A foggy view of Guardiola, Mt Etna

Sicily, Etna, Terre Nere


This is the first in a short series of emails about wine from Mt Etna.

We’ve now been to Sicily five times, and we launch into our Sicily spiel whenever anyone in earshot says they’re wondering about where to go on vacation - at this point the Sicilian Tourist Board should really consider putting us on commission.

On our most recent trip we spent a few days on Mt Etna (the most active volcano in Europe, and at about 11,000 feet the highest mountain south of the Alps). Etna is quite spectacularly beautiful countryside – outside of the towns, most of the area is protected parkland. It’s kind of odd to imagine living on an active volcano (after all, we live in eruption-free, safe olde New York); the sound of gentle rain one night turned out to have been an ash eruption (more like grainy sand than fireplace ash) that coated everything, including the roads, which made driving even more interesting than it already is in Sicily. Unlike, say, spending time around the San Andreas Fault, an active volcano really makes its presence known.

On the plus side, volcanos make for great farming: once the deposits left by eruptions have decayed, the soils are incredibly rich and fertile (for example some of the most sought-after produce of Italy comes from Mt Vesuvius, near Naples; the tomatoes grown there have their own protected geographical designation). After years of decline (flight to the city, changing markets and drinking habits) grape growing is thriving on Etna, enjoying a renaissance that now ranges from tiny operations to the industrialist dreams of big winemakers like Planeta. Winemaker Salvo Foti, working at places like Benanti, is probably the one person most responsible for what’s happened on Etna, but from the American perspective, the pioneer of the revival is Marc de Grazia, famous here for his import agency which introduced us to many renowned Italian producers from Barolo and Montalcino. While the quality of those wines was/is indisputably high, to some extent the de Grazia portfolio divided wine drinkers in opinion, because the wines tend(ed) to be very polished, aged in small oak barrels, and made very much in a ‘modern’ style.

On Etna, one cannot say that de Grazia has entirely abandoned this approach - selected yeasts are employed for fermentations in steel, along with about 25% new oak for aging (in different dimensions) - nonetheless the wines offer a transparent view of the terroir that de Grazia is working – with old vines, low yields, organic farming, and no filtration all making their important contribution. The grapes come from four of the best and most important Etna vineyards (Calderara Sotana, Feudo di Mezzo, Guardiola, and Santo Spirito); tasting the wines side-by-side was a vivid demonstration of each vineyard’s expression – as well as a testimony to devoted and skilled winemaking. There are other Etna wines that might make our hearts beat faster (some coming from the very same vineyards), but anyone interested in wine from Etna owes it to themselves to experience these excellent wines and the fascinating geography lesson they impart.

The vineyards are at high elevations (at 800-900 metres, Guardiola is said to be the highest altitude red-grape vineyard in Europe); the wines have freshness, structure, and energy reminiscent of Burgundy and Barolo. Nerello Mascalese – the primary red grape of Etna – can deliver great complexity and finesse; it can also age well (try the wines of Calabretta – the 2002 is their current release).

Some very fine wine is made on the east side of Etna (thank you, Ciro Biondi!), but in general the north side is considered to be the location of the best vineyards, with the aspect of the vines adding to the long growing season that produces top quality Nerello Mascalese. High altitude increases the temperature swing from day to night, with cool nights helping to balance the grapes by retaining acidity and moderate alcohol levels. In a complicated and convoluted landscape there are many variations of soil and exposure. We have just a little specific info about the vineyards:

Calderara Sottana is at 650-700 metres; soils are volcanic with black ash and a very high percentage of volcanic rock. The Calderara vines were planted in 1957 and 1967. The land is quite flat, and the soils are deep and rich – but as noted, very rocky.  The vines have been trained along wires. The Prephylloxera bottling comes from a small section of Calderara Sottana, from vines planted in 1870. In case you were wondering, wine made from vines planted in 1870 is a very rare thing indeed!

Calderara 2010: Very aromatic with Nerello aromas of tart fruit mixed with plum, and intense stony aromas; somewhat brooding on the palate – a bit more time in the bottle will give more expression, but a very complete wine.

Prephylloxera 2010: Fruit, spice, and stone; great depth, balance, and complexity, rich, with dry tannin. Quite a remarkable wine.

Santo Spirito is at 650-700 metres; soils are volcanic ash with quite a bit of sand, and is not very stony; the land is terraced. The vines, originally planted in 1950 and 1960, have been trained along wires.

Santo Spirito 2010: Ripe fruit on the nose, and some baking spice and stone; the wine is savory with soft tannin and an appealing lush, even viscous presence – very polished.

Guardiola is at 800-900 metres; soils are volcanic with black ash and volcanic rock; the vineyard is very steep and is terraced. The vines were planted in 1917 and 1947, and they retain their original ‘albarello’ form, in which the vine is treated like an independently planted tree. Albarello is thought by some to produce the best quality grapes; it’s a lot more labor-intensive to work. Marc de Grazia told us that he can’t tell the difference between grapes from alberello vines and from vines trained on wires, and while alberello is picturesque, it really helps to keep the prices for the wines reasonable if they can keep their labor costs in check.

Guardiola 2010: Dark cherry fruit and stone on the nose; the most Burgundian/Pinot-esque, with nice openness on the palate, ripe tannin; fresh and quite elegant.

Feudo di Mezzo is at 650-700 metres; no stones in heavier black-ash soil; vines were planted in 1927 and 1947. We stopped here, but it was foggy, surprisingly cold, and our next stop was to be lunch with Marco, so we were acting like horses that know they’re going back to the stable. You’ll have to excuse the lack of any more detail.

Feudo di Mezzo 2010: Very ashy/mineral, with aromatic herbs (think garrigue) and red fruit, today the most delicate/feminine of the wines.

We have just a case of each wine – a shipment that is actually a special pre-view just for us, because the wine won’t be in wider distribution in the US until the fall. To encourage you to try the different crus, we are proposing two different packages: one of each of the four crus, and a second package that includes the Prephylloxera.

No Longer Available

Terre Nere 2010 Single Vineyards Mix #1 Calderara, Guardiola, Feudo di Mezzo, Santo Spirito

As part of our special offer of these wines we are offering this group with a 10% discount from normal prices.


  • Terre Nere 2010 Etna Rosso Calderara Sottana
  • Terre Nere 2010 Etna Rosso Guardiola
  • Terre Nere 2010 Etna Rosso Feudo di Mezzo il Quadro delle Rose
  • Terre Nere 2010 Etna Rosso Santo Spirito

  • Out of Stock
  • ad-hoc combo box
  • 0 in stock
  • no discount
  • $143.96

Terre Nere 2010 Single Vineyards Mix #2 Calderara, Guardiola, Feudo di Mezzo, Santo Spirito, Prephilloxera

As part of our special offer of these wines we are offering this group with a 10% discount from normal prices.



  • Out of Stock
  • ad-hoc combo box
  • 0 in stock
  • no discount
  • $224.95