Wine influencer and WSET-certified communicator Archie Patel joins the BFW team. In her debut article Archie reflects on her experience during a six week trip to Sicily and how, upon her return, she is excited for what the region has to share beyond its great value Nero d’Avola wines.

Nero D’Avola might be Sicily’s mostly widely planted grape variety, but after spending six weeks on the island I can say with certainty that it definitely does not seem to be the most widely consumed.

Moving around the island, then spending a month in Palermo frequenting wine bars and chatting to owners, gave me an insight into Sicily’s wine scene that was quite different from those gained visiting the vineyards and estates of larger producers. Having already been charmed by the wines of Sicily before visiting, I came away even more fascinated and realised that we are only just touching the surface when it comes to the availability of Sicilian wine in the UK.

Smaller producers are bringing an exciting future to Sicilian wines

A new wave of smaller producers making more diverse and dynamic wines has seen a rise in demand for lighter style reds like Frappatto, interesting skin contact wines, and single varietal Catarratto, historically considered as a minor blending partner for Etna Bianco.

Arianna Occhipinti is a producer who has been making wine under her own label since 2009 from the age of 22 and has since amassed a cult following, especially for her exceptional Frappatto wines. SP68 is her flagship wine; it is delicate, soft, and fresh with intense fruit concentration, quite an achievement given the searing Sicilian heat.

SP68 red wine from Arianna Occhipinti

Arianna Occhipinti’s SP68

Pet Nat also seems to be having a real moment in Sicily and leading the way is Marco Sferlazzo of Porta Del Vento, an estate and winery in the hills of Camporeale just south of Palermo. He follows organic and biodynamic principles, believing that in order for the grape to flourish they must be at one with nature and surrounding environment. The landscape is rugged and wild and producing wine from old bush vine Cataratto is one of Marco’s niches.

Voria Bianco Pet Nat is one of his most popular and accessible wines having spotted it on a wine list several times during my travels and it is readily available at the upscale supermarket Prezzomolo e Vitale in Palermo. A hazy, crisp and vibrant Pet Nat, this just hits the spot when you needed to retreat indoors in the afternoon to escape the heat and makes for a perfect aperitivo wine.

Voira, a bottle of Sicilian Pet Nat sparkling wine.

Voria, a Sicilian Pet Nat

Alessandro Viola is a small producer with seven hectares of vineyards in the northwestern Alcamo region in Sicily, producing minimal intervention and organic wines. His motto is simple: “build wine using only grapes.” With plantings of Nerello Mascalese, Nero d’Avola, Catarratto and Grillo, it was the 100% skin contact Grillo “Sinfonia di Bianco” that really caught my attention. The grapes are macerated on skins for six days and then aged in old chestnut botti and a stellar example of how versatile Grillo can be. Textural and layered, apricots, fleshy peaches, citrus and a honeyed character, a great introduction to skin contact wines for those new to it.

Alessandro Viola's skin contact Grillo white wine.

Alessandro Viola’s skin contact Grillo from Sicily.

Marsala, most famous for its sweet and fortified wines, produces some excellent dry wines that tend to fly under the radar. Nino Barraco is one such winemaker who is passionate about showcasing such wines from local grape varieties like Grillo and Catarrato which truly give you a sense of place on tasting. The Barraco skin contact Catarratto comes from 40 year-old vines on volcanic soils by the sea and that is exactly what you get: a smoky, salty minerality intermingled with stone fruit and orange peel.

Nino Barraco's skin contact Catarrato white wine.

Nino Barraco’s skin contact Catarrato from old vines.

Then there are the wines of Etna, Bianco and Rosso already being quite familiar to the UK market, but after drinking the Traditional Method sparkling wines with such incredible freshness and salinity unique to the volcanic soils they come from, there is so much more to be considered. In discussion with the Head Sommelier at La Foresteria Planeta Resort, he reported that 90% of their Traditional Method Carricante is consumed within Sicily.

Murgo is one of the oldest producers of Traditional Method Sparkling wines on the island and are available at a great price point but also scarcely available outside of Sicily. Firriato is also producing some brilliant sparkling wines, in particular their ‘ Gaudensuis Blanc de Noir NV’ 100% Nerello Mascalese which spends 36 months on lees prior to release is standout.

Two of my favourite sparkling wines from Sicily.

My perception of Sicilian wine pre-post visit has completely changed. From a trade perspective we should be focusing on bringing more varied and distinctive Sicilian wines to the UK market.

Feature image licensed from Adobe. Further imagery provided by Archie Patel.