Mt Etna Erupts, Spring of 2021. Nearby wineries jubilant???
In rather dramatic fashion, Mt Etna has been erupting again this week. Though volcanic eruptions are a humbling testament to the raw, unpredictable power of nature, wine lovers can be thankful their black, volcanic soils produce uniquely delicious wines like those from the Etna DOC. Assuming the vineyards survive the eruption, of course.
And it appears that neither vines nor structures are at risk this week, despite the awesome power of this eruption – the lava is flowing down into an empty valley, where it’s flowed for untold previous eruptions.
But about those volcanic soils… Even when the lava isn’t actively flowing, Mt Etna quietly belches clouds of black volcanic dust. It’s nearly constant. The vineyards of the Etna DOC are perched on steep vineyards between the 10,000 foot volcano to the West and the ocean to its East (where the Mediterranean and Ionean meet), so the vines are frequently covered in volcanic ash.
While its the region’s extreme, “adrenalin-rush winemaking” that adds interest to the wines of Etna, they’ve grown hot (sorry) on their own merits. They just happen to be uniquely delicious – the fact that every bottle comes with a story of wonder and delight is just a side bonus.
Here’s why I think these unique wines are worth a portion of your wine budget:
It’s all about the flavors and aromas from these well-drained, nutrient-poor and mineral-rich, black volcanic soils (yes, yes, yes, and also the vineyards’ altitude (starting at 500 feet and rising up the mountainside to and impressive 4000 feet ), exposure, ocean influence, yadda yadda). But it’s the area’s unique soils that make the Etna wines worth sampling.
The Grape Caveat
Not to be sold short, however, Etna’s ancient grape varieties also play a key role in shaping these wines. They come from grapes believed to originate on the island, and that are known only to a handful of serious students of the vine. But serious can be boring!
|Don’t be serious. Be curious!|
Etna’s reds must be made from at least 80% of the ancient Nerello Mascalese, believed to have originated in Sicily. The grape is similar in style to the medium-bodied reg grapes – Sangiovese, Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo. The second red grape in these blends is equally obscure Nerello Cappucio (which adds color and ripeness/alcohol). Finally, should the winemaker so desire, up to 10% of the blend can comme from a handful of other Sicilian varietals.
The equally (more?) delicious white wines of the Etna DOC are crafted largely from a relatively unknown white grape – at least 60% of the blend must be from the Carricante grape. And while the Catarratto is Sicily’s most widely planted white grape, it too is virtually unknown to most of us, and is the second grape on the list of credits for the Etna Bianco wines, followed by a short list of others.
But more important than all these details – the wines are simply delicious and worth a try!
Dave the Wine Merchant*