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Vino di Anna

I first visited Etna in February 2018 on the way to France for La Dive Bouteille. Co-owner and friend of mine Eric Narioo met us in the nearby town of Solicchiata (Northern face of Mt Etna), and we went to visit a number of their vineyards dotted around the various contrada (plots or lieu-dits), before returning to their home where their palmento (traditional Etna winery) is located. A year later Ash did harvest with them, and had a chance to work alongside Eric and his wife, Anna Martens, who the estate is named after.

Those deeply ingrained in the natural wine world will know of or have heard of Eric - he founded UK natural wine distributor Les Caves de Pyrene - easily the most successful natural wine distribution company in the world with a portfolio that's second to none and boasts around 400 producers. Anna, is also of equal footing; she was with Petaluma for a decade, then with Supertuscan estate Tenuta dell'Ornellaia and Tenuta di Trinoro before Eric and Anna settled on Etna as their place to be.

As soon as you arrive at their estate, you realise that Vino di Anna is as traditional, authentic, and as quintessentially Etnean as it comes. Sure, Eric is French and Anna is Australian, but they have worked incredibly hard and put a significant amount of time and effort into farming their vineyard, restoring their traditional palmento, and making their wines as traditionally as possible... to the point where local wine bar (Cave Ox) owner Sandro regards their wines are more authentic than those produced by other locals!

The 4.8 hectares of vineyards are dotted on the mountainside and range from 650 to 1200m in elevation. Most are terraced and accessible only by foot so only manual labour is possible - no tractors. The vines are all old bush vines and generally run from 40 to 120 years of age. All are individually staked using Sicilian chestnut wood and trained 'alberello'.

The wines are generally destemmed by hand and fermented in buried Georgian qvevri (amphorae) from one of the few remaining artisan qvevri makers, Zaaliko Bodjadze, who works with pure clay high in the Caucasus Mountains. Unlike more modern Etna producers there is no new oak in sight.

Reds are mostly Nerello Mascalese, with some Nerello Cappuccio and Alicante (Grenache). Whites are Grecanico, Catarratto and Carricante, with some Insolia and Minella Bianca. The soils are all volcanic, from decomposed volcanic lava from Mt Etna (which is immediately behind the vineyards) and all of the vineyards are tended to organically, with some biodynamic practices too. All wines undergo wild fermentation, go through full spontaneous malolactic, are never adjusted, and are bottled unfiltered and unfined, and with little or no added sulphites too.

Etna wines are totally unique to the world. They produce a luminosity unlike no other, and have great tannin structure and power to them, all the while remaining, somehow, equally light and elegant. To me - climate, altitude, vine age, volcanic soils, varietal - all seem to play such big parts in why Etna can't be replicated or mimicked. All the more reason why rare wines like these can't be compared to and should be celebrated and given total respect.