Living on a live volcano may seem nuts, but the growers on Mount Etna see it differently. The presence of “The Etna” is not some angry god of fire and destruction, dark, brooding and malignant but more of a mother nature, warm and fertile, gently spewing lava which will recharge and renew the soil with rich mineral nutrients. If you ask the locals what the loud daily siren is for they will say “time to go to the fields to work”. We suspect it’s a test for, and a reminder of, possible eruptions.
In any case it’s a remarkable place. The Etna is visible from far away, although whenever we visit the peak is covered in cloud or mist.
Unusually for the northern hemisphere, the northern, north-facing slope is considered finer than the eastern or southern slopes (there are no vines on the west side). In the sweetest sweet spot you find Val Cerasa. Husband and wife team, Alice (who trained as an agronomist) and Rosario Bonaccorsi made their first bottlings at Benanti in 1997 and bought this startling, terraced vineyard in 2000.
Now organic, they use wild yeasts for all but their white IGT, Rocca delle Compane. No new oak helps the elegance and purity of the fruit and its volcanic terroir shine through. The Etna Bianco is Caricante, the Etna Rosso is Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio. These are fascinating wines. The whites are oily, with hints of grapefruit zest, surprisingly good acidity and a savoury, almost salty quality. The Etna Rosso is bold, structured, again with a savoury salty tang, but not overblown – as many wines from the Etna have struck us.
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