It’s hard to top many of the visits on our Sicily tour. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, it did on our last day.
We started with a tour of Mt. Etna by a trained volcano expert who described the many forces at work on the Etna volcano. He is able to determine the age of a certain lava flow by the vegetation growth. As we climbed to about 900 feet (actually our bus brought us to that level and then we went on a fairly level
trek), we saw amazing examples of nature at work. We could see the raw brut strength of an eruption as well as the beauty of the surroundings. One of the most beautiful sights was the ‘white birch forest’ and some of the most terrifying were the massive lava flows that took over vast tracts of territory.
Etna never stops sending out plumes and occasional lava flows but the area residents don’t let the omnipresent danger dominate their lives.
Our farewell dinner was at one of the most respected Etna producers, Benanti.The estate has always belonged in the Benanti family and their holdings on all 4 slopes of Etna reflect 4 different climate conditions with 70 different soil compositions. They cultivate only indigenous local varieties and were the first to herald the potential of those grapes on the volcanic soils. It was because of Benanti’s groundbreaking work that Etna now boasts 165 wineries.
Giuseppe started the winery 31 years ago and it currently produces 160,000 bottles annually, of which 125,000 are the basic introductory wines. Their white wines are 100% Carricante grapes which is an Etna variety, and no Catarratto, which is Sicilian.
After a tour of the facilities including the palmento, we had a cooking class under the tutelage of their resident chef.
Afterwards, Antonio and Silvano, Giuseppe’s sons, and current owners of the winery, joined us for our tasting and dinner. We started with an aperitif of Noblesse, a sparkling wine made from Carricante in the methode champenoise; a delicious wine with a yeasty and creamy texture.
Our 1st course was local antipasti, paired with Contrada Cavaliere 2017 DOC Etna Bianco, 100% Carricante with exotic fruit aromas and good acidity. They only make 5k bottles.
Our 3rd wine was the Nerello Cappuccio 2017 IGT Terre Siciliane , with an inky dark color. Only 1% of the plantings on Etna are Nerello Cappuccio. It has the look and aromas of Syrah, a bit herbaceous and spicy, soft tannins and reminiscent of a Beaujolais cru.
Next came the Contrada Monte Serra 2017 Etna Rosso, a great wine: deep but clear ruby red color with superb structure; intense dark red cherry fruit. It spent 12 months aging in barrels.
Our 5th wine was the Contrada Cavaliere 2017, 100% Nerello Mascalese, darker red color, intense, yet another expression of this grape. It had a dark red cherry aroma, drier, with creamy tannins.
Wine #6 was the Serra de la Comtessa 2011, a field blend of both Nerellos 85/15% from old vines on the SE Etna slopes close to the winery. It had aromas of spices like fennel and spent 18 months in oak.
Our 7th and last wine was the Rovitello 2011 an 90/10 blend of both Nerellos with a dark red cherry aroma but with a less intense ruby color than the other wines.
It was interesting to compare the same vintage of different crus from Etna. The night and day differences show the importance of location, with the North slopes producing wines with more structure.
We thank Benanti for such an enjoyable and educational farewell dinner.