Etna wines, a wonderful tasting by Cronache di Gusto – Live from Vinitaly 2024


The masterclass we are about to report on was presented by Federico Latteri, Wine Writer and Expert for Cronache di Gusto, Senior Writer and Editor of the Etna Wine Guide. Anyone at all interested in Italian wines is well aware of the rise and rise of Etna wines over the past 20 years. These unique wines, born of a combination of volcanic soils, high altitude, native grape varietals and a particular climate, have become among the most talked about wines around the world. With interest ever-growing and quality continually rising, Cronache di Gusto launched their Etna Wine Guide in 2016, to focus solely on wines from this magical location in Sicily. Each guest at the tasting received a copy of the new 8th Edition of the guide, which includes 134 wineries and over 500 wines. Latteri explained that “The book grows bigger every year because the reputation of Etna wines grows every year.

At 3357 meters above sea level, Mt. Etna is not only one of the most active volcanoes in the world, but also one of the highest mountains in Europe. The important heritage of Etna wines has a lot to do with the combination of being both mountain and volcanic wines. Many styles exist on Etna, with 4 different areas of production ringing the mountain on 4 “versanti” – slopes – from the north, east, southeast, and southwest sides of the volcano. The Etna DOC now encompasses more than 1000 hectares of vineyards and the Contrade system that has been created on Etna now recognises 133 official cru (contrade) vineyards. Originally known for ethereal reds, Latteri pointed out that “Whites are aging very well on Etna,” as seen by the only Superiore geographical designation being located in Milo, home to primarily white wines.

The lightning-fast tasting of 13 Etna wines wowed the gathered crowd of enthusiasts, made up of Italian producers and journalists as well as international wine professionals from every aspect of the sector. Before the tasting began, Latteri reminded the audience of the importance of the human element in Etna winemaking, the original palmento structures used for centuries to make wine here, with somewhere between 100-200 still remaining, as well as the fact that there are a majority of ungrafted, pre-phylloxera vines all over the mountain.  He said that “The difference between Etna wines is much more the terroir than the style.

The first wine was Etna DOC Bianco Superiore Contrada Volpare “Frontebosco” 2022 from Maugeri, made with Carricante grapes trained in the alberello (bush vine) style at 700 meters above sea level and terraced on lava stone walls. 90% of the wine matured in oak tonneaux and the result was a deep lemon-coloured wine with an intense nose of lemon oil, toasty cedar and spicy white pepper and cardamom. The wine was wonderfully briney, with a sharp fresh acidity balanced by a warm level of alcohol for a fuller mouthfeel.

Second was Etna DOC Bianco “Ante” Contrada Puntalazzo 2021 from I Custodi Delle Vigne dell’Etna, 100% Carricante grown at 750 meters above the sea, matured in stainless steel for 18 months. The wine was softer, with more ripe yellow fruit tones, a bright acidity and a tiny phenolic grip on the palate. The aromas and flavors centered on spiky white beach flowers and fruit with a less prevalent saline note. Note to wine lovers, “Ante” is Etna spelled backwards!

The third wine was Etna DOC Bianco Superiore Contrada Villagrande 2019 from Barone di Villagrande, representing the only Superiore classification, which is always Carricante from Milo, on the eastern side of the volcano. At 700 meters above sea level and one of the oldest wineries on Etna, Villagrande blends 90% Carricante with 10% Minnella and Visparola. The wine ages 10 months in old oak tonneaux, which gives it a fuller body with a complex nose full of seaside herbs, iodine, a touch of acacia and cedar, and a lovely lemony citrus “cream pie” and vanilla element. 

The fourth was the first red of the tasting, Etna DOC Rosso Vino Biologico 2021 from Masseria Setteporte, located in Contrada Spadatrappo. Nerello Mascalese 100%, this wine was deep ruby in colour with a very fresh nose, full of sharp crunchy red berries and red plum, with a gentle floral note and a hint of Sicilian blood orange. Lots of sticky, suede tannins covered the palate and spoke of the 10 months the wine spent in oak tonneaux. On the palate, the wine was very ripe, jammy and smokey, with an interesting tang of pickled walnut.

Number five was Etna DOC Rosso Contrada Carranco “RV” 2020 from Carranco, a blend of 95% Nerello Mascalese and 5% Nerello Cappuccio. Grown at 500 meters asl and aged 12-18 months in big barrels. The wine had a beautiful floral nose with hints of bergamot, incense, sandalwood and bright red fruit. A sheer style of red, the luminous transparent ruby colour gave way to a delicate, well-balanced, elegant wine with powdery tannins on the front of the palate.

The sixth wine, Etna DOC Rosso Biologico “Prefillossera” 2020, from Palmento Costanzo came from vines over 100 years old. Ungrafted, pre-phylloxera vines are all over Etna. Latteri pronounced this wine “charming,” and it truly was. A blend of 90% Nerello Mascalese and 10% Nerello Cappuccio from Contrada Santo Spirito at 750 meters asl, I have to admit I wrote in my notes “Oh so delicious!” Matured in tonneaux for 2 years, the wine was warm with a seductive nose full of blood orange and eucalyptus, plum crostata and sandalwood, a great acidic spine and lingering notes of spiced wine on the finish. Tannins were so well integrated, they played a lovely textural supporting role.

Wine number seven was Etna DOC Rosso Contrada “Calderara” 2020 from Azienda Agricola Calcagno, a blend of 90% Nerello Mascalese and 10% Nerello Cappuccio grown at 650 meters asl on old vines in hot stony soil on the western edge of this North slope contrada. Aged for 12 months in oak barrels, the wine was savoury in nature, full of very ripe red fruits with intense, hot spice notes and smooth tannins.

Eighth was Etna DOC Rosso Contrada Pignatuni “Vecchie Vigne” 2020 from Famiglia Statella, this one with 95% Nerello Mascalese and 5% other local native red grapes grown near Randazzo. Sheer in style with great acidity, a spicy mulled wine character and almost imperceptible fine tannins, this wine was joyfully complex and warm with notes of nutmeg, ripe plum, balsamic herbs and a very precise texture on the palate. The mouthfeel was generous but light, utterly drinkable and truly representative of Etna’s enormous potential to produce fine wines.

Wine number nine was Pietrosolce’s Etna DOC Rosso “Barbagalli” 2020 from Contrada Rampante at 900 meters asl. The grapes are from a single vineyard with black sand and ash soils. The wine matures 20 months in barrique. Smokey and complex on the nose, the wine opens with ripe soft red fruit, powerful balsamic herbs and a hefty dose of baking spices.  The tannins are gently muted and sueded in texture, with the concentrated fruit returning in the finish.

The tenth wine was Etna DOC Rosso Contrada Monte Ilice “Milice” 2019 from Cantine di Nessuno, grown on the South East slopes at 700-900 meters asl. A “vertical vineyard,” where heroic, all manual work must be undertaken on steep and narrow terraces. This wine was deeper in colour, with a whisper of hot tar on the nose. Ripe red cherries and plums, along with a touch of cherry grappa scent balanced well with notes of dried Mediterranean herbs.

Number eleven came from Cusumano-Alta Mora, their Etna DOC Rosso Guardiola 2019 made with 100% Nerello Mascalese grown near Passopisciaro at 800-950 meters asl. This wine had a very elegant, restrained nose and was more linear and sophisticated on the palate. Dried red and black cherries and plum notes were accompanied by hints of floral, dried potpourri, culminating in a long, dry finish.

The penultimate of our Etna wines was Etna DOC Rosso Riserva Zottorinoto 2018 from Cottanera, matured for 2 years in oak. The wine showed a good play between the smooth tannins and the medium acidity, which took center stage due to the reserved and somewhat short fruit notes.   

The final wine in the tasting was Etna DOC Rosso Riserva 2017 from Francesco Tornatore. A hot vintage, this wine was delightfully mineral in character with lots of pleasantly chewy tannins, good acidity, plenty of floral notes and a fresher fruit element. A blend of the best grapes from several vineyards ranging between 500-750 meters asl, the wine had a very attractive citrusy note of mandarin and a lovely long red fruited finish.

If you enjoyed this adventure through the wonderful world of Etna wines, make sure you don’t miss the Italian Wine Podcast interviews on Etna’s emerging new faces in winemaking, each offering a unique perspective on the wine region’s future!

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