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When the DOC Etna was introduced in 1968, things were not at their best for the wines of the famous Sicilian volcano. The quality that had already been praised in Roman times was almost forgotten, many of the higher, difficult-to-grow sites had been abandoned, and much of the wine was sold openly to restaurants in the nearby coastal towns. With the collapse of the open wine market in the 1980s, cultivated areas and production volumes declined even further.

Etna's renaissance as an important wine-growing region began around the turn of the millennium, when two Tuscans, Andrea Franchetti of the Trinoro winery and wine broker Marc de Grazia from Florence, began to recultivate the best sites on the volcano and quickly gained international attention with their wines from the newly founded Passopisciaro and Terre Nere estates. Planeta, one of the top Sicilian wineries, was also one of the new pioneers on Etna, followed by Tasca and Donnafugata. To date, the number of quality-oriented wineries has grown to around 60, and the area under vines is constantly increasing. The latter also at altitudes of sometimes well over 1000 metres above sea level, which are not covered by the DOC at all. As a result, some of the best wines have to be marketed as Sicilia DOC or even as Terre Siciliane IGT.

©Consorzio di Tutela Vini Etna DOC

But the real quality revolution is only just getting underway on Etna. Many wineries first had to find their way. It took time to restore the partly ancient vineyards to good condition, and the right approach to the local varieties - especially Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio for the red and rosé wines and Carricante and Catarratto for the whites - still had to be found. Just a few years ago, the quality fluctuations were correspondingly high.

This has changed noticeably in the meantime, as can be seen not only from our ratings in general, but also from the remarkably high number of "favourite wines" marked with hearts, since we only award this predicate to wines that give us unreserved pleasure. The reason for the uniqueness of the wines from Etna is not only the extremely varied, fertile volcanic soils, but also the high altitude of the vineyards and the associated cool microclimate. Even in the south, the harvest often does not begin until the end of September, in the north and northeast often another four weeks later, and not infrequently it drags on until November. Sometimes there is snow on Mount Etna.

©Consorzio di Tutela Vini Etna DOC

The result is wines that you would never expect to find so far south. The red wines are often described by the local winemakers as a mixture of Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo, and that is quite accurate. They can be extremely elegant and fine, light-coloured, more red-fruited than black-fruited, yet taut, deep and multi-layered; the more rustic representatives, strong in alcohol and sometimes with rough tannins, are becoming increasingly rare. Characteristic features are smoky to slightly tarry aromas, which come from the terroir, not from the wood, as well as a very fine aroma of tomato essence, which sometimes brings to mind first-class Syrah from the Northern Rhône. The whites, which are mainly produced from Carricante, ideally possess a nobility, fineness and tension that is otherwise only known from the best growing regions in much more northern latitudes. The fruit is always bright and restrained, the acidity lively and, as with the reds, often clearly mineral in character. This is also true for the often remarkably good rosés, which should definitely not be overlooked!

The wines from Etna are not cheap. The vineyards cultivated in Buscherziehung (here called "Alberello", in France "Gobelet") are laborious to cultivate and the yield is usually low. Although the consortium allows up to 9,000 kilograms of grapes per hectare, especially in the best locations, the winegrowers often only get a fraction of the amount. Thus, winegrowing on the great volcano only makes sense if one concentrates on top quality and wines with a unique character. The producers on Etna have accepted the challenge.

We tasted around 250 wines from nearly 50 wineries for this BEST OF. We present the best of them here. Links to all the wines, the detailed tasting notes and the producers can be found at the end of each of the best lists.

Note: For technical reasons, we cannot separate Etna wines that are not marketed under the Etna DOC from other wines of the IGT Terre Siciliane or Sicilia DOC. For this reason, wines that do not originate from Etna occasionally appear in the lists.

BEST OF Etna Etna DOC Rosso