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Growing grapes in the shadow of a volcano…

On the eastern slopes of Sicily’s Mt Etna lies Italy’s fastest growing DOC. The beautiful landscape is dominated by the brooding and often temperamental volcano that serves as a constant reminder of the fragility of the island itself. Ash laden vineyards are a common site and serve as home to some of the unique varietals of the island. Centuries of lava flows have moved nutrients from the earth’s core to the surface leaving the land with a myriad of different soils. The western side of the volcano is baren and void of vegetation while the eastern half enjoys basalt over sand, limestone, and clay. The hot days and cool nights of the ocean breeze help to produce wines of incredible vibrancy.

One of the oldest estates in Etna is Tornatore, dating back more than one hundred years. For almost a century the family had cultivated grapes on the land selling their fruit to local vignerons, many of which were the early exports to the US and seen as leaders in the region. As the popularity of Etna continued to grow in the early 2000’s, the decision was made to keep back some of the fruit and produce their own wine. In 2014 the first vintage of Etna Rosso and Bianco were released under the Tornatore name.

Today they are producing some of the most exciting wines in the region from two distinct areas known locally as “Contratta”. The estate spans roughly 60 hectares focusing almost exclusively on local varieties of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Capuccio (both red), and Caricante and Cataratto (both White). The Etna Bianco is a vibrant wine made from 100% Caricante vinified in stainless steel. It offers pleasant hints of grapefruit, white peach, and herbs on the nose. The palate has a lovely texture and freshness complemented by an extraordinary minerality. While the Etna Rosso is made from both Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Capuccio. The Etna Rosso has notes of red berries, morello cherry, and black cherry on the nose. Mediterranean herbs and white pepper framed in glossy tannins and fresh acidity are also prevalent. The palate is characterized by a surprising fullness, flavor, and persistence.

If you haven’t tried the wonderful wines of the Etna DOC in Sicily, I highly recommend seeking them out.