The houses of Sicilian Wine

There are now many excellent, world-class wines being produced in Sicily and this is a very exciting period of experimentation and expansion. The majority of Sicilian houses are still owned and run by the founding families. However, many, for example Firriato and Calatrasi, are working alongside agronomical experts and oenologues from all over the wine-making worlds, both old and new. Producers from other parts of Italy, looking to increase their range of wines, have also moved into Sicily recently. Feudo Arancio, for example, which is produced in the area around Agrigento, is owned and controlled by a co-operative from the Trentino-Alto Adige.

It is not possible to give an exhaustive list of all the Sicilian houses of note, but a few names should be mentioned:

* Feudo Principe di Butera - started in 1997. Already its nero d'Avola, Deliella 2002, has won the Gambero Rosso Thee Glass award. It is one of Siciy's leading wineries, with vineyards in the area between Riesi and Butera.

* Tenuta Rapitalà - in 1999 this aristocratic estate owned by the French count Hugues de la Gatinais went into partnership with Gruppo Italiano Vini. This has brought the house a wealth of new resources and knowledge that has allowed it to expand its range and improve, even further, its quality. They are part of the elite of Sicily's pioneering, modern estates.

* Abbazia Sant'Anastasia - based in the hills around Castelbuono, this house has long been considered one of the stars of Sicilian winemaking. Huge amounts of work have been carried out on the estate over the last 10 years, which uses the most up-to-date technology. Until 2002 their Litra had won the Gambero Rosso's 'Three Glass' award for 5 years in a row.

* Duca di Salaparuta - Vini Corvo - founded in 1824 by the Duca di Salaparuta to produce wines in the "french style" - meaning having a lower alcohol content and being more subtle than the heavy, rough Sicilian wines produced at the time. The house had immediate success among the Sicilian nobility who drank mainly French wines. The house was taken over by his son who travelled in Tuscany and france in order to increase his knowledge of wine-making techniques, and he employed the services of a French oenologue from Sauternes. By the 1890s he was already exporting to Europe and the New World. Unfortunately, in 1961, his great-niece was forced by massive inheritance taxes to sell the winery to the state. However, quality was scrupulously maintained. In 2001 it was bought back from the state by Illva di Saronno. Along with Cantina Florio it now forms part of Case Vinicole di Sicilia.

* Baglio Hopps - although the house stopped producing for a few years, it has recently been revived by the two brothers Fabio and Giacomo Hopps, direct descendents of John Hopps, the Yorkshire merchant who moved to Sicily between 1795 and 1801 in order to export Marsala to England and founded his own house. The quality of the wines produced is consistently excellent and their whites are noted for being unique.

* Cantine Florio - founded in 1833, the house is known almost exclusively for its excellent Marsala. Although the house was begun by the English Ben Ingram, his nephews, the Whittakers, to whom he had left the business, went into partnership with the Pugliese Florio. Since 1998 it has been owned by Illva di Saronno.

* Planeta - founded in 1995 by three cousins, it has already established an exceptional reputation for quality with 13 of their wines winning the Three Glasses award in only 10 years!!!

* Settesoli - one of Italy's largest co-operatives, founded in 1973, but rare in the fact that it opts for quality rather than quantity. Their Mandrarossa line is to be noted.

* Fatascià - established in 2002 by the children of Francesco Lena, the owner of Abbazia Sant'Anastasia, with his daughter, Stefania, the chief oenologue. A very young house but already with a great reputation for quality and innovation.