Sicily Black & White on Volcano Heights

10th July 2018


Think blue: boundless horizons are mirrored in the sea.
Look around and think yellow: lemon crops give roundish contours.
Then take a breath: orange blossom brings candied peel aromas to your nose.
Now indulge your senses in listening to the majestic gait of the waves collecting shells and rocking flourishing vineyards.
A tinkle of cowbells announces the arrival of a colourful carretto siciliano (Sicilian Cart).
Playful feel and spouting joy embrace you all around you.
Welcome to Sicily; the vibrant island in the south of Italy.

Nicosia winery

In the most northern coast of this island there is a wine area named Etna doc, due to the presence of one of the world’s most active volcanoes: Mount Etna.
The presence of a Volcano is something that may frighten some but at the same time it can deeply fascinate and inspire the writing of legends, stories and movies.

Greek mythology for example talks about Etna, telling that Aeolus, the God of wind, trapped all the winds into an Etna cave. It also told of Vulcan, the God of fire, who was said to have a forge just in the deepest layers of the Mount. It also was believed that The Cyclops, the monstrous creatures with a solo eye on its forehead described by Homer in the Odyssey, made sharp arrows against Zeus right here.
What a scary scenario.
It is not hard to believe that this landscape is very dramatic; indeed footage from the recent eruptions in 2002 was recorded by Lucasfilm and integrated into the landscape of the planet Mustafar in the 2005 film Star Wars: Episode III, Revenge of the Sith.

Cottanera winery

But nothing is so bad that it cannot be good for something.
Weathering of volcanic deposits indeed can produce very fertile soil emerging as a volcanic benefit. This idyllic place takes advantege of three crucial factors to cultivate vineyards.
First the soil is characterized by lava-alluvial component with elevated drainage capacity and wealth of potassium so that it plays a key role in balancing the grape’s maturation process.
Secondly, the temperature range between night and day reaching up to 30 °C of difference, guarantees the conservation of the aromatic component of the grapes.
Last but not least, natural selection of indigenous grapes such as Nerello Mascalese, the black variety and Cataratto, the white variety. Both growing in the foothills of Etna between 750 and 100 metres above sea.
All of them make Etna wines compellingly alluring, straight and crispy.
In a word, unmistakable.

The tasting

When tasting Etna sparkling wines you can feel the power of the Volcano when perceiving the strong minerality on the palate. Whilst the sun provides high sugar content making them rounded, the proximity of the Mediterranean Sea marks them by a distinctive saline tang. Here a selection of sparkling wines produced by two native grape varieties: Nerello Mascalese takes its name from the Mascali territory where it was selected a few centuries ago.
Carricante is exclusively cultivated on Etna and its name is due to the plant being very productive and broadly present on the eastern side of the Volcano providing elegant aromas and freshness.

Brut Sparkling wine, Cottanera. Vineyards at an altitude of 750 metres as.
Aged 38 months on the lees. Tart with a textbook combination of round and zesty flavours 100% Nerello Mascalese gives off aromas of rose, violet and eucalyptus combined with creamy hues.
Fabulous match with meat dishes like pork loin with capers or tuna with sesame.

Sosta Tre Santi Carricante Brut, Cantine Nicosia. Vineyards at an altitude of 700 metres as.
Aged at least 20 months on the lees. Round yet lively. 100% Carricante with yellow flowers, honey and yeast aromas.
Wonderful if paired with spaghetti with red mullet and wild fennel, or risotto with zucchini flowers and parmesan, or main dishes such as monkfish with pistachio, hazelnuts and capers.

Sosta Tre Santi Etna Brut, Cantine Nicosia. Vineyards at an altitude of 700 metres as.
Aged 30 months on the lees. Pleasant and intense wine. 100% Nerello Mascalese, 20% Nerello Cappuccio offers notes of underwood, liquorice and pepper. On the palate it is crisp yet robust with a lingering balsamic finish.
A wonderful combination with complex dishes such as eggplant parmesan or fish dishes like pasta with clams and pachino tomatoes.

It’s incredible to think how long Mount Etna has been a guardian of a treasure to be bestowed: a soil described by Homer in the Odyssey as lush and fertile who recognises its uniqueness.
Today I have had the chance to introduce you to this place and nothing has changed.
I’m wondering if the strong connection between the Volcano and people who believe in the potential of this land and how if it didn’t exist how things would be different.
Maybe my pen would not have written these lines and we would never have the pleasure of tasting Etna wines.
But that is a whole new ball game…
Summer is here. Let’s enjoy it with bubbles from the foot of Etna.
It will be the most exciting season ever.

Stefania Ruffo

Photo credit: Tania Volobueva
Food credit: Chef Giuseppe Nicotra, L’Osteria di Cantine Nicosia

Stefania Ruffo

Wine Educator at Università del Gusto, Wine Writer at Glass of Bubbly. Owner and Founder at Enjoyourwine. Find me on Twitter - @enjoyourwine