John versus the Volcano – Day 1: Catania Calling

With an abundance of vacation days and a rapidly diminishing year, I decided to create a spur of the moment “Wine Adventure” for myself.

So, with a dash of planning and heap of gusto, I’ve jumped on a plane and headed to one of the most exciting new wine regions of the world – Mount Etna.

Whoa whoa whoa! I hear you cry. Etna has some of the oldest vines in Europe! So why do I call the region new?

Simply because no other classic wine region has declined so much during the 20th century only to be so vigorously revived in the 21st. I challenge any new world region to come close to the level of innovation and variety on show here in the shadow of Sicily’s great volcano.

Over the next 7 days I intend to circumnavigate Mount Etna in search of the great and the good. Plus, to make matters interesting, I can’t drive – so all my adventures and discoveries will be battled out on foot, train and maybe donkey.

Not being a complete masochist, day one was confined to traveling and acclimatisation.

The airport on the doorstep of Etna is in the city of Catania.
Unable to fly direct I had to connect in Florence. A unique experience – I disembarked my plane, passed through customs, got questioned by a rather butch security officer & his dog, went back through departure security and finally boarded the exact same plane I had just got off.

But I digress.

Flying into Catania you are instantly faced with the majesty of Mount Etna. The volcano looms over the city like a omnipresent God. Her magnitude is a wonder to behold.
I apologise if it seems I am waxing lyrical but please try to understand that I currently live in a country BELOW SEA LEVEL. A hill is exciting, a volcano – practically orgasmic.

Fast forward – I find my hotel, clean myself up and head out for my first taste of Sicily.

Walking the classically Sicilian streets looking for an interesting place to wine & dine, I am faced with a plethora of Pizza this and Trattoria that.
They all look pleasant enough but nothing really thrills me.

Suddenly I’m drawn down a side street by a heavy waft of garlic and a heaving gathering of locals feasting outside. Not outside a restaurant, more outside a door.

Mario's
I have been learning Italian for about 6 hours, so I give it my best shot and ask for a table for one.
That seems to work, however I am then confronted with a jumble of eating options. Blankly staring, as if sheer willpower might get me fed, I find myself being led through the door into an Aladdin’s Cave of Italian delicacies. Panicked, I figure it all looks good and decide to plump for just saying “Si”.

Drinks were next and something told me that there wasn’t going to be much in the way of a wine list – “Vino Rosso” I proudly exclaim. And Vino Rosso is what I received:


I looked at the flagon of wine wondering when a glass might show up. It was at this moment that I decided to open the tupperware container that been strangely left behind at my table. Inside I found knives, forks, napkins and plastic cups! Well, when in Rome (or Catania).

Then the feast arrived!


It’s about this sort of time that I would give you my opinion on the wine.
Well… It was red, chilled, and really rather good – even out of plastic.
There seems little point describing much more as, even if I wanted to recommend it, I wouldn’t have a clue what it was I was indeed recommending.

All in all this was a glorious first step on my Etna adventure. I am sure the landscape will soon become more open and the wines more specific, but this was a truly wonderful introduction to life under the volcano.

Oh, and the punchline to this story – The bill.

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