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Etna Erupts

It is always exciting to discover a new wine.

And more so if the wine brings with it a whole new wine region, especially if it is still part of the old world of wine.

I am talking about the slopes of Mount Etna, the definitively active volcano whose dark, brooding presence dominates the eastern end of Sicily. To those of us who have been lucky enough to gaze upon it, it feels almost human, the slopes spread thickly with clumpy old lava flows, the top smoking with visible puffs of sulphurous smoke, its features changing with the hourly passage of the Mediterranean sunlight.

Viticulture is nothing new on Etna, in fact the ancient, abandoned stone terraces that hark back to Roman times go around the mountain, proof that vines were always an important part of Etna’s agricultural past. But the volcano’s grapes were usually shipped off to the Italian mainland especially to Calabria.

It is only since the turn of this century and therefore recently that Etna’s terraces have been rehabilitated and the mineral driven wines have emerged on the world stage as budding stars. Winemakers from the mainland identified something quite amazing about volcanic vines and came down to the island to begin to make ‘natural’ wines from old vines and vineyards, some of which are pre-phylloxera and over 100 years old. The most prominent and perhaps the one most driven by his passion for wine is Marco de Grazia, whose grandparents emigrated to the States in the early part of the 20th century. De Grazia’s return to Etna was not driven by nostalgia or sentimentality but determination to find and make quality wines. And he did.

His Tenuta delle Terre Nere produces some powerful wines. His Etna Rosso is a fruity mouthful and has lots of personality, but the alcohol content is high, upwards of 14%. Nonetheless, it is fresh and balanced, the Nerello Mascalese grape showing off its obvious nobility.

De Grazia’s Etna Bianco is a regal and elegant style wine made primarily from caricante. It is dry, medium-bodied and mineral driven without any hints of oak. The initial aroma of fresh white fruits, flowers and lemon zest leap out from the neck of the bottle. A mouthful proves mineral rich and silky but balanced. It leaves one with a sensation of almonds and vanilla…all classic flavors from Sicily.

Growing grapes on the slopes of an active volcano is not for the faint of heart, but no one will describe Marco de Grazia as such who proudly claims that “Etna is the Burgundy of the Mediterranean.”

Tenuta delle Terre Nere Rosso, Bianco and Rosato are all available at Eli’s List.