One of the weirdest wine regions in the world, the vines of Etna on the Italian island of Sicily grow on the slopes of the huge active volcano which is constantly belching gases and ash, and occasionally letting loose lava flows that can threaten all the hard work of the daring winemakers that choose to work there. The resulting soils however are ridiculously rich, and different micro climates around the mountain make it a terroir geek's paradise: for instance some vineyards' unique characteristics come from specific lava flows emanating from different eruptions over the centuries.
The two workhorses of Etna's red wines are Nerello Mascalese, which is very light in color, and Nerello Cappuccio which is darker but less tannic. Both go into the principal wine, simply called Etna Rosso. Very good sparkling wine is made too, and presents quite a bargain. The idiosyncrasies of the soil and the occasional shower of ash contribute to an unmistakable volcanic character in the wine, which centuries of tradition have worked to exploit. If this all sounds like a glass full of smoke don't worry: the reds have the fruit to take it on.
If you'd like to explore further up the price ladder I'd recommend the wines of I Vigneri, and for something really sui generis the whole range of Frank Cornelissen, a Belgian who bears no small responsibility for Etna's recent wine renaissance.
2019 Frank Cornelissen Suscaru Rosso
By Matt Brewer
About the Wine
Compared to the idyllic rolling hills of Tuscan wine country, Mt. Etna's volcanic soils appear jagged, desolate, almost other-worldly; like the earth must have looked in the early days of its formation. Being one of the world's most active volcanos, Etna's eruptions are a frequent occurrence, and this geological activity is a big part of what makes the terroir so special.
The nearest airport is in the seaside city of Catania, home to one the most iconic seafood markets in the world. Drive just 40 minutes up the volcano to the much smaller town of Randazzo and the local restaurants will steer you away from their seafood offerings. As one waiter explained to me on a trip a few years back, "you eat seafood in Catania, here you should try meat, cheese, vegetables." This hyper-focus on truly local ingredients extends to the kinds of wines that are proudly served.
One of the very first natural wines I ever tasted was Frank Cornelissen's iconic 'Contadino' which he has renamed 'Suscaru Rosso.' The Belgian born Cornelissen has achieved a sort of cult-like status in the natural wine world and one sip of 'Suscaru' will give you an indication why. The iconic Sicilian grape Nerello Mascalese makes up 85% of the wine, while the rest is a combination of varietals including Nerello Capuccio, Minella Nera, Allicante Bouschet, and Minella Bianco.
On the nose I get a strong impression of dark fruitparticularly black cherry with subtler notes of ash/smoke. The palette has an immediate and pleasing acidity, tangerine-like, which evolves into a rounder, darker, prune flavor. There's a lovely tannic structure, and a slightly round feel almost as if the wine had seen some oak, but aging for this wine is done exclusively in neutral epoxy tanks. This 2019 vintage is quite classic tasting compared to the beautifully funky early vintages, and is about as clean as any natural wine I've come across recently. At $34.99, this wine isn't dirt cheap, but it's as joyful and full of life as many bottles twice the price.
Varietal: 85% Nerello Mascalese, & Nerello Carpuccio, Minella Nera, Allicante Bouchet, Minella Bouschet.
Importer: Zev Rovine Selections
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2018 Gabrio Bini Fanino
By Damion Reid
About the Wine
I absolutely love wines from Sicily produced on volcanic soil, specifically Mt. Etna. One of my favorite wines that I've been drinking throughout this year isn't from Mt. Etna soil but from an island named Pantelleria, the largest volcanic satellite island of Sicily. Pantelleria is south of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea close to Tunisia. The rich soil of this island is an ecological haven of sorts having hot springs, natural saunas and wildlife.
Gabrio Bini, an architect from Milan settled in Pantelleria as a winemaker, his winery named Azienda Agricola Serragghia. I specifically enjoy the cuvee named Fanino which is a blend of the red grape pignatello and the white grape catarratto. 100 percent natural, aged in amphora with skin contact, no added sulfur and unfiltered. All of his wines express a creativity of exploring the terroir. Fanino in particular is a cuvee that embodies what natural wine truly should taste like when handled with care. It has notes of blood orange and wild herbs, with a refreshing finish. A wine like Fanino will keep you searching for wines that are fruit forward, while being elegant and refined.
Varietal: Pignatello, Catarratto
Importer: Zev Rovine Selections
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2017 Palmento Costanzo Mofete Rosso
By Rob Evanoff
About the Wine:
Palmento Costanzo, Ti Guarderò Nel Cuore.
Lava Rosso, you had me at "a magical environment where the elementsland, water, air and firehave merged to create a treasure chest of extraordinary biodiversity." GeoGuesser anyone?
Meet me at A Muntagna, as Mount Etna is called by the Sicilians, the tallest and most active volcano in Europe. At 10,9991 ft, its slopes are home to soil that's luxuriantly rich from 3500 yrs of sustenance, by way of volcanic eruptions.
And furthermore, yada, yada, yada, let's be real. Reviewing wines is one of the most pretentious activities on the planet. Let the professionals offer their pedantic nuanced take. I'm here to get visceral. Wine doesn't need a publicist... it already envelops the senses. To ignore the obvious would be senseless. It truly blooms with a partner. As in, an entrée.
Ruby red like the color of Dorothy's shoes from the Wizard of Oz with hints of fresh wild herbs, cherries and cinnamon, I chose to pair this effervescent blend of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio with a L'Antica Madia garlic and chili farfalle under a coat of Yo Mama Bellisima Basil red sauce, a side of caponata and a finish of cannoli from Cavaretta's. It drinks like a fine wine, eloquently expressive with soft tannins reminding me of a Pinot.
As the croon of Sinatra bellows over the bustle of Basie's big band, "More than the greatest love the world has known, this is the love I give to you alone," I inhale the molten aroma of Etna and say live, laugh, love, more.
Region: Etna, Sicilia, Italy
Varietal: Etna Rosso (Nerello Mascalese 80% -Nerello Cappuccio 20%)
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2019 I Vigneri Etna Rosso
By Matt Penman
About the Wine
I think the first time I played in Catania was 2008, and it's a bit surreal walking around the ancient port city in the shadow of a smoking volcano, but this was well and truly my own problem. The residents have built their lives, and their vineyards, with the mountain as a cantankerous neighbor that has the potential to disrupt their existence, but mostly provides color to it. (The same could be said for alcohol in general....in fact....but the wine I'm writing about is not a wine to abuse: neither is it meant for hand to hand combat, like certain of Monty Python's Australian Wines. It is a pensive pleasure, securely straddling the realms of the senses and the mind, like many things Italian). I Vigneri is a consortium of Sicilian winemakers headed up by the Godfather of Etna wine, Salvo Foti, and together they're keeping Etna varietals, techniques and terroir alive. Thank goodness, because for a moment there Merlot was really making inroads...
And now to the wine itself: slight VA/acetone on the nose which is not unwelcome (been thinking about changing my nail color for days). Tobacco and leather, like a southern Rhone wine but a lot leaner. Not even a hint of oak. The tannins really come on towards the end of the bottle, belying the lightness of the wine and its translucence. It's obviously made from very ripe grapes, but with a good lot of acidity that I imagine comes from the coolness at high altitudes. Maybe as the planet warms they'll be moving further up the slopes... a handy privilege, but for now you should savor this snapshot of tradition and commercial success while it's still within reach. Saluti!
Varietal: Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio
Importer: LDM Wines
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2019 Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso
By Falkner Evans
About the Wine
Sicily has emerged as one of the world's most vibrant wine regions. This is a a fairly recent development that has taken place in the last twenty five to thirty years. Mt. Etna is the home of Nerello Mascalese. My pick here is Terre Nere Etna Rosso. This wine is elegant but shows a firm "grip." I have found that the wines from Terre Nere are approachable while in their youth. That even goes for their more expensive wines. This is their entry level red and it's a beauty. Great for spaghetti with tuna, tomatoes and capers. Organic.
Varietal: Nerello Mascalese
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2017 'a Rina Etna Rosso Girolamo Russo
By Kristin Korb
Bass & Vocals
About the Wine
Mt. Etna is Europe's largest and most active volcano. In its shadow lies a wine region that benefits from the ash and minerals that the volcano continues to produce. The vineyards have been around for generations. Winemaker Giuseppe Russo dedicated his winery, Girolamo Russo, to the memory of his father, Girolamo. Using organic farming and old-fashioned traditions, he has developed his wines to a high level of velvety goodness.
Tasting this wine makes me think of John Clayton
and his son Gerald. Their music is steeped in the blues, refined in loving technique, and warm like the sun. In the glass, 'a Rina is a dusky ruby red. The nose carries an earthy mix of tobacco and leather. In your mouth, you taste the sun, the earth, and red berries. The finish is elegant and smooth. It is the right amount of earthiness without feeling gritty or heavy. 'a Rina is rustic and harmonious, just like a swinging blues that makes your feet tap, your fingers snap, and your mouth smiles with pure pleasure.
Region: Etna, Italy
Varietal: 90% Nerello Mascalese, 10% Nerello Cappuccio
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