The main growing areas around Sicily are: the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna, the coast of Marsala, stone-terraced hillsides of Pantelleria, small towns like Alcamo and Camporeale, the historical Faro wine district in Messina, the entroterra inland of Regaleali down to Sambuca di Sicilia and Menfi, and the southeast corner where Noto and Vittoria are tucked away.
Prior to the last 10-15 years, Sicilian wineries were not even on the map for international travel. Now, more and more food and wine lovers are flocking here every year in search of high-quality Sicilian wines.
They’ll hairpin turn themselves up volcanoes seeking out natural wines and trendy pet nats, set sail to Salina for dry malvasia, cruise the windy west coast for 20-year-old marsala or travel all the way to the island of Pantelleria to discover the magical world of passito.
As you start looking forward to your holiday in Sicily, visiting wineries or at least sipping on local wine will most likely be high on your to-do list. Some guests will want to discover new winemakers and taste something out of the ordinary. Others will plan their trips to meet well-known winemakers and see where and how some of their favorite wines are made.
There are two routes to take when planning a road trip to a Sicilian vineyard.
You can plan a conventional winery visit with knowledgeable hospitality managers, and tastings with certified sommeliers. Examples of these would be the well-known powerhouse OG’s like Tasca d’Almerita and Planeta who truly carved out a space for Sicily on a global scale. Or you can take the road less travelled to visit independent small producers. These are our smaller producers, who didn’t even have websites or even email addresses when I started trying to track them down. Small producers tend to own or rent their vineyards, sometimes even without their own cantina (cellar) to produce their wine. We’re here to explain the pros and cons for both.
One main reason to visit larger vineyards is their professionalism. They are trustworthy, their wines are consistently good every year, their staff is helpful and knowledgeable, and they can plan ahead for your visit. Vineyard visits will be organized, tastings will be thorough, the pairings or full-meals they provide are classic traditional Sicilian food. At the end of your day, there is usually a shop where you can purchase a few bottles to take home.
Independent small producers are more of a wild card. I mean this in the most loving way. For those of you who have travelled in Sicily before, there will be surprises along the road. Things move slowly here, Sicilians don’t like to plan ahead, and on the bright-side, you never know what wonderful things will be around the corner. Tastings at smaller independent Sicilian wineries could include a winemaker stopping you right in the middle of their fields, pulling glasses and a corkscrew from their backpack, and taste-testing right on the spot. Sometimes you eat together in a local trattoria that you never would have found or trusted on your own. Maybe they’ll cook lunch for you right on the property or grill up a pile of local sausages with a makeshift barbecue pit on the slopes of the volcano. The unexpected can be disappointing, but it can be part of the adventure. Find out what kind of traveller you are, and if these experiences are worth risking the unknown.
If you decide to road trip to Sicilian wineries on your own, here are my tried-and-true recommendations.
- Get in touch with your winery ahead of time. Let them know who you are, where you come from, and why you want to visit them. Organize a date to meet and then call ahead a few days in advance to confirm your visit and make sure everything is on schedule.
- One of the best small investments in my travel pack is an international GPS. It’s cheaper to buy one on Amazon and load international maps on before you leave home, instead of paying a huge fee from the car rental agency to include one for you.
- Keep your car and the passengers properly fueled for the trip. Make a road trip playlist, bring snacks (Sicily is perfect for this! Every bar has a limited range of pastries, scaccia, pistachio cornetti, arancini, or sfincione to take along in the car), and keep the car full of gas. If you are anything like me––which in this case I hope you are not––you will get lost along the way, so plan extra time when visiting vineyards and farms that tend to be away from the main green-signed autostrada and blue SP “strada provinciale” state roads.
- A designated driver could be a great idea! Maybe one person from your group can “commit to spit”, and leave the vino guzzling to the rest of you.
- Get a contact phone number for your winery or winemaker. As someone who has been visiting vineyards here for almost a decade, I still need to have Nino Barraco, Alessandro Viola and Gueli rescue my lost and broken Italian speaking bum from the side of the road en route to finding their properties.
Enjoy your Sicilian holiday and lean into the adventures it might create for you. A flock of sheep blocking the road becomes a lovely foul-smelling pause as their little bells rhythmically ring, and their shepherding dogs cuss you out in dog-Siciliano. Make room in your suitcase, because wine here will be much cheaper than what you find at home. In most cases actually, you will want the stuff that you cannot find at home so think about ordering a case to ship back stateside or just make space for 2-3 bottles in your checked bag.
If you’re the type of traveller who wants a little bit of structure, you can book ahead on one of our Casa Mia Vineyard Discovery tours on Mount Etna, in Ragusa, or Noto. We can make the arrangements for your group, organize a wine tasting, a homemade lunch, and even hook you up with a translator, guide, or certified sommelier for the day. Let us know what you are planning. Tag @casamiaitalyfoodandwine and #casamia_italy with your own road trip adventures. If a custom tour is more your speed, we can create something special that works for your trip.
The Cheeky Chef, Linda Sarris was raised in a big Greek-American family with a Chef grandfather, a fisherman Dad and a kitchen full of women who loved to cook. After a career in book publishing and a secret night-school culinary degree, she ran away to Sicily with a scholarship to work for a farm-to-table cooking school. She has worked as a fishmonger at Eataly, consulted for a restaurant in Romania, cooked for a Tuscan winery and underground supper clubs in New York. With a home base in Brooklyn, Linda works as a private chef and often travels to Italy for freelance jobs like her new project SNACK, a chef’s guide to Sicilian food/wine.