At the beginning of my recent trip to Italy, I flew from Milano to Catania on an early morning Easy Jet flight.  This is Europe’s version of Southwest, filled with students and business people, complete with a cattle-call-like boarding procedure and a no-frills service cart.   Undeniably excited, I was smiling like a loon throughout the whole flight, and I received quite a few questioning looks from my fellow business-suited commuters. Hey, we were headed for Catania, closest port to Mount Etna!

As we sailed higher above the gray wet blanket of clouds shrouding Milano and hurled towards sunny Sicilia, I could feel the magnetic pull of the island.  Then, there she was.  Breathtaking in all her craggy, snow-capped glory, Mount Etna appeared through the clouds like some mythical creature.  I blinked, at first unsure of what I was seeing through the tiny airplane porthole.  I looked over at the Milanese businessmen next to me and asked, “Questo, e’ Mount Etna?”  They gave me a quizzical look, but confirmed my conclusion.  This was Mount Etna.  Close enough that it felt like I could reach out the window and touch her.

After landing in Catania and weaving through the city and up into the heights of Mount Etna for the Contrade dell’ Etna gathering, it struck me that I felt at home.  After years of studying Etna and her wines, her winemakers, I already knew her.  Something clicked into place and I just felt peaceful.  Home.

The highlight of the wines we tasted that afternoon was certainly a 2007 vintage Etna Bianco from I Custodi delle Vigne dell’Etna.  This was a bottle made from the first harvest of Mario and Manuela Paoluzi’s project, and it was simply stunning.  A few years in the bottle and what I have come to know as a clean, mineral-driven classic Etna Bianco had morphed into something altogether new.

This was a slick, Ferrari of a wine- all power and grace and roaring engines.  The minerality and acidity had integrated into something new- a palate based in a saline umami, counterpointed by bright, round fruit reminiscent of salted yellow plums.

It was magic, pure magic, in the shadow of Mount Etna.