The first Etna winery on my agenda was Tenuta delle Terre Nere, which in English means 'estate of black land'. The winery was founded by Marc de Grazia, a US wine importer of quality Italian wines who decided to start his own winery at the highest slopes of Etna DOC. Since 2002 they've been producing outstanding wines, winning hearts of both critics and customers.
Terre Nere is especially known for their 1 ha parcel of 130-140 years old vines - their pre Phylloxera vineyards. Since 2006 they decided to vinify them separately and create Etna Rosso Prephylloxera La Vigna di Don Peppino. Don Peppino owned the vineyard for 70 years, and if it wasn't to his care, the vines would never survived neither the plague, nor simply the time.
They call this wine as the quintessence of Calderara Sottana - the contrade, or designated cru zone, with the oldest soils.
Terre Nere is especially known for their 1 ha parcel of 130-140 years old pre-Phylloxera vines
Calderara Sottana has the stoniest soils of all on Etna DOC, you can't actually see the soil of the stones. The special terroir of this cru zone was created by the activity of the Ellitico eruptive center, between 60 000 and 15 000 years ago. These are the oldest superficial soil layer (strata) one can plant on. Years of lava flows covered most of the Ellitico soils, and only a few zones left, like in Calderara Sottana.
these are the oldest superficial soil layer (strata) one can plant on
Here Terre Nere have the Don Peppino pre Phylloxera vineyard with its' 130+ years old vines, then a vineyard with 50 to 100 years old vines which produce the Etna Rosso Calderara Sottana wine, and the Etna Bianco Calderara Sottana from 100% Carricante of 15 to 60 years old vines. A rare Etna white wine that occupies only 4% of all vineyards.
Another special "contrada"(designated cru zone) is San Lorenzo which has the same Ellitico soils as Calderara Sottana. When I was there, a team of workers with trucks was removing lava stones from those precious soils to extend the San Lorenzo vineyard. And it's much more difficult to do, than it sounds!
Guardiola vineyard is the cru zone on highest elevation among the ones owned by Terre Nere. We were between 800 to 1000 m high there. The soil gets poorer as one climbs higher. Here it's mostly lean volcanic sand soil on very steep slopes. Altitude gifts this wine with high acidity, while the sand helps to concentrate tannins. They say it takes more time than for other wines of Etna to release the bouquet of Guardiola. You can't approach this wine young!
we drove around the vineyards at Guardiola and San Lorenzo
There is so much more to tell about this special place, that makes by the way only organic wine, covers 80% of its energy needs from solar panels, works mainly manually on all the vineyards and respects the traditions of Etna wine region, continuing to preserve what small landowners and farmers dearly kept for many centuries.
Etna wine tasting tour at Tenuta delle Terre Nere:
Etna Rosato DOC - is made of Nerello Moscalese and Nerello Capuccio from different cru zones. The aim was to make a wine with a body of white and soul of red wine. And they managed to capture this thin line in their Rosato, which is never superficial, but neither is overwhelmingly heavy. It's very unusually smoky as for a rosato when you drink it first. Then you remember it comes from volcanic soils, and the smoke's origin becomes obvious. It has a lot of orange zest, apricots, peaches, raspberries and plums in the bouquet and palate.
Etna Bianco DOC - very mineral, heavenly bone dry (but that's for a dry wine fan), ripe stone fruits, lemon, orange zest and herbal notes. Actually, it's a "field" blend of local white varieties - Carricante, Catarratto, Inzolia, Grecanico, Minnella, with Carricante being 65% dominant. All vines are 25 to 60 years old. Thes are really obscure white wine varietals, that are not only rare in the world, but also almost extinct on Mt Etna.
Etna Bianco Calderara Sottana DOC - creamy and buttery, a perfect gift for oaked white lovers. This wine is made of 100% Carricante, great example of all the spectrum of its' variety. We found here peach and pineapple, apples and lemon, lime and grapefruit. Add some volcanic minerality from Calderara Sottana. This wine is not only barrel aged, but also barrel fermented.
Etna Rosso DOC - a blend of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Capuccio, rare red wine varietials, native to Mt Etna. They macerate until the end of fermentation, and then age in oak. This classical Etna red wine is made of 6 to 50 years old vines, which makes it approachable when young, but if you give it a few years to rest in bottle a very different complexity must evolve. This wine is like a field of roses burnt under Sicilian sun, dark very ripe cherries, dried fruits and berries, and above all volcanic flavours and oaked tannins.
Etna Rosso Calderara Sottana DOC - I told above how special is the Calderara Sottana soil, when we tasted this wine, we simply fell in love. It's just hypnotizing you. This wine seems to capture it all - all the possible flavours and aromas a red can contain. It's creamy, spicy, earthy and floral, with delicious cherries, blueberries and strawberries. On the other hand, you might encounter completely different aromas in this wine - it just has so many layers, that express one after another. It seems impossible to fully describe it.
And of course, traditionally, as souvenirs from Etna I took a bottle of their Pre-Phylloxera wine - Vigna di Don Peppino 2016, Etna Rosso and Etna Bianco from Calderara Sottana.
I'll definitely return here soon. And the goal will be to do a vertical tasting. Would you like to join me?