The Scilio family has been making wine at the foot of Mt. Etna since 1815, the same date that is carved on the date-stone near the current entrance to the family home. Vineyards surround the home and stretch in the direction of the volcano. The winery is just a few steps away, fully renovated and equipped with modern winemaking technology.
Scilio Winery (pronounced SHE-leo) was the second stop in our day spent wine tasting in the Etna region of Sicily. We chose to visit Scilio because the property is so historic. We were interested to see the estate and hear the family’s story. And, because the family also operates an agriturismo (farm stay) on the property, and prepares meals using local ingredients, we were able to enjoy lunch along with a tasting of Scilio wines. Sicilian food and wine sounded like the perfect pairing to us.
We found our way through the courtyard into the dining area where we were greeted by Luisa Scilio, who manages the agriturismo. She seated us at a table with the most spectacular view of Mt. Etna, naturally. I had communicated with Luisa via email prior to our visit, so I was delighted to meet her.
Luisa’s parents, Giovanni and Elizabeth, are the current caretakers of the family estate and it is Giovanni’s family that has lived on and tended the estate since 1815. We had the opportunity to meet them both during lunch.
Elizabeth greeted us and introduced herself, her English unmistakably British-accented but not with a Sicilian inflection. When we asked about her accent, she laughed and told us her story. As a young woman she lived in Malta with her parents, her father was in the British diplomatic service, and this is where she met Giovanni. He had come to Malta on vacation. Over time they decided to marry and she moved to Sicily with Giovanni. Elizabeth is as comfortable speaking English as Sicilian.
Before long we had plates of sun-dried tomatoes, olives, local cheeses and salami in front of us and Luisa was reaching for the wine. The green olives were firm and bursting with flavor. Both cheeses were mild and a bit salty. I had to restrain myself with the salami, it was just so delicious. To accompany the antipasti Luisa poured a white wine.
Scilio Valle Galfina Etna Bianco — pale yellow in the glass with aromas and flavors of melons and stone fruit. An interesting minerality lingers on the finish along with bright acidity. This 100% Carricante provides a delicious taste of the white variety that is so closely associated with Etna DOC. 13% abv.
The Scilio family take their stewardship of the land very seriously, in fact they farm organically, without the use of pesticides or herbicides. Both the vineyards and wine cellar are certified organic. It makes so much sense when you see the property. The family lives among the vines, as is traditional. Of the 30 hectare estate, which is located near Linguaglossa northeast of Mt. Etna, approximately 24 hectares are planted. Plantings are diverse and include vineyards, olive trees, chestnut trees and vegetable gardens. What a paradise. I’m convinced more farming would be done organically if owners lived where they farmed.
We drained our wine glasses as the pasta course arrived. It was a dish familiar to me, one I had prepared at home: pasta in a cream sauce with ground pistachios. I was thrilled to be able to taste an authentic version of the dish! Sicily is famous for high-quality pistachios (pronounced pis-TAK-e-oh in Sicily), which have a characteristic green color. The pasta was delicious and very similar to the one I prepared. Elizabeth poured a rosé to accompany the pasta.
Scilio Valle Galfina Etna Rosato — transparent raspberry color in the glass with generous aromas and flavors of berries and cherries. Nice acidity underpins the fruit flavors and the finish is quite long lasting. 13% abv.
This dry style of rosé is just as delicious on a warm afternoon as it is with a meal, and it paired beautifully with the pasta. The 100% Nerello Mascalese has only 4 – 6 hours of skin contact to obtain this beautiful color. Elizabeth described this style of rosé as an old tradition in Sicily. She noted it also sells well in France, a true compliment for a rosé.
I could have happily made a meal of that creamy pasta with pistachios, but there was a main course to come and it was very special. Pork sausage Linguaglossa, beef sausage cooked in a lemon leaf and sautéed local greens. Fabulous! The pork sausage was seasoned with fennel and tasted savory and juicy. The beef sausage was smoky and infused with citrus oil from the lemon leaf. The greens, which grow wild in the vineyards, had been boiled then sautéed in olive oil, garlic and tomato. They were tender and flavorful. I could have eaten an entire plate of the sautéed greens. To accompany our main course Luisa poured two red wines.
Scilio Valle Galfina Etna Rosso — light ruby in the glass with aromas and rich flavors of dark fruit, a light to medium body and well-integrated tannins. Earthy flavors in the background add delicious complexity. A perfect food wine. 14% abv.
Nerello Mascalese is fermented using indigenous yeast followed by maturation in stainless steel. The fruit flavors sing in this wine.
Scilio Orphéus — medium ruby in the glass with generous bright and dark fruit aromas and flavors. Earthy flavors are more prominent along with nice tannin structure and a medium-long finish. This wine has a bit more structure and complexity. 14.5% abv.
Serve this blend of 80% Nerello Mascalese, 20% Nerello Mantellato (the traditional name for Nerello Cappuccio) with heavier dishes. Once again, indigenous yeast fermentation, but with about 12 months oak aging and two years in the bottle before release.
The average age of the Nerello vines is about 50 years of age and the yield is relatively low. Elizabeth told us that as these older vines die out, new vines are not planted so that the quality of the older vines is not diluted with younger fruit. It’s a compromise they make for quality.
We were already stuffed nearly to bursting by the time these delightful Sicilian almond cookies arrived. They are my absolute favorite discovery from our trip to Sicily. We had them several times during our trip, all were delicious. Some are a little larger than others, but all were light, soft, sweet and intensely almond flavored. I have tried twice to make them since returning home, with disappointing results.
To accompany the almond cookies, Luisa poured us a taste of Scilio Sikélios, a passito or straw wine, made using grapes that have been dried in the sun, then added to the must of fermenting grapes for a couple of days before being pressed. The dessert wine is intensely flavored with dried fruit and a slight nuttiness that is sweet and rich. It was a nice pairing with the almond cookies.
A walk was in order after lunch, and we took advantage of the offer to tour the winemaking facility. Guido, who is a staff member of Scilio’s Valle Galfina Agriturismo, took us on a walking tour across the estate to the family home and wine cellar. We walked by the swimming pool, which looks like a recent addition, past the vegetable gardens and olive trees. The olives are harvested in November for both curing and to press for olive oil. The olives are transported to nearby Linguaglossa where they are pressed in a facility used by local farmers.
The vineyards were very natural looking, with a cover crop around the vines and between rows. After harvest sheep graze the vineyard to reduce the overgrowth naturally and fertilize the soil. In exchange for grazing the sheep, the Scilio family receives cheese made from the sheep’s milk.
Much of the vineyard work is done by nearby village residents, many of whom work in the vineyard year-round moving from pruning to leaf-pulling to picking and sorting during harvest. Several generations of some families have worked in the Scilio vineyards. Women are the main workers in the vineyard, doing much of the picking and sorting.
Elizabeth met us at their home and continued the tour with us into the wine cellar. The stone exterior of the buildings is beautiful and blends in with the natural setting. While the wine cellar is old, it is completely modernized inside, a project completed by Elizabeth’s husband Giovanni.
On our way to the tank room, which contained multiple temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks, we passed carved stone canals and barrel foundations that were part of the original winery. The lava canals were used to move wine through the old winery entirely by gravity flow.
In addition to 5,000 and 6,500-liter casks made of Sicilian chestnut, French oak is used for aging. Scilio’s annual production of 90,000 bottles is bottled and labeled at the winery using their own modern bottling equipment.
We are so happy we chose to visit Scilio Winery and Valle Galfina Agriturismo. The Scilios are gracious hosts and we thank them for their hospitality. The food and wine were delicious and the farm setting is so beautiful and peaceful. We were enchanted by the visit and may well consider a farm stay on our next visit to Sicily.
As we stood thanking Eizabeth for the interesting tour of her winery, I looked over my shoulder. Mt. Etna once again caught my eye…one more spectacular view of the mountain before heading back to Catania for the evening.
Below is a slideshow of our visit. Please enjoy.