Et-NA! Et-NA! Et-NA! Yes, I drank the kool-aid, the grape kool-aid, if you will, and I have now joined the wild pack of Etna-obsessed wine lovers. Specifically, the red grape Nerello Mascalese and white Carricante. These are the indigenous varietals of Sicily’s Mt. Etna, now an official D.O.C. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata, ie. appellation) and oh, how I love them. Nerello Mascalese is a kindred spirit to Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo, my other two preferred vines. Carricante is really like no other; with its long growing season, it offers generous, round, complex fruit flavors, such as green apple, quince and pear plus balancing acidity…true love.
During a mere 30 hours on the north side of Etna, we had several remarkable visits. One was a half day with Marco de Grazia of Tenuta Terre Nere, who could claim to be the unofficial brand ambassador for Etna wines, as he has done so much for the elevation of quality on Etna as well as for global recognition in the wine world. His passion is truly contagious and while we learned so much, it was hard to keep up with his narration as we 4-wheeled up and over through the various “cru”, the meticulous high-elevation single vineyards of Terre Nere. A barrel sample of the 2012 “Santo Spirito” revealed a lush, sensuous, velvety, sheer wine that I cannot wait to taste again.
We walked the vineyards of Val Cerasa, with Rosario Pappalardo, owner and husband of owner-winemaker Alice Bonaccorsi. Rosario showed us the old palmento (winery) on the property, which he unlocked with the original, nearly ancient, old key…it was so enchanting to see the rock-walled ‘clos’ being farmed just as they have been for generations and so on. I cannot help slipping in the French references–the vintners on Etna see their terroir as similar to Burgundy if not equal. The stony vineyards, harsh climate and sheer, transparent reds that vary so distinctively from parcel to parcel do invite comparison…One sip of his 2010 Etna Rosso and Rosario, a native, pronounced “This is Etna”.
We sampled a few PASSOPISCIARO wines over lunch and dinner, including their Etna Rosso, a stunning Burgundian-style chardonnay and the gorgeous Contrada “Rampante” from their 3000+ ft. elevation contrada (vineyard). Owner Andrea Franchetti bottles four single vineyard Etna Rosso, clearly also a believer in the value of unique vineyard expression on Etna. The 80yr. old vines of Rampante produce deep, concentrated flavors with smooth silky tannins. The abundant minerality and acidity lifts the wine and there is no oppressive weight or sense of heaviness. By the way, this was the first week of November and Andrea was still harvesting.
Down in Vittoria a few days later, we had a marvelous dinner with Patricia Toth, winemaker of PLANETA, and sampled her lovely Etna Bianco…and many more. It was a treat to get yet another passionate take on the potential of Etna, this time from a smart, talented young Hungarian beauty who majored in fermentation.
As we continued our tasting on and around Etna and in restaurants all over Sicily, there were other loves…GRACI, RUSSO, OCCHIPINTI…Yes, I could go on and on…
Meanwhile, we have a number of wines from the above producers available at currentVintage, including TERRE NERE “Santo Spirito” 2011 and Pre-Phylloxera 2011…To be continued!
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