Etna is getting a name for its red wines, made by the local nerello mascalese grape. Yet it also has a first-rate white grape in carricante. The Santo Spirito vineyard is one of the regions’ contrade; top sites (the equivalent of French crus). These were determined with the creation of the local DOC (Protected Designation of Origin) around 50 years ago – but it is only since 2011 that producers have been allowed to use the classification on the label.
The Santo Spirito site is one of these contrade and Terre Nere – one of the landholders in the vineyard – purchased 11 hectares planted with 40 year old nerello mascalese vines. In some parts of the vineyard these gave erratic quality – ‘not up to cru level’ I’m told. Yet they rate the site so highly – and their white grape so highly also – that they decided to graft about half of it to carricante which makes a wine that meets their exacting standards (this is part of a continuing process which involves micro-vinification of their 80 parcels of grapes each year with a continuing evaluation of how the wines perform). Thus, they now produce both red and white from the same premier cru vineyard. I find this interesting, as it shows an inquisitive and adventurous mind which looks to expand the range of vinous possibilities, rather than merely to keep on with what is the easy, normal, and financially-rewarding status quo.
For me, carricante has a distinct orange peel and blossom character – and it was certainly evident on this wine, along with a rather mealy, slightly savoury character. Lovely freshness, a seductive texture, real elegance and excellent length. It’s not – nor is it meant to be – the same as more famous French cru wines, but it justifiably sits alongside them for its quality and presence. Not cheap, but in fact very good value for the purity and focus it offers. They claim that it will age for 12-15 years. I can’t confirm that – I’ve never tried old carricante, but I have no reason to doubt what they say.