality Sicilian wines, in recent years the estate has broadened activities at its original site and beyond.
A cooking school run by the count's sister Anna, a renowned chef, has been established at the Regaleali estate, where there is guest accommodation. There is a restaurant specialising in Sicilian food and a full-time cheesemaker.
The family seems to like producing wine on islands other than Sicily. It produces 'the wine of the Phoenicians' on the tiny island of Mozia, off the south coast, where the remains of Phoenician invaders have been found. It also produces sweet, aromatic Malvasia wine on the large island of Salina off the north coast. The family also runs a boutique hotel and another cooking school.
Baglio di Pianetto
Once Sicily exported bulk wine to the quality wine producing regions of northern Italy. Then a northerner, Count Paolo Marzotto, decided to produce quality wines in Sicily.
He took this decision in 1997 when investment in industrial scale refrigeration made it possible to control the temperature during fermentation, ensuring elegant wines. He also chose an elevated zone, at about 650 metres, as the site for his major Sicilian winery, Baglio (meaning manor house) di Pianetto.
The elevated Pian degli Albanesi zone, where it snows in winter and there are wide differences between day and night temperatures, aids grape production. The vineyard combines traditional cultivation with state-of-the-art-production methods to produce 12 types of wine. The vineyards, winery and olive oil production are complemented by a pleasant hotel.
Firriato winery, at the western tip of Sicily, was founded in 1981 by couple Salvatore and Vinzia di Gaetano Novara, who wanted to show that the grape-rich zone could produce great wines. They were vindicated when American wine critic Robert Parker recently gave eight of their wines a vote of 90 or more. This judgment gives the wines a lot of clout with Parker fans.
But some bloggers took Parker to task for excessive enthusiasm, claiming that previously only Firriato's Harmonium red had won the highest Italian classification. Firriato probably celebrated with a deep draught of red and announced that they would add to their wines a seaside wine: they are establishing a vineyard on Favignana Island, the first one there for a century.
While you're in the area
Agriturismo-sicilia.it provides information about farmhouse accommodation. Trains dawdle so buses are better, but hiring a car is probably the best way for individual tourists to get around Sicily.
Donnafugata Tel: +39 (923) 724 245 to 263 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Information about the company, its wines and recipes for Sicilian food can be found at www.donnafugata.it