WINE TRAILS OF ITALY: SICILY AND MOUNT ETNA

Continuing our Italian road trip in Sicily and Mount Etna, we visit the wineries and sample the cuisines that best reflect this unique part of Italy

For centuries the island of Sicily has been at the crossroads of Europe, Africa and the Middle East, imprints of which are left in its culture, cuisine, architecture and design. The wine adventurer will be spoiled for choice with the vineyards around Europe’s largest active volcano, Mount Etna, making truly special terroir-driven wines.

We have gathered a list of some of the finest vineyards and restaurants, recommending areas to explore and accommodation to stay, which combined will make an ideal base upon which you can build your own personal Sicilian wine trail.

WINERIES TO VISIT

Hundreds of wineries dot the foothills of Etna, where the rich volcanic soil and altitude help create some of the most unique wines of Sicily. Recent years have seen a renaissance thanks to the distinct style of wines made here, yet Etna’s wine story traces back to the 8th century BC with Greek settlers, who introduced a form of growing vines known as the Aegean tree.

Tornatore

This Sicilian family can trace its heritage back to the 17th century. Today the operations are headed by Giuseppe Tornartore, a businessman whose expertise has led to the acquisition of some of the region’s finest north-facing Etna vineyards, where it produces revered wines through modern production methods.

Benanti

This winery was founded in 1988 by Giuseppe Benanti, a pharmaceutical entrepreneur from Catania. Today the Etna vineyards are run by brothers Salvino and Antonio Benanti, who make highly praised, elegant, single-vineyard wines using indigenous grapes.

Frank Cornelissen

This estate in the northern valley of Etna was founded in 2001 by the Belgian winemaker Frank Cornelissen. His focus is on creating small quantities of boldly natural wines that are expressive of the local culture and deeply respect the volcanic soil.

Graci

Situated on the north slope of Etna at Passopisciaro, this winery’s story began when Alberto Aiello Graci quit a career in banking, leaving Milan in 2004 to return to his family’s small vineyard. His estate only grows indigenous grapes – Nerello Mascalese, Carricante and Catarratto – while the high altitude here helps create concentrated, elegant wines.

Pietradolce

Founded in 2005 by the Faro family, who had one of the largest citrus farms in Sicily, the Pietradolce winery is located in Solicchiata, on the northern slopes of Etna. The estate works with 100-year-old vines in these late ripening high-altitude vineyards.

Clockwise from top LEFT: Vineyards surround the northern slopes of Mount Etna, Tornatore’s Etna Rosato, TORNATORE VINES, PIETRADOLCE, TORNATORE ESTATE, PIETRADOLCE WINERY, TORNATORE HARVEST, Pietradolce cellar

PLACES TO STAY

From luxury wine resorts to decadent villas with infinity pools overlooking the glorious sea, the visitor to Sicily is spoilt for choice.

Monaci delle Terre Nere

A boutique hotel on a historic estate on the foothills of Etna, this luxury country retreat offers plenty of opportunities to taste local wines and organic produce, with experiences ranging from cooking classes to olive oil tastings.

Il San Corrado di Noto Hotel

The first boutique resort of its kind in the Val di Noto UNESCO World Heritage destination, the former ancient masseria owned by Prince Nicolaci has been thoughtfully converted into an idyllic, all-suite retreat set amidst old citrus and olive groves.

Capofaro

Overlooking rows of vines stretching to the sea, this luxury scenic wine resort sits on the gorgeous Aeolian Island of Salina, off Sicily’s northern coast. It’s the perfect place to sample the island’s renowned Malvasia wine.

Casa Luza

Set in rolling hills near the baroque town of Noto and the beautiful nature reserve of Vendicari, the stylish private villa offers an infinity pool and breathtaking sea views.

Grand Hotel Timeo

Just a stone’s throw from Taormina’s ancient Greek theatre, this luxury city hotel boasts lush gardens and views across the coast towards Mount Etna and beyond.

Rocca delle Tre Contrade

This former winery occupies a stunningly panoramic position atop its own hill on Sicily’s east coast, and comes with an amazing wine cellar and south-facing infinity pool.

Sikelia

For those in possession of a vessel, sail to Sikelia on the exclusive island of Pantelleria (Conde Nast Traveler called it “the chicest place to sleep in Italy”), where the suites are artfully fitted into centuries-old traditional domed stoned houses.

Clockwise From top LEFT: Grand Hotel Timeo, Sikelia, Casa Luza courtyard and pool, Capofaro, Rocca delle Tre Contrade

PLACES TO EAT

Sicily’s tapestry of diverse cultures has helped form one of the most richly varied food cultures in Europe, best experienced in the many rustic and chic osteria and restaurants dotted around the island.

Dai Pennisi

A family-run butcher with a kitchen and grill on the northern side of Etna, Dai Pennisi creates unforgettable meal experiences. Its tartare di manzo in three variations is a must-try for anyone with a weakness for steak tartare.

Cave Ox

This relaxed osteria in Castiglione di Sicilia offers a good selection of Etna and Sicilian wines, as well as interesting local dishes, including the delicious pappardelle with pistachio.

4 Archi

High up on the slopes of Etna in the town of Mola, this restaurant specializes in slow food and is famous for its porcini and local trunzu di aci cabbage dishes.

Ciccio Sultano

This elegant Michelin-starred restaurant in the baroque town of Ragusa, south of the island, is a must for its modern interpretations of Sicilian classics and a seriously exciting wine menu.

La Pineta

In a beautiful location on the south-western coast at Marinella di Selinunte, this perfect beach restaurant specializes in fresh seafood dishes (make sure you try the lobster pasta), which are best enjoyed on the terrace, dreamy at dusk with glowing bamboo torches.

Taverna la Cialoma

This restaurant in Marzamemi serves local fish, as well as innovative and traditional pasta dishes, in a beautiful location with views out to the sea.

clockwise From top LEFT: Ristorante Timeo at the Grand Hotel Timeo, Taverna La Cialoma, dinner at a private roof terrace in Modica, ARTFUL FOOD AT SIKELIA, Tornatore ricotta di pecora pistacchio, Ciccio Sultano

THINGS TO DO, PLACES TO DISCOVER

The island’s multilayered history finds its true expression in the cuisine. Those who came and conquered left behind a trace of their culture: the Greeks brought olives and grapes, the Romans introduced pulses and pasta, while the Arabs brought with them nuts and spices, and a love of all things dolce.

Noto

A must for any traveler to Sicily for its magical baroque architecture where the buildings glow golden and red in the early evening sun.

Modica

The steep and tightly packed baroque town in the province of Ragusa offers dramatic views over the Val di Noto, and is famed for the Aztec-inspired Cioccolato di Modica.

Taormina

Perched on a rocky cape high above the sea and with glorious vistas over the surrounding landscapes, Taormina has been a treasured destination since it became an integral part of the Grand Tour, visited by a stellar list including Goethe, Alexandre Dumas, Richard Wagner, Gustav Klimt, D.H. Lawrence, Oscar Wilde, Truman Capote, Francis Ford Coppola, Federico Fellini and Elizabeth Taylor.

Aeolian Islands

Located off the northern coast of Sicily, these seven islands each come with their own unique personality, wines and breathtaking beauty.

Pantelleria

Considered the “pearl of the Mediterranean” for its rugged, remote and wild style, this tiny exclusive island is closer to Africa than mainland Italy, and has an ancient and vibrant viticulture with Arabic influences.

clockwise From top left: Modica rooftops, north-east Mount Etna Castello Camemi, A BOUTIQUE FIVE STARS HOTEL ON THE HILLS OF VAL DI NOTO, Modica, countryside surrounding Contrada Camemi and Noto

GIUSEPPE TORNATORE, OF THE ETNA WINERY TORNATORE, SHARES HIS INSIDER GUIDE TO SICILY

To visit

You have to visit Taormina, the hilltop town on the east coast of Sicily near Mount Etna. I would also recommend the Aeolian Islands; the seven islands are unique — even the beaches are completely different from one another. They also produce wines so it is perfect for wine tourism.

In the south, you should go to the historic town of Noto and then drive to Marzamemi, which is spectacular, then onto one of my favorite places, Portopalo di Capo Passero, on the southern tip, where Mick Jagger has just bought a place… And, if possible, you should climb Etna (preferably with a guide).

Top eating spots

I prefer authentic places with real food, rather than Michelin-starred restaurants. There is a small restaurant called Da Nino in Letojanni, a coastal resort near Taormina, where we used to spend our summers when I was growing up since we had a small house as my mother was a teacher there. Then, Letojanni was a fisherman’s village. At Da Nino they still serve the finest fish and have a surprisingly interesting wine list, which includes Tornatore.

Close to Taormina is Sea Sound, which is practically on the beach so you can eat with your feet in the sea! The name is English, but the owner speaks only Italian. They make the best spaghetti with sea urchins I have tasted anywhere in the world. It is my father and mother’s favorite restaurant.

In Taormina Vineria Modi serves modern Sicilian food. The owners are really young and have the most amazing wine and champagne collection.

There is also a lovely restaurant at the Four Seasons hotel in Taormina, which is in a converted 4th-century convent with incredible views of Etna.

A spot of aperitivo

Sicily doesn’t have a specific drink but there may be a local take on the Italian spritzers using Sicilian Amari.

How to unwind

I love kitesurfing, I’m crazy about it. The best beaches are in the south of Sicily: Stagnone, close to the Marsala village in western Sicily. Puzziteddum near Mazzara del Vallo in the western part of Sicily is called the ‘Sicilian Hawaii’ for its perfect waves; it’s a really wild place and one of my favorites. Pozzallo is in the extreme south of Sicily, not far from Catania, which I can consider my home. It is great for families with its huge sandy beaches, which are reminiscent of Africa and Brazil. Then there is Tremestieri in the strait of Messina, very close to our vineyards and a unique place for the strong wind and sea life where you can spot dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, swordfish and even whales.

Photography ©VOICES, @The Thinking Traveller, all other images ©the establishments

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