Updated: Jun 1, 2021
Who else has found themselves riveted by the recent coverage of the Geldingadalir volcano in Iceland? The sheer rawness and life-force of earth playing out before our eyes! My lifelong fascination with volcanos started when I was a young girl, sitting in the backseat of my mother’s car, staring wide-eyed as the dark ash cloud from the Mt. St. Helens eruption attempted to overtake us. Only one other time have I personally witnessed a volcano in action: watching the ash plumes of Mt. Etna from across the water, while enjoying a Negroni from the safety of an oceanside restaurant in Malta.
Mt. Etna, the most active volcano in Europe, is often in the news due to its frequent activity (including recently!). Located in the northwestern corner of Sicily, this stratovolcano was built over 600,000 years through layers of numerous eruptions involving the subduction of the African plate under the Eurasian plate. Straddled by two mountain ranges and rivers, the Etna DOC has a storied history: some of the world’s most intriguing wines are made from the vines found on these volcanic slopes. Grapes for wine production have been grown on the mineral-rich volcanic soil since the time of the Phoenicians. The area’s fame and renown lasted up until the 1900s, when Italy’s economy (especially that of Sicily) fell upon hard times. Due to the economic downturn, many people left Sicily to find work elsewhere; family vineyards were therefore abandoned for much of the 20th century save for a few producers.
These few producers and those who came back to claim their family’s wine making history have learned how to maintain their crops despite the dynamic terroir. Mt. Etna has the most rainfall in Sicily and experiences the wet Sirocco wind coming off of the African continent via the Mediterranean Sea. The Southern slopes are warmer than the North or East. The temperature decreases as you move up the mountain. The Etna DOC covers grapes grown within the 350 - 3,300 ft range. The higher the plantings, the harder it is for grapes to ripen. Conversely, if you go down too low, the grapes ripen too quickly, losing their charm and inherent acidity. Etna is a dynamic growing region with many small producers worth seeking out for their food-friendly, versatile wines.
The red wines of Etna are made predominantly from Nerello Mascalese. Think Nebbiolo crossed with Pinot Noir: the delicate aromatics and red fruit notes are similar to Pinot Noir, but the structure is comparable to that of Nebbiolo. These wines will have notes of wild strawberry and tart cherry, with herbal and tobacco components present. Elevated acidity and tannins are also common. The white wines are made predominantly from the Carricante grape, which is characteristically rich in stone fruit yet maintains a vibrant acidity. Hints of salinity and minerality from the volcanic soils add complexity.
Some of my favorite producers include:
Barone di Villagrande
Tenuta delle Terre Nere
Tornatore (full disclosure: I represent these wines, but I love all expressions of Etna)
Feel free to reach out to Mariano at email@example.com to see if he can find these wines for you!