With this article, I’ll be wrapping up feature coverage of last year’s media jaunt to Sicily’s Etna (you can expect quite a few more mini-reviews, however, from producers not given the feature treatment here). Those features (including write-ups of Torre Mora and Passopisciaro) have been meant as a deeper dive into the current Etna wine scene to augment the recent overview I penned for Napa Valley Wine Academy.
Blah, blah, blah, boring, boring, boring… You came here to read about vino, and by god, you WILL read about vino here!
I think it makes sense to divvy this one up into three sections, each highlighting one of the other Etna producers that impressed me during my visit. Before getting into that, I want to add that I am already missing Sicily, and in fact it’s one of the few places on the planet that I think about pretty much every week that I am not there… So much so, in fact, that I’ll be vacationing there this year because apparently I am addicted to the place, which is an easy trap to fall into there (particularly when drinking their wines… You’ve been warned…).
It’s difficult not to be charmed by Terra Constantino. This organic farm, in operation since the 1970s, produces about 50,000 bottles per year from fertile soils that are comprised primarily of soft sand. As their Hospitality Manager, former sommelier (and incredibly Sicilian-named) Salvatore Spampinato told me, the “wild” vineyards there are “like a mad dog from the streets—not so pretty, but smarter, healthier, more resilient. And with arberello , you can get better quality because they have to fight each other [for nutrients].” Some of Terra Constantino’s vines are hitting 150 years of age, with a large mix of indigenous varieties that are field-blended and co-fermented. Their location in the town of Villa Grande, on the south side of Etna towards the sea, affords their plantings a nice mix of bright sunshine and maritime influence.
Tasted from magnum, because that’s how we roll, folks. This white, sourced primarily from Carricante with a bit of Cataratto mixed in, has a metric ton of character. Peachy, salty, authentic, and bright, flavors of white fig and aromas of basil will please the crowd, while its hints of structure show why its aging so beautifully.
Nerello Mascalese (and a bit of Nerello Cappuccio) offers up a minty, chalky, fruity expression in this red, which still feels young in its black cherry fruitiness. The mouthfeel is vibrant, linear, fresh, and also savory and fulfilling. While it could still use a bit of time to soften up, it gets more and more alluring in the glass even when tasted now.
Tenute San Lorenzo
Tenute San Lorenzo‘s Camporè project is a standout for several reasons, not the least of which are the facts that the company is run by the relatively young sisters Maria Pia and Cristina Madaudo, and their estate is the former residence of the impressively-mustachioed King Vittorio Emmanuel II—coming complete with its own (still operating) passenger train stop. The family purchased the estate in 2016, and have several generations who’ve been involved in the wine business. Not surprisingly, the Madaudo sisters have an acumen that belies their young (by wine biz standards) ages. Their red grape plantings have some nice age on the vines, but in their northern Etna locale they see increasing promise in white grape varieties.
Complex, youthful, and intensely floral, this Carricante-based white delivers on overdrive. Basil, mint, white peach, tropical notes, an assertive palate texture, all topped with honey and lemon and minerals… They seem to really be on to something here, so keep your eye on this one.
A tangy, delicious, nigh-irresistible Nerello Mascelese rosé that’s spicy and fun, with an air of refinement, a knack for getting right to the tasty point, and generous in delivering heaping helpings of strawberry flavor.
Owned by third-generation growers of the Faro family, Pietradolce makes up a smaller part of the 600+ hectares of farmland and species of plants in the Faro’s catalog. One look around their Solicchiata estate, with its impressive art installations and the cleanest cement tanks that I have EVER seen, and it’s obvious the Faro’s aren’t lacking for funding. You could plop their impeccably-designed, modern winery in the middle of Napa Valley and no one would bat an eye. Somewhat paradoxically, it was the 80-100 year old, terraced, hillside vines (planted up to 3,000 feet above sea level) that drew the Faro clan here to create this modern setup, quite a number of which were essentially abandoned. The result is a no-expenses-spared, premium showcase for Etna’s older vine potential.
Sourced from 80-90 year old Nerello Mascelese vines grown in Rampante, this red is smooth, well-delineated, structured, and super-clean, which gives us access to NM’s minty, flinty, tobacco-laden true self. Finely-tuned and high-toned red fruits dominate this elegant sipper.
Bush vines that are nearly a century old are tapped to create this red, which spends 14 months in oak. The tobacco is richer, the basil is dried, the currant aromas are concentrated and intense, and the mouthfeel is pure. It’s like its Archineri cousin, but the lazer-like focus and purity are on steroids.
Anotehr Rampante vineyard supplies the fruit for this flagship-style red, with the bush-trained Nerello vines being at least 100 years old. 20 months in oak tames this beast a bit, which comes off as still being a baby. Oaky, fruity, and dense, with dried herb action all over the place, it feels as though this savory, precise, earthy and balanced red might be able to live forever.
This is the kind of white that makes me fall in love with Carricante over and over and over again. Sourced from 100-120 year old vines, spending 10 months on the skins and aged in 20hl oak vats, this wine feels like a revenge tour for the wine being left out of the DOC due to its darker color. Available via allocation only, it’s honeyed, floral, and delivers grilled lemon and fennel aromas. In the mouth, things get even more interesting, with saline, astringency, purity, and a texture that amps up the nuttiness and vibrancy into an incredible crescendo. It’s amazing, but demanding.