Sicily, Italy: What wine, where to drink it, and what to see

Sicily translates to “the land of figs and olives,” according to a local guide I met on a recent trip. Though I couldn’t find anything to verify this, I do know that around the globe Sicily means great wine, delicious food, and stunning ancient wonders. To put an academic spin on it, the definition of Sicily is an island off the southern Italy coast boasting the densest population of any island in the Mediterranean Sea.

Italy Insider: When in Rome, drink the Sicilian wine

When I hear Sicily or see the name in print, I immediately think of wine. We took an incredible wine tour with @winesofsiciliadoc @winesofsicily. Not only did my taste buds receive quite an education, so did my brain. For example, most of us know that Champagne (French, I know, but an excellent example) refers to the geographic location. Napa Valley can produce “sparkling wine” but not Champagne. This classification system is referred to as Appellation d’origine controlee (AOC) in France and is based on how and where the wines are produced.

Think you know wine?

You’ll enjoy these ten interesting facts about Italian wine plus some travel tips to plan your stay in Sicily.

Check out the following 10 wine facts.

  • The Italian version of AOC is called denominazione di origine controllata (DOC). You’ll find the designation on the wine label. Then, there’s also Denominazione di Origine Controllat e Garantita (DOCG).
  • Actually, Italy puts a finer point on the classification. The DOCG refers to a government taste test guaranteeing the highest quality standards.
  • Wine historians put the year of birth for the DOC wine designations as 1963.
  • After intense criticism of too many DOC designations with varying degrees of quality, DOCG standard debuted in 1980.
  • Other Italian wine classifications include Classico, which is added after the appellation and created in the town’s historic center. Superiore has a minimum of .5 percent more alcohol than standard wines. Riserva indicates wine aged for a mimimum of 2 years.
  • DOCs number 326 across the entire Italian boot., from Prosecco to the dessert-like Moscato, and more. Each DOC governs its own requirements for aging, varietals, and harvest yields.
  • More than 350 grapes have “authorized status” as a varietal in Italy. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is the agency to grant such status.
  • Italy produces about twice as much red wine (vino rosso) as white wine (vino bianco).
  • Saluti is the common toast before taking a sip from your glass. Cin cin is more casual or joking around.
  • Always wait for everyone’s glass to be filled before toasting, and when you do, look your tablemates in the eyes.

How about a Sicilian road trip?

Starting out in western Sicily in historic Marsala, we sampled a variety of wines through Menfi and Palermo, ending up on the eastern coast with Taormina and Catania. During the road trip, we explored an archeological park, a salt farm, and old cities with rich historical sites.

We dined on your typical Sicilian dishes. My favorite dish was “Parmigiana a modo mio” meaning “parmigiana in my own way.” Not only is the food delicious, we sampled up to 14 wine tastings with each meal. Though it was tough to choose a best for each wine tasting, I did make a list of my favorites. Sicily wines impressed me more than I expected.

Lastly, Catania. It is located on the eastern coast of Sicily and is the island’s second largest city. Its claim to fame? Home to the biggest volcano in Europe, Mount Etna.

Ah, the countryside

Sicily’s rolling hills

Yes, that’s Sicily’s rolling hills. They provide the picture-perfect setting for vineyards with @winesofsicily. We took a tour to visit a salt farm. To tell the truth, the concept of a salt farm was new to me. The Sicilian people use ancient processes to harvest salt using sun, wind, and the sea. Sea salt pans are hand operated, and the salt master is in charge of orchestrating the harvest. I am so glad I still have a supply of salt from my trip. Trust me, a sprinkle of this salt does make a difference to your favorite dish. Do buy one for cooking and one for table salt.

Culture and History

1. Taormina is the tourist capital of Sicily

Too much of a good thing is heavenly, especially spending an inspiring day in the hilltop town of Taormina. This is a great restaurant to check out when in Taormina, @ristorante_al_duomo_taormina.  Part one of this trip ended at one of the most beautiful cities in Italy. You definitely want to add Taormina to your list to visit when in western Sicily.

 

See drone footage of Taormina in YouTube link below

2. Digging the largest archaeological park in Europe

We also toured the Selinunte Archeological Park. The park is roughly 270 hectares and has more than 2,500 years in history. Given its size, you will need six hours to explore. The park is fairly secluded and sits on the west coast between Mazara del Vallo and Sciacca.

As you walk onto the property, you will be amazed by the magnificent architecture and landscape. You’ve heard a lot about the Acropolis in Athens? (Check out Athens: The Must-Sees in Only 24 Hours) I think the Archeological Park in Sicily will surprise you. The bonus is it isn’t very strenuous to walk up into the temple. Incredible photo opportunities too. Make sure you tour with a local guide, you will learn fun and interesting facts like temples were always built facing East, because the sun set in the west, and people were afraid it wouldn’t rise again.

3. Long before ATMs and Venmo

Around the world during ancient times, temples were used as banks. In the heyday of the Roman Empire, an individual’s or family’s riches were stored in temple basements. Similar to today’s wealthy who have multiple bank accounts across different banks because the FIDC insurance caps at $250,000, wealthy Romans distributed their valuables among different temples. Soldiers guarded the “banks” and priests did the work of “tellers,” keeping track of deposits and loan payments.

Different trip, same glorious wine

On a different Italian adventure, I had the opportunity for a fast and fun flight from Rome to Sicily, and then directly to @casa_talia in Modica, to start the 3-Day Gastronomy

Experience with a stunning welcome dinner. I dined with famous sommeliers, food journalists, and restaurateurs. We partook in antipasto to dolce, all perfectly paired with wines for three glorious days in sun-soaked Sicily. If you love wine as much as you love Italy, then you’ll love that my itinerary was a Zonin Family Estates wine trail. Here’s the inside scoop: A to Zonin: Italian Wine and the Best Way to Enjoy It

UNESCO Facts

Did you know that Sicily has the highest number of UNESCO sites of any region? Visit my Instagram page, (videos to follow below) and you will see why.

I adore the many beautiful tiles in Europe. You can find intricate designer tiles carpeting the floors, on the wall, decor and ceilings in houses and churches you visit. Instead of concrete sidewalks we find in the U.S., you will find slabs of polished marble paths on the streets. Best not to wear flip flops as you can easily slip and fall. I love how the hotels will protect older original floorings by covering them with a glass path.

 

This photograph was taken right outside the hotel we stayed at in Palermo. The richness in the architecture, beautifully art, pillars, doors … this is what I love about Europe. It is a complete feast for the eyes.

Where have you found the most beautiful tiled artwork on your travels?

Food and Drink

Indulge and savor every bite; I let myself eat whatever was put in front of me and didn’t worry about calories, while totally immersed in the cuisine experience. So glad I did, with no regrets with the few extra pounds.

 

What the Locals Know

By day, Sicily’s plazas, streets, and alleys are staged for exploring. By night, tables and lights are set for dining. I love how the Italians do lunch and dinner. We enjoyed long conversations over three-hour meals. I actually stayed off my phone most of the time. I enjoyed savoring all the delicious fresh ingredients in the Sicily dishes All the wines we were treated to were so good. I found my favorite Rosetta, a summer white wine (also known as “summer water”), and I love their dessert (Moscato) wines.

Arrivederci Sicily, il mio amore

On each street in Sicily I would look up and find a treasure. One entrance can lead to a hidden garden, and another can showcase details of architectural history and beauty. For me, that’s the art of travel. I’ll be back soon, Sicily.

Here’s a video to dream of Sicily.

 

 

 

 

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