mt etnaThe wines of Sicily have long had a bad reputation. Cut off from the rest of Italy with a distinctive culture all its own, Sicily is better known for its mobsters than its wine. Despite a long history of winemaking in the region, and a climate conducive to the cultivation of wine grapes, in modern times it has produced mostly generic bulk wine for sale on the global market.

Today thanks to ample sunshine, varied soil types, especially the volcanic soils, serious investment in new technologies, and most importantly a commitment to quality, Sicily’s reputation is getting an upgrade. There are some very interesting indigenous grapes grown in Sicily; and the wines made from them are affordable and distinctive.  Here are 4 worth checking out:

La Vigne di Eli  Etna Rosso Nerello Mascalese   2013

Almost unheard off outside Sicily, this grape is likely the result of crossing Sangiovese with another grape. The grapes for this wine were grown 2000 ft. up the northern slope of Mt. Etna in volcanic soil. Very fresh and elegant, medium body with red fruit and some lovely earth and floral notes, this reminds me of a young Barolo without the grippy tannins. An intriguing wine and varietal.  Highly recommended, especially if you’re into lesser-known varietals with great promise.  Score: 90   Price: $25

Tenuta Rapitale Campo Reale Nero d’Avola 2013

An absolute steal at this price. A silky, medium body with black fruit and savory green olive notes, a spice box with bracing acidity and mild tannins.  Score: 88   Price: $11

Regaleali Nero d Avola 2011

A simple food wine with dark berries, some pepper and ample bitter herbs. Rustic and tough but with plenty of flavor, quintessentially Sicilian. Score: 85   Price: $12

Planeta La Segreta Bianco 2013

The only white wine here is another great bargain. A blend of Grecanico, Chardonnay, Viognier and Fiano, this has lots of peach and citrus on the nose. Medium body with loads of flinty minerality, this will complement any seafood dish.  Planeta  is one of the leaders of the quality revolution in Sicily with a production of over 2 million bottles per year. Score: 88   Price: $9

This video featuring Sicilian folk music from Arany Zoltán will make you want to catch the next flight to Palermo: