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Etna is a region within the Catania province of the Italian island of Sicily. The open geographic location has been home to many cultures and civilizations since pretty much the dawn of time, starting with the Greeks, who first planted wine grapes there since the 8th century BC. As cultures rose and fell, so did the wine production. Though the region was the first to be granted DOC status in all of Sicily in 1968, most considered Etna wines fairly unremarkable compared to the rest of Italy. But that opinion is rapidly changing.
Etna is, of course, located near Mount Etna, still an active volcano, with the vineyards on its northern (Randazzo) and southern slopes (Santa Maria di Licodia). The soil is volcanic mixed with a large percentage of sand. These factors are understandably tricky to work with, which is why so much of the wine was somewhat perfunctory until recently, when producers began to appreciate these conditions. Such sandy soil is a major Phylloxera deterent, so the epidemic that otherwise devastated much of Europe’s vines in the late 19th century never settled in Etna. For this reason, there are vines over 100 years old and highly prized for heirloom fruit. Some of the vineyard locations are at dizzying heights, rivaling those found in parts of Argentina. The higher the vineyard site, the richer the soil and optimal sun exposure. The trick is finding people willing to tend the vines at such high altitudes.
The Etna wines are mostly blends. Rosso is comprised of a minimum 80% of Nerella Mascalese, which is a deep and dark-fruited, spicy grape indigenous to this part of Sicily. The rest is often comprised of 10% Nerello Cappuccio (Nerello Mantellato) and the remaining 10% other red grapes, even sometimes white. Bianco is 60% Caricante, with up to 40% Catarratto or up to 15% Trebbiano, Minella and other white grapes. Rosato wines are also produced from these local grapes.
Etna wines are finding a global fan base as the wine world has evolved. Because the yields and production levels continue to be small, more quality driven examples are becoming available and worth seeking out. ~Amanda Schuster
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