Discovering the Wine Secrets of Southeastern Sicily – Filippo Magnani

There are two things you can be sure of when taking a food and wine itinerary in Sicily: you will always learn something new, and you will always leave a piece of your heart there when you leave. From the 13th to the 15th of July a well-organized press tour by Assovini Sicilia, led a handful of international journalists in three intense days to discover the Southeastern part of Sicily.  First in the area around the village of Noto from the Baroque splendors, to the promised land of Nero d’Avola; and then in the territory of Vittoria, the area of the now unique Sicilian DOCG, with the homonymous Cerasuolo name. Many estates were visited, dozens of wines were tasted together with producers, and a combination of cuisine specialties of the island were interpreted by local cooks or starred chefs. A continuous temptation, and indeed, an inexhaustible discovery.

Sicily’s Southeast, the heart of the island in the center of the Mediterranean Sea
Sicily is in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea and the largest under vine area of Italy. An area that counts a multitude of appellations that are slowly becoming more and more famous thanks to the success of productions able to clearly express the combination of Sicilian microclimates. From the vineyards on the island of Pantelleria to the extreme fields on the slopes of Mount Etna, Sicily is an island of unparalleled beauty and diversity. Southeast Sicily certainly embodies the essence of Sicily and embraces some of the most important wine areas among the dense web of appellations of the island. Noto DOC was created in 1978 to protect the local historical passito of Moscato. Recently the regulation has been expanded to include red wines based on Nero d’Avola, which today covers up to 84% of the vineyards. The area has been under vines for thousands of years. It is a sun-kissed, warm territory but it benefits from the mitigating effect of the coastal proximity. From these hills the view of the island is open, the sea breeze envelops the atmosphere, and the lively green of the vineyards is matched with the dark soil. Surrounded by beautifully restored ocher-colored farms. The neat geometry of the vine rows is organized by dry stone walls, sometimes alternated with monumental plants of prickly pears, and finally some small, sparse patches of trees that almost seem to wonder what they are doing there…

The scenario around the wine district of Vittoria is different. The territories of production include the municipalities of Ragusa, Vittoria, Comiso, Acate, Chiaramonte Gulfi, Santa Croce Camerina, Niscemi, Gela, Caltagirone, Licodia Eubea, Riesi, Butera, Mazzarino and Mazzarrone (five in the Ragusa province, two in the Caltanissetta province and two in the Catania province). The area is delimited to the north by the Erei mountains and to the south by the Mediterranean Sea. The inland is occupied by the majestic Iblei mountains from which many waterways descend. The streams have dug through the land and shaped valleys on which the vineyards climb, and through the thermal breezes coming from the coast, which can deeply affect the climate, creating abnormal temperature excursions close to twenty degrees. On Vittoria’s hills, the soils are differentiated by Millennial stormwater runoff, producers are able to use this to produce red wines characterized by structure and sapidity versus tremendously drinkable wines of immediacy of fruit. To visit the vineyard estates, it is necessary to go down into these valleys completely submerged by cultivations.

The possibilities are endless. The variability of climatic conditions with the multiplicity and succession of the soil (clay, sandy-loamy, limestone soils) allow producers to interpret their personal and intimate Sicily in their bottles of wines. The finesse of the Cerasuolo by Vittoria Docg is expressed in blends composed of the only two native vines allowed by the disciplinary: Nero d’Avola and Frappato, in 50 to 70% and 30 to 50% respectively. The two contrasting varieties prove to be extremely complementary. The fragrance of Frappato goes perfectly with the more meditative aspect of Nero d’Avola, creating unique wines. These styles of wines are neither light nor heavy, they go beyond any concept of the seasonality of wines. The depth and structure of Nero d’Avola are lightened and harmonized by the fresher aromas and elegance of the fantastic Frappato. Wine must speak for the territory as much as it can give a little hint of the soul of its inhabitants. Vittoria’s wines are bright and exuberant, just like the people there.

Land of tales with a wide array of beautiful wine estates to visit
South-East Sicily is one of the most coveted wine destinations for wine lovers and wine connoisseurs. Wine tourism has become a key factor for territorial promotion. There is an increasing number of tourists who visit these lands just to discover the wine traditions. While visitors discover the mosaic of small and large wineries hidden in every corner of those lands, the protagonists of the Sicilian wine scene have understood the infinite potential of their land and they are moving towards the future, offering more impeccable travel proposals, starting from unique experiences in the cellar, through food delicatesse, to beautiful retreats. The “blend” of ancient traditions and modern cultivation practices with market strategies and investments for hospitality and tourism has made Sicily one of the most interesting wine destinations in Italy. The pulsating center of the area is Syracuse. The City of Syracuse combines works of the Greco-Roman era, spectacular squares, artisan boutiques, and of course the breathtaking shores and a crystal-clear sea. To the Southwest lies Val di Noto. The rolling hills or the valley frame a few beautiful late-baroque towns such as Noto, Ragusa, Modica and Scicli. Perfect places to enjoy gastronomic delights in small Osterie, Taverns, or Michelin-starred restaurants, surrounded by works of art and monuments that exude the history of man. The rest of the land is wild with luscious green vineyards, rocky ravines and prehistoric tombs, a thread woven between nature and man that run from the hills to an uncontaminated rugged coastline. A wide array of properties with great wine production and hospitality proposals for wine enthusiasts and wine professionals. Here are the wineries we visited during the magnificent tour.

Assovini was founded in 1998 and it is the organization that most supported and carried out the territorial development project in the last 25 years for wine production and wine tourism. Today, along with 90 producers and nearly 900 labels produced, they are aiming to bring the fantastic value of Sicilian wines worldwide. In this direction Assovini in 2004 created the event Sicilia en premieur: A yearly itinerant event where the producers and the members of Assovini, lead a selected international press through tastings, tours, masterclasses, and conventions.

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Casa Grazia, a Sicilian Winery by Lake Biviere, that is fully immersed in biodiversity

Prior to Sicily en Primeur 2022, we visited a number of wineries. One winery that stood out was Casa Grazia. Maria Grazia Di Francesco, CEO of Casa Grazia opened to the doors of her new cellar and welcomed us to the magnificent rural landscape of Lake Biviere Oriented Reserve. Maria is truly an advocate for women in wine – I was thrilled to meet her and her daughter. The Casa Grazia Winery is located in Gela, Southern Sicily. The family has been grape producers since the 1980’s and starting from 2005 they bottled their first wine. More recently, in 2020 they achieved organic certification.

Casa Grazia covers an area of ​​about fifty hectares, almost completely planted with vineyards, is 120 meters above sea level and a few steps from the sea. The vineyards are influenced by Lake Biviere, a natural saltwater reservoir rich in biodiversity. In this area the mild winds and sea breeze meet the warm and dry air currents of the Sicilian hinterland, creating a unique microclimate which is favorable for the cultivation of both native and international grapes: Frappato, Nero D’Avola, Moscato and Grillo along with Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon all on limestone-sandy soil.

The estate has eight labels:
Two white wines: Zahara and Adorè;
Five red wines: Laetitya, Victoria 1607, Gradiva, Emiryam and Vi Veri, and
One Sparkling wine: (rosé) Euphorya.

After the tour we had a technical tasting of seven wines:

2020 ‘Euphorya’ Spumante Rose; 2021 Zahara; 2021 Adore; 2021 Laetitya; 2020 Victorya 1607; 2019 Gradiva and Emiryam.

All the wines have great balance, wonderful character, and elegance. My favorite wine was Victorya 1607.  I found out after the tasting that this wine was named as a tribute to Vittoria Colonna Enriquez, Countess Consort and regent of Modica , who in 1607 gave 75 settlers two hectares of land, on condition that they cultivate one vineyard. The vineyards also fall perfectly in the D.O.C.G. of the Cerasuolo of Vittoria, the only Sicilian D.O.C.G. The 1919 vintage of Cerasuolo di Vittoria “Victorya 1607” received a Gold Medal with 96/100 from “Decanter World Wine Awards 2021.” It was such an honor to have tasted this wine knowing the backstory.

It was wonderful to meet Maria Grazia Di Francesco, like her wines, she also has wonderful style and elegance.  Maria presented all the women at our tasting a beautiful bouquet of flowers – what a lovely surprise and memorable experience.

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Firriato “Gaudensius”: A Collection of Impressive Sparkling Wines from this Etna Producer

A few weeks ago, I had an amazing tasting experience with Federico Lombardo di Monte Iato, COO of Firriato Winery, and Rossella Marino Abate, Consulente presso Firriato at Riserva Bistrot at the beautiful Cavanera Wine Resort.  Federico gave me an extensive overview of the four different expressions of their sparkling wine label “Gaudensius”.

Cavanera Wine Resort

Cavanera and its surrounding vineyards are among the most beautiful in the area. We had views of one of Firriato’s treasures, their pre-phyilloxera vineyards, with an age, determined by a dendrochronological analysis, which has certified the age of the vines to be well over 150 years. Cavanera Etnea is Italy’s first carbon neutral winery and is highly recognized for its bio-architecture.

Gaudensius – Volcanic Line

The Nerello Mascalese and Carricante varieties are grown on specific slopes on Mount Etna, which give a substantial impact on the characteristics, as well as the Etna terroir, with its mesoclimate and its sandy soils of volcanic – these all offer ideal conditions for sparkling wine.

The combination of the pedoclimatic characteristics of Etna contributes to the development of grapes that are characterized by the intensity of the aromas and aromatic finesse.

The Gaudensius label now offers four different types of sparkling wines: Blanc de noir (Etna Doc Metodo Classico Brut made with Nerello mascalese grapes, Blanc de blancs (from Carricante grapes), Rosè, also Etna Doc from Nerello Mascalese and Pas Dosè.

The Gaudensius label is the culmination of a sparkling wine project that now makes Firriato the most important producer of the classic method on Etna.

Here are my tasting notes and other details of the four Gaudensius wines, which are produced from Nerello Mascalese and Caricante, two historical native varieties growing under the volcano.

 NV Gaudensius Blanc de Blancs

Classification: Terre Siciliane Bianco Spumante

Grape Variety: Carricante 100%

Subzone: Zucconerò, Zottorinotto, Imbischi

Exposure: North (650 m a.s.l)

Soil: Volcanic, highly draining in the Cavanera Etnea estate

Training System: Guyot, permanent cordon

Harvest: Hand-picking, 2nd week of October for Carricante

Vinification: Soft pressing of whole grapes and fermentation at controlled

temperature, second fermentation in bottle

Disgorgement: 2021

Production Method: Classic method

Aging: In bottle, in contact with the yeasts for over 36 months

Dosage: Brut

Alcohol: 12.60 % vol.

Pale straw yellow in color; the nose is fresh, elegant yet complex with notes of white fruits, hazelnuts and honey, enhanced by some wonderful mineral sensations; In the mouth, it is delicate, elegant and concentrated, with a long persistence on the palate and good aromatic persistence with a savory finish perlage: fine and concentrated
Overall, a great personality – dry crisp, light with a clean finish



NV Gaudensius Blanc de Noir

Classification: D.O.C. Etna Spumante

Grape Variety: Nerello Mascalese

Vineyard Location: North/northeastern slope of the countryside around Mt. Etna

Subzone: Verzella, Feudo di Mezzo, Sant’Antonio – Cottanera

Exposure: Northeastern side of the Volcano (650 metres above sea level)

Soil: Sandy, with high drainage capacity

Training System: Alberello Etneo

Harvest: Second week of September

Vinification: Soft pressing of whole grapes and fermentation at controlled temperature

Disgorgement: 2021

Production Method: Second fermentation in bottle (classic method)

Aging: In contact with the yeasts for over 36 months with frequent “Coup de poignet” to favor the complexity on the nose and palate

Dosage: Brut

Alcohol: 12.60 %

Pale straw yellow with some elements of bright gold hues; delivers some intense fruit and delicate Sicilian citrus notes on the nose; complex flavor, good structure – remarkable elegance; long-lasting sapid with mineral persistence – the freshness is ornamented with sense of nut and toast; perlage: fine and concentrated – an outstanding wine



NV Gaudensius Rosé Etna

Classification: D.O.C. Etna Spumante

Grape Variety: Nerello Mascalese

Vineyard Location: North/northeastern slope of the countryside around Mt. Etna

Subzone: Verzella

Exposure: Northeastern side of the Volcano (630 metres above sea level)

Soil: Sandy, with high drainage capacity

Training System: Alberello Etneo

Harvest: Hand-picked. Second week of September

Vinification: Soft pressing of whole grapes and slight skin maceration. Fermentation at controlled temperature

Disgorgement: 2020

Production Method: Second fermentation in bottle (classic method)

Aging: In contact with the yeasts for over 24 months with frequent “Coup depoignet” to favor the complexity on the nose and palate

Dosage: Brut

Alcohol: 12.50 % vol.

This wine takes on transparent shades of pale peach and pink; aromas of strawberries and raspberries are quite exquisite, with some light floral notes; on the palate imparts fresh, caressing sensations; a well-balanced wine, with good structure and acidity; an extremely prolonged aromatic persistence



Gaudensius Pas Dose

Classification: IGT Terre Siciliane

Grape Variety: Nerello Mascalese

Vineyard Location: North/northeastern slope of the countryside around Mt. Etna

Subzone: Verzella

Exposure: Northeastern side of the Volcano (650 metres above sea level)

Soil: Sandy, with high drainage capacity

Training System: Traditional Gobelet from Etna

Harvest: Hand-picked. Second week of September

Vinification: Soft pressing of whole grapes and fermentation at controlled


Disgourgement: 2021

Production Method: Second fermentation in bottle (classic method)

Aging: In contact with the yeasts for over 48 months with frequent “Coup de

poignet” to favor the complexity on the nose and palate
Dosage: Pas dosè

Alcohol: 12.50 % vol.

Production: 3,000 bottles produced

Pale golden yellow in colour; very fine bubbles transported me to complex and a harmonious nose of white flowers, orange peel, lime, bread, and nuts; on the palate there is a beautiful savory trail of Sicilian citrus with mineral persistence – long lingering finish; A wonderful olfactory complex wine


” The demand for Etna wines is growing and is moving towards increasingly identifying and medium-high range choices ” said Federico Lombardo di Monte Iato, Coo di Firriato.

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Sicilia en Primeur 2022…. It’s a Wrap!

What an amazing experience attending Sicilia en Primeur 2022!  Assovini Sicilia has certainly set the bar high for its eighteenth edition, and I believe the attending journalists will attest that this.

By the Numbers

This year is the 18th edition. In attendance were 80 national and international journalists. There were 7 wine tours, over 500 wines tasted, and 1 Masterclass.

After two years, the itinerant event organized and produced by Assovini Sicilia, was held in Erice, in the historical venue “Centro di Cultura Scientifica Ettore Majorana.” The medieval town of Erice has previous welcomed journalists, scientists, scholars, institutions, and enologists.

Inaugural Conference – some highlights 

The conference and opening of Sicilia en Primeur 2022 was held on April 30 with renowned Journalist Massimo Giletti as the host and various guest speakers giving their technical-scientific presentations on the theme “Back to the roots. Sicily experiencing the future.” Including a presentation by Professor Antonio Zoccoli, (President of the National Institute of Nuclear Physics) “Wine is also physics, and neutrino detectors are useful to unmask wine frauds” and he further states that “There is no wine without neutrino.”

Professor Marco Moriondo (Institute of Bioeconomics of CNR in Florence) states “Wine-growing Sicily is less exposed to climate change thanks to its soils, terroir, biodiversity and microclimates.”

Enologist Mattia Filippi and founder of Uva Sapiens states “Sicily is nowadays enjoying a privileged condition and its viticulture structure is so strictly connected with its traditions that a series of productive variables are extremely relevant also with regard to climate change.”

The Mayor of Erice, Daniela Toscano, along with Lorenzo Zichichi, both hosts of the “Centro di Cultura Scientifica Ettore Majorana”, mentioned the historical and scientific vocation of the medieval town of Erice.

Laurent de la Gatinais, the President of Assovini Sicilia, spoke of Sicily as “a miniature continent. Its diversity will be the key of our future. Therefore, we need to focus on vine, its study, its development. It has always been said that the human factor is fundamental in the production cycle, and today I strongly believe that it is more and more actual and understood as science, knowledge, and know-how. This is the only way we can tackle important issues, such as that of climate change. Assovini Sicilia wants to be the advocate and pioneer in leading the future of Sicilian viticulture following new models.”

“Sicily is today the largest organic wine area in Italy” comments Antonio Rallo, the President of Consorzio di Tutela Vini DOC Sicilia. It is a territory that by its very nature identifies sustainability as the keystone of the Sicilian viticulture system. This is the direction to where the industry of the island is moving, towards quality wines, authentic and recognizable in their identity and sustainable throughout the whole production process.”

Sicilia en Primeur is not only an important event for the Sicilian wine industry. It is also a perfect opportunity to showcase Sicily’s viticulture and historical-archaeological heritage through its wine tours. Stay tune for my updates on the wine tour.

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The Balio Gardens – Erice Sicily

A few days ago we had an amazing lunch with local specialities, accompanied with some lovely Sicilian wines on the grounds of The Balio Gardens, Erice.

Some History and Viewpoints

The Balio Gardens are built in 1872 by Conte Pepoli around the Castle of Venus. The gardens are of English design and style.

While enjoying our incredible lunch at the various stations around the castle, we are welcomed with stunning panoramic views of the Gulf of Trapani, salt pans of Trapani, Egadi Archipelago and the coast of Marsala. Apparently, on a clear day, it is possible to see Capo Bon, North East Tunisia.

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