Santa Maria La Nave 2015 Grecanico Dorato 'Millesulmare'

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This is an absolute beauty from Etna made from vineyards at over 1100 metres elevation and made from a proportion of ungrafted vines. This is the kind of wine that reams of pages could be written about as it utterly extraordinary. The wine is made from Grecanico Dorato, a vine that has been genetically linked to the Garganega variety of Soave, but the wine here is so different. Here it is supremely rich, golden in colour and hugely intense, but has a pulse of electricity running though it. A complex palate of bitter orange, honey, honeysuckle, minerals and candied lemon peel. This wine is a little bit bonkers, but no doubt - 100% brilliant.

The Region



Sicily is on a roll. It is a vast vineyard, 2nd largest after Veneto, of course producing wines at all quality levels, but a surprisingly high average. During the 1990s it was all about international varieties, but ever since, the Island has learned to celebrate its native varieties and now more than ever there are great reasons to look here for top quality wines. There are many DOCs, but the vast majority of wine is produced at IGT level. Producers have a little more freedom to experiment with varieties and winemaking techniques, without being hampered by local DOC laws, in the same way that Languedoc in France has done. Because of this, we tend to think of Sicily as the 'New World' of Italy.

The story begins with Nero d'Avola: the most widely planted of the black varieties here. The average quality is high, but it only gets so good. If you want to seek wines of greater distinction and delicacy, then look towards Etna. This smoking volcano is home to some of Italy's most exciting wines, and is progressing at such a break-neck pace, we can hardly keep up. This year sees the release of the first wines from Idda, a collaboration between Gaja of Piedmont and Alberto Graci, a native of the island and wine producer in Etna. We have also been won over by the delights of the whites of this DOC, most notably the wines of Santa Maria La Nave, who are making two extraordinary wines.

The Producer

Santa Maria La Nave

Santa Maria La Nave

The history of Santa Maria La Nave dates back to 1954 when the grandfather of the current owner, Sonia Spadaro Mulone, moved to Etna from Regalbuto to find work in the volcanic vineyards of the region. Sonia and her husband Riccardo continue the excellent work of her former generations and is hand crafting some of Etna's most exciting wines.

The vineyard is based on some old vines of native Etna varieties, Grecanico Dorato and Nerello Mascalese, the former no longer being permitted for the DOC. The white varieties are planted at 1,100 metres many of which are ungrafted and of course, on pure volcanic lava flow soils. The red from Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Capuccio is grown at around 800 metres

We are utterly smitten with Sonia's wines. So much so that I would go out on a limb and say these these are Etna's best wines. The white tastes like it is wired in to the national grid for its scintillating electricity, with the red being a burly, old-viney, powerhouse, but with such control and purity it neither feels heavy nor overblown.


Volcanic Wines

The major factors that influence how a wine tastes are its grape variety, climate and the human factors of winemaking and viticulture, but it all begins with the soil, the dirt from which the vine is nourished. Varying soil types, their fertility, water retain capacity and mineral content all play a part in the wine's quality and style.

The world of wine is dotted with little pockets of volcanic regions, whether active or long extinct, and these soils impart their own distinctive character in the resulting wines. Generally speaking, volcanic regions are low in fertility, which is great for grapevines as this encourages the vine to produce sweeter and richer berries. The wines from these regions certainly do echo the drama of volcanoes and many wine drinkers seek out the wines for their distinctive minerality, and crisp acidity.

For further reading, we thoroughly recommend John Szabo's comprehensive book on the topic, Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit and Power.

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