One of my favourite discoveries was the delicious Mount Etna Bianco, a blend of two indigenous grapes – Carricante (70%) and Catarratto (30%). Graci, one of Mt Etna’s top producers, makes a superb example. The 2014 Graci Etna Bianco, which I tried over lunch with friends, was a revelation. Bright and fresh with mineral and citrus notes, it had just enough phenolics to impart a rich, slightly creamy mouthfeel.
The Wine Advocate’s Monica Larner believes that overall the 2014 vintage sealed the deal for Sicily earning its “ranking as one of the top three most prestigious wine regions of Italy, following Piedmont and Tuscany.” (Italy, Sicily, Class of 2014 by Monica Larner, Wine Advocate 31 December 2015).
In fact, Angelo Gaja, described by the Wine Spectator Magazine’s Robert Camuto as “the Piedmont winemaking legend who for more than 50 years has helped lead Italy’s quality wine movement,” recently teamed up with Alberto Graci to buy 51 acres on the active volcano’s southwest face in Biancavilla. He follows in the footsteps of other great Italian winemakers like Giacomo Tachis, the creator of Sassicaia, Tignanello and San Leonardo, who have helped Sicilian winemakers position Sicily as a star on the world wine map. (Piedmont Wine Star Angelo Gaja Invests in Sicily’s Mount Etna by Robert Camuto, Wine Spectator, 29 April 2017)
The bottle we enjoyed over lunch comes from the Graci’s Passopisciaro-based winery on Mount Etna’s North face. Here the family cares for 18 hectares of cool northern-facing closely planted vineyards at an elevation of 600 to 1000 metres above sea level. The Carricante grape thrives in high elevation vineyards, where the loose, well drained volcanic soils encourage deep root development and impart a mineral character in the wines.
The Mount Etna wine region is blessed with disease-free growing conditions and dramatic diurnal variation; conditions which encourage experimentation and the use of organic and biodynamic farming and winemaking practices. The 2014 Graci Mt Etna Bianco was fermented and aged in cement vats. Unfiltered, a small cluster of sediment settled at the bottom of my glass.
The Wine Spectator’s notes that the successful introduction over 20 years ago of well-known French varieties like chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon gave Sicilian winemakers the technical skills and confidence to better understand and market their own native varieties. Today, plantings of local varieties like Carricante and the renowned red varieties, Nero D’Avola and Nerello Masalese, out number plantings of chardonnay and cabernet. The emphasis is now very much on understanding and bringing out the best in the unique terroir of Europe’s tallest active volcano! (Renaissance in Sicily Wine culture is reborn, fueled by passion, perseverance and distinctive bottlings from around the island by Alison Napjus, Wine Spectator 31 October 2014)