The planting of vines for the production of wine in Sicily dates back to ancient Greece, at least the 8th Century BC, and although wine production has fluctuated throughout the subsequent millennia, it is country long familiar to the culture of grain, olives and vines. At the time of Pliny and undoubtedly since, those wines would have conformed to the fashion for sweet, thick, slightly tarry beverages which would be unfamiliar to the modern palate, undoubtedly seeing their only echo in the increasingly rare fortified wines of Marsala, and until recently Sicily served primarily as the source of deeply coloured and rich wines which were exported to more northerly wine producing regions where they would provide weight and body to the sometimes more anaemic blends of those regions; indeed, there remains a bouyant industry in the production of grape concentrate to serve as a legal alternative to chaptalisation (the addition of sugar) to increase must weight of wines throughout Italy.
Sicily is in fact magnificently well suited to the production of wines, and we are perhaps only now beginning to see its potential. It offers a wealth of fine hillside vineyard locations with often substantial elevation and excellent exposures, abundant sunshine and high temperatures with good diurnal variation, and a number of native grape varieties which offer excellent individuality and real character. Foremost amongst these are the white Catarrato, traditionally used in the grape concentrate industry, but increasingly recognised for its own merits, as well as Inzolia and Grillo. The production of white wines here has benefitted enormously from modern vinification techniques, and there are increasing numbers of fresh, modern white wines produced here which offer notable value for money.
The most important indigenous red variety is Nero d’Avola, at the very least closely related to Syrah, giving deeply coloured, full bodied wines which are rapidly staking claim to the crown of the classic Sicilian red wine. Whilst many can provide superb value, there are a number of producers who are aiming higher in terms of price and glossiness, if more debatably in terms of originality. Syrah itself is also cultured with great success. Other red varieties are Perricone, Nerrelo Mascalese and Frappato, and there are plantings of Primitivo on the north-east coast. There have been attempts to plant international varieties such as Chardonnay, Cabernet-Sauvignon and Merlot, though the heat seems to be excessive for these more northerly vines.