Italian wine: A Trip to Mt. Etna with Etna Bianco from Firriato

Oct 16, 2021 395

In the fall of 2019 I had the unique pleasure to be a guest of the Firriato winery on the island of Sicily. Today I’m featuring their Etna Bianco, Le Sabbie dell’Etna, highlighting the main grapes in the blend along with the Etna Bianco DOC wine region. 

The Grapes 

The Etna Bianco that I’m sharing today is made up of two Sicilian native white grapes, Carricante and Catarratto.  Carricante is the main white grape of Etna where it calls home on the higher elevations.   The name derives from the Italian word, caricare, meaning to load, and represents the grape ability to produce high yields.

It is a grape that provides aromatics and high acidity to wines and is typically blended with other local varieties to soften the acidity or harvested later for the same reason. Catarratto is Sicily’s most widely planted grape representing about a third of the vines on the island.  When it’s combined with Carricante it can soften acidity and bring out more tropical flavors.  It’s a grape that lends structure and body and produces high yields as well.  It will typically be found in blends and historically comes from the western side of Sicily where it was used in producing Marsala. 

The Region ~ Etna DOC  

The Etna DOC is located in the Catania province and was Sicily’s first DOC that forms somewhat of a circle around Mt. Etna.  Although Sicily is known for being very hot, the wines produced on Mt. Etna can be located on very high elevations that grow in cooler climates with diurnal swings between day and night temperatures.  The vineyards on Mt. Etna are some of the highest in Italy that can be up to 3,600 ft above sea level.   

In order to be labeled as an Etna Bianco DOC the wine must include a minimum of 60% Carricante and at least  11% ABV.  Up to 40% of Catarratto can be added with up to 15% of other white grapes.  The wines tend to be paler in color as this one is shared today with notes of pears, citrus and flowers.   These wines are typically produced in a lighter bodied, fresh, crisp style perfect with local seafood fare.    

The Wine  

The 2019 Firriato Le Sabbie Dell’Etna Etna Bianco DOC couldn’t have been a brighter wine on these hot, humid days we’ve been facing in New Hampshire.  This wine is made from 80% Carricante with 20% Catarratto.  The wine spends 3 months on the lees in stainless steel, which my assumption would be to soften the acidity.   

The grapes of this wine came from their Cavanera Etnea estate in the Contrade Verzell on the north side of Mt. Etna on northeastern slopes.  Firriato has about 27 acres of vines planted at about 2,100-3,100 feet above sea level.  The soils in this area are made up of sandy, well drained soils of volcanic matter rich in minerals like magnesium, potassium and phosphorous.  The soils tend to be darker in color, which helps to radiate and absorb heat.  

The color was pale straw yellow with a slight greenish hue.  Intense florals on the nose showing mostly tropical flavors of melon, peach and pears with a hint of lemon citrus.  Real bright acidity up front with a tingling on the palate.  Very dry and tangy lemon with a hint of peach.  Refreshing and crisp with a noticeable lingering saltiness and minerality that lasted for awhile after tasting it.  I saw various pricing online from $15-25.  ABV 12.5%   

Firriato’s philosophy is to “produce wines with strong territorial identities” and the wines of Mt. Etna scream nothing but unique, terroir driven wines.  Heck, they are grown on volcanic soils from Etna’s 1556 eruption and not many producers can claim that.  If you are intrigued by the volcanic wines of Mount Etna I recommend checking out Benjamin Spencer’s book, “The New Wines of Mount Etna”.       

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