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Sicily - The whites of Etna

Updated: Dec 5, 2020

Our last blog was about the Etna Reds, they are emerging as one of the latest very sophisticated wines of Italy. Today we will introduce the whites of Etna. The Etna Bianco or Etna White must be made from a 60% carricante, up to 40% of cataratto bianco and 15% of any other white. The Superiore must include at the least 80% of Carricante and the grapes must be from the town of Milo.

More producers are labeling their wines based on the contrada where the grapes were grown. Although the producers were using the contrade since 2000s, the practice wasn't officially recognized since 2011 as MGAs. There are 133 contrade that can appear on the labels. The most known are Calderara Sottana, Pietra Marina, Feudo di Mezzo, Guardiola and San Lorenzo.

Carricante is really a one-zone variety, as it is found only on the slopes of the Etna volcano, in the countryside around towns such as Viagrande, Randazzo, and others. It grows at extremely high altitudes (where Nerello Mascalese has trouble ripening), on both the eastern and the southern slopes of the volcano, at altitudes of 950 meters above sea level and 1,050 meters above sea level respectively. Carricante used to grow all over Sicily in centuries past, when it was in fact not confined just to the volcano. Today all that has changed, and Carricante, at roughly 146 hectares in 2009, is only the thirty-first most-planted variety in Sicily (representing 0.12 percent of the region’s surface under vine), though over one third of those vines are more than fifty years old. Even more interestingly, though it accounts for roughly 95 percent of the white varieties grown on Etna, it makes up only 10 percent of those grown around Catania, a city less than an hour’s drive away. Again, paucity of diffusion is not a reflection on Carricante’s quality, which is inordinately high, but rather a consequence of the limited areas the variety can be effectively cultivated in.

A great carricante is best described as a dry Riesling look-alike (when five to ten years old, it expresses very obvious flinty, diesel-fuel aromas just as Riesling does), very refined and pure in its graceful mineral aromas and racy, lemony flavors, complicated by aniseed, green apple, orange flower, chamomile, and unripe apricot.

It is one of only a handful of Italian white wines that age well, benefiting from ten years or even more. Its penetrating aromas, saline flavors, and extremely high acidity are something not everyone gets used to, but those who do are usually hooked for the rest of their lives. A number of carricantes are blended with small or large amounts of Chardonnay, which helps soften Carricante’s angular profile but greatly changes the unique experience that Carricante can deliver. I believe that quality producers should realize they have a unique grape and wine on their hands and should know better than to go mixing it up with Chardonnay.

Tenuta delle Terre Nere

Appellation: Etna Bianco D.O.C.

First released vintage: 2014

Production area: contrada Calderara, township of Randazzo (Catania)

Varietals of grapes: 100% Carricante

Extension of the vineyard: 3,5 ha

Yield per hectare: 6 tons/ha

Characteristics of the soil: volcanic ash specked by black pumice and solid volcanic rock

Exposure: northern slope of Mount Etna, from 600 up to 650 meters a.s.l.

Average age of the vines: between 15 and 60 years

Type of cultivation: en goblet and modified en goblet

Harvest: beginning of October

Vinification: soft pressing, low temperature fermentation in French oak barrels of 5 and 10 hl.

Ageing: malolactic fermentation and aging in French oak barriques for 10 months followed by

aging in bottle for 8 months.

Colour: straw yellow with golden hues

Nose: complex, with floral and spicy notes

Flavour: intense, flavorful, reminiscent of vanilla notes

Food matches: light pasta dishes, fish, white meats

Suggested serving temperature: 10-12° C

Alcohol %: 13,5 %

Annual production: 12.000 bottles (0,75 l)

Barone di Villa Grande

Villagrande is not only the noble title: is the name of the contrada in Milo where the producer's family has been living for more than 300 years. It is located on the eastern slope of Etna that overlooks Taormina and the Ionian Sea. At 700 metres above the sea level. Here the climate is far from being Sicilian. Here the climate is Etnean. Temperatures and precipitations are affected by the volcanic activity and the altitude. In autumn and winter, it reaches ten times more rain than the rest of Sicily. In winter and at the beginning of the germination, minimum temperatures can reach values below 0° C being dangerous for the vines. In summer maximum temperatures are never as high as in the rest of Sicily, and rain is almost absent. This absence of humidity is accentuated by the field’s slope, deeply draining due to its igneous origin. The huge thermal excursion between day and night is a real blessing for these grapes as it reaches even 30° C. This results in a lower alcohol content compared to the average of Sicilian wines, with a peculiar richness in fixed acidity and extracts.


It’s too easy to say “unique climate and terroir conditions” and, in fact, there are many that say so. However, come and walk on these vineyards. What do you see? High above you the snowy peaks of the volcano, forests around you and the sea at the end of the slopes in front of you. Dark land beneath your feet. There are no other vineyards like those around the world. Those are mountain vineyards, surrounded by oak and chestnut forests that originates intense and recognisable scents. The Vines's roots go deep in volcanic born fields. The land of the Etna Bianco DOC Superiore. Rich in iron and copper with a good potassium, phosphorus and magnesium level, little nitrogen and with absent calcium. . In our vineyards, we want to exalt the soul of the territory. On the best vintages, with warm and sunny Summers and dry Septembers, the reds reward us with an enviable elegance, that reminds instinctively to the one you can find in wines from historically renowned areas. The winery is also recovering old vineyards to reproduce wines that belong to the heritage of this land. The so-called “Cru”s, the locals call them “Contrada’s wines”

Milo, home to the Bianco Superiore, every contrada with its own peculiarities. In Villagrande the producer makes a wine that defies time, that amplifies the unique characteristics of the Etna: freshness, aging potential, elegance.

Carricante base with 10% of the whole subdivided between Minnella, Catarratto, and Visparola. The nose is subtle with notes of orange blossom, citrus, and mint. The mouth is an indicator of how taut and dry it is. However, it does not become one-dimensional, as demonstrated by its soft touches and balsamic flashes.

Tenuta di Fessina

TENUTA DI FESSINA: A’ Fimmina su la Muntagna.

The desire of Silvia Maestrelli was, from the beginning, to create “a place of beauty, between earth and spirit”, more than a cellar in the strict sense in which people, skills and energies converged, which in turn merged to enrich the estate’s intangible heritage, made up of relationships, exchanges and both professional and human ideas around the culture of wine and good living.

Pioneer and women – among the producers who have given new impetus to enology on Etna, Silvia Maestrelli – comes from a Florentine entrepreneurial family, she emigrated to Milan for love – arrived on Etna in 2006, on the trail of falling in love with this land rich in contrasts. A real coup de foudre for a difficult land, strongly masculine, but of enormous charm and equally great enological potential. Thus began a new phase for her life and a research, both personal and professional, which will give life in 2007 – after long and detailed negotiations with the ancient and numerous landowners – at the birth of Tenuta di Fessina. A project in which the sensitivity of a “feminine” oenological vision, combined with the unquestioned technical skills of consultants and collaborators, has allowed us to create in just 10 years from the foundation – one of the most successful and recognizable cellars in the Etna area, perfect ambassador in the world of new Sicilian viticulture.

A Puddara

It is a wine dedicated to Sicily and, like the Pleiades, which are a pulsating object in the sky, it is a small continent that has a heart that pulsates in the middle of the Mediterranean. A 'Puddara - "le gallinelle" or "la chioccia" for fishermen and farmers, in memory of the poetry of Ovid - was a sign that indicated the direction in work and in life. Let's imagine the fishermen from Riposto who come back from the sea and who, looking up on the volcano, spot the Pleiades hidden behind the summit just where, as if it were a hanging garden, the vineyard of our Carricante rests. It is a rigorous wine outlined like A 'Muntagna that stands out in the night ...

DENOMINATION: Etna Bianco D.O.C. VARIETAL: Carricante100% ENOLOGIST / AGRONOMIST: Giandomenico Negro

TASTING NOTES COLOR: straw yellow with green shades SCENT: grafite, orange zest, mango, broom, aromatic herbs. TASTE: vertical minerality, high acidity, lemon peel, tropical fruit. Candied entry with buttery notes and a savory and marine finish, saltiness

CHARACTERISTICS OF THE PRODUCTION AREA PRODUCTION AREA: Biancavilla VINEYARD SURFACE: 2 ha AGE OF THE VINEYARD: 1950 Biancavilla EXPOSITION: South ALTITUDE: 900 mt SOIL COMPOSITION: Biancavilla, Contrada Manzudda. HARVEST: October YIELD PER HA: 5.500 kg VINIFICATION: crushing without de-stemming after careful selection of the grapes in the vineyard and on the sorting belt in the cellar, soft pressing with separation of the musts cold static decantation FERMENTATION: direct fermentation in 3500-liter French oak barrels AGING: refined on the lees for 6-8 months TOTAL PRODUCTION: 6.000 bottles of 0,75 cl and150 magnum of 1,5 lt

This covers the great Etna's wines, the next few blogs will focus on the other regions and finally on the Marsala, the well known wine which characterized Sicily for many years in the past.



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