Saturday, November 16, 2019

Hiking Mt. Etna with the Volcanic Wines of Firriato's Cavanera Etnea

I’m still daydreaming of my recent trip to Sicily touring with the Firriato winery.  A couple weeks ago I shared the wines and story from my visit to Firriato’s Baglio Soria estate on the western side of the island.  I’m excited to share what makes Sicilian wine so exciting, volcanic wines.  I have been intrigued by the wines of Sicily for some time now and am always excited about the opportunity to try them, especially those of Mt. Etna.  Being onsite at Firriato, walking on the soils, experiencing the climate and admiring the landscapes I’ve discovered is what makes these wines so special.   
Upon arrival in Catania I was greeted by the marketing team of Firriato and Federico Lombardo di Monte Iato, Firriato’s COO.  It was an informative 1 hour journey to Firriato’s Cavanera Etnea estate set high in the hills of Etna’s National Park.  The first eye catching piece upon arrival as I sipped on my first espresso back in Italy was the smoking Mt. Etna seen in the distance.  I have to admit to be so close to a volcano and in addition to see it active can make one a little uneasy.  As Federico stated that it’s best to see it with this activity than to be silent because then they don’t know what to expect. 
The pool at the Cavanera Resort
 About Cavanera Etnea 
The Cavanera Etnea resort and vineyards is Firriato’s 2nd winery with the first established at Baglio Soria.  Cavanera is situated on the north east slope of the volcano in the Contrada Verzella.  It’s a restored ancient building for guests to stay with a newly built winery earlier this year including a marvelous restaurant, La Riserva Bistrot.  Surrounding the estate are plots of vineyards each with differing soils.  There are even pre-phylloxera vineyards researched with evidence proving to be 140+ years old.  These vines are planted directly into the soil and not grown on rootstock.   
La Riserva Bistrot
Even though there are about 10 hectares of vineyards surrounding the winery as we walked through the vineyards the soils kept changing.  We literally walked down one row with different soils to the left and right.  The landscape of the Contrada Verzella vineyard is all set upon the lava eruption of Etna back in 1556.  The soils are volcanic and sandy, well-drained and rich in minerals of iron, manganese, silica, aluminium and magnesium.   

The new winery at Cavanera is made of 3 floors allowing for gravity to play its part with the grapes unloaded and processed to be vinified.  The winery takes advantage of the thermal insulation of the lava rock saving plenty of energy.  It’s important for the grapes of Cavanera to be harvested and processed immediately to preserve the quality and organoleptic characteristics of the grapes.  The grapes of Cavanera are the last to be harvested of all the vineyard sites and they were harvesting while we were there.  Always great to watch!
New Winery

A unique feature located inside one of the buildings at Cavanera Etnea restored in 2006 is an ancient palmento.  A palmento is a structure with winemaking equipment used back in the 1700s.  It included a wooden wine press with vats carved into the rock and channels trickling into them.  This just shows you that although Sicilian wine is now some of the most talked about wines of Italy, winemaking has been taking place here for centuries.  

About Etna 
For those of you that don’t know the volcano of Mt. Etna is actually the highest within Europe and one of the most active in the world.  At one point in time there stood one crater at the top of Mt. Etna and today there exists 4 other craters with other eruptions descending onto the lower slopes.  We witnessed many of these craters upon our hike of Mt. Etna. The volcano was very active during my visit smoking repeatedly and it seems a day or two after I left it was even pouring some lava.  Well worth a visit to this area to experience such an amazing part of mother nature.   
Federico Lombardo di Monte Iato
Volcanic bombs from Mt Etna

The wines of Cavanera Etnea 
The grapes of Cavanera Etnea are the last to be harvested of all the vineyard sites.  We tasted through a number of the wines here, but these were my favorites of the bunch.  
Gaudensius Blanc de Noir Metodo Classico Brut Etna D.O.C. - This wine was the first classic method sparkling wine of the Etna DOC.  It’s produced from nerello mascalese and spends 32 months in contact with yeasts.  I loved the fine, elegant bubbles of this sparkling wine.  A lovely finish showing sapidity and minerals.   

2018 Le Sabbie Dell’Etna Etna Rosato D.O.C. - Newly produced this year this wine is made of 100% nerello mascalese grapes.  The grape spends about 2 hours in contact with the skins.  A pale pink with atinge of orange.  Notes of strawberry and citrus.  Fresh, soft and delicate with notes of wild strawberries and raspberries.   

2017 Cavanera Ripa di Scorciavacca Etna Bianco D.O.C. - First produced in 2010 this is considered their cru white from a single vineyard of Contrada Versella.  Made of 90% carricante and 10% catarratto.  Spending 6 monhs on the lees in stainless with 1 year in the bottle.  A pale straw yellow color with aromas of white flowers.  This wine had beautiful balance, clean and crisp with citrus notes.   
2014 Cavanera Rovo delle Coturnie Etna Rosso D.O.C. - The first of the Cavanera cru wines.  Grown on black volcanic soils and a blend of nerello mascalese with some nerello cappuccio.  This wine spends 9 months in tonneaux.  Deep ruby, almost garnet in color with a tinge of orange on the rim.  Medium body with dark cherry flavors, spice, silky tannins and a lengthy finish.  An enticing wine! 

2014 Signum Aetnae Etna D.O.C. Rosso  RiservaIf I had to pick one to be my favorite this was it.  2019 was it’s first introduction to the market.  The grapes are sourced from the 140+ year old vines on the property, pre-phylloxera.  Made exclusively from nerello mascalese only about 3,500 bottles of this wine are produced.  Ruby in color with a tinge of orange around the rim.  Aromas of dark cherry, ripe raspberries, spice, herbal with a hint of cinnamon and licorice.  Lighter in body than I expected, but big on acid with with intense flavors.  Wrapping up with subtle tannins on the finish.  This wine spends 2 years in tonneau with 18 months in the bottle.   

Next week I’ll feature my last edition from my trip to Firriato featuring their wines from the island of Favignana.  Some unique features of these vineyards so don’t miss it!

*This was a sponsored trip, but opinions are my own.


  1. The slopes of Mt Etna really is a special place to visit and grow wine. Some unique varieties and a special atmosphere.

  2. So happy to have found your blog! Thank you for the info. I missed visiting Baglio Soria because they were closed, and you're teaching me more about their Mount Etna location which I appreciate. Is there a way to privately contact you? Thank you!

    1. Hi Kimberley. Email me direct at vinotravels at hotmail dot com.