Understanding Etna Wine in 3 Minutes
Mount Etna is an 11,000 foot active volcano on the island of Sicily. It dominates the local landscape and provides a wine range of climates on what is otherwise a warm Mediterranean island. Vineyards have been a fixture for centuries but quality wine making did not arrive until the late 1980's when Benanti, still one of the most prominent producers, changed that. Now good wine is everywhere but the land is varied and the wines with it.
There are only two grapes to worry about: whites are Carricante based and reds are Nerello Mascalese. Carricante keeps high acidity while also usually offering texture and elevated aromatics. Think of it as Chardonnay meets Albarino. The reds from Nerello Mascalese have light color with firm tannins and also elevated aromatics. Think nebbiolo meets pinot noir.
Three sides of the volcano are home to the wine growing areas -- all except the west:
The south side is hot and gets the most sun. Vines up to 1100 meters here are within the Etna DOC. Reds from this area tend to be the fullest of all and show less of the volcanic minerality that the north side has made famous. Benanti's Serra della Contessa and Gaja's new project, Idda, are grown here.
The east side is the wettest and prettiest side and is known for the best quality of whites. The town of Milo is the only allowed to label wines as Etna Bianco Superiore. Benanti's Pietramarina is grown here; also look for the Superiore from Barone di Villagrande.
The north side is where all the cool kids are. Reds grown here have that Etna minerality which producers like Frank Cornellisan and Passopisciaro have made famous. Also worth trying from up here are Girolamo Russo, Terre Nere, SRC, Pietradolce, and Graci among many others. Above 850 meters here is technically out of the DOC, so that is why many of the top wines such as the contrada series from Passopisciaro are NOT labelled as Etna DOC. They aren't allowed to be but coincidentally scream Etna more than most of the wines grown lower on the mountain.
3 minutes is up. The wines of Etna are worth adding to any table or cellar. Stop by the store for more discussions or shop our collection online.