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Sicilian Wines Build U.S. Following With On-Premise Focus

July 12, 2019

Sicilian wine producers have shifted gears over the past five or six years, and they’re now emphasizing more upscale labels and making inroads in the U.S. market—primarily at the super-premium and luxury tiers. Volumes are still relatively small, but Sicily has become a favorite category among sommeliers, and consumers are increasingly willing to explore what it has to offer.

“A big differentiator for Sicily as a wine region is its indigenous grapes—the most well-known being Nero d’Avola and Grillo,” says Antonio Rallo, co-owner of Sicilian wine producer Donnafugata and president of Sicilia DOC, the biggest appellation in southern Italy.

The region and its indigenous grapes once were relatively obscure, as vintners sought to produce international varietals like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon that were exported mostly to northern European markets, according to Giacomo Turone, senior vice president of brand development for Palm Bay International. “Sicilian winemakers still had this incredible heritage of native varietals that they never abandoned, but it’s only in the past 15 years that they have re-evaluated it,” Turone says.

Nerello Mascalese, the most prominent grape from Sicily’s Etna region, is “the hot varietal,” according to Bob Calamia, a wine buyer for Binny’s Beverage Depot in Illinois. Calamia says same-store sales for all Sicilian wines are up about 15% over last year, with most of the growth coming from wines that retail at $20 and above. Tenuta delle Terre Nere, an Etna wine, has “surged in sales,” he says, along with Donnafugata, which has vineyards in Etna and elsewhere in Sicily. Market Watch has more on the emergence of the Sicilian wine category in the U.S.—Carol Ward

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