Attracting only a fraction of the tourists that swarm Tuscany, Sicily is an up-and-coming destination for wine lovers. It’s packed with sun-kissed, wind-lashed vineyards that yield wines of excellent value, longevity, and versatility. In particular, the dramatic region of Mount Etna, with its picturesque landscape, cool climate (despite the low latitude) and ever-changing volcanic soil.
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Not only is Etna gaining global attention for the diversity of its wines from the indigenous varietals of Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, and Carricante, but it’s also receiving recognition because of the remarkable producers at work there. These are the stories behind the family-owned wineries that encircle this lava-strewn terrain crafted by earthquakes, eruptions and extraordinary people. The following wineries are places with heart and soul—that are worth visiting not only for their refined, finessed wines, but also for their timeless Sicilian charm.
Barone di Villagrande
Dating back to 1727, Barone di Villagrande is one of the oldest wineries in the region of Etna. Family run for 10 generations, Barone di Villagrande is open to the public (with reservations) for tours and tastings and has four guestrooms—not to mention an impressive infinity pool carved from lava stone. Set on the eastern slopes of Etna in the area of Milo, this region gets 10 times more rain than the rest of Sicily. But though autumns and winters are very wet, summers are very dry, and it is this interesting microclimate that allows for the creation of special wines, high in acidity and crisp minerality. ‘For me, the typical taste of Etna is the freshness,’ says Marco Nicolosi, who now runs this certified organic vineyard and wine resort with his family. Nowhere is this freshness more apparent than in Barone di Villagrande’s Etna Bianco DOC Superiore, which pairs especially well with Sicilian dishes made with the wild fennel that can be found growing everywhere. www.villagrande.it
Though this winery and tasting room is still under construction for a few more months, Pietradolce—on the cooler and dryer northern slopes of Mount Etna, in Solicchiata—has some of the most interesting wines in the area and is certainly worth a visit once opened. Don’t let the ultra-modern new winery and tasting room fool you; these wines are made from old roots (this will become apparent on a short walk to the Eden-like, verdant and wild Barbagalli vineyard that looks completely forgotten by time). Don’t miss a taste of the creamy Sant’ Andrea Bianco made with white Carricante grapes (this is their passion-project with an annual production of only 1,800 bottles), or the dusty tannins and bright acidity of the Archineri Etna Rosso, made from red Nerello Mascalese. The gorgeous graphic on the wine’s labels—a majestic, fiery female figure—is a nod to the volcano, or ‘Mama Etna’. www.pietradolce.it
Tenuta di Fessina
Part-historic winery and part-boutique hotel, Tenuta di Fessina is completely magical. The property’s 17th-century buildings on the north-eastern slopes of Etna have been styled into stunning suites (seven in total), tasting rooms, barrel cellars, and a refurbished palmento (a traditional pressing room). In a curving amphitheatre layout, terraced vineyards surround the stylish property, the vines getting progressively older as you move farther away. Fessina’s vineyards are also lush with olive, fig, peach, almond, and cherry trees—a throwback to older, more rustic times when survival was the main concern of farmers. Sip the silky, fragrant, and finessed Laeneo, made from 100% local red Nerello Cappuccio grapes, which is very rare and original—even for this terroir—and reminds us that the power of Sicilian wine lies in its authentic diversity. www.tenutadifessina.com