The vineyards between Castiglione and Randazzo grow mainly nerello mascalese, nerello cappuccio, carricante, grecanico and minnella, and in the 1860’s when phylloxera destroyed important vines all over Europe, it was these Sicilian grapes that came to the rescue. Spared by the blight, Mount Etna’s wines were sold in bulk and used to fortify more expensive and prestigious wines, especially in France. Until the 1960’s few Etna wines were bottled, or known outside their local region. In the world of fine wine, they were always the understudy, never the star.
Nino Franco (center) and his Vini della Costa d’Oro dell’Etna Team
But growing up in Passopisciaro, Nino Franco (creator of I Vini della Costa d’Oro dell’Etna) says he always knew there would be a time for Mount Etna’s wines to shine. “I grew up making wine with my father. I knew from a very young age the quality of our territory’s wines; that someday we would be recognized for the beauty of our wines.” And he was right. Nino watched as Etna’s wines grew from virtual obscurity (10 quality producers in the 1980’s to over 100 today) to winning accolades from wine critics and sommeliers throughout the world.
Winemaker Irene Badalà pouring her Nerello Mascalese Etna Rosso
Nino created I Vini Della Costa d’Oro dell’Etna in 2009 to feature Mount Etna’s northeastern side which he calls home. He and winemaker Marco de Grazia of Tenuta delle Terre Nere decided on the name for the event which means, Wines of the Gold Coast of Etna. “We’re in a special position”, Nino says, “We have strong sun, no fog, a northern wind, elevations of 650 meters, and beautiful lava soils.”
The first year of I Vini Della Costa d’Oro dell’Etna about 20 local producers came to share their wines and 1500 wine lovers, journalists, restaurant owners and sommeliers attended. Unlike most wine events, Nino decided to make the evening free to the public and invite every producer in the northeastern region of Etna. Local restaurants also donate and share traditional Sicilian cuisine. A truly inclusive collaboration, Nino said, “For me it’s about the pleasure of seeing people enjoy our wines and recognize their quality. The producers bring what they want to share. The people get to meet the winemakers and to taste wines and vintages they may not have tried before.” In 2015 the event grew to 34 producers and 3000 attendees, so many in fact that the tiny piazza in Passopisciaro was overflowing all night.
Rosario Pappalardo of Val Cerasa (left) and Tonino Rausa from Vino di Anna (right)
We arrived early this year, but the crowds quickly rolled in to taste and connect with winemakers. The piazza buzzed with activity as glasses were poured, wine was swirled, sniffed and sipped. Restaurants offered bites of local specialties like porcini mushrooms and risotto with nerello mascalese. Out on the street the grills smoked with salsiccia and polpetta served on panninis with roasted red peppers, eggplant and fresh tomatoes. Snacks and sweets from cannoli to arancini filled a table at the entrance.
An event like this is not only an opportunity to taste the wines but also to learn directly from the winemakers. They can tell you about the grape varieties, blends, soils, and processes that go into the glasses they are pouring for you. Whether you’re in the wine business or just there to enjoy, you can put a face to the wines and get a sense of the beauty and diversity this side of Mount Etna has to offer.
Sandro Dibella, owner of Cave Ox
Winemaker Peter Weigner of Weigner Wines
Winemakers Giovanni Raiti (left) and Pietro di Giovanni (right) of Quantico
As we took our last sip and started back to the car, Nino and his crew were still handing out glasses and passing bowls of porcini in white wine broth to people just arriving. When I asked him why he created I Vini Della Costa d’Oro dell’Etna, he said, “Because my heart lives in these vineyards.” If you make a visit to Mount Etna next September and come to this event, you’ll get a little taste of why so many people feel the same way.
I Vini della Costa d’Oro dell’Etna 2017 Wineries
Az. Agricola Camarda
Az Agricolo CE.LA.FA
Az. Agricolo Crasà
Az. Agricola Irene Badalà
Az. Agricola Siciliano
Az Vinicolo Terre dell’Etna
Custodi delle Vigne dell’Etna
La 3 D s.r.l
Tenuta di Fessina
Vino di Anna