Etna Bianco: saline freshness from the slopes of Mount Etna

Etna-state of white

In one of the most dynamic wine regions of (Southern) Italy, Planeta’s Feudo di Mezzo winery produces a wine made of Sicily’s ancient white Carricante grape variety. Grown exclusively in the volcanic soils of Mount Etna, this modern take on an Etna white oozes a lot of freshness, minerals and energy.

view-of-Chateau-de-Crussol-to-Rhone-river

The Mount Etna region in northeastern Sicily may seem an unlikely site for producing wines, let alone quality wines. Mount Etna is often active, erupts from time to time and is difficult to work on. Tending and harvesting of the high-elevation vineyards have to be done by hand, which is time-consuming and expensive. Wine makers have to be committed, patient and take the local hardships for granted, and still, wineries are queuing up to purchase vineyard property in the region. What happened? Why vintners flock to the foothills and slopes of Mount Etna to work with Etna’s native red Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio and white Carricante grapes?

planeta-etna-bianco-2017

From the slopes of the Etna

We’ll find the result of this ongoing wine renaissance in the glass: Etna Bianco 2017 from winery Planeta. Planeta’s Etna Bianco embraces the Carricante, a indigenous white grape grown on the volcanic soil of Mount Etna in Sicily. If you have never heard of the Carricante, thinking that Etna mostly produces red, then you are not the only one. Long enough red wines dominated the Northeast of Sicily. White was invariably ignored or only used in blends. Only around the late 1980s winemakers started to experiment with obscure indigenous grape varieties.

The slow return of Sicily’s indigenous grape varieties

In general, you can say that until the 1990s there was an absence of local knowledge on how to work well with Etna’s indigenous grapes. Wine producers were challenged too by the local bureaucratic rules restricting future vineyard and cellar development, infrastructural shortcomings, and environmental neglect. While at the time one could observe a lack of awareness or information about Etna’s native grapes in the wine trade and consumer markets as well.

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The very fragmented vineyard ownership structure on Mount Etna represented another serious problem and might explain why the Sicilian wine company Planeta did not plug into the Etna phenomenon sooner. Even Planeta had to wait till 2008 before it could plant their first Carricante vines in the fertile black, stoney soil.

Altitude, diurnal temperature variation and slow berry growth

Etna’s climate is ideal for the Carricante. The Carricante grapes are grown at a height of 690 to 720 meters on the old lava flows and the forests around Feudo di Mezzo in the area of Castiglione di Sicilia. A lot of sunlight during the day together with very cool nighttime temperatures ensure the preservation of flavors and acidity (high malic acid). Such temperature variations benefit the grapes.  It not only facilitates slow berry growth but also contributes to the complexity of flavors. A Mediterranean sea breeze from the northeast, called ‘Grecale’, makes the salt stick to the grape skin. This gives Carricante wines their typical notion of savoury salinity.

  During harvest, grapes are hand-picked and immediately cooled to 8 ° C. Then the fermentation follows at 15 ° C, 85% is fermented in stainless steel and 15% of the must goes into large barrels.

Carricante-grape

Ageing potential

The best Carricante wines are rich and concentrated with distinctive saline mineral notes, green herbs (anise and mint) and citrus flavors. Carricante wines have the ability to age well. Over time, they can adopt a kerosene quality reminiscent of matured Riesling. Like Riesling, Carricante never loses its fresh juiciness, due to its tangy acidity and relatively little alcohol. The Carricante proves that it is here to stay.  In the hands of the right producers, Etna’s native grapes can produce very promising results.

In the glass: Etna Bianco 2017

The wine is pale straw yellow. The nose opens with hints of ripe white summer fruit, which immediately reminds you of a bowl of juicy nectarines, wild peaches and the fragrant scent of lemons. Not before long followed by volcanic, mineral nuances and a slight reference to wood. The Etna Bianco is juicy with a smooth texture, lots of summer fruit, green apples, white peaches and also a little tropical lime and mint. Enjoyable with a fairly long finish characterized by the slightly bitter aftertaste of Sicilian almonds.

Great food and wine matches

The Etna Bianco is delicious as an aperitif. You can pair it well with Vitello Tonnato, a vegetable pie, soft cheese or the traditional Sicilian Easter lamb. Is perfect too with Fusilli con Tonno, cod, smoked mackerel or the classic tuna steak.

Tip: Don’t serve Planeta’s Etna Bianco too cold. Best is to leave the wine about 15 -30 minutes at room temperature. You’ll notice that the wine grows exponentially in mouth-feel and floral aromas.

Producer: Planeta Area: Etna DOC Country: Italy Grape variety: 100% Carricante Year: 2017 Alcohol: 13% Serving temp. 12-14 ° C Wine style: juicy, mineral white Storage potential: until 2022