Until recently known as a viticultural wasteland of bulk-blended plonk, sun-bleached Sicily is fast becoming one of Italy’s most dynamic wine regions. Enlightened local winemakers are using unique Sicilian varietals and back-to-basics wine-making techniques to produce cellars full of show-stopping drops. To savour the flavour, book a degustation at one of the following standout wineries.
Planeta: taste six different terroirs
Family-owned Planeta (planeta.it) offers a thorough introduction to Sicily’s diverse wine styles, each of its six estates (in Melfi, Sambuca di Sicilia, Vittoria, Noto, Etna and Capo Milazzo) dedicated to a particular terroir.
Planeta’s headquarters are in Melfi, close to the company’s original cellar door, Tenuta Ulmo. Here, the squat dry hills of southwestern Sicily are tailor-made for native Grillo and imported sauvignon blanc, which conspire together in DOC Alastro, a creamy, zingy tribute to the area’s hot, Mediterranean landscape. The area is also home to Planeta’s resort, La Foresteria, whose infinity pool comes with dreamy vineyard views.
The most dramatically situated of the six estates is Feudo di Mezzo, perched on the northern slope of Europe’s tallest active volcano, Mount Etna. Grapes grown here include Etna’s primary red variety, Nerello Mascalese (dubbed the ‘Sicilian Nebbiolo’). Savour it in Planeta’s stunning DOC Eruzione 1614, a fresh yet smoky red tied with elegant tannins and reflective of its volcanic soil. Swill, sip and discuss in the estate’s converted pressing station.
Degustation from €15 per person.
Frank Cornelissen: radical simplicity
Etna’s wild, bucolic north slope is also where you’ll find Frank Cornelissen (frankcornelissen.it). One of Sicily’s most outside-the-box winemakers, the Belgian expat is well known for his radical vino-making techniques. These include the ageing of higher tannin wines in terracotta vessels buried underground in volcanic rock, as well as a ban on vine grafting, engineered yeasts, stainless-steel wine tanks and sulphur dioxide. If visiting the cellar, go easy on the fragrance; strong perfumes or colognes are a no-no on the tour. These rules are a testament to Cornelissen’s fastidious desire to create wines that reflect Etna’s natural environment as purely and honestly as possible.
Trial and error has led to some extraordinary drops, including Cornelissen’s powerful, smoky IGT Magma, made with Nerello Mascalese and reflective of its high-altitude origin. Smoke and spice linger in the lighter IGT Contadino, a mainly Nerello Mascalese concoction accented with Nerello Capuccio, Allicante Boushet, Minella nera, Uva Francesa and Minella bianco. Like Cornelissen himself, this is a winery that celebrates simplicity and the complexity of nature.
Degustation €15 per person; reservations must be made in advance by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arianna Occhipinti: skillful handling of temperamental grapes
Millennial Arianna Occhipinti (agricolaocchipinti.it) is the poster child for Sicily’s burgeoning bio-dynamic wine scene. A stint at wine school in Milan quickly left her disillusioned with conventional winemaking and its chemicals fixes; techniques in opposition to Occhipinti’s ideas about authenticity and terroir. Returning home to Vittoria in Sicily’s gracious southeast, the visionary began creating natural wines in a family farmhouse before moving to a purpose-built winery in 2013.
While Occhipinti’s vines include Nero d’Avola, Albanello and Zibibbo varietals, it’s her skill with notoriously temperamental Frappato that shines especially bright. Traditionally in the shadow of bolder Nero d’Avola, light-bodied Frappato plays the leading role in the IGT Occhipinti Il Frappato. Gorgeously perfumed and herbaceous, the wine is aged in Slavonian oak barrels to create a nuanced, elegant vino.
The varietal also makes an appearance in Occhipinti’s celebrated SP68 Rosso, named for the ancient provincial road that leads to the winery. Here, rivals become friends, the blend of subtle Frappato and strapping Nero d’Avola creating a wonderfully pure, juicy wine with an exquisitely fine, floral bouquet that recalls the area’s whimsical baroque architecture.
Degustation €20 per person.
COS: pioneering natural wines
Vino is firmly imprinted in the Occhipinti genes; this fellow southeastern maverick is co-owned by Arianna’s uncle, Giusto Occhipinti. Driven by an urge to produce wines in the style of older generations, COS (cosvittoria.it) began creating low-interventionist wines long before it became a fashionable buzzword.
A trip to Georgia exposed Occhipinti and his co-founders to the ancient use of amphorae in the winemaking process, inspiring their own use of submerged clay vessels to age wine. The process is behind the winery’s celebrated IGT COS Pithos, a soft, chalky blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato that evokes the area’s limestone-rich landscape and pairs beautifully with rustic Sicilian salumi (charcuterie).
Another forte is their Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Sicily’s only wine to boast a DOCG appellation. While it too is made of a Nero d’Avola and Frappato blend, it’s aged in concrete and glass tanks for 18 to 24 months. To absorb the landscape, vines and wines more deeply, consider spending a few nights in a suite at the winery’s airy, pool-flanked 19th-century villa – the long, passionate discussions about wine are free.
Degustation from €12 per person; double room/suite from €60/100 per night.
Tenuta Regaleali: blue blood and superior reds
The most famous drop at Tenuta Regaleali may be red, but the blood is blue at this vast estate, one of three owned by the aristocratic Tasca family. At the helm is Count Lucio Tasca, who runs the company with a team that includes his sons Alberto and Giuseppe. This is one of Sicily’s most historic and prestigious wineries. Set amongst soft, Tuscan-esque hills some 100km southeast of Palermo, it was prized for its elegant wines decades before the current crop of ‘It kids’ had critics swooning.
Lord of the cellar is DOC Rosso del Conte. Made predominantly from Nero d’Avola grapes (with a dash of Perricone) it spends 18 months in French barrique (wooden barrel) to create a powerhouse rosso whose liquorice, spicy, herbaceous aromas prelude a palate of dark luscious fruits, leather and tar.
Wine aside, the estate is also home to the renowned Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School, whose former students include the late American chef Julia Child. Courses range from day-long lessons to five-day packages, punctuated by glasses of smooth estate drops, naturalmente.
Degustation from €30 per person; day-long cooking lesson and lunch €170 per person; cooking and accommodation package from €1350 per person.
For an introduction to Italian wine check out our Wine-lovers' guide to Italy.