Friday, July 22, 2022

The Uniqueness, Challenges and Future of Mt. Etna Wines

I’m always intrigued by volcanic wines no matter where they are grown.  There is something so unique about wines growing on either ancient volcanic soil or even active volcanos like Mt. Etna where the soil composition is ever changing. I was reminded of how fascinating the wines of Mt. Etna in Sicily are once again when I attended a live webinar this week hosted by the Napa Wine School with Ben Spencer sharing his expertise on what makes these wines so special.  You may remember I featured Ben Spencer and his book “The New Wines of Mount Etna” in the past that you can revisit below.  Today I wanted to highlight even more that I learned about the wines of Mt. Etna and some interesting facts. 

Sicily is the 4th largest region in terms of quantity of wine production in Italy.  It’s the largest island in Italy with a Mediterranean climate hosting warm and dry summers following by mild and wet winters.  Mt. Etna is located on the northeast side of the island and is a 900-foot volcano with the Ionian Sea off the east coast.  This area receives a few different mistral winds that sweep across the sea that influence winemaking on Etna.  There is the ponente winds that provide humid, by dry air coming from the west.  Coming in off the Ionian Sea is the grecale winds that are more cooling.  From the south reaching up from Africa are the scirocco winds that are sandy that bring in humidity that can leave behind dust that can affect the leaves on the vines, therefore also affecting photosynthesis. 

Mt. Etna not only faces the challenges of climate including the winds, but this region also receives up to 75 inches of rain, which can potentially also bring fungus, mold and rot.  As one can imagine the steep slopes where the vineyards are planted so the tedious labor of manual harvest is required as well.  Irrigation is not allowed so the vines must search deep below the surface. 

The soils of Mt. Etna are composed of 35 different soils including basalt, sand, pumice, glass, metal, etc.  With Etna being an active volcano, these soils do change throughout the years as Etna releases what they call as parent material that comes from the magna chamber deep below the surface.  This parent material can deposit up to 1,000 pounds per year on the surface of what already exists.  This is part of the reason why these wines are ever changing even including the flora that varies year to year with a variety of different plants from the ever-changing soils.   

Soils of Mt. Etna

Wrapping up our webinar Ben shared what may be possible for the future of Mt. Etna wines.  Currently the region is only farming about 2,700 acres with a production of 4 million bottles, but there are almost 57,000 acres available to be utilized within the DOC.  He also mentioned that possibly within the next 10 years you may see an Etna DOCG.  This will be an interesting wine region to watch develop in the coming years.  Italy has such rich history, but also so much to go when it comes to Italian wine.   

Of course, learning isn’t complete without being able to taste some wines. Although I didn’t get the wines that they were sampling in the tasting I did open a bottle I had on hand, a 2018 Firriato Le Sabbie Dell’Etna Etna Rosso DOC. I was making some baked ziti for the family and figured this would be an enjoyable pairing. This wine is made from 80% Nerello Mascalese and 20% Nerello Cappuccio. Nerello Mascalese is the primary red grape of the Etna Rosso DOC wines. It is an offspring of Sangiovese and a white grape of Calabria, Mantonico Bianco. Up to 20% Nerello Cappuccio is allowed in the Etna Rosso DOC wines as used in this blend. Red wines also make up 55% of the Etna DOC wine production. 

2018 Firriato Le Sabbie Dell'Etna Etna Rosso DOC
Baked Fusilli with Etna Rosso pairing

The 2018 Firriato Le Sabbie Dell’Etna Etna Rosso DOC was lighter ruby color with brick tinges in the glass with a rich bouquet of red fruit aromas that remind me of cherry chapstick with notes of black pepper and cinnamon. Juicy red berries continue onto the palate with lively acidity. Elegant tannins carry through to a harmonious finish. SRP $20-25 ABV 13.5% 

To check out my other articles on Mt. Etna wines including my visit to the Firriato estate in Sicily follow along: 

Friday, July 15, 2022

Summertime calls with this Val delle Rose Vermentino

When I first start getting into wine I had the luxury of meeting Andrea Cecchi at a couple of local events here and was impressed by him and the wines that the Cecchi family have established in their 125+ history in the wine industry. In my search to always seek out wines and grapes on the lesser explored path, when I saw this label that screamed summertime and was a Vermentino from the Cecchi family under their Val delle Rose winery I knew this was one to try.

The Cecchi family founded the Famiglia Cecchi brand in 1893 and since have purchased a number of wineries growing their reputable portfolio to include those from Villa Cerna, Villa Rosa, Castello Montauto, Tenuta Alzatura and the one I’m featuring today from Val delle Rose. The Cecchi family purchased Val delle Rose in 1996. Located in the village of Poggio la Mozza, this winery is located in the western part of Tuscany in the Morellino di Scansano appellation. Only kilometers from the sea and a 2 hour ride west out of Florence.


What started as an initial purchase of about 60 acres has grown to close to 250 acres due to experimentation and studies of the soil and its potential. Although Sangiovese is the leading grape of this estate, Vermentino also takes the stage along with some other international varieties. The soils of this area are sandy, but also rich in stony pebbles.    

Val delle Rose Cecchi winery
Copyright of Val delle Rose

The 2018 Val delle Rose Litorale Vermentino is from the Maremma Toscana DOC. Made from 100% Vermentino, this wine went through a cold maceration and was fermented in stainless steel for 15 days. Although I suggest drinking this wine in it’s youth, I was surprised by the acidity still holding. A slightly deeper straw color the aromas were of tropical melon and a hint of orange. Good weight leaning toward more medium-body, notes of grapefruit, pear and lemon pith lingered on the palate with a slight bitterness and mouthwatering acidity lasting through the finish. SRP $15.99 ABV 13% 

I could see this pairing going wonderfully with many seafood based dishes. My family tends to liked fried cod so that is what we enjoyed with the bottle along with some roasted eggplant and zucchini.

2018 Val delle Rose Litorale Vermentino
It was also a signed bottled by what looks like Giulia Cecchi whom I can only assume is part of the family.

Friday, July 1, 2022

Overview of the Langhe Wines

As we creep into the 4th of July holiday weekend our Italian Food, Wine & Travel group (#ItalianFWT) is covering the area of the Langhe in the Piedmont, or Piemonte, region of northern Italy hosted by Cindy of Grape Experiences. I only had a couple bottles from the Langhe in my inventory and I just wasn’t ready to part with them being Barolo, especially with these warm summer days. With my oldest son turning 6 and the 4th of July weekend there was just too much going on to get it together to go shopping for a bottle. Today I’m providing an overview of the Langhe region, which is just as important to understand what you’re looking at when you’re considering wines from the Langhe.  

The Langhe, pronounced “lahn-gay”, area of Piedmont is tucked in the southern part of Piedmont in the Cuneo province tucked between the Alps and not too distant from the Mediterranean Sea. Location is key in understanding where grapes are grown due to the influences created by the geography and climate, in this case, where the Alpine and Mediterranean air breezes meet. It is also bordered by the Tanaro River. The Langhe area is also very hilly so there are various microclimates between the hills and valleys where these vineyards are located. 

The Langhe in Celtic translates to “tongues of land”, which helps describe the shape in the way the hills and valleys run parallel to each other. It also translates in local dialect to the plural form of langa, which translates to long, low hills. With the town of Alba standing as the main capital of this area it’s a mesmerizing area in Piedmont with picturesque castles, villages and vineyards galore including some of Italy’s most notable wines including Barolo and Barbaresco.  The below picture is the Langhe as a whole with other DOC and DOCG appellations broken down within the territory.

Langhe wine region
Copyright of

As you may be familiar that Barolo and Barbaresco are produced from the Nebbiolo grape, but this area of the Langhe is rich in other native grapes that are much more approachable than our ageworthy friends and that don’t break the bank. Other red grapes from the Langhe include Dolcetto, Barbera, Pelaverga and Freisa. Pelaverga and Freisa may be more of a challenge to locate, but are great summer reds to enjoy on those warm days with a slight chill. Dolcetto is a great all-around balanced wine with fruit, acidity and tannin and Barbera is a grape high in acidity making it very food friendly. Some of the whites of the Langhe include Arneis and Favorite along with other international grapes as well.  

If one has yet to experience Barolo and Barbaresco, but cannot afford the higher price tag that goes along with them, you can still try great Langhe Nebbiolo wines that don’t qualify for whatever reason under the DOCG of Barolo and Barbaresco. It will still give you an understanding of what the Nebbiolo grape is all about and many of the producers of Barolo and Barbaresco are also growing Nebbiolo that won’t be bottled under the DOCG allowing you to still drink great wine from respected producers.  

Here is a look back at some Langhe wines and a variety of the Langhe native grapes I've shared over time:

What are your favorite grapes of the Langhe? 

Piedmont wine regions including Langhe
Map by Jeff Quinn copyright of Seven Fifty

Join the rest of my Italian food and wine loving friends as they explore the many facets of the wines from Langhe.  Due to the holiday we will not be having a live chat on Twitter this week.  Happy 4th of July to all!