There are two sides to Mount Etna wines – explosive and implosive. We’re here to focus on the explosive wines. These wines of Mount Etna are active and energetic and alive, and that’s what we like to drink.
Where is Mount Etna?
Mount Etna is located in the north-eastern corner of Sicily in Italy’s south. It stands at 3329 meters above sea level, for now, but it is still active and growing. Every so often the volcano has been known to erupt, causing catastrophic damage to the vineyards that gamble their livelihoods on its slopes. The activity of the volcano is a reflection of the activity found in the wines it produces.
Mount Etna’s Climate and Terroir
During the growing season the climate is reflective of most of Sicily with one unique difference. It’s hot and dry as all hell during the day but the altitude of the volcano brings about cooling effects during the evening. It’s this cooling influence that gives these wines their elegance and fragrance. The soils are obviously volcanic which is transcended into the wines through their high levels of natural sulphides (preservative). It is for this reason a lot of producers choose not to add any preservative to their wines during the winemaking process.
Mount Etna is a mountain with many faces and varying altitudes. The highest quality vineyards are said to be planted on the north-eastern face with altitudes from 250 metres and above. This exposure to the north-east allows adequate sunlight without the detrimental effects of the setting sun in the west.
The Vineyards of Mount Etna
Most of the high quality vineyards on Etna are planted in albarello (single stake) trellising with close vine spacing (1m x 1m). This is an ancient method that minimises yields, protects bunches from the harsh sun and increases overall quality. The downside, of course, is the high amount of physical labour required to maintain ones vineyard. For this reason only the most attentive vignerons successfully manage their vines this way.
The Grape Varieties of Mount Etna
There are many grape varieties planted on Mount Etna, but only a handful of native varieties. White varieties such as Carricante and Catarratto dominate most of the blends but there are other lesser known native varietals that make up these wines. The whites are rich and viscous, sometimes in excess of 14% alc, with a trademark flinty mineral edge that seems to come from the abundance of sulfur in the atmosphere/soil. Although rich they are balanced and focused and delicious when made well.
When it comes to red wines Nerello Mascalese is king to its partner in crime Nerello Cappuccio. These wines are like the perfect balance between Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir, yet with more body than either of those varieties. It’s perfumed and earthy, as well as pretty and tannic. Somewhat of a contradiction, but it wouldn’t be great wine if it wasn’t.
Producers, Wineries and Winemakers of Mount Etna
There are a heap of producers that reside on Etna. Some big and some small, some natural and others conventional, but one things for sure, here’s a list of producers you can’t go past when it comes to quality Etna wines that speak volumes about the active volcano in which they reside.
- Girolamo Russo
- Frank Cornelissen
- Vino Quantico
Enjoy the unique wines of Mount Etna and please give them a good home.