NERELLO MASCALESEIt’s a red-skinned grape variety growing historically on the slopes of Mount Etna mainly, and taking its name from the Mascali territory, where it was selected a couple of centuries ago. It makes up the bulk of the blend of Etna Rosso DOC wines, which must contain at least 80% Nerello Mascalese grapes. Like other Etna grape varieties, Nerello Mascalese ripens late and is consequently harvested around the second ten days of October. It produces wines having different features depending on which mountain slope and altitude it was grown and on how it was grown, but having generally in common a great structure and elegant aromas further evolving with aging.
NERELLO CAPPUCCIONerello Cappuccio, or Mantellato, is another red-skinned grape variety commonly growing on the Etna volcano. It represents a large part of the ampelographic panorama of Etnean vineyards along with Nerello Mascalese, though in a smaller percentage. It derives its name from the typical way in which the plant is grown. Its content in Etna Rosso DOC wines cannot be higher than 20%. It contributes to a greater color intensity of wines, thus supplementing the poor coloring capacity of Nerello Mascalese grapes.
CARRICANTEIt’s a white-skinned grape variety to be found exclusively on the Etna slopes and its name refers to the plant’s high yield, since the word “carricante” means “a plant loaded with fruits”. This variety is particularly common on the eastern volcano slope and makes up the blend of Etna Bianco DOC wines.
CATARRATTOCatarratto is the most widespread white-skinned variety in Sicily. There are several clone varieties differing in color and grape bunch shape. It is often used as blend along with other grape varieties, as in the case of Etna Bianco DOC wines, thus adding structure, balance and a typical fruity aroma.
THE VULCANO WINESThe Etna wine, in its varieties such as Etna Rosso, Etna Rosato, Etna Bianco and Etna Bianco Superiore, was the first Sicilian table wine to have obtained the “Denominazione di Origine Controllata” recognition in 1968. A consortium named Consorzio di Tutela dei Vini Etna DOC (www.etnadoc.com) monitors that the Etna DOC wine-making requirements are met. Etna wines, representing nowadays one of the most appreciated excellences among Sicilian wines, are the result of one of the most ancient vine-growing and wine-making tradition in the world. Vine has always found on Mt Etna an ideal environment where to grow. The discovery at the volcano’s foot of a wild vine dating back to the tertiary period confirms what had long been known to the ancient Greeks, i.e. that vine exists on Mt Etna since very ancient times. Writer Homer in his ”Odyssy” mentioned the fertile land of the Cyclops and described the vine as a plant neither sown, nor planted, nor ploughed, that according to an ancient legend was digged up by the royal dog Aeunon, the name of which gave perhaps origin to the Greek term “enos”, meaning wine. In Roman times Etna wines were highly esteemed both in the capital city and throughout the Mediterranean area. The land surface cultivated with vine expanded further, the early presses were built, and the Etnean vine-growing practice became a topic for dissertation among scientists and poets. Centuries later Etna wines still attract a great deal of interest and represent a significant business. In modern times wines are boarded at Riposto harbour towards France, where they are used to blend and give body to French wines. The success of the vine-growing and wine-making sector (also due to the local Agrarian Reform in 1812) moved farmers to extend their vine cultivated areas up to higher altitudes. The volcano’s stony and steep soils required widespread tillage and building of small dry lava-stone walls, impressive terracing for vineyards that can now to be found as high as at 1000 meters of altitude and above. Though already common in Roman times, the lava stone “palmenti” are currently multiplying. These are structures dedicated to grape processing, located next to farmers’ houses and stables. Such lava-stone “cellar-homes” are still scattered in the Etnean territory and during grape harvesting become alive with farmers’ songs, traditions and undying rites.
MICROCLIMATE AND SOIL: THE VOLCANO’S INFLUENCEThe climate on Mt. Etna significantly changes depending on slope and altitude. In the piedmont area it’s cooler and better ventilated than the rest of Sicily. Minimum temperatures may be next to zero °C in winter, while during summer maximum temperatures are never very high. However there is a remarkable thermal excursion between day and night (even higher than 10 °C), that is recorded during veraison. This fosters the phenolic development in grapes, which determines their color and taste. The soil of the Etna region was formed by the disintegration of one or several kinds of lava from different ages and from eruptive materials such as lapilli, ash and sand. The state of disintegration and the composition of the eruptive materials give origin to soils either composite or made up of small pumice stones, called “ripiddu”, that can be found mainly on small extinct volcanic cones such as Monte Serra and Monte Gorna. The “ripiddu” soil has a very high draining capacity and is rich in potassium, at times as much as twice the normal quantity. Potassium plays an important role in balancing the grape ripening process with beneficial effects on alcohol content, color intensity and final quality of wine.
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