Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean, is well known for being the home to Archimedes, one of the greatest minds in history, as well as the home to the Italian Mafia. Wines from Sicily aren’t nearly as well known, even though Sicily is one of the largest wine producers, with over 20 varietals.
Wines from Sicily: Zibibbo
One of Sicily’s most important white varietals, Zibibbo, is found on the island of Pantelleria, about halfway between Sicily and Tunisia. It was likely brought by Arab conquerors sometime in the late 700s or early 800s, making it one of the longest growing varietals in Italy. “Zibib” in Arabic means grape, or dried grape.
According to Snooth, Zibbibo grapes, “which are similar in aromatics to Muscat, are left on the vine till they partially ferment in the sun as they raisinate. The resulting wine, also known as Bianco di Pantelleria, has characteristics of fortified wines, but without the addition of brandy, and with lower alcohol. It is straw yellow to amber in color, and manages to be both dry and somewhat sweet at the same time.”
Zibbibo is also known as Muscat of Alexandria.
Zibbibo is perfect as an accompaniment to cheese and crackers on the terrazzo, or with a main fish or lobster dish, as are commonly found in Sicily.
Zibbibo is thought to be a precursor to Marsala, a famous fortified Sicilian wine.
Wines from Sicily: Nero d’Avola
Sicily’s flagship red wine, Nero d’Avola — named for its inky black-purple color and the south Sicilian town where it was primarily grown for centuries, has similar characteristics to Syrah, which grows in similar hot, dry climates.
Unlike Syrah, however, the little workhorse Nero (as it is often affectionately called) has less tannin, and a structure adaptable to different foods. This makes it nice as a stand-alone wine, but also contributed to its historical use as a supporting actor to French and other Italian wines.
Today, Nero is coming into its own. Boutique growers all over Sicily are increasingly producing Nero d’Avola as a standalone varietal. The result of this is that while Nero is building a name unto itself, the end result in the bottle is a bit mixed. If you are interested in exploring Nero d’Avola, you might want to do some research first — on Wine Enthusiast, for example, to find vintners with better reviews.
If you have spent time in Sicily and tried Zibbibo or Nero d’Avola, please share your experiences here.