New Old Pride of Mount Etna: Nerello Mascalese and Carricante

A short introduction to the Etna’s autochthonous wines, Nerello Mascalese and Carricante, the new old pride from the slopes of the highest active vulcano of Europe […]

Sicily would not be the same without Mount Etna, but Mount Etna is a world all on its own. It’s clear in summer, when the Sicilian landscape yields to the burnt shades under the sun while Mount Etna rises in all its craters with lushes green vegetation in sharp contract with its black lava rocks villages.

For the people who have thrived on its slopes, the volcano is a generous mother who gives more than she threatens. In fact, while dangerous eruptions are rare for this volcano, the products harvested from its lava soil are plenty: wine, pistachios, strawberries, chestnut honey, oranges, lemons, olive oil, ficodindia. 

Etna wine production

Wine is one of Etna’s most recent prides, although the wine production on this vulcano is not at all new. As a matter of fact it can be traced back for thousands of years up until the 19th century. In this century it lived a short heyday thanks to the fact that it was able to fill the void in the market left by the Phylloxera, an insect that decimated the rest of Europe production, but not all the Etna production. Or at least not at first. However, once the threat of Phylloxera disappeared and the Great War followed, the demand as well as the production of Etna wine dropped rapidly into oblivion. Until recent years. It has been, indeed, only in the last twenty years that several wine producers have begun to invest again in its rich black soil. A soil that seems to be able to give a distinctive savory and minerally character to its best production.

Etna’s autochthonous wines: Nerello Mascalese and Carricante

Nerello Mascalese and Carricante are the two autochthonous grapes of the Etna. They are used alone or blended with other grapes to create Etna Rosso and Etna Bianco respectively.

Nerello Mascalese is a red, more in vogue as well as more widely produced and that the most enthusiasts dare to compare to Pinot Noir of Burgundy for its elegance. Carricante is a white, far less known, but strongly supported in the area of Milo where producers like Benanti were able to reveal its distinctive savoury and even saline qualities at best.

Milo. Barone di Villagrande

These vineyards extend between 400 and 800 m. above sea level in lines of little trees (alberello) protected by low walls of lava stones. I’m talking of fields and fields of vines interrupted now and then by peer and apple trees that embrace black villages perched on the flanks of the Etna such us Trecastagni, Zafferana Etnea, Milo, Randazzo, Castiglione di Sicilia. Genuine little villages each with a tradition of their own.

Are you already imagining yourself strolling along these vineyards while waiting for an aperitivo to be served?

Milo. Barone di Villagrande
The main producers and best bottles of Etna’s autochthonous wines

I’ll list below the main producers of Nerello and Carricante. You might like to contact them for a wine tour. My advise, however, is to not underestimate the home made production of the locals. Everyone on the Etna has an uncle or a grandmother who produces vino sfuso (bulk wine) in their own private cellar. Often this wine has nothing to envy to the once produced by a proper winery. And last, but not least, hosts will be happily and proudly willing to share this wine with you.

Vineyards in Zafferana Etnea
Vineyards around Eremo San’t Emilia in Trecastagni. Mount Etna is right behind
Main producers of Nerello Mascalese (by GamberoRosso)
  • Benanti, Cottanera, Graci, Passopisciaro, Pietradolce, Girolamo Russo, Tenuta Terre Nere.
A FEW OF the Best bottles of Carricante (by GamberoRosso)
  • Etna Bianco Superiore Pietramarina by Benanti;
  • Etna Bianco Superiore by Barone di Villagrande;
  • Etna Bianco by Cantine Russo;
  • Etna Bianco by Cottanera;
  • Etna Bianco Arcuria by Graci;
  • Etna Bianco Archineri by Pietradolce;
  • Etna Bianco Cuvée delle Vigne Nichi by Tenuta delle Terre Nere.

WHERE TO STAY

Vineyards in winter time. On the background the top of Mount Etna covered in snow. – photo by Joris Doesburg ©
©photos by Alfio Garozzo

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