Ten Years After on Etna

Grapes have been grown and wine made on for centuries on the Etna volcano, but the recent renaissance only began in the nineties. As the story goes, in 1988 Giuseppe Benanti made a bet with a friend that Etna was a place not just for vino sfuso (bulk wine) but for quality wine. He hired Salvo Foti to be his enologo (winemaker), and they began restoring abandoned family vineyards filled with hundred year old vines. Cirò Biondi, an architect whose family had old alberello vineyards, too, and a cellar dating back to the 16th century, followed suit.


On Friday, September 5, a group gathered for a blind tasting of six wines, ten years older or more. Salvo Foti, who now works independently with a consortium of vineyards he created called I Vigneri, explained that his goal was not to select a “winner” or assign points but to compare and contrast wines from different producers in different locations to see how the terroir comes through in the wine after ten years or more.

The wines beginning in the top left corner, moving left to right then in the bottom left corner moving left to right were:

1. Barone di Villagrande Etna Bianco Superiore DOC 2000
100% Carricante (native white variety) from vineyards in Milò on the Eastern slope of Etna facing the sea. Almost fifteen years old, the wine was a bright, straw yellow color with delicate floral aromas …still very crisp with lots of characteristic minerality from the soil and the sea. It was fresh and clean as well. Clear proof that Etna whites have long aging capacity.

2. Vino sfuso bianco (White bulk wine) from 1989
This was Salvo Foti’s “surprise”: farmer’s wine that he found in an old palmento that he was restoring. It was cloudy and rustic, but surprisingly, even though it had been made in a rudimentary way, still had the acidity and minerality characteristic of Etna whites.

3. Biondi Outis Etna Rosso DOC 2000
Ciro Biondi’s red made with native grapes Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio on the Southeastern slope of Etna. A slightly transparent brick colored red. Lots of freshness and minerality because the vineyards face the sea.

4. Scilio Orpheus Etna Rosso DOC 2001
Dark red, dense color. Same grape varieties but more tannic than fresh (acidic) because the vineyards are on the northeast corner of the volcano.

5. Calabretta Etna Rosso DOC 2001
The wine was slightly oxidized but still good. Because the vineyards are on the north side of the volcano with no exposure to the sea, the wine is more austere and tannic.

6. Benanti Serra della Contessa Etna Rosso 2004
From Benanti’s oldest vineyard (100 years plus alberello vines with the same native grapes) on the east slope of Etna facing the sea. The wine was a slightly transparent ruby red with a balanced combination of tannins, acidity and minerality.

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Tags: Carricante, Cirò Biondi, Etna, Giuseppe Benanti, Nerello Cappuccio, Nerello Mascalese, Salvo Foti, Sicily
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