Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The major Etna DOC grape varieties

The Etna DOC has established the following wine and labeling requirements:
  • Etna DOC Rosso -- to be made from the indigenous varieties Nerello Mascalese (> 80%) and Nerello Cappuccio (< 20%) plus up to 10% of other non-aromatic grape varieties (red or white)
  • Etna DOC Rosato -- same as for Rosso
  • Etna DOC Bianco -- to be made from Carricante (> 60%), Catarratto (< 40%), and up to 15% of other non-aromatic grapes such as Minella or Trebbiano
  • Etna DOC Bianco Superiore -- to be made from Carricante (> 80%) and Catarratto or Minnella (< 20%). All grapes to be sourced exclusively from the area of Milo on the eastern side of the volcano.
I continue to flesh out my understanding of the Etna DOC viticultural  environment with the following post on the main grape varieties included in the DOC specification.

White Varieties
Carricante is an ancient white variety -- prevalent on Mt Etna's eastern face -- that yields low-potassium, low-pH, high acidity wines ( The bunches are of average length at ripening, with medium-sized berries of a green-yellowish color.

Carricante (
Frank Cornelissen, one of the leading winemakers on the mountain, has historically viewed the variety as too acidic to produce world-class wine. Ian d'Agata, author of Native Wine Grapes of Italy, on the other hand, is quoted in Szabo's Volcanic Wines thusly: "potentially one of Italy's greatest cultivars ..." that "... when properly tended to, yields wines of great longevity and intense mineral character."

According to Salvo Foti, long-famed viticulturist, Carricante vines have to be somewhere between 10- and 15-years old in order to begin giving great concentration. Salvo said that both his father and grandfather worked Carricante and the wine's high acidity was extremely important in the days before widespread access to refrigeration. The wine is also great for raw fish, the main dish in the area.

There is a saltiness in the east side Carricante that is lacking in wines made from grapes grown on the north side of the mountain. For Salvo, typicity is the key; and he sees Carricante as the grape for this place.

There are some 100% Carricante wines on the market but the grape is usually the primary varietal in an Etna DOC wine. It is also used, at lower elevations, to lighten the color and body of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappucchio blends.

Catarratto is a high-yielding, low-acidity Sicilian grape variety. It is the main grape used in the production of Marsala but on Etna is primarily blended with Carricante. There are two clones -- Commune and Lucido -- with the former having more acid and less sugar than the latter as well as being the clone of choice on the mountain.

Catarratto (
Catarratto does not engender as much discussion on the mountain as does Carricante.

Minnella is a white-berry vine that is indigenous to Etna where it is mostly found in old vineyards interplanted with Nerello Mascalese and Carricante. This is an early ripening variety.

Nerello Mascalese
Nerello Mascalese is the most important variety on Mt Etna. In older vineyards in can be found interplanted with Nerello Cappucchio while newer plantings position these varieties into separate rows or blocks to facilitate cellar rather than field blends.

Nerello Mascalese (
The vine is vigorous and is readily affected by:
  • Vintage conditions
  • Cultivation area
  • Training system
  • Density
  • Cultural practices.
The wines from the variety are mildly sweet and "distinctively tannic." Szabo compares it to Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo both in color and the ability to reflect even minor variations in terroir.

Benanti sees the best training system for the variety as follows:
  • Free standing bush with 2 - 3 branches per tree
  • High vine density -- 6000 - 9000 vines /ha
  • Spacing of 1 x 1 or 1.25 x 1.25.
Nerello Cappuccio
This variety's medium-to-small-sized bunches and medium-sized grapes produce wines with good acid and tannin levels. The variety buds and ripens earlier than Nerello Mascalese with the former characteristic bringing the negative effects of late spring frosts into play.

Used primarily in a blend with Nerello Mascalese, this grape brings color and perfume to the blend as well as serving to soften up some of the harder edges of its partner.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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