Some of Sicily’s most exciting wines are grown on the northern and eastern slopes of Mt. Etna [see map below] where we spent several days for our report on the Wines of Sicily. Mt. Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in the world with continuing eruptions of ash and pumice and periodic lava flows. Its soils are loose and well-aerated, allowing the roots of vines to easily penetrate the basaltic substrata in search of water in the dry-farmed vineyards. In this article, we revisit selected wines from some of Mt. Etna’s excellent winemakers—Giuseppe Russo, Marco de Grazia, Emiliano Falsini, and Francesco Tornatore.
Nerello Mascalese is the prized grape of Mt. Etna, producing some of Sicily’s most authentic and unique wines. It is primarily grown on Etna’s north slopes. Like Pinot Noir, the grape is highly sensitive to its terroir and in the case of Etna reveals the unique characteristics of the different contradas (crus) where it is grown. Carricante is Mt. Etna’s principal white variety and comprises at last 60% of the Etna Bianco blend. At high altitudes (900+m) Carricante seems to be a sponge for the minerals of Etna, and its wines are invariably described as subtle, chalky and mineral-like with high acidity that gives them long life in bottle and make them terrific food wines.
Girolamo Russo 2019 Nerina Etna Bianco 91 Showing notes of citrus rind, dried herbs, and wet gravel on the nose, this very dry but flavorful, medium weight wine is fresh and invigorating on the palate with excellent, mineral-infused extract on a long finish. A blend of Sicilian indigenous varieties, predominantly (70%) Carricante plus Catarratto, Inzolia, Grecanico, Minnelli and Coda di Volpe matured 6 months in oak barrels and 2 months in stainless steel tanks. 12% alc. Maturation consists of three stages (6 months in oak barrels, 2 months in steel tanks and at least six months in bottles). 12% alc. Giuseppe Russo makes the wines at this tiny boutique winery named after his father Girolamo Russo. The winery is located on Mt. Etna in Passopisciaro. Importer: Grand Cru Selections
Girolamo Russo 2019 ‘a Rina Etna Rosso 92 The ‘a Rina reveals nice herbal aromatics with hints of red berries. It has a silky attack and lovely cherry-like red fruit with notes of underbrush on the palate. There’s excellent richness and length on the finish along with slightly rough tannins that should soften with a bit more time in bottle. For consumption now, we suggest decanting. ‘A Rina is approximately 94% Nerello Mascalese and 6% Nerello Cappuccio from the contradas of San Lorenzo, Feudo, and Calderara Sottana. “A rina” is not an entry level wine. Giuseppe Russo believes that the most balanced and complete wine is achieved from being composed from a variety of sites. 14% alc.
Girolamo Russo 2019 San Lorenzo Etna Rosso 93 The San Lorenzo Etna Rosso is more structured and dense than the ‘a Rina. It displays a reticent nose of dried herbs and pomegranate followed by a complex, layered palate of cherry with earthy savory notes and a hint of leather. There’s fine acidity and excellent purity that persists on the end. San Lorenzo is a single vineyard wine from a contrada in Randazzo. It sits 750-780 meters above sea level and the vines are now over 80 years old. The entire vineyard is around 8 hectares but only the oldest 1 hectare parcel of vines is selected for the single contrada bottling. The wine is almost entirely Nerello Mascalese but also have very small amounts of Nerello Cappuccio since the varieties are co-planted. San Lorenzo is fermented in a combination of formats – 2,600 liter barrels, cement, and vat. 14.5% alc.
Massimo Lentsch 2018 San Teodoro Etna Rosso 92 Showing an herbal/garrigue nose with red berry notes, this easy drinking Etna Rosso has a focused entry of pomegranate and cherry fruit on a slightly grippy palate. It’s fresh with good acidity. Made from alberello Nerello Mascalese, including some centennial vines, hand harvested from the Contrada Feudo di Mezzo at 700m elevation; partially destemmed and fermented with native yeasts with 15 days maceration with the skins; aged 12 months in oak barrels. 13% alc. Emiliano Falsini is the enologist.
Terre Nere 2020 Etna Bianco Sicily 92 Pale yellow straw. Bright fragrances of yellow flowers, lemon-mandarin, and nuances of fresh herbs. Crisp on the attack and firmly textured with superb balance, fine minerality, and alluring fresh citrus flavors. A nicely crafted wine. A blend of 70% Carricante, 20% Catarratto, 5% Grecanico, and 5% Inzolia from vineyards on the northern slopes of Mt Etna; fermented and aged in stainless steel. 12.5% alc. This wine comes from the Mt. Etna estate of noted Italian wine exporter Marco de Grazia. Bacchus, Michael Skurnik and other fine importers.
Tornatore 2020 Etna Bianco Sicily 91 Medium yellow straw. Exuberant nose of flowers, almonds, and honeycomb. Full and round in the mouth with ripe citrus, hints of white and yellow stone fruit and pronounced minerality. Persistent, flavorful finish. 100% Carricante grown at 650m on the northern side of the volcano; 12.5% alc. Francesco Tornatore farms over 60 ha of indigenous varieties on Mt Etna near his home town of Castiglione di Sicilia. Fermented in stainless steel and aged 6 months in stainless and concrete tanks. The winemaker is Vicenzo Bambina. Importer: Tornatore Wines