Sublime Sicilian Wines From Mount Etna

View of some columns in the stage of the greek theater in Taormina and a perspective of snowy mount Etna

By Jim Peterson

Wine Enthusiast & Instagram Wine Influencer

I first visited Sicily in 1995. The Air Force would use Sigonella Naval Air Station as a stopover point when we were redeploying our A-10 fighter jets from Kuwait. As you flew into Sigonella, it was impossible not to be awed by the sight of the active volcano Mount Etna. There was a small stream of billowing smoke making it seem peaceful. Still, I couldn’t help wondering, “What if it erupts?” It was both daunting and fascinating.

I knew very little about wine back then, but I do remember sipping Sicilian wine while enjoying charcuterie from the local butcher shop near our hotel. I also carried a few bottles back home with me, hidden in my A-10 travel pod. Sicily was fascinating the few times I visited.

Looking back, I could kick myself for not learning more about the amazing wines made on the slopes of Mount Etna. Etna wines, known as Etna Rosso (the red) and Etna Bianco (the white), have become some of my absolute favorites over the past few years. It seems like such a dichotomy.

How does the harshness of volcanic soil produce such wines of grace and style?



As with so many other wine regions, the beauty of Etna wines is possible because there are specific grapes that thrive in that terroir. The Etna Rosso wines are mainly comprised of Nerello Mascalese, an indigenous grape to Sicily. Ben Spencer is the winemaker for a new Etna project called Blindspot Vineyards. A few years ago they discovered an isolated vineyard tended by a family that just made wines for their own use. A bargain was struck. Their first release in 2023 was only 800 bottles.

Ben says, “Nerello Mascalese was born and raised here on the slopes of Mount Etna. The grape’s DNA has been designed over the centuries to do what it does best on volcanic soil.  It is literally a crossing between a white grape and black grape, so its lifespan is special in the vineyard. It’s like how Chenin Blanc does well in northern France, or Sangiovese does well in Tuscany. Where the grape is raised matters.”

One question I often get when introducing a new wine is “What other wine can you compare this to?” While the flavor profile of Etna Rosso wines is quite distinct, I think it’s fair to say the body of an Etna Rosso, and the expected richness, is most like that of an elegant Pinot Noir.

The typical aromas in an Etna Rosso can range from wild cherry to fresh strawberry with spice, garden herbs, and a mineral component. On the palate there can be varied red and black fruits. There is often a softness or delicacy to the Etna Rosso wines, and then that ever-present undercurrent of volcanic soil influence so unique to these wines.

The Etna Rosso wines are extremely food friendly. While many Italian red wines seem to crave a food complement to help them express their fullest potential, an Etna Rosso can certainly be a sipping wine. Still, the food pairing potential is quite diverse. I have often paired them with Veal Milanese or Veal Parmigiana. Any kind of Italian red sauce, like Marinara or Bolognese, works well. They pair just as easily with a nice grilled steak, rack of lamb, or other red meat dishes. Oh, and pizza works great too!

You will sometimes see a secondary grape, Nerello Cappuccio, added to Etna Rosso. By rule it is limited to a maximum of 20%. This grape produces a wine with a deep red color, but it lacks the backbone to be produced as a stand-alone varietal wine. Used in proportion, it can help tame the wilder instincts and bring out the best of the Nerello Mascalase.



The white, or Bianco, wines of Etna are just as beguiling as the Rosso. I cannot count the number of times I have popped the cork on an Etna Bianco to motivate me while preparing a meal. There is something about the fresh vivacity of the flavors that practically forces your mood to equal it. The dominant white grape for Etna is Carricante. Some believe it’s been grown on Mount Etna for over a thousand years. An Etna Bianco must have at least 60% Carricante. There are a few other white grapes, but Catarratto is the secondary grape most often used.

Like the Nerello Mascalese, Carricante was born and raised on Mount Etna. This allows the wines to be made with minimal intervention.

The owner of Blindspot Vineyards, Matt Burghoff says, “Mount Etna does all the hard work, and you just have to get out of the way!”

That’s not to say winemaking techniques don’t matter. Many wineries use a technique called cold maceration, where the grapes are cold soaked prior to fermentation. This extracts aromas and flavors in a manner a straight press and fermentation would not do. To keep Etna Bianco fresh, most will use a cold fermentation in stainless steel or concrete tanks. They often let the wines “rest on the lees” for three to six months. The “lees” are remnants of dead yeast cells after fermentation. This helps add an element of complexity to the flavors.

The aroma and flavor profile of an Etna Bianco will surprise you with its energetic appeal. I always like to use the word zesty. Whether it’s the nose or the palate, you may find a crazy concoction of lemon, grapefruit, green apple, chamomile, pear, or even pineapple. There is always a bright acidity that literally makes your mouth water. You can begin to see why I like to sip it while cooking. For food pairings, it makes a great starter with charcuterie and salty Italian hard cheeses like Asiago. Etna Bianco is also the perfect complement to seared scallops or just about any fish or chicken entrée.



The best aspect of Etna wines is the incredible value they offer. Aside from the few single vineyard offerings, the basic Etna Rosso and Etna Bianco wines are often under $30. Even the higher end single vineyard wines will be below $100, and most barely go over $50. This is starting to change a little with the recent renaissance Etna wines are undergoing.

For now, I believe Etna wines are some of the greatest values in wine. It is definitely a wine to consider for a host gift when you’re invited to dinner.

Tenuta delle Terre Nere: Both the Etna Rosso and Etna Bianco have been standards in my house for years. It’s the perfect go-to wine when you need something Italian but you’re not looking to break the bank. I have probably opened more of this than any other Etna producer. They also have a few single vineyard wines in both Rosso and Bianco.

Tornatore: The Tornatores trace their Etna grape growing back to 1865. These are fun wines to try, offer tremendous value, and I have never been disappointed. For a different experience, look for the slightly higher end Pietrarizzo bottlings which are aged in wooden barrels for a time.

Graci: Young winemaker Alberto Aiello Graci is at the helm now. You might pay a little extra for these, but they are worth it. He uses minimal intervention techniques and the resulting wines simply burst on the palate. These are tremendous food wines!

Cusumano Alta Mora: The Cusumano brothers started this project about 10 years ago. The name Alta Mora translates to “High, Black” representing the great heights and dark soils of Mount Etna. The vineyards are about 4,000 feet up the 11,000-foot mountain. Delicious wines!

Pietradolce: Here is another relatively young winery started in 2005. They have Etna Rosso, Etna Bianco, and an Etna Rosato (rosé). All are very nice wines. I will note that when you see an Etna Rosato, it’s usually made from Nerello Mascalese with short skin contact to extract a bit of color before fermentation.

There are many other producers on Mount Etna, but these are my favorites among all those I have tasted. Best of all, they are typically the ones you can easily find in your local wine store. I always encourage my Instagram followers to seek out new wines and new wine regions. It’s the best way to expand your palate and experience the wide world of wine. If you have been wondering where you should venture next, look no further than the sublime wines from Mount Etna.

It’s an easy hill to climb. Cheers!

Follow Jim on Instagram, @tx_wine_pilot, for more wine tips and reviews.


Jim Peterson is a retired U.S. Air Force officer who mainly flew the A-10 fighter jet. He has ties to the wine business going back over 20 years and is an avid wine collector. His extensive wine knowledge includes travel to many wine regions, tasting many of the world’s top wines, and ongoing personal wine exploration. He has cultivated a large following on his Instagram account, @tx_wine_pilot.