Etna is at once both a fossil and a piece of modern art! Vines aged from 70-120 years old grow on the slopes of a volcano at altitudes that make noses bleed. Less than 20 years ago these wines were unknown, the Grandfathers of today’s revolutionists made simple wine from overcropped vineyards.

Today the next generations are pushing the boundaries making wines from the red grapes Nerello Mascalese, and, Nerello Cappuccio, with Grenache and Sangiovese popping up here and there.  When made from a blend of the two Nerello’s they are often referred to as a hybrid of the great Nebbiolo’s from Barolo and Pinot Noir’s from Burgundy. The Nerello’s are capable of making wines with real personality! They’ve taken something incredibly ancient, gone back to the DNA and started again. In under a decade the evolution of these wines have accelerated through a millennia.

On the white side Carricante rules the mountain. It’s nickname, the Chablis of Italy is well justified. The wines can have incredible purity and fine acid.

Vines have been nurtured back to balance, tended by hand on terraced vineyards that one in every 3 years find themselves under ash clouds hurled into the sky from the very mountain they are planted on, a volcano, Mt Etna!

In the winery, they have played the mad scientist experimenting with an incredible array of variables to find the best way to express the personality of these extreme sites. A couple of generations ago wines were given just 1 day on skins, described by some as being like grape juice. Today they sort fruit by hand and seek to find the best way to guide wines and reveal the true expression of their vineyards. Whilst they have applied modern technologies, they have done so with restraint.

People ask “How long will they age?” “What will they look like in 20 years?” The answer is just an educated guess, no-one knows yet! That excites me, they’ve made such great strides, in such a short time. It’s like watching a start-up with the wisdom of elders to support it, jumping the hurdles and avoiding the mistakes of inexperience, yet still, they have so much to learn!

Much of the vineyard, randomly planted on terraces, is goblet trained, just a trunk low to the ground with shoots trained up a single stake.

Letizia Patane of Passopisciaro considers Etna to be an island within Sicily. A unique terroir that has three times the rainfall and sites at altitudes from 500-1,000m in elevation.

When I think of Sicily and Etna I think heat. Then I remember the elevation of Mount Etna and how much cooler the climate is. The temperature is usually 1°C lower for every 100m increase in elevation above sea level. Take a vineyard at 1,000m and that’s a whopping 10°C!

Pick a cool site on Etna, add elevation, and, the end result is some of the last vineyards to be picked in Italy.

For more, head to the Wine Bites Mag and read our Etna Primer ‘Getting Your Head Around Sicily’s Mount Etna’

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