Since 2008, producers on Mount Etna have been coming together to share their en primeur wines with the public, the press, and one another. The one-day tasting event, called the Contrade dell’Etna (CdE), was founded by Andrea Franchetti, owner and winemaker at Passopisciaro to promote the uniqueness of Etna wines.
This year the CdE will be held at Castello Romeo in Montelaguardia. It should not be missed, but it is also far too short to absorb the diversity of these volcanic wines. Hundreds of people descend on the event each year. In many ways it’s a free-for all of conversations, wine, interviews, deals, music, and food. To get through as many wines as possible, you need a good map.
One of our friends from northern Italy is traveling in for the CdE. He asked for some advice on how to navigate the tasting.
It was kind of a broad question. There will be about 100 wineries attending. I asked him what kind of wine he prefers—there is a little something of everything for everyone.
He wrote, I look for less oak and more mineral [in wines], nothing too natural or funky.
This was my response.
I won’t be able to stay long at the event tomorrow. I have a business meeting mid-day. If I had the time to taste, these are some of the wines I would seek out …
A Few Red Wines
You should try almost any Nerello from Cda. Feudo di Mezzo (FdM). This north slope contrada is about six city-blocks small and features an intersection of young volcanic soils. Wineries with vineyards in FdM include Tenuta delle Terre Nere, Cornelissen, iVigneri, iCustodi, Passopisciaro, Planeta, Antichi Vinai, Graci, Girolamo Russo, Calcagno, Camarda, Graziani, Edomé, and Scirto
Try the BIONDI Cisterna Fuori and San Nicolò Nerello crus. The vineyards are trained in alberello and filare on the sides of two extinct volcanic craters in Cda. Ronzini, on the southeast slope.
Giovanni Messina produces EUDES. This year, they are presenting an old-vine Nerello from Cda. Monte Gorna on the southeast slope.
The BENANTI winery just released a pure Nerello Mascalese from Cda. Monte Serra, an extinct volcanic crater on the southeast slope at about 450 meters AMSL.
The GIROLAMO RUSSO Nerello from Cda. San Lorenzo grows on the North slope in very old, pre-Mongibello soils.
FILIPPO GRASSO in Cda. Calderara will likely show the old-vine Nerello called Capu Chiurma, which is grown on the north slope in very old pre-Mongibello soils and raised in stainless.
The Vico Etna Rosso from TENUTA BOSCO comes from a vineyard that segues downslope like a river of ancient Nerello vines that survived two lava flows 1566 to the east and the 1879 lava flow to the west.
The PALMENTO COSTANZO Nero di Sei arrives from an unparalleled restoration project on the North slope that has taken nearly a decade to fully realize.
The Nerello Mascalese from MASSERIA SETTEPORTE is grown on the warm south slope, around Biancavilla, in some of the mountain’s oldest prehistoric soils.
FRANK CORNELISSEN blends several high elevation vineyards to make his Vigne Alte (VA) without using any additives or yeasts to chaperone the wines, which he elevates in fiberglass.
I could keep going, but you don’t have that much time. By about mid-day you will be fighting for space at the counter :^D
A Few White Wines
Almost any ETNA BIANCO SUPERIORE from Carricante grown in Milo in 2017 should be something quite unique to try. Benanti, Barone di Villagrande and Tenuta di Fessina, make exceptional examples.
DESTRO makes a Carricante blend with 30% Catarratto that they call Isolanuda Etna Bianco. But they also make a line of Metodo Classico from Nerello in six ways—bianco and rosato dosaggio zero, brut, and 48 months+ on lees.
The Mari di Ripiddu from FILIPPO GRASSO is 100% Carricante grown on the north slope in pre-Mongibello soils and raised in stainless steel.
SALVATORE MODICA makes two white wines that include Carricante with a healthy dose of Grecanico. The Sciauru is typically a little more focused than the Vino Bianco they make, though both are good examples of ‘Etna at another time.’ The vineyard is is Cda. Sciara Nuova.
One producer, CALABRETTA, makes a pure Minella that is worth a stop. They make so few bottles that it may be the only chance you get to try it.
On the southeast slope, among the volcanic craters, TERRA COSTANTINO makes an Etna Bianco that they call Cda. Blandano.
TENUTA DI FESSINA produces a barrel-fermented Carricante grown around Biancavilla on the south slope, called A’Puddara.
Finally, TERRAZZE DELL’ETNA makes a Nerello Mascalese vinified in bianco, which they call Ciuri, from young vines grown along the 1981 lava flow in Cda. Boca d’Orzo.
Honestly, this list could continue, but I know your time is short. Mine is too. I have 25 new wineries to try and only a few hours to do it.
Each year the CdE feels a little more like a gauntlet. Granted, it’s a gauntlet of wine, but it still hurts a little every time. I’m glad you decided to come down this year. See you in the morning.
Submit your favorite wine(s) from the CdE tasting in the comments below!