Sicily, the biggest island in the Mediterranean Sea, is also the biggest wine region of Italy, with over 110,000 hectares of vineyards.
Hong Kong is not short of Sicilian wines, but the majority of bottles are of the native variety, Nero d’Avola, or international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Shiraz, all of which are big and powerful wines, thanks to Sicily’s relatively hot climate and consistently bright sunshine. Most of these wines are from the western part of the island.
But at the eastern end of the island where Mount Etna, the biggest active volcano in Europe, dominates the landscape, a totally different style of wine is produced. This region, Etna DOC, is blessed with unique soil and an exceptional climate. The vines are mostly grown on the slopes of the volcano at an altitude between 450–900 metres, with some even planted higher than 1,000 metres. The mineral-rich, black volcanic lava soil combines with the continental microclimate of mountain-high daytime temperatures and low rainfall in summer, giving the wines freshness and elegance. There are also some very old vines, some even from the pre-phylloxera era, planted in the 1800s, that contribute to the wines’ complexity. No wonder Etna is known as the Burgundy of the Mediterranean.
Italy has the most indigenous grape varieties of any nation, and Sicily has its fair share. Etna’s own red varieties are Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio. Nerello Mascalese is an elegant light- to medium-bodied red wine reminiscent of Pinot Noir, with floral and red fruits aromas and a hint of earthy notes, fine tannin and firm acidity, while Nerello Cappuccio is more aromatic and softer in structure. Both can be made into varietal wines, but they can also be blended in order to combine their relative merits.
Similar to Pinot Noir, Etna red wine, whether Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio or their blends, is an all-rounder for Chinese cuisine because of its acidity and tannin structure. Peking duck, pigeon and dishes with chilli and black bean sauce are just some of the great pairings.
The native white wine from Etna is the crisp Carricante, with refreshing citrus notes complemented by fresh herbal aromas. Again, it can be a varietal wine or sometimes blended with another indigenous Sicilian grape, Catarratto, from the southern part of the island. It’s ideal with our beloved fresh seafood meals in Sai Kung or on one of the outlying islands with a view.
Like most Old World wine, not all Etna wine mentions grape varieties. If the label states Etna Rosso (“red” in Italian), the wine must have a minimum of 80% Nerello Mascalese, while Etna Bianco (“white” in Italian) must have at least 60% Carricante.
Wine is all about exploring. The next time you come across an Etna wine, give it a try!
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