Southern Italy in detail

Eating

Blessed with sun, mineral-rich soils and the salty goodness of the Mediterranean, southern Italy was always destined for culinary glory. Waves of migration have flavoured the pot – the Greeks supplied the olives, the Arabs brought the pine nuts, eggplants, almonds, raisins and honey, and the Spanish came with tomatoes. The end result is a larder bursting with buxom vegetables, glistening fish, spicy meats and decadent sweets.

The Basics

Southern Italy has no shortage of eating options, and reserving a table on the day of your meal is usually fine. Top-end restaurants may need to be booked at least a month in advance, while popular eateries in tourist areas should be booked at least a few days ahead in peak season.

  • Ristorante Formal dining, usually with comprehensive wine lists and more sophisticated local or national fare.
  • Trattoria Informal, often family-run eatery serving traditional regional specialities.
  • Osteria Intimate, relaxed restaurant or wine bar offering a handful of dishes from a verbal menu.
  • Friggitoria Street-food stall serving simple, inexpensive fried snacks.
  • Agriturismo Working farm where much of the produce is cultivated on-site.
  • Pasticceria Pastry shop serving regional treats like babà, cannoli and cassata.
  • Gelateria Ice-cream shop.

Festive Favourites

In southern Italy, culinary indulgence is the epicentre of any celebration and major holidays are defined by their specialities. Lent is heralded by Carnevale (Carnival), a time for sanguinaccio (blood pudding made with dark chocolate and cinnamon), chiacchiere (fried biscuits sprinkled with icing sugar) and Sicily's mpagnuccata (deep-fried dough tossed in soft caramel).

If you're in the south around 19 March (St Joseph's Feast Day), expect to eat zeppole (fritters topped with lemon-scented cream, sour cherry and dusting sugar) in Naples and Bari, and crispelle di riso (citrus-scented rice fritters dipped in honey) in Sicily.

Lent specialities like Sicilian quaresimali (hard, light almond biscuits) give way to Easter bingeing with the obligatory lamb, colomba (dove-shaped cake) and uove di pasqua (foil-wrapped chocolate eggs with toy surprises inside). The dominant ingredient at this time is egg, also used to make traditional regional specialities like Naples' legendary pastiera (shortcrust pastry tart filled with ricotta, cream, candied fruits and cereals flavoured with orange water).

If you're in Palermo around late October, before the festival of Ognissanti (All Souls' Day), you will see plenty of stalls selling the famous frutti della Martorana, named after the church that first began producing them. These marzipan biscuits, shaped to resemble fruits (or whatever takes the creator's fancy), are part of a Sicilian tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages.

Come Christmas, it's time for stuffed pasta, seafood dishes and national staples like Milan's panettone (yeasty, golden cake studded with raisins and dried fruit), Verona's simpler, raisin-free pandoro (yeasty, star-shaped cake dusted with vanilla-flavoured icing sugar) and Siena's panforte (chewy, flat cake made with candied fruits, nuts, chocolate, honey and spices). It's at this time that Neapolitans throw caution (and scales) to the wind with raffioli (sponge and marzipan biscuits), struffoli (tiny fried pastry balls dipped in honey and sprinkled with colourful candied sugar) and pasta di mandorla (marzipan), while their Sicilian cousins toast to the season with cucciddatu (ring-shaped cake made with dried figs, nuts, honey, vanilla, cloves, cinnamon and citrus fruits). Not that the Sicilians stop there, further expanding waistlines with yuletide buccellati (dough rings stuffed with minced figs, raisins, almonds, candied fruit and/or orange peel).

Of course, it's not all about religion. Some Italian holidays dispense with the spiritual premise and are all about the food. During spring, summer and early autumn, towns across Italy celebrate sagre, the festivals of local foods in season. You'll find a sagra della melanzana (aubergine) in Campania, del pomodoro (tomatoes) in Sicily and della cipolla (onion) in Puglia (wouldn't want to be downwind of that one).

Regional Focus

In reality, southern Italian cuisine encompasses the culinary traditions of five regions: Campania, Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria and Sicily. They might share similarities, but they are all distinctly unique. So raise your fork to the following appetite-piquing regional fortes.

Campania

Everything seems to taste a little bit better in Campania – the tomatoes are juicier, the mozzarella silkier and the caffè richer and stronger. Is it the lush volcanic soil? The Campanian sun? Whatever it is, your taste buds will be too high to care.

Magnificent Mozzarella

So you think the cow's milk mozzarella served in Capri's insalata caprese (a salad made of mozzarella, tomato, basil and olive oil) is delicious? Taste Campania's porcelain-white mozzarella di bufala (buffalo-milk mozzarella) and you'll move onto an entirely different level of deliciousness. Best eaten when freshly made that morning, its sweet flavour and luscious texture is nothing short of a revelation. The cheese is made using the milk of black water buffaloes reared on the plains surrounding Caserta and Paestum. According to aficionados, Paestum's version has a more delicate flavour than its rival from Caserta. You'll find either one served in trattorie (informal restaurants) and restaurants across the region. You can even savour it at the source at Paestum dairy farm Tenuta Vannulo.

Bought fresh from latterie (dairies), the cheese comes lukewarm in a plastic bag filled with a slightly cloudy liquid, the run-off from the mozzarella making. Fresh mozzarella should have an elastic consistency; a tight, smooth surface; and have no yellowish marks or spots. Sliced, it should appear grainy, layered, and seeping pearls of milky whey.

While its most common form is round and fresh, mozzarella di bufala also comes in a twisted, plait form (treccia), as well as smoked (affumicata). Its most decadent variation is burrata, a mozzarella filled with a wickedly buttery cream. Burrata itself was invented in the neighbouring region of Puglia; the swampy fields around Foggia are famed for their buffalo-milk goodness.

Perfect Pizza

It was in Naples that the city's most famous pizzaiolo (pizza chef), Raffaele Esposito, invented the classic pizza margherita. Esposito was summoned to fire up a treat for a peckish King Umberto I and his wife Queen Margherita on a royal visit in 1889. Determined to impress the Italian royals, Esposito based his creation of tomato, mozzarella and basil on the red, white and green flag of the newly unified Italy. The resulting topping met with the queen's approval and was subsequently named in her honour.

Pizza purists claim that you really can't top Esposito's classic combo when made by a true Neapolitan pizzaiolo. Not everyone is in accordance and Italians are often split between those who favour the thin-crust Roman variant, and those who go for the thicker Neapolitan version. Whatever your choice, the fact remains that the pizza they make in Naples is nothing short of superb. It's also a brilliant cheap feed – these giant discs of bubbling perfection often start from €4 or €5.

According to the official, non-profit Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (Real Neapolitan Pizza Association), genuine Neapolitan pizza dough must be made using highly refined type 00 wheat flour (a small dash of type 0 is permitted), compressed or natural yeast, salt, and water with a pH level between 6 and 7. While a slow-speed mixer can be used for kneading the dough, only hands are allowed to form the disco di pasta (pizza base), which should not be thicker than 3mm. The pizza itself should be cooked at 485°C (905°F) in a double-domed, wood-fired oven using oak, ash, beech or maple timber.

The Cult of Caffè

According to the Neapolitans, it's the local water that makes their coffee stronger and better than any other in Italy. While the magic formula is up for debate, there's no doubting that Naples brews the country's thickest, richest espresso. Indeed, coffee plays a venerable role in Neapolitan cultural identity. Celebrated Neapolitan folk songs include ’O cafè (Oh, coffee) and A tazza ’e cafè (The cup of coffee), while Italian design company Alessi pays tribute to the city's distinctive, stove-top coffee maker with its own Caffettiera napoletana (Neapolitan coffee maker), designed by prolific Neapolitan artist Riccardo Dalisi.

Locals still favour the Arabica and Robusta blends that deliver a dense crema, higher caffeine jolt, longer shelf life and, crucially, a price point everyone can afford. Chances are you'll be savouring it on your feet. In Naples, as in the rest of Italy, drinking coffee at a bar is usually a moment to pause, but rarely linger. It’s a stand-up swirl and gulp, an exchanged buongiorno or buona sera with the barista, and a hop back onto the street. But don't be fooled – the speed with which it's consumed does not diminish its cultural importance.

Puglia, Basilicata & Calabria

The heartland of cucina povera, Italy's deep south delivers back-to-basics brilliance. In Puglia, fields of wheat produce Italy's finest olive oils, pasta and breads. To the west, Basilicata and Calabria serve up succulent sausages and wild, seasonal mountain treats.

Italy's Coveted Virgin

Campania and Sicily may produce a few impressive olive oils, but southern Italy's olio (oil) heavyweight is Puglia. The region produces around 40% of Italy's olive oil, much of it from the region's north. Indeed, Puglia is home to an estimated 50 to 60 million olive trees, and some of these gnarled, silver-green icons are said to be over 1000 years old.

While Pugliese oil is usually made up of two types of olives – faintly bitter coratina (from Corato) and sweet, fat ogliarola (from around Cima di Bitonto) – there is no shortage of common olive varieties. Among these are cellina di nardò, frantoio, leccino, peranzana, garganica, rotondella, cima di bitonto and cima di mola. The European Union itself formally recognises five Denomination of Origin of Production (DOP) areas in Puglia in order to protect the unique characteristics of each terroir: Collina di Brindisi DOP, Dauno DOP, Terra d’Otranto DOP, Terra di Bari DOP and Terre Tarentine DOP. While sweet fruitiness characterises the oils from Collina di Brindisi, Dauno DOP oils are noted for their aromatic, well-rounded nature. Ancient growing regions define both the Terra di Bari DOP and Terra d'Otranto DOP oils, the former known for their clear colour and almond notes, the latter for their darker green hue and fresh herb aroma. Last but not least are Terre Tarentine DOP oils, known for their greenish-yellow colouring, medium bitterness and light spiciness.

Whatever the origin, the best oil is made from olives that are picked and rushed to the mill, as olives that are left for too long after harvesting quickly become acidic. Pugliese farmers traditionally harvest the easy way: by letting the olives drop into nets, rather than paying for labour-intensive harvesting by hand. This means the olives are too acidic and the oil has to be refined, often taken north to mix with higher quality, costlier oils. That said, more and more places in the south produce stunning oils at low prices; you can buy it at local farms such as organic Il Frantoio.

The Beauty of Bread

Puglia's celebrated olive oils are a fine match for the region's equally esteemed pane (bread). Indeed, eating a meal in Puglia or neighbouring Basilicata without bread is like playing tennis without a racket – it is essential for wiping up the sauce (a practise fondly called fare la scarpetta, 'to make a little shoe'). Puglia's wood-fired variety is the stuff of legend, usually made from hard durum wheat (like pasta), with a russet-brown crust, an eggy-golden interior and a distinctively fine flavour. The best comes from Altamura, where it's thrice-risen, getting even better with time.

Many of Puglia's and Basilicata's recipes call for breadcrumbs, among them summery spaghetti with oven-roasted tomatoes, breadcrumbs and garlic, and fusilli pasta with tomato, breadcrumbs and crusco (a dried, sweet pepper unique to Basilicata). Across in Calabria, breadcrumbs and pasta meet in classics like spaghetti with anchovies and chilli. The breadcrumbs themselves are made from stale bread – in Italian, it's pane rafferme (firmed-up bread), which is a much more glass-half-full way of looking at it.

Another southwest staple is friselli, dried bagel-shaped rolls born out of practicality, ideal for labourers on the move. Douse them in water to soften and then dress with tomatoes, olive oil and oregano. Just leave a little room for bagel-shaped taralli, hard little savoury biscuits that make for a tasty snack. In Bari they're traditionally plain, in Taranto they're sprinkled with fennel seeds and in Lecce they're spiced up with a kick of chilli.

Sicily

Sicily's enviable pantry has been filled over centuries by a string of foreign settlers. It's a luscious, mouth-watering feast of succulent citrus and seafood, decadent street snacks and almond-laced sweets. Gluttons, welcome to the Promised Land.

La Dolce Vita

From gelo di melone (watermelon jelly) and buccellati (little pies filled with minced fruit), to biscotti regina (sesame-coated biscuits), cassatelle (pouches of dough stuffed with sweetened ricotta and chocolate) and 'mpanatigghi (Modican pastries stuffed with minced meat, almonds, chocolate, cloves and cinnamon), Sicilians have a way with sugar that verges on the decadent. Down here, pasticcerie (pastry shops) lead taste buds into endless temptations.

It was the Saracens who first brought sugarcane to Sicily, a novelty that would help kindle the island's passion for sweets. Sicily's legendary cassata (a coma-inducing concoction of sponge cake, ricotta, marzipan, chocolate and candied fruit) comes from the Arabic word qas'ah (a reference to the terracotta bowl used to shape the cake), while cannolli (a pastry shell with a sweet ricotta filling) originates from canna (cane, as in sugar cane).

While the Arabs may have brought the sugarcane, Sicily's cloistered nuns created many of the island's signature sweets. For centuries, these habit-wearing bakers sold or gifted biscotti (biscuits) to the public, and individual convents soon became famous for particular specialities. Many of these age-old recipes have been revived at Palermo bakery I Segreti del Chiostro, aptly set in a former city monastery. Among them is Palermo's own fedde del Cancelliere, marzipan clam shells filled with apricot jam and biancomangiare (almond pudding).

The Saracens also kick-started the Sicilian mania for all things icy – granita (flavoured crushed ice), cassata ice cream, gelato (ice cream) and semifreddo (literally 'semifrozen'; a cold, creamy dessert). The origins of ice cream lie in the Arab sarbat (sherbet), a concoction of sweet fruit syrups chilled with iced water, later developed into granita (where crushed ice was mixed with anything from fruit juice to coffee and almond milk) and cremolata (fruit syrups chilled with iced milk), the forerunner to gelato.

Homemade gelato (gelato artigianale) is sold at cafes and bars across the island, and is truly delicious. Granite are sometimes topped with fresh whipped cream, or you could try it like a Sicilian – first thing in the morning in a brioche.

To Market, To Market

Only Naples' Mercato di Porta Nolana and La Pignasecca can rival the theatricality and gut-rumbling brilliance of Sicily's mercati (markets). Loud, crowded and exhilarating, these alfresco larders are a testament to the importance of fresh produce in daily life. To watch the hard-to-please hagglers bullying vendors into giving them precisely what they want is to understand that quality really matters here. And it's these people, the nonne (grandmothers) and casalinghe (homemakers), who keep the region's culinary traditions alive.

Two of the most atmospheric markets are Palermo's Mercato di Ballarò and Catania's La Pescheria, their souk-like laneways crammed with glistening tuna and swordfish, swaying sausages and tubs of olives and pungent cheeses. Look out for pistachios from Bronte, almonds from Noto, and caciocavallo, one of southern Italy's most renowned cheeses. Don't panic: despite the name 'horse cheese', it's made from cow's milk. It has a distinctive gourd-shaped, pale-mustard exterior, and the name is thought to have arisen either because it was once made from mare's milk, or because it would be hung from the horse's back when transported. When it's young, it tastes dolce (sweet); after two months ageing, it's piccante (spicy) or affumicato (smoked).

Southern Staples

Eat Your Greens… Purples, Reds and Yellows

Vegetables across the world must loathe their southern Italian counterparts. Not only do they often look more beautiful, they're prepared with a know-how that turns them into culinary protagonists. Take the humble melanzana (eggplant or aubergine), glammed up in the punchy melanzane ripiene al forno (baked eggplant stuffed with olives, capers and tomatoes) and decadent parmigiana melanzane (batter-fried eggplant layered with Parmesan, mozzarella, ham and tomato sauce). Another version, simply named parmigiana, does the same for carciofi (globe artichokes). Campania's pomodoro San Marzano (San Marzano plum tomato) is one of the world's most lauded tomatoes. Grown in the shadow of Mt Vesuvius, its low acidity and intense, sweet flavour makes a perfect conserva di pomodoro (tomato concentrate). It's this sauce that adorns so many of Naples' signature pasta dishes, including the colourfully named spaghetti alla puttanesca (whore's spaghetti).

Ironically, southern Italy's sophisticated flair with vegetables is firmly rooted in centuries of deprivation and misery. The food of the poor, the so-called mangiafoglie (leaf eaters), was largely based on the verdure (vegetables) grown under the nourishing southern sun, from artichokes and courgettes (zucchini), to tomatoes and peppers. Hardship and sunshine helped develop celebrated antipasto staples like zucchine fritte (pan-fried courgettes) and peperoni sotto aceto (marinated pickled peppers), as well as celebrated Sicilian dishes like peperonata in agridolce (a stew of red, green and yellow peppers, onions, pine nuts, raisins and capers). Onions feel the love in Puglia's moreish calzone pugliese (onion pie), while legumes see the light in the region's broad bean and chicory puree; 'a dish to die for' according to the late celebrity chef, restaurateur and food writer Antonio Carluccio.

Pasta Fuel of the South

In the 1954 cult film Un americano a Roma (An American in Rome), a US-obsessed Alberto Sordi snubs a plate of pasta in favour of an unappetising 'American-style' concoction. It only takes a few mouthfuls before Sordi thinks better of it, plunging into the pasta with unbridled passion. It's hard not to follow Sordi's lead.

A standard primo (first course) on menus across the south, pasta is not only delicious, it's often a filling meal in itself. Your waiter will understand and there is usually no pressure to order a secondo (second course). The south's knack for pasta dishes is hardly surprising given that it was here that pasta secca (dry pasta) first hit Italy, introduced to Sicily by Arab merchants in the Middle Ages. It was to be a perfect match. Southern Italy's sunny, windy disposition was just right for producing pasta secca, while the foodstuff's affordability and easy storage made it handy in the face of hardship. It's no coincidence that pasta fresca (fresh pasta) has, traditionally, been more prevalent in Italy's more affluent north.

Arriving from Sicily, dry pasta took off in a big way in Campania, especially after the 1840 opening of Italy’s first pasta plant in Torre Annunziata, a town on the Bay of Naples. Not that Torre Annunziata was Campania's first pasta-making hub. Some 30km southeast of Naples, small-town Gragnano has been making pasta since the 17th century. Gragnano's main street was specifically built along the sun’s axis so that the pasta put out to dry by the town’s pastifici (pasta factories) would reap a full day’s sunshine. To this day, pasta di Gragnano enjoys an air of exclusivity.

And while pasta secca may be the dominant form of pasta on southern plates, the Mezzogiorno is not without its fresh pasta icons. The most famous is arguably Puglia's orecchiette (meaning 'little ears'), best savoured in dishes such as orecchiette con cime di rapa (with turnip tops) and orecchiette con pomodori e ricotta forte (with tomato sauce and strong ricotta).

The Big Fork Manifesto

The year was 1987. McDonald's had just begun its expansion into Italy, and lunch outside the burger bun seemed to be fading into fond memory. Enter Carlo Petrini and a handful of other journalists from the small Piedmontese town of Bra, in northern Italy. Determined to buck the trend, these neoforchettoni ('big forks', or foodies) created a manifesto. Published in the like-minded culinary magazine Gambero Rosso, the manifesto declared that a meal should be judged not by its speed, but by its pure pleasure.

The organisation they founded would soon become known worldwide as Slow Food. Its mission: to reconnect artisanal producers with enthusiastic, educated consumers. The movement has taken root, with around 100,000 members in over 160 countries – not to mention Slow Food agriturismi (farm stay accommodation), restaurants, farms, wineries, cheesemakers and revitalised farmers' markets across Italy.

While traditions in the south remain stronger than in Italy's north, the Slow Food Movement does its bit to prevent their disappearance and to promote interest in food, taste and the way things are produced. For more information, see www.slowfood.com.

The Simple Things

Picture it: wood-fired bread drizzled in extra virgin olive oil, sprinkled with ripe pomodori (tomatoes) and fragrant basilico (basil). The flavours explode in your mouth. From the char-grilled crunch of the bread to the sweetness of the tomatoes, it's a perfect symphony of textures and flavours.

In many ways, pane e pomodoro (bread and tomatoes) captures the very soul of the southern Italian kitchen. Down here, fresh produce is the secret and simplicity is the key. Order grilled fish and chances are you'll get exactly that. No rich, overbearing sauces…just grilled fish with a wedge of lemon on the side. After all, it's the freshness of the fish you should be savouring, right?

This less-is-more approach is a testament to the south's impoverished past. Pasta made without eggs, bread made from hard durum wheat, wild greens scavenged from the countryside are all delicious, but their consumption was driven by necessity. The tradition of sopratavola (raw vegetables such as fennel or chicory eaten after a meal) arose because people could not afford fruit. That of sottaceti (vegetables cooked in vinegar and preserved in jars with olive oil) is part of the waste-not, want-not philosophy.

In the end, it was the simple goodness of this cucina povera (poor man's cuisine) that would make it the darling of health-conscious foodies.

The Vine Revival

Winemaking in the south dates back to the Phoenicians. The Greeks introduced Campania to its now-famous Greco (Greek) grape, and dubbed the south 'Enotria' (Wineland). Yet, despite this ancient viticulture, oenophiles had often dismissed local vini (wines) as little more than 'here for a good time, not a long time' drops. A case in point is wine critic Burton Anderson, who in his Wine Atlas of Italy (1990) wrote that Campania's noteworthy winemakers could be 'counted on one's fingers'.

Anderson would need a few more hands these days. In little more than two decades, southern Italy has transformed itself into one of the world's in-the-know wine regions, with renewed pride in native varieties and stricter, more modern winemaking practices.

Campania

Lauded producers such as Feudi di San Gregorio, Mastroberardino, Villa Matilde, Pietracupa and Terredora have returned to their roots, cultivating ancient grape varieties like the red Aglianico (thought to be the oldest cultivated grape in Italy) and the whites Falanghino, Fiano and Greco (all growing long before Mt Vesuvius erupted in AD 79). Keeping them company is a growing list of reputable organic, biodynamic and low-intervention wineries, among them I Cacciagalli, Cantina Giardino, Casebianche, Cautiero, Il Cancelliere and Pierluigi Zampaglione (Il Don Chisciotte).

Taurasi, a full-bodied Aglianico wine, sometimes known as the Barolo of the south, is one of southern Italy's finest labels. One of only four in the region to carry Italy's top quality rating, DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita; Controlled and Guaranteed Denomination of Origin), it goes perfectly with barbecued and boiled meats. The other three wines to share this honour are Aglianico del Taburno, a full-bodied red from the Benevento area, as well as Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo, both whites and both from the Avellino area.

Other vino-producing areas include the Campi Flegrei (home to DOC-labelled Piedirosso and Falanghina vines), Ischia (whose wines were the first to receive DOC status) and the Cilento region, home to the DOC Cilento bianco (Cilento white) and to the Aglianico Paestum. Mt Vesuvius' most famous drop is the Lacryma Christi (Tears of Christ), a blend of locally grown Falanghina, Piedirosso and Coda di Volpe grapes.

Puglia & Basilicata

The different characteristics of these regions' wines reflect their diverse topography and terroir. In Puglia, there are vast, flat acreages of vineyards, while Basilicata's vineyards tend to be steep and volcanic.

It's the Pugliese reds that gain most plaudits. The main grapes grown are the Primitivo (a clone of the zinfandel grape), Negroamaro, Nero di Troia and Malvasia. While Negroamaro reaches its peak in the Salento – particularly around Salice, Guagnano and Copertino – the area around Manduria is well-known for its high-quality Primitivi, produced by the likes of internationally renowned winemaker Gianfranco Fino. That said, clued-in oenophiles also praise the lesser-known town of Gioia del Colle, whose higher altitude produces a distinctly thinner Primitivo, which some argue is more elegant. It's here that you'll find some of the region's most exciting organic and low-intervention wineries, among them Cantine Cristiano Guttarolo, Plantamura and Pietraventosa.

Almost all Puglia reds work perfectly with pasta, pizza, meats and cheeses. Puglia whites have less cachet; however, those grown on the Murge, particularly Locorotondo and Martina, are good, clean, fresh-tasting wines, while those from Gravina are a little weightier. They are all excellent with fish.

In Basilicata, the red wine of choice is made from the Aglianico grape, the best being produced in the Vulture region. It is the volcanic terroir that makes these wines so unique and splendid. Basilicata, like Puglia, has seen a renaissance in recent years with much inward investment, such as that of oenologist Donato d'Angelo at his eponymous winery at Rionero in Vulture.

Sicily

Although Sicily is one of the largest wine-producing regions in Italy, it has only recently begun enjoying the international acclaim its wines deserve.

The most common varietal is Nero d'Avola, a robust red similar to syrah (shiraz). Vintages are produced by numerous Sicilian wineries, including Planeta, which has six estates around the island; Donnafugata in western Sicily; Azienda Agricola COS and Azienda Agricola Arianna Occhipinti in southeast Sicily; and Azienda Agricola G Milazzo near Agrigento. Try Planeta's Plumbago, Donnafugata's Mille e una Notte, COS's Nero di Lupo, and Milazzo's Maria Costanza and Terre della Baronia Rosso.

The Sangiovese-like Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio are used in the popular Etna Rosso DOC, a dark-fruited, medium-bodied wine that pairs perfectly with lamb and goat's milk cheeses. Winemaker Frank Cornelissen uses Nerello Mascalese to produce his powerful, smoky IGT Magma, made using grapes grown on Mt Etna's northern slope.

There is only one Sicilian DOCG, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, a blend of Nero d'Avola and Frappato grapes. Feudi del Pisciotto and COS make especially fine versions. The two grapes varietals also conspire in Arianna Occhipinti's celebrated SP68 Rosso.

Sicily produces no shortage of standout bianchi (whites), with the island's common white varietals including Carricante, chardonnay, Grillo, Inzolia, Cataratto, Inzolia, Cataratto, Grecanico and Corinto. Superb drops include Tasca d'Almerita's Nozze d'Oro Inzolia and sauvignon blend and Palmento Costanzo's Etna Bianco di Sei.

Sicily's dessert wines are also impressive. The Aeolian island of Salina is renowned for its Malvasia, a honey-like wine produced by award-winning wineries such as Azienda Agricola Biologica Caravaglio. In western Sicily, Marsala is famous for its eponymous sweet wine, made to an exceptional standard at local wineries Cantine Florio and Cantine Pellegrino. Further south, the far-flung island of Pantelleria produces Italy's most famous Moscato (muscat), the Passito di Pantelleria. Deep-amber in colour, its taste is an extraordinary mélange of apricots and vanilla.