“These are our oldest vines, around 120 years old. Phylloxera did not affect vineyards here because of the very sandy volcanic soils on Mount Etna, Sicily, so we have some of the oldest vines in the world.” My guide, Valentina, was showing me around Benanti’s vineyards in Viagrande, on the southeastern slopes of Mount Etna. This family-run winery is one of the leading producers in the area; its red and white wines winning rave reviews around the world, including a very rare red made from 100% Nerello Cappuccio grapes with their amazing ripe-peach fragrance.
As well as some of the oldest vines, Sicily’s Mount Etna region also has some of the highest vineyards in the world — well over 300ft up. Its wines are highly spoken of among locals, but relatively new on the international scene. Even elsewhere in Italy, Etna’s wines — white, red and pink — are little-known. I even tried some tasty pink sparkling wine made from the main red grape, Nerello Mascalese.
Yet it’s the reds you really need to look out for, particularly by Benanti, Tenuta delle Terre Nere and Girolamo Russo, and if you’re after something funkier, the ‘natural’ wines of Frank Cornelissen. Etna Rosso is typically Nerello Mascalese, blended with around 10% Nerello Cappuccio, which brings colour and body as well as fragrance. If you like Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo, you must try Etna’s reds.
Intense and extreme, Etna is becoming one of Italy’s most exciting wine regions. redsquirrelwine.com
Published in the December 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)