Mount Etna, Sicily. Stunning whites, elegant reds.
Etna is an Italian wine DOC which covers the slopes of Mount Etna, the 10,920ft (3330m) active volcano that dominates the north-eastern corner of Sicily. The Etna DOC was the very first in Sicily, created in August 1968 and followed nine months later by that of Sicily's most famous wine, Marsala.
I’ve been enjoying a selection of Etna wines recently and one underlying similarity is the gorgeous minerality, complexity and overall drinkability of them all. Winemakers are constantly experimenting with vineyard sites further and further up the volcano’s slopes, hoping to gauge the effect of richer, blacker soils and higher altitude. The prestige of owning high-altitude vineyards is growing, and early results from these vines show great promise. Etna's higher slopes are almost the only place on the island where temperatures fall sufficiently low to cause concern for ripeness. Actually it’s the opposite, far from posing problems, the cooler temperatures are actually helpful, and offer the beneficiary of a cooler, longer growing season, ensuring a more evening ripeness across the board. Ripeness is never a concern.
Being in such close proximity to the Mediterranean on Sicily’s East Coast, Etna’s slopes and vines enjoy the reflections of light off the sea. According to local vignerons, it helps to ripen the grapes more perfectly even at the higher altitude.
The most commonly produced form of Etna wine is the standard Etna Rosso, a red made predominantly from Nerello Mascalese with a 20% addition of Nerello Cappuccio.
For wine enthusiasts that love a Pinot Noir with a slightly fuller body, Mount Etna reds will be right down your alley, however they do provide slightly more tannin and a structure. In general, the best examples are elegant, fresh and complex. Common flavour profiles are bright red strawberries, raspberry, leather, cinnamon and other dustings of spice, pepper and an earthy minerality with fine grained tannin and a fresh acidity. Therefore, food parings for Etna Rosso are right down the Sicilian buffet, especially roasted mushrooms which provide the same funkiness found in the wine, duck and gamey meats too. Sicilian tomatoes, capsicum and other vegetables, capers, chillies, olives and both sheep and cow’s milk cheeses, plenty of particularly oily fish like sardines and mackerel are found in the local Mediterranean waters too are great food matches for Nerello Mascalese.
Its Bianco (white) counterpart is composed of at least 60% Carricante which is generally higher in acidity, backed up by Sicily's most widely planted white grape, Catarratto, which adds to the wines complexity. A host of minor additions including Trebbiano and Minnella are sometimes added too. The bouquet draws you in with an alluring display of citrus, saline type minerality and a touch of herbaceousness. The palate layered and complex with an unmistakeable saltiness and savouriness, round yet racy mouthfeel with citrus- think Sicilian lemons, and drizzle of honey. Deriving from the terroir is a gorgeous acidity making it an ideal wine to be served with Sicilian pasta dishes- think Spaghetti alla Norma with sautéed eggplant, tomatoes, chilli, garlic and usually topped Ricotta Salata.