Vines on the slopes of an active volcano sound crazy - but the result in your glass is a mix of elegance and power. Don’t miss the eruption of flavor coming from the wines of Etna.
Mount Etna is one of the tallest peaks in Italy outside of the Alps and is an active volcano. The mountain sits directly north of Catania, the second-largest city in Sicily. Because the volcano is in a nearly constant state of activity, the soils are incredibly fertile, which the vineyards planted on the mountain’s slopes enjoy.
The mountain has a base circumference of 140 km (87 miles), and ten separate municipalities meet on the summit. The area enjoys a lively tourist trade thanks to the two ski resorts built on the mountain.
Etna is all about power and elegance combined for both its red and white wines. Wines have a mineral edge which tasters attribute to Etna's volcanic soils.
Etna flung Sicily into the international spotlight about 15 years ago with its amazing wines. Despite Sicily being so warm, the elevation of these vineyards, some as high as 3900 feet, means the wines are ripe and very refreshing. Expect to pay higher prices than the rest of Sicily, but you won't be disappointed.
Wines to Know
If you like Pinot Noir, or if you're a Barolo fan, then you are going to love red wines from Etna Rosso. Made from mostly Nerello Mascalese, don't let the pale color fool you - these wines are elegant and powerful.
Notes of pomegranate, sour cherry, and hibiscus, paired with savory and smoky notes, refreshing acid, and robust tannins, means they're great on their own but amazing when paired with food. With age, their tannins soften and more meaty and leathery notes start to appear.
If you’re looking for a refreshing, dry, white wine that’s a bit like a mix of Riesling and Chablis, then look no further than Etna Bianco, most of which are made from Carricante. Zesty and zingy with lemon and lime notes and a distinctive mineral backbone. These wines beg to be matched with seafood!
A Belgian native, Cornelissen founded his vineyard in the early 2000s and is now considered one of the most iconic producers in Etna.
Tenuta Delle Terre Nere
A winery focused on the different Contrade (single vineyards) of Etna, Marco de Grazia helped kickstart Etna into the international spotlight.
Producing one of the best white wines made from Carricante, Planeta’s Feudo di Mezzo winery is built on a lava flow dating from 1566.
Mount Etna is Europe's tallest active volcano, with vineyards found swooping around its eastern slopes like a belt from north to south. There are a few things that make Etna unique regarding terroir:
- High Elevation
- Range of Volcanic Soils
- Indigenous varieties
High elevation means wines retain acidity
With vineyards planted between 1000 to 4000 feet (300-1200 meters), the overall temperature is much lower on Etna, making for fresh styles of wine with lots of acidity. The diurnal range (difference between night and day temperature) is also great, meaning many wines retain delicate floral aromatics.
The higher elevation facing the humid Scirocco winds also means that the vineyards receive enough rain throughout the year, and therefore many do not need irrigation.
A variety of volcanic soils add earthy, iron-like flavors
As you might expect on an active volcano, the soils here are different types of material coming from the middle of the earth. The variation in types of volcanic soils is so varied that there are 133 single vineyards with varying soil types!
Generally, the volcanic soils here give a mineral, almost iron-like flavor to the wines, and the red wines have higher levels of tannin, making for robust wines.
Indigenous grapes found nowhere else
Nerello Mascalese and Carricante find their home on Etna.
Nerello Mascalese needs more heat to ripen, so it gets planted at lower elevations, up to 3000 feet. Like Pinot Noir, it's very sensitive to where it's being grown, and throughout Etna you can find different expressions.
The mixture of pale color and delicate floral and crunchy red fruit aromas are backed up by powerful tannins that are high due to the volcanic soils.
Carricante, though found throughout Sicily, also does best on Etna. It produces wines that can age and have a petrol aroma, similar to Riesling, after several years, which is only heightened by the volcanic soils.
Lastly, Nerello Cappuccio is another grape you'll come across. It's often blended in Etna Rosso with Nerello Mascalese. Wines with higher Nerello Cappuccio have a deeper color in the glass and can be described as having more earthy, coffee-like characteristics.
Did you know
- Etna DOC was founded in 1968.
- There are over 130 Contrade (single vineyards).
- Many vineyards see snow in the winter due to high elevations.
- There are 166 wineries in Etna.
- Some of the oldest ungrafted vineyards in Italy are on Mount Etna.
- A wine from Etna has recently been sold on “La Place de Bordeaux”, the famous network that sells iconic French wines such as Château Margaux.
- The name “Etna” comes from the ancient Greek word αἴθω "eye-thow", meaning “I burn.”
♦ The World of Sicilian Wine, Bill Nesto MW and Frances di Savino, 2013