Home to hundreds of wineries, Sicily has a long-standing reputation as one of Europe’s top wine producers. It may have even produced the Italian Peninsula’s first: Archeologists believe the island’s viticulture traditions date to 4000 B.C. Later, Greek settlers who arrived in Sicily in the 8th century B.C. likely introduced new wine-making practices that helped the art flourish.
While Sicily produces many international varieties, it’s the indigenous ones that shine. Thanks to the island’s sunny and arid Mediterranean climate, mineral-rich volcanic soils and varied terrain, many different varietals can thrive, from Nero d’Avola (the most-planted red grape, often compared to Shiraz) to Nerello Mascalese (light- to medium-bodied with red fruits and spice) and Frappato (ruby-red with floral, berry and herbal aromas).
Excellent accompaniments to Sicilian seafood and cheeses, ancient white grapes should not be missed, either. Look for Catarratto (a dry lemony, herbal white not unlike sauvignon blanc), Inzolia (a little nutty and citrusy) and Carricante (a fresh, fragrant white with volcanic minerality), among many others.
Whether you crave a light and fruity red; crisp, minerally white; honeyed dessert wine; or celebratory bubbles, Italy’s largest island has a pour for every palate. But where does one begin? We’ve rounded up a few notable vineyards in Sicily that offer tastings and tours so you can sip your way through the island’s native grapes.
Rising more than 11,000 feet above sea level in Eastern Sicily, majestic Mount Etna has long symbolized nature’s power and bounty. Thanks to the mountain’s fertile soil, Sicilians have cultivated a wide range of premium products, including olive groves, pistachios, figs, citrus trees and, of course, grapevines for thousands of years.
Among the 180-some wineries on the mountainside, Alta Mora ranks with the best. The winery, founded in 2013 by the Cusumano family (who also operates Cusumano Winery in northwestern Sicily), has five parcels scattered across the northern slopes of Etna at 2,000 to 3,280 feet above sea level.
The eco-friendly estate, set in the Verzella vineyard in the northeast, showcases the Alta Mora approach: profound knowledge of the terroir combined with minimal intervention to produce pure, elegant wines.
Reserve a tasting at the property to have a chance to see the wine-making facilities for yourself, including the underground cellar, which has been sculpted from volcanic rock to optimize temperature and humidity without electricity.
When it comes to wines, you can’t go wrong here, as each one is better than the next. Among the highlights, the Alta Mora Etna Bianco — a bright, structured white Carricante — earns rave reviews for its inviting aroma and minerality. You’ll also want to take your time savoring the powerful, earthy red Guardiola Etna Rosso, made from a single crop of 150-year-old Nerello Mascalese vines.
The company has also carefully restored a nearby 19th-century village house, where you can stay overnight to experience more of Mount Etna — just be sure to book ahead.
Tenuta di Castellaro
Massimo Lentsch and Stefania Frattolillo, two wine-loving entrepreneurs from Bergamo in northern Italy, established Tenuta di Castellaro in 2005 to celebrate the Aeolian Islands’ volcanic terroir and preserve ancient viticulture traditions.
Operating several vineyards on remote Lipari Island, off the northern coast of Sicily, the winery champions organic, zero-impact methods with minimal intervention. It’s also known for carefully cloning rare ancient grapes (such as honeysuckle-forward Malvasia delle Lipari and intense, fruity Corinto Nero) and building a state-of-the-art winery that’s underground in keeping with the local traditions of the Aeolian Islands.
Try the Bianco Pomice, an herbaceous white blend that expresses volcanic mineral soil and salty Mediterranean air. Next, travel back in time with a deep purple Corinto — an ancient grape with savory spices and silky tannins — and savor the Nero Ossidiana, an elegant red blend offering notes of cherry, spice and salt.
Take advantage of the immersive tasting experiences, including daily tours, private sunset experiences and vineyard picnics. You’ll get to walk through the vineyards, tour the barrel-aging room and learn all about Tenuta di Castellaro’s eco-friendly practices. For instance, the winery installed solar chimneys and a wind tower to maintain constant temperature and humidity levels sans electricity.
Want to spend a few days exploring the remote Aeolian Islands? Tenuta di Castellaro has transformed three ancient ruin sites into residences, where you can stay overnight to soak up Lipari Island’s rustic beauty.
Down south in the Vittoria appellation, COS has been producing delicious native varieties using biodynamic practices since 1980. The winery embraces many traditional practices, such as aging wines in unlined terracotta vessels, to avoid altering the natural aromas and flavors.
To get a feel for its approach to wine, visit the winery for a tour and a tasting where you can sample a glass of the signature Cerasuolo di Vittoria. A harmonious blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato, this is the only wine style in Sicily that boasts a DOCG label — the highest possible classification of Italian wines.
COS’s gentle approach yields a ruby-red wine with cherry and chocolate on the nose, smooth tannins and nice acidity. It also crafts a fresh and juicy Frappato, the robustly earthy Nero di Lupo (using the Nero D’Avola varietal) and a Pithos Bianco orange wine (made from Grecanico grapes) with almonds, dried mandarins and flora aromas on the nose.
Dating back to 1851, family-run Donnafugata (meaning a “woman in flight”) showcases the sheer variety and quality of Sicilian wines with four vineyards spread across the island. To see where it all began, head to the family’s charming estate in Marsala on Sicily’s west coast, surrounded by palms, citrus trees and olive groves.
During a visit, tour an underground wine cellar carved from volcanic rock, and then sit down for a tasting. Choose from several experiences, such as a Sicilian brunch, a multi-course gourmet meal or a tour of Sicily via four wines: Grillo, Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese and Zibibbo, all with whimsical labels illustrated by Italian artist Stefano Vitale.
As part of each tasting experience, you’ll get to sip the signature Ben Ryé. Made from Passito di Pantelleria grapes, this highly regarded dessert wine is deliciously decadent with its bright apricot hue, marmalade aroma, hints of mint and smooth texture.
As one of the highest wineries on Mount Etna, Gambino Winery overlooks vineyards, villages and the Mediterranean Sea below from its perch at nearly 3,000 feet above sea level.
Located in Linguaglossa, on the northeastern slope, the winery was founded by husband-and-wife Vittorio Raciti and Maria Gambino in 1978. They entered the scene back when Sicily was better known for exporting robust, one-note wines to mainland Italy and France intended for blending.
But the couple had a different vision, believing that low-volume, high-quality wines were the future. Taking a less-is-more approach, Raciti and Gambino began cultivating pesticide-free, hand-harvested native grapes that showcase the local terroir. Today, the couple’s three adult children run the winery and welcome visitors to tour the underground cellar and enjoy a sommelier-led tasting alongside local dishes and cheeses.
Among the highlights, there’s the delicious Etna Spumante (a 48-month-aged sparkling wine made with 100 percent Nerello Mascalese), refreshing Tifeo White (a crisp, fresh white blend of Carricante, Cataratto and Minnella) and the ruby-red Petto Dragone (100 percent Nerello Mascalese) with its red berry aroma, smooth tannins and minerality. Cin-cin!