Sicily En Primeur: A Glimpse at a Wine Destination Par Excellence – Filippo Magnani

A few weeks ago, one of Sicily’s highly anticipated wine events took place in the beautiful town of Taormina, one of Sicily’s main tourist destinations, on the slope of the tallest active volcano in Europe, Mount Etna or ‘A Muntagna’ as locals call it. Sicily En Primeur is an itinerant event created by the association Assovini Sicilia to introduce the wines of the most recent harvest and to highlight its member wineries as the “ambassadors and guardians of culture and territories.” Starting in 2004, this was the nineteenth edition of the event which was attended by over one hundred national and international accredited wine writers and included nine wine tours, eight hundred wines for tasting, sixty wineries and five masterclasses, hosted by Elizabeth Gabay, Master of Wine. Assovini Sicilia was founded in 1998 by Diego Planeta, Giacomo Rallo and Lucio Tasca d’Almerita. Their mission was to bring together a team of producers who shared a common goal: to raise awareness about the importance of Sicilian wine. Today the association strives to protect and strengthen its territorial identity by highlighting the cultural richness of the different terroirs as well as the stylistic interpretations of their winemakers.

The association presented its vision for Sicilian wine production, and its connection to tourism as a means to create unique wine experiences. The President of Assovini Sicilia,  Laurent de la Gatinais, described Sicily as “a wine destination of excellence, the Napa Valley of the Mediterranean, because of its variety and quality of wine, beautiful landscapes, and unique historical and archaeological heritage.”  The event also highlighted the fact that, in addition to wine tourism, the new generation of Sicilian winemakers is focusing on sustainability and the environment. Of the fifteen new producers, eleven of them are women. These dynamic young people have studied and worked outside Sicily to gain valuable skills in marketing, economics, and oenology. They share a passion for the history of their island and families, but also a strong desire to bring new ideas and innovation to Sicilian viticulture.

Layers of terroir, culture and history have created a truly unique territory

Sicily holds over 3,000 years of rich viticulture history. From the Greeks to the English, the island has been influenced by many civilizations but has managed to preserve a unique identity in its language, cuisine, and territory of wines without fully yielding to these outside influences. As a Mediterranean crossroads it has developed a rich culture that can be experienced through its architecture, cuisine, music, and art. Perhaps even more diverse, however, is its terroir and wine. In an hour you could be skiing on Mount Etna at 2,000 metres over lava and black volcanic soil, and then move to the shores of Catania to bask on the sandy beach. Other areas to the west and south are rich in limestone and clay. The island is the biggest in the Mediterranean and one of its most mountainous. This of course is reflected in the impressive variety of wine styles you can find here, from crisp, clean sparkling wines to full, deep reds and luscious fortified wines. Sicily has 1 DOCG (Cerasuolo di Vittoria), 23 DOC’s and 7 IGP’s.

The main grapes grown in Sicily are the white Grillo and black Nero d’Avola, together with the main grapes of Mt. Etna being: Nerello Mascalese and Carricante. Many local producers, including long-established families who planted international grapes like Cabernet, Chardonnay and Syrah 40 years ago, have now started to draw attention to lesser-known varieties like Nerello Cappuccio, Catarratto (named Lucido) Insolia, Zibibbo, Frappato and Perricone.

Made In Sicily: Wine tourism creates a cultural symbol of excellence

It is no surprise that the President of Assovini Sicilia compared Sicily to the Napa Valley. It is roughly at the same latitude, and for an island just slightly bigger than Massachusetts its total vine covered acreage is about 40% of that in California. In addition to the broad array of high-quality wines, it offers stunning scenery and a unique historical and architectural heritage. Some of the best-preserved antiquity sites are found across the island and are layered in with all the cultures that came after. One can visit Sicily’s largest Greek theatre in Taormina and in less than an hour be wine tasting on the slopes of Mt Etna, or visit Moorish influenced mosaics at a Normand cathedral in Palermo then spend the afternoon exploring the best Marsala wineries.  Few places offer such rich experiences with wineries so well equipped to receive visitors. Among the members of Assovini Sicilia, almost all of them have a dedicated facility for wine tourism with a cellar for tastings and over half of them offer integrated experiences from cooking classes to wellness and wine tours that interact with the landscape and culture. The most popular wine experiences offered are sunset tastings, dinners in the vineyard and a chance to join the grape harvest. One third of these wineries also have lodging facilities where wine enthusiasts can fully immerse themselves in the terroir and team culture of the winery.

During the Sicily en Primeur some fantastic wines were presented, all of which were from the Etna region, where viticulture is still manually done on its steep slopes. With an average altitude of 800 metres, wines from Etna are vertical, sharp, and crisp. It’s no coincidence that the largest producer of sparkling wine from Southern Italy is based here which is Firriato, with a total production of 200K bottles per year.


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.

@casagraziawines #womeninwine #womenleaders #casagrazia #winenews #wineexperience #winelovers #sicilia  #travelling #winetravels #winetourism #winetasting #sparklingwine #sicily #winesofsicily #vineyards #wineinfluencer #wineadventures #traveldiary #traveling #sicilianwines #italianwines #travelsicily #DocSicilia #ViniDocSicilia #SiciliaDoc #Sicilia #Sicily #SicilyWine #WineofSicily #DrinkSicily #sicilianwine #sicilianwines

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.

#foodiesofinstagram #eats #foodstagram #instafood #foodpic #foodgasm #delicious #foodoftheday #foodpics #Italianfood #foodandwine #foodandwinetasting 

#winesofsicily #sicilianwines #italianwines #siciliaenprimeur2022 #siciliaenprimeur #SicilyWine #WineofSicily #DrinkSicily #sicilianwine #sicilianwines #vinosiciliano  #winelovers #wineexperience #travelling  #winetourism #traveler #wineinfluencer #wineadventures #traveling #italianwine #italianwinelovers #AssoviniSicilia #erice2022

@assovinisicilia @just_sicily @wineinsicily 

Wines of Sicily ~ Part 1 – Sicilia en Primeur 2015

The 12th edition of Sicilia en Primeur was held this year in Taormina at the Grand Hotel, Atlantis Bay from April 14th to April 18th. Organized by Assovini Sicily, it’s one of the most important events of the year – it’s the international preview of the last vintage, addressed to both Italian and international press.

Who is the Assovini Sicily?

Assovini Sicilia was founded in1998 by three leading wineries: Diego Planeta (Planeta Estates); Giacomo Rallo (Tenuta di Donnafugata); and Lucio Tasca d’Almerita (Conte Tasca d’Almerita) for the purposes to meet the challenges of the winemaking sector, including the promotion and communication on behalf of its members.

Assovini Sicily currently has 72-member companies, which express all the areas of production.

Today it represents 80% of bottled wine in Sicily and 59% of it is exported exclusively to USA, Canada, Brazil, China, Japan, Russia, Switzerland, Germany, UK and Scandinavia. The total amount of the bottled wine by the Assovini shareholders is worth approximately 250 million euros.

Sicilia en Primeur 2015

Over 70 international and 20 Italian wine journalists attended this year’s Sicilia en Primeur. We had a chance to speak directly with owners, winemakers and marketing teams. Forty members from Assovini Sicily participated and here we the opportunity to taste over 300 wines from the 2014 harvest, including some previous years. The tasting was a full expression the different wine areas of Sicily.

This year’s theme was sustainability and biodiversity. Of the 72 members, 61% have environmental certification, 39% produce wine from organic grapes and around 82% operate according to the rules of the guided and integrated pest management. Assovini Sicilia also believe “it’s their ethical duty to the local community and nature, to be concerned for the environment”. What makes this Sicily so special is that the producers take great lengths to preserve the environment by: recovering indigenous grape varieties which are naturally adapted to their microclimates; invest in technology to produce clean energy, such as solar panels and wind mills; and reduce the resource consumption by using efficient work procedures. Several protocols of sustainable practices have been adopted.

Francesco Ferreri, President of the Association states: “we have set ourselves the aim of presenting to the world oenology quality that respects the environment and safeguarding the biodiversity that characterize Sicily”. This says it all.

Vintage 2014 – A Great Year

It was a difficult harvest everywhere but Sicily, with producers being optimistic. The weather conditions improved at the end of June and the vineyards enjoyed a warm and dry growing season typical to the island. Francesco Ferreri, president of Assovini Sicilia says: “The quality of the production this year will give great balance and elegance to Sicilian wines”.

Sicilia en Primeur 2015 – Tasting

The tasting was organized two ways.
There was the “Producers Room” which was dedicated to “meet and greet” the owners, winemakers and marketers. Here we had the opportunity to taste wines from different vintages and participate in vertical tastings, with a strong emphasis on the 2014. Then there was the “Sommelier Room” which was dedicated to tastings coordinated by sommeliers. Some of us seized the opportunity to participate in blind tastings.

Sicilia en Primeur 2015 – My 2014 Favorites and ones to look out for:

Cottanera Etna Bianco 2014

Baglio di Pianetto Ficiligno 2014

Caruso & Minini Grecanico 2014

Donnafugata Prio 2014

Fazio Aegades Grillo 2014

Feudo Maccari 2014

Girolamo Russo Nerina Etna Bianco 2014

Masseria del Feudo Grillo 2014

Occhipinti SP68 Bianco 2014

Planeta Cometa Fiano 2014

Rallo Beleda 2014

Rapitalà Vigna Casalj 2014

Tasca d’Almerita Cavallo delle Fate 2014

Terre di Giurfo Suliccenti 2014

Valle dell’Acate Zagra 2014

Zisola Azisa 2014

Sicilia en Primeur 2015 – List of participating wineries:


Also integral to the event we visited the production territories and visited 10-13 wineries, depending on which tour you were assigned. See Wines of Sicily Part 2 – The Tour

Liz Palmer