Carricante: Sicily’s Premiere White

Carricante, as Etna Bianco’s primary white grape, may not be the most obscure varietal in the world but, since I’d personally never tasted it, was fair game. We are going to Sicily, an island off the toe of Italy’s boot. More specifically, to Mount Etna, a still active volcano on the northeast end, home to our lovely carricante.

I purchased a 2019 Pietradolce Archineri from Wally’s wine shop in Santa Monica. Etna Bianco DOC requires a minimum 60% carricante (Bianco Superiore requires 80% ) but this particular wine uses 100% from vines all over 100 years old. Furthermore, this particular winery chooses to plant only grapes native to Etna, claiming this is what the land demands. I couldn’t be more in love with their philosopy and, as carricante is not widely grown anywhere else in the world, was excited to try its unique wine grown in magna rich soils.

The first thing I noticed when I opened and decanted this wine was the intense golden color. It conjured images of the sun skipping across a steep mountainside vineyard, offering the grapes a blast of warmth before setting into the Mediterranean Sea. On the nose I got a whiff of salinity (pretentious wine term for faint saltiness) and stony minerality mixed with fresh orange and grapefruit citrus. It was as if the salty sea air had whoosed through an orchard then into my glass to say hello. On the palate I got the added notes of peach, green melon, white flowers, and a slight nutty, bitter finish. It is aged in stainless steal and maintains a crisp, fresh acidity even though it is fuller in body.

I decided to pair this wine with an orange sesame salmon over sauteed fennel and spinach quinoa. I reasoned that the fuller bodied wine matched the fattier fish, the citrus paired with the orange segments. I chose to add the anise flavored fennel and savory sesame oil to balance out the acidity and salinity of the wine. And wow! While I enjoyed the wine on its own it truly began to sing once partnered with the food. The ginger I used in the sauce became more pronouced (was I now tasting ginger in the wine as well?), the wine increasingly more layered and complex. For a moment I considered myself near genuis for pairing carricante with fennel. Surely, no such pairing had ever been done. That is until post meal, when I flipped through my Wine Bible reading Karen MacNeil’s description of carricante as “a racy wine with resiny notes of fennel.” Welp, if not a brand new idea, at least my instincts had been right!

I encourage you to seek out a bottle of carricante yourself. It can pair with seafood, shellfish, pasta in cream sauce, and fruity salads. You won’t find it at the local grocery story or Bevmo, but you should be able to find a carricante at a local wine shop or through apps like Vivino or wine.com. Other carricantes to look for are Benanti’s Pietra Marina or Planeta’s “Eruzione 1614”.

Please comment with any questions or requests for where you would like to go next off the beaten wine path!

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