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Volcanic Wines - Wines from Sicily's Etna

Wine Making Areas

Three thousand years ago the Greeks exported their culture to Italy. All of southern Italy became Greek, in language and in custom. Great Greek names of antiquity, names like Diodorus and Archimedes, were Sicilians. The island of Sicily became a centre of Hellenic culture, cities like Syracuse and Menfis were major trading centres. Even then, all those years ago, there was viticulture. The Siculi - the aboriginal people of Sicily - were like others in the Italian peninsula and they grew grapes. For the Greeks, whose culture already included wine making, the wonder was the sheer extent of viticulture in Italy. It so amazed them that they called the peninsula 'Enotria' - the land of vines.

Three thousand years ago the Greeks exported their culture to Italy. All of southern Italy became Greek, in language and in custom. Great Greek names of antiquity, names like Diodorus and Archimedes, were Sicilians. The island of Sicily became a centre of Hellenic culture, cities like Syracuse and Menfis were major trading centres. Even then, all those years ago, there was viticulture. The Siculi - the aboriginal people of Sicily - were like others in the Italian peninsula and they grew grapes. For the Greeks, whose culture already included wine making, the wonder was the sheer extent of viticulture in Italy. It so amazed them that they called the peninsula 'Enotria' - the land of vines.

Even then Mount Etna was doing what it does now. It kept emitting flows of lava - black basaltic rock that took up to forty years to break down into soil. But when it finally did break down you had the most fertile land imaginable, rich in minerals and trace elements. This, coupled with the heat of the island and the ability of the lava flows to hold rain water, means the area around Etna is fertile and green. It's surprising how far into the danger zone mankind will go in search of fertile land from which to harvest his crops. High up on the upper slopes of Etna farmers plant vines and from some of these come a wine called 'Fuoco di Etna' or Etna's Fire. So dark that it's almost opaque, it has the vinous taste of stalks and a high alcoholic content as a result of the maturity of the grapes grown under a hot sun.

Simple reds and whites are also made on the volcano's slopes, the word Etna appearing on the labels in large letters. These aren't great wines - the reds are too dark and too robust to have much subtlety and the whites are slightly resinous, but they reflect with accuracy their terroir. Quite apart from the heat of the Sicilian sun which is absorbed by the black lava flows, the volcano itself emits heat, with lava flows still too hot to touch even after a year. Heat and sun means ripe grapes, black fertile soil means grapes with a high mineral content. This combination is put to good effect with dessert wines, like the Malvasia di Lipari which is grown on volcanic soil. The high degree of ripeness ensures a naturally made sweet wine, with all the flavours of the Malvasia grape.

Suggested wine

Archidamo, Primitivo di Manduria, 2001

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