Would you like a glass of Sicilian wine?
The largest Italian and Mediterranean island, Sicily is a charming land rich in history, art and culture and with old oenological traditions. It is also a land of marvelous and well-renowned wines.
One of Europe’s oldest viticultural regions, Sicily’s oenological history dates back to the time when the island was part of Magna Graecia. However, it is believed that grapes grew spontaneously before the Greek age so that many varieties, now considered autochthonous, were introduced by the Phoenicians.
With the largest viticultural area in Italy, larger than those of Piedmont, Veneto or Tuscany, Sicily provided approximately 30 percent of Italy’s total production. Still, its Sicilian wine was long considered little more than a fortifying agent in other wines or an economical wine sold in bulk.
Fortunately, the Sicilian wine renaissance of the last decades has radically changed both the substance and the image of Sicilian wines. From the renewal of the noble Marsala dessert wine to the reevaluation of the rich local grape varieties, Sicily has proven to be an extraordinary land of wines. Its wines which come from local autochthonous grapes such Grillo, Catarratto, Insolia, Malvasia, Nero d’Avola, Frappato and Nerello Mascalese, are the most popular among professionals and wine lovers. Sicilian wines have finally asserted themselves on the international stage.
The last few years have seen some remarkable vintages, some from wineries barely known outside Sicily just five years ago. More modern techniques in viticulture and winemaking coupled with the unique blending of local Sicilian grape varieties as well as international ones have kick-started the wine industry.
Restaurants in London, New York and Tokyo are taking note, and Sommeliers no longer associate Sicily exclusively with the sweet Marsala used in cooking. Now their wine list includes the best Sicilian labels.
Many wine regions around the world have found it financially beneficial to promote wine tourism. The goal is dual: give wineries the opportunity to open their doors to travelers and introduce them to their world of wine through a direct contact with their activity, vineyards, cellars and production as well as show travelers it is possible to be in the business of abiding by traditions and producing quality agriculture while still protecting the environment.
Wine tourism is today a large niche, with about 15 million travelers and a value of 2.500 billion euros. A consistent slice of this quota, estimated to be about 10%, goes to Sicily. Data confirms that this percentage is growing. Wine is the third biggest draw for international travelers to Italy, involving mostly a high-end profile target who loves drinking well, dining well, gorgeous scenery and art. The development of the wine tourism industry is a concrete chance to increase the value of rural territories and their products, a way to attract travelers and consumers from all over the world and tempt them with tasty dishes and great wines. It’s also an excellent way to win their hearts through indelible mementos of the most secret and true Sicilian countryside life.
Our journey through the wine world of Sicily starts with a talk to Mr Gori Sparacino, President of the Federation of the Wine and Flavour Roads of Sicily, then proceeds to the discovery of each Wine Road that leads the way to the most interesting wineries and wines of the island.
What is the Federation of the Wine Roads and Flavours of Sicily and what are its main goals?
The Federation is an association, a network between the Wine Roads of Sicily. Its main goal is to create a synergy between the public sector, wineries, farms, restaurants and hotels to realize the ideal union between the culture and the land products of a territory, to let people and travelers approach a territory through a journey along its history, its culture, its wine and its food. All of them are a pure expression of the territory itself. Hence, the Federation’s additional goal is to spread information and knowledge about the Wine Roads in Sicily through strategic communication and marketing campaigns.
Which Wine Roads belong to the Federation?
There are twelve Wine Roads officially recognized by the Regional Farm & Food Board: the Alcamo Wine Roads, the Erice Wine Road, The Castelli Nisseni Wine Road, the Cerasuolo di Vittoria Wine Road, The Etna Wine Road, The Marsala Wine Road, the Monreale Wine Road, the Targa Florio Wine Road, the Terre Sicane Wine Road, the Val di Mazara Wine Road and the Val di Noto Wine Road.
These roads cover most of the island, each being a peculiar expression of the culture, the tradition and the grapes of that specific area.
Which strategic collaborations does the Federation carry out at the moment?
First of all, we are working at the Accordo di Programma Quadro (Main Plan Agreement) named “From land culture to wine & gastronomy tourism” proposed by our Federation to the National Ministry of Economic Development who decided to finance it together with the Regional Farm and Food Resources Board, the Regional Tourist Board and the Regional Institute of Sicily Wine and Oil. The goal is to implement a model of wine tourism development based on a process of knowledge and sharing of land values along with working with the system in the tourism, wine and gastronomy industries.
What will be your personal goal during your year of chairmanship?
I hope to conclude a very important project where all Wine Roads of Sicily are protagonists. It started with an open discussion among all the operators of the wine tourism industry in order to get the recognition of our “SicilianWine &FlavoursTourist District.” This official recognition will give us the opportunity to work within a specific regional law and to develop strategies and actions to support wine tourism, considering the increasing strategic role that this niche has in the development of the whole tourism industry in Sicily.
Do you have a specific background in the wine world?
I have been the Director of the Terre Sicane Wine Road since its birth in 2001. I’m also the Director of IterVitis, a cultural itinerary which got an official recognition from the Council of Europe and the Italian Ministry of Culture. This is the only wine itinerary in Europe with the goal of promoting the most beautiful historical vineyards in Europe. It boasts a partnership of 18 European and non-European countries.
What does wine represent for Sicily?
A liquid business card which will give Sicily an identity throughout the world.
What is wine for you?
As I learnt in Azerbaijan, wine is a sign of friendship and conviviality – “wine binds together what the sea divides”.
Your best wishes for wine travelers all over the world?
All the best for 2012. And remember, life is too short to drink bad wine!
For a selection of wine experiences in Sicily, wine tours or wine daily excursions, visit www.isolabella.it.