• wine sicily etna calderara sottana
  • sicily wine etna barricaia
  • wine sicily etna calderara sottana
  • wine sicily etna
  • wine sicily etna

The winery tells

James Suckling - Tasting Report: Amazing Etna

Tasting Report: Amazing Etna

Etna is now the most exciting emerging wine region in Italy. I started hearing about the volcanic region after Marc de Grazia, the then Florence-based fine wine exporter, pitched up camp and moved down to Sicily in early 2000 near the sleepy town of Randazzo below the volcano of Mt. Etna. I remember many people said he was crazy.

In fact, he was genius. His first couple vintages at Tenuta delle Terre Nere were less good than even he expected, but today he is making some of the most exciting reds in Italy. Frank Cornelissen, Andrea Franchetti, and Peter Vinding-Diers were also some of the early pioneers in fine winemaking in Etna. Now, many of the top names in Sicilian winemaking are making volcano wines, from Planeta to Tasca d’Almerita.

Of course, Etna has been a making wine for millennium, but it’s only in the last 10 to 15 years that a few dozen winemakers have been producing world-class wines – both reds and whites that touch your soul with authenticity and character. I drink Etna red on a regular basis. And it always delivers a fascinating wine drinking experience, and the wines are relative bargains for their quality. A standard red is under $20 a bottle in the United States, while amazing old vine wines such as the prephylloxera La Vigna di Don Peppino from Terre Nere are less than $100.

I spent a week in the region in August and I had an eerie feeling standing below the smoking volcano, which is one of the most active in the world. It’s fascinating how winemakers speak of different lava flows and how their age and type affects the soils of their vineyards. The wines obviously have a minerally, pumice character to them – both white and red. The last eruption was earlier this year.

It was also impressive how cool the region was compared to Tuscany, which was boiling in 100-plus degree weather. The slopes of Etna can be very cool in the summer, especially at night. And this maintains the acidity in the grapes.

I walked the vineyards with a number of grape growers and they always speak about this or that eruption and how it destroyed this or that vineyard. It’s like another world in the vine-growing region of Etna. It is almost like a new a chapter out of A. Conan Doyle’s Lost World. It’s all about different single vineyards in winemaking here, and most of the top producers use such designations on their wines.

Most of the best wines are modern and well made, emphasizing their terrors and microclimates. I keep thinking about Burgundy when I drink a red, which is made mostly out of Nerello Mascalese. The whites are mostly Carricante. They have very similar textures and mouthfeels as white and red Burgundy when you drink them. It’s not about fruit density or tannic power. It’s about refined textures and subtle characters of dried flowers, red fruits and that unique mineral character to the region. The reds are relatively light colored like a fine Pinot Noir. Some producers are also using international grape types, but I don’t really see the point when the region has such great indigenous ones. However, Etna makes quality Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay too.

I tasted about 100 wines on my trip, and found more than 60 to be outstanding quality. I think the best quality wines are still to come. I included barrel samples that I tasted with a two-point spread. Try to get your hands on some of the wines made with ungrafted vines, meaning they are not planted on phylloxera resistant rootstocks. These wines – some made with vines more than 100 years – have the most depth of subtle flavors and super refined palates. Don’t buy or drink Etna if you are looking for blockbuster, jammy wines. The wines are soulful and refined with a unique personality.

Terre Nere Etna Prephylloxera La Vigna di Don Peppino

· Country: Italy · RegionSicily · Vintage2011 · Score97

This has such an amazing purity of fruit of strawberries, raspberries and hints of lemons. Full body, yet super refined and elegant. It's endless in the mouth with bright berries and hints of citrus. Ultra-fine tannins. Gorgeous undertone of acidity.

Terre Nere Etna Calderara Sottana

· Country: Italy · RegionSicily · Vintage2009 · Score95

So aromatic and beautiful with bright strawberry and raspberries. Perfumed. Goes to flowers. Full-bodied, with a lively and intense palate with super fine and silky tannins and an endless finish. Drink or hold.

Terre Nere Etna Bianco Cuvee Delle Vigne Niche

· Country: Italy · RegionSicily · Vintage2010 · Score94

Creamy and fruity with a pineapple and light mango character. Hints of cream. Full and fruity white with pretty acidity and a beautiful integrated finish of fruit and acidity. Minerally undertone. Drink now but better in two or three years. Reminds me of a top Raveneau Chablis.

Terre Nere Etna Santo Spirito

· Country: Italy · RegionSicily · Vintage2010 · Score94

So perfumed with sexy aromas of rose petals and other flowers. Passion. Full body, with ultra-fine tannins and a fabulous texture. Goes on for minutes. Phenomenal. Better in a year or two but superb.

Terre Nere Etna Guardiola

· Country: Italy · RegionSicily · Vintage2010 · Score94

Intense ripe fruit with a minerally quality. Full body, with firm and chewy tannins and a bright acidity underpinning. Watermelon and citrus fruit flavors on the finish. Powerful. Drink now.

Terre Nere Etna Feudo di Mezzo Il Quadro delle Rose

· Country: Italy · RegionSicily · Vintage2011 · Score93

Extremely aromatic with rose petal and cherries with hints of dried strawberries. Full-bodied, with super silky tannins and an intense finish of strawberries and Indian spices. Hints of clementines at the end. Gorgeous and silky. Drinkable now but better in 2013.

Terre Nere Etna Rosso

· Country: Italy · RegionSicily · Vintage: 2010 · Score93

Beautiful aromas of flowers and dried fruits with plums and strawberries. Full body, with fine tannins and a fresh finish. Balanced and delicious. Tannins are very velvety. Excellent. Drink or hold.

Terre Nere Le Vigne di Eli Etna Moganazzi - Volta Sciara

· Country: Italy · RegionSicily · Vintage2010 · Score93

A pure and vibrant young wine with strawberry and citrus character. Full and elegant with very fine tannins and a underlying brightness of acidity. Delicious. A wine Marco de Grazia made for his 2-year-old daughter and the proceeds go to the children's hospital in Florence. Drink or hold.

Terre Nere Etna Rosato

· Country: Italy · RegionSicily · Vintage2011 · Score92

Beautiful salmon color with a copper hue. Lemon and plums with a mineral undertone. Full body, with mineral, lemon rind and hints of strawberries. Long finish. This is the Domaine Tempier rose of Italy. Wonderful.


James Suckling - Tasting Report: Amazing Etna