Stefania & Christopher Episode 4: Sicily, Mount Etna
26th May 2021
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) under a sun spreading light and warmth.
Welcome to Sicily, the vibrant island in the south of Italy.
On 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 is plus for its territory. In fact, weathering of volcanic deposits can produce very fertile soil emerging as a volcanic benefit. This idyllic place takes advantage of three crucial factors to cultivate vineyards.
First, the soil is characterized by a 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 700 up to 850 metres above sea. All of them make Etna wines compellingly alluring, straight and crispy. In a word, unmistakable.
Etna DOC territory
Within the Sicilian wine scene, consisting of 23 DOC and 1 DOCG, the Etna DOC, born in 1968, is the oldest, as well as one of the first in Italy. Today there are 383 winemakers within the designation, while the area claimed by it is just over 1,100 hectares. With 16,000 hectoliters, the Etna Rosso type is the most important in quantitative terms within the designation. Next, the Etna Bianco (about 9,000 hectoliters), Etna Rosato (2,500 hectoliters) and Etna Spumante (about 1,400 hectoliters) types.
The grapes used for making Etna DOC are primarily of the Nerello Mascalese variety, Nerello Cappuccio, Carricante and Cataratto, all of them are indigenous. Nerello Mascalese is the most widespread variety of grapes on the slopes of Etna. It is believed to be native to the County of Mascali, from which comes its name, Nerello Mascalese is used for the production of Etna Rosso, Rosso Riserva, Rosato and Spumante.
The Nerello Cappuccio owes its name to the particular bearing of the mantle or hooded crown of the plant grown as a sapling. Nerello Cappuccio can contribute to the composition of Etna DOC Rosso, Rosso Riserva, Rosato and Spumante wines, in blends with a large prevalence of Nerello Mascalese.
Carricante is an ancient variety of white grapes that have always been cultivated on the slopes of the volcano. Its name comes from the Sicilian expression “u carricanti”, which emphasizes the abundant production of its plants, capable of filling the carts with grapes.
Today it is increasingly vinified alone and constitutes the main base of Etna Bianco for a minimum of 60%, which rises to 80% in Etna Bianco Superiore. The Catarratto is a variety of white grapes native to western Sicily, not only among the oldest, but also one of greater personality and character, a vigorous and productive vine. Today it is cultivated very little on the volcano but it can still contribute to the composition of Etna Bianco for a maximum of 40%.
Sicilian Sparkling Wines Live Tasting
Benanti Noblesse Brut Terre Siciliane IGT
The wine is pale straw yellow with bright greenish tints and it has a fine and persistent perlage. Intense on the nose, with delicate scents of orange and lemon flower and ripe apple. On the palate, it is dry, elegant with a pleasant acidity and nice aromatic persistence.
Serving temperature: 6- 8°C.
Benanti Lamorèmio Brut Etna DOC
Nerello Mascalese 100%
The wine is pink with light ruby glares and the perlage is characterized by numerous, fine and persistent bubbles. Intense on the nose with hints of cut grass and red fruits. On the palate, it is dry, mineral with pleasant acidity, slightly tannic.
Serving temperature: 6- 8°C.
Sicilian Sparkling Wines Food Pairing
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. These are my pairing tips to thrill your taste buds for an unforgettable experience.
Noblesse Brut: 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.
Lamorèmio Brut: utterly spot-on if paired with complex dishes such as eggplant parmesan or fish dishes like pasta with clams and Pachino tomatoes. Also great with meat dishes like pork loin with capers or tuna with sesame.
Wine Educator at Università del Gusto, Wine Writer at Glass of Bubbly. Owner and Founder at Enjoyourwine. Find me on Twitter - @enjoyourwine