The latest addition to my Mount Etna wineosphere is the brilliant white wine from the winery Santa Maria La Nave: grown on the northern slopes of the mountain.
This exciting part of Sicily continues to capture and allure international writers and sommeliers. It has to be the elevation that these local indigeneous varieties enjoy. There is freshness and a joy in the mouth. Don’t miss it!
The darling white variety of recent tastes is carricante, and no Etnan white is more famous from New York to Buenos Aires than Benanti’s Pietramarina (2011) (USD 47) – grown at 1000 m in the vicinity of Milo, above Zafferana on Etna’s east side.
Other native whites like minnella are interplanted with the century-old, pre-phylloxera red vineyards. I have eaten it in Benanti’s Monte Serra vineyard, where it is harvested separately.
And Frank Cornelissen in Solicchiata uses grecanico dorato, carricante and coda di volpe in his Tartarci vineyard 1000 m pre-phylloxera blend of Munjebel Vigne Alte 2013 (USD 40). That is how the vines were planted long ago.
But my most impressive encounter is with Sonia Spardo Mulone and Riccardo Mulone’s rejuvenated plantings of grecanico dorato planted at 1100 m, by far the highest elevation for vine growing on the mountain, these on the northern-western side in Contrada Nave.
This Santa Maria La Nave Millesulmare 2014 Sicilia DOC is special in colour: it has luminosity in the glass, masses of quartz-green glints, excellent lustre of a wine with pearl shell gloss; it “winks” at you.
The taste works a treat; and the aromas are not overt, just muted citrus and lemon rind; subtle, no more.
The citrus meet on the palate, and the sensation you find is one of linearity of acidity that goes on for ever. Note the acid succulence, respond to the salivary senses and detect the peak when the lemon essence and lemon grass acid flavours start fading. Should take ten seconds.
These vines have been around for some time but Riccardo is yet to tell me how long.
Now they are being curated and carefully propagated by massal extension, using the old process of burying one unpruned cane of an old vine into the next vine space to start re-growth. Some call the process layering.
So the vineyard must have gaps from vines which have died; now they are being replaced using a very meticulous plan.
These Etna whites have shrill acidity, and slim body, generally irrespective of the variety. They are naturally minerally, merely responding to their terroir.
Another I enjoy is Planeta’s Eruzione 1614 Carricante 2014 Sicilia DOC (USD 33); a more expressive white from the use of aromatic yeast and 5% riesling, the latter another cold climate variety noted for its light body.
Planeta, a bigger Sicilian operator and regionally-aware of the greater microclimates in the Island, is a very active participant in Mount Etna viniculture. Sciara Nuova, 870 m on the northern side in Castiglione di Sicilia is the Eruzione source.
Then I recently tasted Tasca d’Almerita Tascante Buonora Carricante 2014 Sicilia DOC (USD 23); back to the muted style of the Millesulmare grecanico, gleaming green, absolutely razor acidity and a delicious texture of the green mint acid taste style; also from Castiglione di Sicilia of vines planted in 2000.
Peter Scudamore-Smith MW visited Sonia Spado Mulone and Riccardo Malone in Milan to interview for this project; and served this Grecanico Dorato 2014 at the opening evening dinner of Uncorked and Cultivated Sicily Wine and Food Tour 2015 in Taormina. Uncorked and Cultivated Sicily Wine and Food Tour guests tasted Benanti carricante at Viagrande, Tasca d’Almerita carricante at Regaleali, and Planeta carricante at Lago Arancio in Sambuca di Sicilia.