Burnt by the sun… and ashes
The biggest island in the Mediterranean. The bridge between Europe and Africa. “The wine bottle of Italy.” The homeland of Italian mafia. All of this means Sicily.
For the longest time, Sicily was the biggest producer and vendor of Italian wines, made here in giant amounts and of very low quality, often used for blending with the northern wines which frequently lacked in body and structure. But in the 21st century the situation changed: the yield was cut, the vineyard area diminished, and the local winemakers finally focused on the quality of wine.
Of utmost interest to us is Mount Etna, from both a geographical and a winemaking viewpoint. The volcano is an active one, with small eruptions generally occurring once in three months, but the locals and vintners are not keen on escaping from here at all. To the contrary, the Etna winemaking is developing rapidly, becoming more and more popular among the connoisseurs of Italian wines. Fertile volcanic soils, frequent eruptions and ash emissions have formed an absolutely unique terroir, suited for making very elegant and fine wines. With each year the vineyards climb higher and higher onto the mountain’s slopes where the temperature is lower and it’s possible to make wines that are less alcoholic and “hot” wines than is probably on the rest of Sicily.
There is a myriad of grape varieties cultivated here. Many commercial producers experiment with international sorts like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Chardonnay. But that’s pure marketing. We are more interested in trying wines made from the local varieties, like Nero d’Avola and the jewel in the region’s crowl – Nerello Mascalese that took to Etna’s slopes perfectly. Nerello Mascalese paired with Nerello Capuccio (that is in charge of body and structure) can give very delicate wines that are often compared with the ones that fare from Burgundy or Piedmont.
The region is fairly young, it changes rapidly, so we haven’t quite gotten the hang of it all just yet. Today there are some very interesting wines produced in the domains Tenuta delle Terre Nere, Ciro Biondi and Frank Cornelissen. Frank considers man unable to understand nature’s full complexity and interactions. While creating his wines he tries not to meddle with the natural processes of wine’s “birth”. Neither on the vineyard nor in the cellar. The new vines are planted without grafts and the usage of sulphur dioxide is avoided altogether.
We really recommend you visit the beautiful sunny Sicily, try some sweet cannoli, climb Mount Etna and try to find True winemakers who are enthusiastic about what they do and create wines that emphasise the unique local terroir!