Etna: the power and beauty of this Sicilian volcano….

The view from the amphitheater in Taormina.
The view from the amphitheater in Taormina.

Last month I spent close to a month in Southern Italy on vacation. No work, just plenty of time relaxing with my family, drinking and eating the best the south has to offer. If we focus on the wines we drank during the trip,  there was one constant: it was the wines we drank were grown on volcanic soils. It seems on every horizon, there was the glimmer of a volcano in the distance.

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No more was this obvious than in Sicily. I love Sicily. I love the scenery. I love the food. I especially love the wine. When it comes to wine in Sicily, Etna reigns supreme. However it was not that long ago that the wines of Etna were not considered to be one of the finest in Italy. In fact, in regards to quality wines from Sicily, Etna barely got a run in. First it was Nero d’Avola and then it seems international varieties were seen to be one of the ‘bright’ stars of Sicily.

Well fast forward to today and it is great to see the spot firmly placed on Mount Etna and specifically Nerello Mascalese. This ancient variety is capable of producing magical wines that are now seen to rival Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello. In fact, in great years like 2010, Nerello Mascalese has ethereal complexity mixed with power that makes the much published ‘Burgundy meets Barolo’ the perfect descriptor of this amazing grape variety.

One hundred year old vines grown on volcanic soils on Mount Etna.
One hundred year old vines grown on volcanic soils on Mount Etna.

The thing about Etna is that it so diverse. Depending on the age of the vine, the lava flow that it is grown on, the altitude and the growing season, Etna can be vastly different. Over the next twenty years, we are going to see some amazing wines out of Etna as each producer better understands what they are playing with. Like Etna erupting those many thousand years ago for the first time 170,000 years ago, we are going to see the birth of one of Italy’s truly great wine regions that will vie with Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello in the very near future.

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