You’ve probably heard the name of Etna before.
For most of us, it conjures up images of one of the world’s most famous and active volcanoes. It erupts on an almost annual basis, which lends a huge amount of different qualities to the soil that surrounds it.
Of course, that also clues you into the main topic we’re going to cover in this article. You see, Etna is almost as famous for the wines that come from the region as it is for the volcano itself. In fact, Etna may be one of the more historically significant regions in the entire Italian wine industry.
In these article, we’re going to look at the Etna wine region and its history. We’ll also explain why such a huge amount of variety can come from such a small region. Finally we’ll close things out with a couple of fun facts about the volcano itself, should anybody be thinking about visiting Etna to see either the volcano or one of the many producers that operate in the region.
The General History
Should you happen to visit Etna, one of the first things that you’ll notice is the sheer volume of agricultural development in the region. The activity of the volcano has also created an immensely mineral-rich soil that lends itself well to the growing of all sorts of different crops.
But it’s particularly well-suited to the production of grapes, and it has been for many thousands of years. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that ancient grape varieties grew naturally in the region long before man arrived and actively started to cultivate their development. Even before there was an Italian wine industry, Etna was creating the perfect conditions for growth of great grapes.
As people populated the land, it became obvious just how rich and fertile it is. During the Neolithic era, the Etna population began to devote itself to agriculture, with a particular focus on vines. It’s been that way ever since.
Things changed even more in the favour of viticulture upon the arrival of the Ancient Greeks in 1,800 BC. They contributed both a number of new grape varieties to the region and their own expertise. In fact, the Grecanico grape that’s used in some variety of Etna wines derives from the Grechetto grape that the Greeks introduced to the region so many thousands of years ago.
Even the mythology relating to the land during this era has a heavy wine tinge. The Sicels, who were the people who live on Etna prior to the arrival of the Greeks, worshipped a god named Adranus, who was the god of wine. The Greeks of the region later worshipped Dionysus, who served a similar purpose. The Romans that later came to live on Etna continued this mythological tradition with their own worship of the wine God Bacco. Moreover, Greek mythology even imbued the wines that come from the region with a range of powers, ranging from amusement to healing.
Simply put, Etna has been a wine region since the days before humanity ever set foot on the volcanic lands. Its entire history may hold deeper ties to the grape than practically any other region in Italy.
The Etna DOC Region
It should come as no surprise that the Etna region carries DOC classification, given its extremely rich heritage. The DOC ensures the quality of legitimacy of the wines to come from the region, and it covers the south, east, and north slopes of the Etna volcano.
This coverage takes in a number of communities, including Biancavilla, Venerina, and many others.
All told, the region produces five grape varieties for use in the DOC wines that are relevant to the Etna region. These include the following:
- Carricante – One of the most popular grapes to come from the region, it is an Etna Bianco grape. There is also a Superiore version of the wine this grape produces, though only the wines crated in the Milo community can carry that designation.
- Nerello Mascalese – One of two grapes to fall under the Etna Rosso classification, the Nerello Mascalese is believed to have come from the Catania region, though records are somewhat sketchy on the subject.
- Catarratto – Though there are several Sicilian Bianco grapes that are grown in the region, this is the most widespread of them all.
- Nerello Cappuccio – The other popular Etna Rosso grape, this is the one that is most heavily used in the Etna DOC wine that carries the Etna Rosso name.
- Minella Bianca – A white grape variety that is the rarest on this list. It’s native to the Etna region and can only be cultivated successfully on the volcano’s slopes. Interestingly, the Minella part of the name comes from the region’s local dialect. It means “breast”, with the grape carrying the name because it’s rather unique shape.
Some Fun Facts About Etna
So, that’s what you need to know about the Etna DOC wine. We’re going to round out the article with a few fun facts about the region and the volcano itself:
- Since 2003, Etna has erupted on an almost annual basis. This makes it one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Moreover, these repeated eruptions replenish the soil used to grow the Etna DOC grapes.
- Etna’s name can be literally translated to “I Burn”. We’ll let you draw your own conclusions about why that might be.
- As well as worshipping the God of wine, the Romans who lived in Etna believed that their God of Fire, Vulcan, lived in the volcano. This God was also a blacksmith and was married to the Goddess Venus. The legend goes that Vulcan would engage in smithing whenever he found out that Venus has cheated on him. This accounts the the volcano’s eruptions.
- Etna’s eruptions aren’t always beneficial to the people. The enormous eruption of 1669 killed 20,000 people who had called the mountain their home.
Etna is truly one of the most fascinating regions in Italy. If you can get past your fear of the volcano, we recommend that you take the time to visit whenever you’re able.