They usually change the subject when you ask. Akin to asking fishermen about those lost at sea or smokers about their own health, viners on Etna don’t like to talk about it. With the recent eruptions, it’s easy to understand why.
I’m up Etna several times a year and it remains my favourite wine region, anywhere in the world. Etna has it all: the hyper regional specialized soils of Burgundy, the dramatic, at times almost lunar landscape of a volcano, the Old World cuisine that informed the wine and several grapes unique to here. And from a bicycling point of view, at least half of it is very easy to bicycle (the ‘down’ bit).
(Etna’s recent eruption seen from space)
‘We don’t make wine here so much as we grow the grapes that make the wine’, says Ciro Biondi. It’s a common sentiment in much of the wine world, wine makers as shepherds rather than craftsmen.
Wine makers usually announce their stance early on. There are those that concentrate on raising the grapes and then do less to them (a natural philosophy really, considering that this is how most treat solid ingredients in the kitchen as well, Italian cooking in a nutshell). While others work to create ‘style’, showing their hand as technicians.
‘It’s not really apt to think of Etna as ‘Sicilian’ wine’, says Ciro. ‘Etna is the island on the island and our wines are not particularly ‘Mediterranean’, per se. The elevation changes everything’.
If you’re in the New World you will likely think of Etna as grapes versus place, and those grapes are the red nerello mascalese and the white carricante. I remain convinced that the first will soon be widely accepted as one of the world’s most impressive reds, especially for those that seek out transparent wines (wine that tastes of the place rather than its genes).
Carricante on the other hand will likely remain a nichè wine, for those that prefer minerals over fruit (I’m in this camp). If there is a better wine for crustaceans, I don’t know of it.
We all have that place that we return to over and over again and that place is Etna for me. I plan 8 days and stay 14. I plan two visits a year and end up going 4 times. In Lecce, my eyes fill with love when I stumble across a bottle in wine stores or on restaurant lists. And with each sip, I’m transported up a mountain, where Ciro awaits me with a corkscrew and the dogs greet up as I slowly, slowly pedal- huffing- up the craggy hill.
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