The 2022 Etna Bianco fascinates with a unique blend of smoky peat and lime zest with complicating sour melon. It’s soft, soothing and distinctly savoury in style, with masses of saline minerals giving way to young peach nuances. This tapers off a bit short yet clean, with a salty flourish that keeps the mouth watering for more.
I found the Etna Rossos from Graci among the top wines I tasted for this year's report. Especially the 2018 Arcuria Sopra il Pozzo, which transcends the conditions of this challenging year. The 2020 Rosso Arcuria and Rosso Feudo di Mezzo were equally compelling. However, I can’t say the same for the 2021 and 2022. In both cases, the wines come across as understated to a fault or mineral to the point of being fruit-challenged. When possible, I checked in on a second bottle, each time with the same result. For example, the 2021 Arcuria shows a Band-Aid note on the nose that leads me to suspect Brettanomyces.
Drink 2023 - 2026
Eric Guido, Vinous.com (September 2023)
Made with 85% Carricante and 15% Catarratto, the Graci 2022 Etna Bianco has a distinct mineral note that adds extra sharpness and brightness. Over the years, the percentage of Carricante has increased in the blend. This grape's salty-mineral profile takes centre stage. Showing a very light golden colour, the wine drinks beautifully right now.
Alberto Aiello Graci is one of the protagonists of the Etna wine movement. He has added a beautiful new white wine to his portfolio from the Contrada Mugnanazzi, which sits at 700 meters above sea level.
Drink 2023 - 2028
Monica Larner, Wine Advocate (June 2023)
Lively citrus characters are followed by subtle aromas of sea shells and wet stones. Medium-bodied. Flinty finish at the end. Clean and crisp. A blend of 85% Carricante and 15% Catarratto.
James Suckling, JamesSuckling.com (October 2023)
About this WINE
Alberto Aiello Graci has been making wine on Sicily's Mount Etna since 2004, the year he returned from his apprenticeship as a Milan banker, picking up the baton with 5 hectares of family land, 2 hectares of which is vineyards (the rest polycultural activities).
The region of Etna Rosso, famous for its black lava soils and elegant red wines made from the Nerello Mascalese and Cappuccio grapes, has been undergoing a revival since 2000, lured by juicy EU grants and spectacular scenery. Once carpeted with vines - the fruit of which was allegedly used to in bulk to prop up the wines of the Langhe and of Burgundy - it has now become an artisan's playground, a mix of hobbyist and commercial winegrowers.
Alberto Graci is definitely in the latter category; his feet firmly on the ground. As the Vice President of the Consorzio, that covers 300 hectares of Etna DOC, he's forever preoccupied with the quality of the wines now being produced (at yields still as high as 65hl/ha).
His patch of heaven is part 50 year old, 8500 high density, free-standing 'alberello' vines at 1000 metres above sea level that produce naturally low yields amid the black grainy soils, part younger trained vines on flatter, lower sandier terra. He prefers to tend his vines as naturally as possible.
Fermentation takes place in a combination of large cement and Au strian Stockhinger oak of 42hl, at ambient (30-35 celsius) temperatures, using wild yeast, before moving the wine into slightly smaller Gamba barrels. He seeks the reductive quality of large oak, that captures the character of the soil and fruit, rather than the stylistic effects of micro-oxygenation brought by French barriques.
Alberto debuted his Etna Rosato (100% Nerello Mascalese) with the 2013 vintage, partnering the earlier drinking smoky red Etna Rosso, the more structured, wilder berried Quota 600 (from vines 600 metres up - a 500 case production of only Nerello Mascalese and Cappuccio, lush and lithe), the high thrills of his Quota 1000 and the minerally citrus Etna Bianco Contrada Arcuria (made from 100% Carricante).
Sicily's total vineyard area has actually shrunk from 322,000 hectares in 1880 to 113,000ha today (2014). 85% is planted with indigenous grapes (a growing trend), of which 70% is white grapes. Up until the 1990s much of the white wine production was mainly Trebbiano for distillation; then the switch was made to international/French varieties to be used as blending material in Northern Europe. Now the authorities are beginning to study indigenous grapes more seriously, of which 15 have been identified, along with a further 50 ancient varietals. 80% of the vines are located in the western Val di Mazara part of the island, on the wide open plains. Yet 65% of the island is hilly, especially the mountainous northern and north-eastern Val di Demonte.
The island is responsible for circa 12.5% (2012 harvest) of Italy’s wine output, being the fourth most productive region (after Veneto, Emilia Romagna and Puglia). The percentage of DOC/DOCG wines here remains in the minority, with Cerasuolo di Vittoria being the only DOCG. There are 22 DOCs, notably those of: Marsala, Moscato di Pantelleria, Faro, Etna and Eloro. In 2012, the authorities introduced an all-embracing DOC Sicilia, but one that continued to allow international grapes to be included in historic DOCs, such as Etna.
The terroir is much more diverse than expected. Topgraphically, the western end of the island is essentially flat with sedimentary, calcareous clay. The centre northern eastern areas are essentially mountainous with peaks at 2000 msl., made up of ignaceous rocks with sedimentary coastal strips. The east around Catania lies on the lava flows from Monte Etna, while the high Hyblaean plateau that dominates the south-east is underpinned by limestone bedrock, over which lies a tilth of volcanic dust. The area around Vittoria is more red loam over limestone.
The climate is essentially Mediterranean. That said, the south, south west is influenced by north African warm humid scirocco winds; the north battered by northern winds spinning off the Tyrrhenian sea, making the centre almost continental; the east and south east fanned gently by Mediterranean air currents off the Ionian sea; offset by high altitudes.
The key autochthonous grapes, their zones and producers that are leading the (re) emergence of Sicilian fine wine are: white Grillo and Zibibbo around Marsala (producer Marco de Bartoli); white Catarratto and red Perricone in the centre/north (Valdibella and Porta del Vento); red Nerello Mascalese and Cappuccio, and Nocera grapes of Faro (Bonavita); Nerello Mascalese and white Carricante of Etna (Graci); red Nero d’Avola of Noto (Rigoria); and the red Frappato of Cerasuolo di Vittoria fame (Arianna Occhipinti and COS)
The good name of Marsala was created by the British during the18th century, but ruined by the Italians when they took over the industry in the late 19th century, turning it into merely a cooking ingredient. Now the likes of Marco De Bartoli are reviving the quality and reputation; turning the clocks back.
Carricante is one of the most important and traditional grape varieties used to produce white wines in Sicily, Italy. It's known for its crisp acidity, minerality, and delicate aromas, making it a favourite among enthusiasts who appreciate lighter, refreshing styles of white wine.
The variety is believed to be native to the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna in northeastern Sicily. This region's unique volcanic soils and high-altitude vineyards play a significant role in shaping the grape's character and contributing to the distinctiveness of the wines.
The vines are known for their adaptability and are particularly well-suited to the volcanic ash and lava-rich soils, which help impart a pronounced mineral quality to the resulting wines.
Carricante wines are typically characterised by their bright acidity, subtle fruit flavours, and mineral-driven taste. Typical flavour notes include citrus (lemon, lime), green apple, pear, and sometimes hints of floral and herbal nuances. The volcanic influence often contributes to smoky and stony undertones in the wine.
While the wines are generally consumed young to appreciate their fresh and vibrant character, some producers also make versions suitable for ageing. Proper cellaring allows these wines to develop more complex flavours and evolve gracefully.
The variety's bright acidity and fresh fruit flavours make them excellent companions for various dishes. They pair well with seafood, especially shellfish, grilled fish, and light pasta dishes. The wines' mineral character also makes them an excellent match for dishes with volcanic soil-infused ingredients, such as certain types of cheese and vegetables grown in volcanic regions.