Etna Wines – eruption of flavours
Sicily is a very much Terra unica, Terra magica – unique land, mysterious place , full of passion, history and tranquillity. It is the first European country, where diversity was embraced by all religions long before we start using this word in our vocabulary. Newcomers and natives were living in harmony and collaboration, “drinking” from each other’s culture and social habits. Probably that is why this is a place where everybody feels at home.
Wine production is a significant part of the colourful landscape and Etna DOC is where the complexity of this Sicilian spirit can be touched, felt and tasted. Traveling from the charming Taormina towards the vineyards of Etna is gentle and special drive. As we approached the active volcano, we can see more and more of the beast bursting with energy smoking and puffing, unreal somehow and yet there in front of your eyes, magnificent and slightly shy. The villages are simplistic. Small curious houses are traditionally build to accommodate families from one eruption to other, here nothing is build and nothing is meant to last forever and this makes life more meaningful. People are in a hurry to live, to love to share. Big churches are peaking out form the gentle hills. Religion help people in difficult times, but also make them dependent and scared once the Mafia started raiding small businesses and homes. Winemaking was often a shelter, shelter from the nature and from the fear of an ugly reality.
Disturbed volcanic soils are traditionally very good for winemaking, they are full of minerals and excellent reason to create an adventure story behind the process. Etna DOC is controlled region and winemaking can be stretched to the point of perfection. The altitude of the vineyard site – between 2,000 and 6,500 feet above sea facilitates exciting landscape. There is this love – hate sequence of cold winters and hot summers, hot days and cold nights, that are parenting these type of wines so healthy and confident. The grape gets the best of both words and comes out of its shyness in a very Italian manner.
Taormina is a good base for wine explorers. The town is full of excellent restaurants and views over the elegant Sicilian coast. Museums, galleries and arty shops are leading you to hidden corners full of live music and happy people celebrating life. Few things are a must in Taormina and one of them is to stop in Hotel Metropole, to go to its stylish terrace, and have a classy cocktail, overlooking the bay with life jazz music. Taormina is world favourite for actors and artists. You have a good chance to see big names like Andy Warhol in the local gallery. Without pretence the evening should be booked for music. The local Opera performances are friendly even for Opera dilettantes, A glass of Prosecco on the stunning balcony of the small Opera house helps digesting all these art and get you in a mood for the real Sicily.
In Sicily things are sophisticated and emotional. The vineyards are reflection of these. They are spread frivolously like a green emerald neckless around the neck of Etna and as a wine lover and wine tourist you just want to reach them as quick as possible and look at the vine landscape and “architecture”, dated back from the 3rd century.
Sicilian wines are extremely friendly, easy to drink, Etna wines are the crater of this synergy. The Island is predominantly famous for the Marsala and Nero D’Avola varieties, but Etna DOC has its secret weapons. Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappucio are the local Romeo and Juliet love story. Two type of reds that perfectly go together in order to bring the taste more sound the roaring volcano noises. This Etna Rosso (red) is a beautiful slender with a fine grip and natural elegance. The taste is deep, black fruits going into a leathery chewy nuances, typical for Barolo or Nero D’Avola. Whites are memorable as well, they sort of mirror the dynamics of a Sicilian street chats. Lively, funny, catchy. The Etna DOC main whites are Carricante, a variety that exist back in the 9th century and Catarratto, which has an intense minerality, with fresh long finish. You can expect everything, but boring white.
Wine tasting here is like a Cosa Nostra story. You don’t know what is hidden around the corner. It is a pleasant, in a way heroic mystery journey, as you go through many villages, familiar from all these Don Corleone films.
I have chosen to visit a small no not touristy family vineyard, called Fischetti. But you can try other vineries around. There is a big choice and most of them will offer pure Sicilian experience for around £25 per person, excluding the transport. The best way to explore it is to book a private tour, which will cost around £100 for the day.
Fischetti Vinery is a cosy and ancient place, where traditional making has been woken up by a family of doctors and their 2 sons. A labour of, from people who decided to invest in what is important for them- a place to share with the world their family togetherness. A place that they can be present for each other, making red, white and rose wine and telling us their family stories coming from a proud region, where nature reminds you every day of the “Brevitate Vitae” – “The Shortness of life”.
The cellar has a boutique feel, small stone building, decorated in a very Italian style, elegant cool dining area, where you can indulge yourself with absolutely divine home cooking. Dips of roast eggplant, roast tomatoes, capers and pine nuts – called Caponata, alongside local cheese and cured meats. The taste is not complimenting the wine, the food holds the wine nearer to your senses, helping you feel it like a gentle Sicilian love song. In this moment you can hear Dean Martin with …”that’s amore…” I would recommend to try their red and their white. Both of them have their own voice. The red is combination of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappucio. It is deep, but nor heavy, black fruit and good finish, lighter than expected, ideal for a warm spring day and some cured meats. It is slightly lighter than expected, which makes it perfect for warm days. This is a variety that you definitely will choose is you like Pinot Noir type of wine, but with a cherry, not strawberry flavours. The white was full of flavour and yet very, very fresh with a long finish, medium acidity and race of aromas. Going there would cost you around £15 per bottle, on line from UK would be double.
As I am sitting and sipping overlooking the picture postcard vineyard, I feel Mont Etna gazing at me, whispering to me, probing my bravery, challenging my strengths, making me losing myself in this eruption of taste and flavours, lava of danger, love and passion, making me smiling, feeling blessed, grateful, falling in love in this place… forever.