An influx of growers and winemakers over recent decades has meant that the vinous potential of Etna's unique volcanic terroir is finally being fully realised. Exciting times, says Simon Woolf.
Six of Etna’s new wave wineries
C & S Biondi
This small estate near easterly Trecastagni seems to raise the bar every year. Architect Ciro rebuilt his family’s abandoned vineyards in 1999, initially with Salvo Foti as consultant winemaker. Of their three contradas, San Nicolò is the jewel in the crown. Ciro and wife Stephanie have successfully innovated in recent vintages, adding a voluptuous oakfermented white (Chianta) and two characterful single-vineyard Nerellos to their established Outis label.
Fabio and father Dino work in construction, but their passion clearly stretches further. Dino purchased a few hectares of vines in 1970, initially vinified for home consumption, or sold as sfuso (bulk wine). They started bottling in 2012, and now own 10ha in Viagrande, spread around a stone winery built in 1698. The vineyards are a treasure – ungrafted, up to 150 years old and farmed biodynamically. The wines are joyful and uncomplicated.
Belgian Frank Cornelissen is legendary for his no-compromise approach, eschewing any vineyard treatments or sulphur in the winery. Cornelissen’s purism has brought him both a cult following and controversy. Arriving in 2000, he now has 17ha spread across several northern contradas. His recent vintages show increasingly focused, terroir-driven wines. Magma, vinified from contrada Barbabecchi at 1,000m, is sensational if expensive.
One of Etna’s prodigal sons, Alberto Graci returned in 2004 and traded his grandfather’s central vineyards for high-altitude parcels on Etna’s northern slopes, including part of contrada Barbabecchi. For Graci, ‘sense of place’ is vital – everyone here has wine culture in their blood’. With hands-off winemaking (wild yeasts, little temperature control), the results are vivid and accessible. At local enoteca Cave Ox, order the Pizza Graci, Alberto’s lemon-zested creation.
Like Graci, Giuseppe Russo returned to his roots in 2004, abandoning a career as a concert pianist to tend the family’s vineyards. The organically certified estate comprises 15ha spread across four contradas around Randazzo. The Nerellos show real typicity and focus. The Etna Bianco is painstakingly harvested from a few white grapevines co-planted with the reds. The wines don’t make concessions to any kind of international styling, and are all the better for it.
Tenuta di Fessina
Given that Tuscan Silvia Maestrelli only established this estate in 2007, the wines, made by Piedmontese winemaker Federico Curtaz are remarkably assured. Maestrelli says the finer volcanic sand around Rovitello is key for freshness and refinement. Curtaz brings elegance and tension to both reds and whites, the latter including a standout Etna Bianco Superiore. The Erse wines, for earlier drinking, and lighter wallets, are a true delight.