A Volcanic Explosion.... in Your Mouth
Terroir. What is it? It’s the physical environment where wine is produced. Terroir is climate, soil and its surrounding vegetation which represents the origin of the wine making journey. Understanding the terroir allows you to go back in time and explore a wines rich history - and let’s face it, that’s one of the most exciting parts about wine – it’s journey from vine, to glass, to mouth.
Before visiting Sicily back in September 2017, I hadn’t done my due diligence in researching about wines from volcanic soils but after what I experienced it was a must (even if it is 6 months later). Ironically, I recently came across an article in Forbes written by contributor Tom Mullen on “Why Volcanic Wine is Becoming a Hot Topic” – how timely! He explores the history of volcanic soils and how it’s effected the taste in wine. He also references an interesting book Volcanic Wines—Salt, Grit and Power by John Szabo who “reasons that the very complexity of volcanic soils can help create distinct wines.” (I've included a link to article + book for your reading pleasure if you want to geek out on volcanic wines. If not, I’ve pulled out a few quotes from Tom’s article + book that will help us understand what we are drinking).
“Volcanic soils nurture the world’s most prized coffee shrubs and intensely flavored vegetables, and, to get to the point, wine grapes,” Szabo states.” Which is probably why these wines I tasted were so EDGY!
“Wines grown on volcanic soils often have high acidity, salinity and a savory character. Szabo adds, “Minerality and volcanic wines walk hand-in-hand.” For example, consider the base of Mount Etna on the island of Sicily, Italy. There, Carricante is the principal white wine grape variety, “…defined by stony flavors and salinity,” Szabo notes. The dominant red is Nerello Mascalese, a grape that “features high acids and significant tannins, which can be somewhat fierce if not fully ripe, and marvelous perfume, full of wild strawberry, sour cherry and currants…” he adds.”
Sicily is special because it’s so raw. I literally felt we were taken back in time and living in the Godfather II “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli!” Aside from the fact that it’s surrounded by three different seas: Tyrrhenian, Mediterranean and Ionian and that it’s rolling landscape make up over four fifths of the land, one of the most intriguing yet frightening stats is that it’s home to a number of volcanos, notably the active Mt. Etna. Even though you could see its smokey peak from a distance, no one seemed to really care and went about their lives enjoying the melting pot of trade and cultures (most notably Greek, Roman, Turkish, Arab) that personifies Sicily.
Ok so let’s get into the wine, shall we?
Sicily did not feel like the main land Italy we know and love and the people actually feel that Sicily is independent from Italy – which once you visit you will understand why. That being said, even the wine tasted different, a bit edgier than most that I’ve tried from Tuscany (not as smooth). This is most likely the case because of its unique volcanic soil which we discussed above.
My husband and I visited Fischetti Vineyard which is at the base of Mt. Etna approximately 650 meters above sea level and at the foot of the volcano. Once you pass the gate of entry, you will see luscious green vines crawling up a lava stone structure (very Tuscan-esque). However, when we got out of the car and did a 360, I noticed that while in front of me was green behind me where the vineyard grew, the landscape looked very raw with brown hues of untouched beauty paying homage to its volcanic roots. This is what I mean when I say Sicily is special – one minute you are surrounded by greenery and the next you suddenly transition into untouched rolling dirt hills feeling as if you’ve gone back in time.
Dating back to the 800s (yes the 800s), Fischetti has managed to keep its current structure while fusing modernity mainly to keep up with its wine making process. An example of this is the massive wood + stone structure, once used as a wine press managed by who knows how many people, still intact in the middle of the tasting room to represent the evolution of winemaking and the breathe of history that depicts this winery and territory.
Wines we tried:
Muscamento Etna D.O.C. Rosé 2014
- Grapes: Nerello Mascalese 80%, Nerello Cappuccio 20%.
- Notes: A super CHERRY with a kick of SPICE which is unusual for me for rosé however, this is a typical volcanic soil expression. Very fresh tasting and a good in between of a sweet and dry rosé. Excellent as an aperitif, with fish broth and fresh cheeses.
Muscamento Etna D.O.C. White 2013
- Grapes: Carricante 60%, Catarratto 40%.
- Notes: Hello floral scents! All I can say is this white is extremely fresh (again typical of volcanic soils) and some light hints of fruit (strawberry). Excellent as an aperitif or with fish-based dishes and mature cheeses.
Muscamento Etna D.O.C. Red 2012
- Grapes: Nerello Mascalese 80%, Nerello Cappuccio 20%.
- Notes: Aged in oak barrels, rich in fruit and spicy aromas, ruby red color, soft and elegant, excellent with rich dishes of red meat.
Unfortunately and fortunately, in order to taste these wines you will have to travel to Sicily or parts of southern Italy. In order to maintain quality control and since their production is so small, they only produce a small number of batches which are distributed throughout Sicily and into Southern Italy. It didn’t even seem like a pipe dream to distribute in the U.S. because they simply wouldn’t be able keep up with the production due to the lack of real estate being on the edge of a volcanic mountain. They seem pretty content having won numerous wine awards (90 Points from Decanter, International Commended Wine Winner, Sicilian Wine Awards + more) and are being offered in various prestigious restaurants in Sicily and in the south mainland.
So it seems like for Fischetti, more vino, more problems! However, they are openly ok with that! It’s what makes their wine so special and non-commercialized. Not to mention the journey; you literally have to physically get there to taste their wines.
I’ll leave you with this. You should know that Sicily’s principal exports are mineral water, olive oil and of course WINE, therefore, I didn’t even scratch the surface on Sicilian wines however, I’ve been told you should always leave a destination wanting more, so until next time……
Have you been to Sicily? Have a favorite Sicilian wine or story? Do share!