Italian wine: Hiking Mt. Etna with the Volcanic Wines of Firriato's Cavanera Etnea

Dec 14, 2019 171

I have been intrigued by the wines of Sicily for some time now and am always excited about the opportunity to try them, especially those of Mt. Etna.  Being onsite at Firriato, walking on the soils, experiencing the climate and admiring the landscapes I’ve discovered is what makes these wines so special.   

Upon arrival in Catania I was greeted by the marketing team of Firriato and Federico Lombardo di Monte Iato, Firriato’s COO.  It was an informative 1 hour journey to Firriato’s Cavanera Etnea estate set high in the hills of Etna’s National Park.  The first eye catching piece upon arrival as I sipped on my first espresso back in Italy was the smoking Mt. Etna seen in the distance.  I have to admit to be so close to a volcano and in addition to see it active can make one a little uneasy.  As Federico stated that it’s best to see it with this activity than to be silent because then they don’t know what to expect. 

About Cavanera Etnea 

The Cavanera Etnea resort and vineyards is Firriato’s 2nd winery with the first established at Baglio Soria.  Cavanera is situated on the north east slope of the volcano in the Contrada Verzella.  It’s a restored ancient building for guests to stay with a newly built winery earlier this year including a marvelous restaurant, La Riserva Bistrot.  Surrounding the estate are plots of vineyards each with differing soils.  There are even pre-phylloxera vineyards researched with evidence proving to be 140+ years old.  These vines are planted directly into the soil and not grown on rootstock. 

Even though there are about 10 hectares of vineyards surrounding the winery as we walked through the vineyards the soils kept changing.  We literally walked down one row with different soils to the left and right.  The landscape of the Contrada Verzella vineyard is all set upon the lava eruption of Etna back in 1556.  The soils are volcanic and sandy, well-drained and rich in minerals of iron, manganese, silica, aluminium and magnesium.    

The new winery at Cavanera is made of 3 floors allowing for gravity to play its part with the grapes unloaded and processed to be vinified.  The winery takes advantage of the thermal insulation of the lava rock saving plenty of energy.  It’s important for the grapes of Cavanera to be harvested and processed immediately to preserve the quality and organoleptic characteristics of the grapes.  The grapes of Cavanera are the last to be harvested of all the vineyard sites and they were harvesting while we were there.  Always great to watch! 

A unique feature located inside one of the buildings at Cavanera Etnea restored in 2006 is an ancient palmento.  A palmento is a structure with winemaking equipment used back in the 1700s.  It included a wooden wine press with vats carved into the rock and channels trickling into them.  This just shows you that although Sicilian wine is now some of the most talked about wines of Italy, winemaking has been taking place here for centuries.   

About Etna 

For those of you that don’t know the volcano of Mt. Etna is actually the highest within Europe and one of the most active in the world.  At one point in time there stood one crater at the top of Mt. Etna and today there exists 4 other craters with other eruptions descending onto the lower slopes.  We witnessed many of these craters upon our hike of Mt. Etna. The volcano was very active during my visit smoking repeatedly and it seems a day or two after I left it was even pouring some lava.  Well worth a visit to this area to experience such an amazing part of mother nature.   

The wines of Cavanera Etnea 

The grapes of Cavanera Etnea are the last to be harvested of all the vineyard sites.  We tasted through a number of the wines here, but these were my favorites of the bunch.  

Gaudensius Blanc de Noir Metodo Classico Brut Etna D.O.C. - This wine was the first classic method sparkling wine of the Etna DOC.  It’s produced from nerello mascalese and spends 32 months in contact with yeasts.  I loved the fine, elegant bubbles of this sparkling wine.  A lovely finish showing sapidity and minerals.   

2018 Le Sabbie Dell’Etna Etna Rosato D.O.C. - Newly produced this year this wine is made of 100% nerello mascalese grapes.  The grape spends about 2 hours in contact with the skins.  A pale pink with atinge of orange.  Notes of strawberry and citrus.  Fresh, soft and delicate with notes of wild strawberries and raspberries.   

2017 Cavanera Ripa di Scorciavacca Etna Bianco D.O.C. - First produced in 2010 this is considered their cru white from a single vineyard of Contrada Versella.  Made of 90% carricante and 10% catarratto.  Spending 6 monhs on the lees in stainless with 1 year in the bottle.  A pale straw yellow color with aromas of white flowers.  This wine had beautiful balance, clean and crisp with citrus notes.  

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