Mount Etna, Sicily
Etna is a classic stratovolcano, built over the last 600,000 years from successive eruptions that began on the seafloor and have now reached 3350 metres (10,990 feet) above the sea. And it’s still growing. Etna is, after all, Europe’s, and one of the world’s, most active volcanoes.
Wine has been grown on Etna since Phoenician times, for at least 3500 years. In its hey-day, Etna was among the most prestigious wine regions in all of Magna Grecia and the Roman Empire, and up until the end of the 19th century, vines blanketed its flanks from as high as grapes would ripen down to the Straits of Messina.
There was a long period of decline in the 20th century, but the mountain began to reawaken in the late 1980s. Today the feeling on this “island on the island”, as the locals consider it, is like a gold rush, everyone hastening to stake claims on parcels of ancient, all-but-abandoned vineyards. New vineyards are being planted, but respecting the lessons of the past: native varieties farmed in the traditional alberello etneo. Palmenti, the traditional stone press houses using centuries-old technology that were once part of every household and community, are being refurbished. The surging energy on the mountain is palpable. And the reason is simple: the wines of Etna are unlike any others on planet earth, and the world wants more.
Carricante is Etna’s principal white variety, defined by stony flavours and salinity. The chief red protagonist, and one of Italy’s finest red varieties, is late-ripening Nerello Mascalese. Its pale crimson-garnet colour (<nerello> means little black) draws comparisons with Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo, never deeply coloured, as does its ability to reflecting even minor variations in terroir.