MOUNT ETNA: GODLY MOUNTAIN, DIVINE WINE
Has Etna Arrived? The Proof is in the Pudding. Seven parts into this blog, the question begs answering: Has Etna arrived? Or am I a lone voice in the wine wilderness, banging my drum slowly to a beat – Etna, Etna - that no one else can hear? Or maybe, I have become that man on the corner that your mother warned you about, the one to avoid at all costs, the nut-job with the feral eyes and diarrhea of the mouth, ranting, raving, loudly, madly – ETNA! ETNA! - to himself or to no one in particular? Have I done anything more than create a low-grade tempest in a teapot? The question remains: Has Etna truly arrived? Do the wines of that big, ol' mountain belong on center stage? Are they ready for their close-up, Mr. De Mille? Hmmm. Let's take a look and see. Italian statistical numbers are notoriously unreliable; they rather remind me of Hollywood box office numbers. You take them both with a grain of salt. That said, let's examine a few numbers here:
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133,518 – the amount in hectares under vine in Sicily 3,000 – the amount in hectares under vine in Etna DOC 5,000 – the maximum allowable amount in hectares under vine in Etna DOC
At present, Etna DOC represents, at current levels, just 2.2% of the production of all of Sicily. At maximum production levels, this goes up to 3.7%. Etna wine is, and shall always remain, the proverbial drop in the bucket for Sicilian wine. This, by simple analysis, makes Etna wine limited, something of a specialty item. Further, the labor (often back-breaking and painfully slow) necessitates a higher production cost than many other wines. Vineyards with precipitously steep slopes of 45-50 degree inclines, 2800-3400' of altitude, and gnarly old vines that can only be picked by hand also add to production costs. Etna wine, is of necessity, not inexpensive wine. That said, there is something special about these wines – Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappucchio for the reds, and Carricante and Catarratto for the whites – that makes them highly desirable. Call it Etna terroir, that wonderful, ineffable mineral character, ashy, maybe, earthy too – but all in a clean, invigorating way - and a thrilling zesty, stoniness that courses through the wines (especially the whites) like blood through veins. Etna wine is special, singular among Italian wines, its best reds, the most graceful wines in all of Italy, its top whites, riveting in the manner of Germany's top whites, cool and keen, with slicing mineral tones and vibrant acidity.
Nine wines from Sicily claimed the Three Glasses award in that edition. and awarded 264 (1. rated 14. or 8. the Etna revolution was picking up steam. only Benanti carried home a top prize for Etna.884 producers and 13. If you are keeping track.208 wines.937 producers were reviewed.8% of the wines claimed the top award. this important publication rated and reviewed 1.The question remains: Has Etna arrived? In a word. with only the 1999 Benanti Etna Bianco Superiore “Pietramarina” representing Etna. the top award attainable by an Italian wine. and 282 Three Glasses awards bestowed (1. the Gambero Rosso Vini d'Italia. and quickly.057 producers. Sicily claimed only a single top prize once again. with its Pietramarina 2000.9% of the wines reviewed that merited the top rating. They handed out 250 Tre Bicchieri (Three Glasses) awards.476 wines rated. Edition 2005 reviewed 2. and 246 (1. as 2. 254. In the 2004 edition. and Etna was in full-on phoenix (rising from the ashes) mode. that is four years of Gambero Rosso awards. 15.8% )of them the top awards. yes.you guessed it – 2001 Benanti Pietramarina.8%).126 producers reviewed.206 producers were evaluated. for Sole di Sesta 2000. for . an Etna winery. Cottanera. According to Gambero Rosso: The “Bible” of Italian Wine Does Etna Let's examine the “bible”of Italian wines. Old vineyards had been reclaimed.3% of Sicily's prizes. Let's continue. or 1. 2006 saw 2. a monovarietal Syrah. Sicily claimed a record 15 Three Glasses awards. though once again. Sicily earned twelve top awards. of which Sicily claimed 48. Of these. curiously enough.000 wines reviewed. eager and skilled winemakers were at work. That translates to 1. In the 2003 edition. including for the first time.336 wines. 16. 1. new. a total of four. Edition 2007 marked a watershed for Sicily and Etna.
.691 wines. along with 14. Bear in mind that by now.6%) awarded the top prize. and Etna.
Sicily landed 17 top prizes. and also winning the award for Italian Winery of the Year! Winning top prizes were Benanti Pietramarina 2002 and 1997. and 339 top awards granted (1. Leading the way for Etna in this edition was Benanti. 2. tasted 18. and 305 Three Glasses awards given (1. 18. Sicily took home 15.7%). as well as Benanti 2001 Etna Rosso Serra della Contessa. Anno 2008 saw 2.250 producers were evaluated. Etna took an astonishing seven. Significant. indeed. That is 31% of Sicily's haul.000 wines tasted. whose winery scored a hat-trick.256 producers rated.
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Benanti Etna Rosso Serra della Contessa 2003 Terre Nere Etna Rosso Feudo di Mezzo Quadro delle Rose 2005 Passopisciaro Franchetti 2005
In the 2009 edition. Sicily received a record 18 top prizes. claiming three Tre Bicchieri prizes. 18. of which.000 wines and doled out 391 Tre Bicchieri awards (1.253 producers. First-time award winners included 2004 Passopisciaro Franchetti and Tenuta delle Nere Etna Rosso Feudo di Mezzo Quadro delle Rose 2004.000 wines tasted.9%!
. from an area that comprises less than three percent of the entire Sicilian output.Sicily garnered a record 16 top prizes. three of which were from Etna wineries.9%). of which Etna received five. and Etna took four of these:
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Benanti Etna Bianco Superiore Pietramarina 2004 Terre Nere Etna Rosso Prephilloxera La Vigna di Don Peppino 2006 Vini Biondi Etna Rosso Outis 2005 Cottanera Etna Rosso 2005 Guide 2010 evaluated 2.9%). or 38.
or on a smart sommelier's wine list. You won't regret it. There is indeed a revolution taking place on the Etna. Gambero Rosso merely confirms what I began tasting for myself when I tasted de Grazia's. is claiming. on average.9%. tasted 20. if you are so fortunate to spot them on some forward-thinking retailer's shelf.
. This time Sicily took 15 prizes. necessary. And so should you. Try the wines. Sicily notched 16 more top awards. which represents only a bit over two percent of Sicily's wine output. evidence that something special is indeed happening on the slopes of that “godly' mountain. meaning that this magic volcanic area. By any and all means. first Terre Nere wines (2002 vintage.350 producers. That is 30.0%). Thirty of these were bestowed upon wines from Etna. and awarded 375 top prizes (1. tasted 20. and Etna claimed seven of them (43. I have been following them ever since. unreleased) evaluated 2.8%). never released) in 2004 at Vinitaly. That strikes me as incredibly significant.
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Tenuta di Fessina Etna Bianco a Pudara 2009 Graci Etna Bianco 2010 Girolamo Russo Etna Rosso San Lorenzo 2009 Terrazze dell'Etna Etna Rosso Cinerco 2008 Firriato Etna Rosso Cavanera Rovo delle Coturnie 2009 Passopisciaro Porcaria 2009 Terre Nere Etna Rosso Prephilloxera La Vigna di Don Peppino 2009
In the years 2007-2012.350 producers.000 wines and handed out 402 top awards (2.9%).• • • • • • •
Cottanera Etna Rosso 2006 Pietradolce Etna Rosso Archineri 2007 Girolamo Russo Etna Rosso Feudo 2007 Vini Biondi Etna Rosso Monte Ilice 2007 Tenuta di Fessina Etna Rosso Musmeci 2007 Terre Nere Etna Rosso Prephilloxera La Vigna di Don Peppino 2007 Benanti Etna Rosso Serra della Contessa 2006
Edition 2011 evaluated 2.000 wines. almost one out of every three of the most coveted award bestowed upon the island's wines.
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Cottanera Etna Rosso 2007 Pietradolce Etna Rosso Archineri 2007 Destro Etna Rosso Sciarake 2008 Terre Nere Etna Rosso Santo Spirito 2008
The most recent edition. Gambero Rosso Vini d'Italia awarded 97 Tre Bicchieri awards to Sicily. 2012 (as yet. four of which were from Etna.
. Etna has arrived. is in the pudding. as they say.The proof.