Sicilian Wine Adventures – Part 20; Play it again Giuseppe.


Wine is bottled poetry said Robert Louis Stevenson. Perhaps a bit too kind of him. Lots of crap out there. However; Etna is bottled poetry. At least if you ask me. The wines are ethereal, floral and sometimes both hard to explain to a newcomer as to an experienced taster. You will hear comparisons with Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo, but the truth is; Nerello Mascalese isn’t just a unique grape. It is also a fabulous interpreter of a most special cultivation site. The intimate link between Etna and Nerello Mascalese rocks my wine world and I’m completely charmed by the result. That doesn’t mean you need to be a humanist in order to enjoy and understand the poetry of Etna. But perhaps it helps the owner and winemaker if  he holds a degree in the liberal arts -and also is a trained pianist?

Giuseppe Russo manages the family estate of Girolamo Russo, a tiny boutique winery with a production of roughly 1,200 cases a year. A real do-it-all-man. Besides being involved in the family wine estate – and the wine making (together with Emiliano Falsini), he is also a trained pianist and holds a degree in Italian literature. In other words, you wont get bored in Giuseppe’s company.

Three labels; ‘a Rina, Feudo and San Lorenzo. All mainly Nerello Mascalese with just a tiny percentage of the Cappuccio grape. The vineyards are on a total of 15 hectares and are to be found in three contrade (districts), all on the north side of Etna:

  • The cru site of San Lorenzo consists of eight hectares at an altitude of 750-780 meters above the sea-level. The vines are between 60 and 100 years of age.
  • The Feudo (Randazzo) site consisting of six hectares at an altitude of 650-670 meters above the sea-level. Vines ranging from 50 years of age to a century old.
  • The Feudo di Mezzo site on one single hectare at 700 meters altitude. Average age of the vines are 70 years.

Furthermore, the estate also manages one hectare in the contrade of Caldera Sottana.

This needs to be said right away; the wines of Girolamo Russo are stunning! From the entry-level wine ‘a Rina to the more profound wines, Feudo and San Lorenzo. Giuseppe’s wines are benchmark examples of the potential of Etna and ought to be in every wine lover’s cellar – or in a wine importer’s portfolio for that matter. Considering this has only been ongoing since 2005 (Girolamo Russo) I can’t imagine what the wines will be like, with some further experience.

Tasting notes of the three Girolamo Russo labels

2009 ‘A Rina, 88-89 p

Around 5,500 gobelet trained vines per hectare and a yield on 50 hectoliters per hectare. Harvest in mid-October. 14 months in barrique (second and third filling). 8,000 bottles.

Beautiful transparent ruby color. Decanted for a couple of hours and followed over two days. Elegance of the ethereal kind. You get that hard to describe-mineral feel on the nose. It is more or less oozing of wet rocks and humus. Then violets and dark cherries. A touch of smoked meat,pomegranate and thyme as well. Evolves and is even better on the second day. On the palate it is light as a feather but with mouth-watering acidity, ripe cherry fruit, pomegranate, violets and smoke. Some tannins giving the wine the necessary backbone. Lip-smackingly good for an entry-level wine. Give it a further year or two.

2008 Feudo, 91-92 p

Around 5,500 gobelet trained vines per hectare and a yield on 40 hectoliters per hectare. Harvest in mid-October. One and a half year in barrique where 20 per cent are new. 3,500 bottles.

Transparent but darker color than the ‘A Rina. Quite different in style as well. Under-vegetation, pipe tobacco, leather, dark cherries, plums and a vanilla oak touch. What intensity on the palate! Gobs of fruit, tannins and acidity. Some toasted oak. Compost, wet rocks and tobacco. Plum skins and cherries. Long, intense taste. The 2008’s are riper in style than 2009 and perhaps lacks a bit of the cool elegance from the lighter ’09. It all comes down to preferences. Patience will most likely be rewarded here, say three or four years.

2008 San Lorenzo, 92-93 p

The cru of the estate. The grapes at San Lorenzo are normally picked last week in October and sometimes even in the beginning of November! Around 5,500 gobelet trained vines per hectare and a yield on 35 hectoliters per hectare. One and a half year in barrique where 30 per cent are new. 4,000 bottles.

Modern winemaking. Traditional result. That’s the feeling I’m having while tasting the 2008 San Lorenzo. Perhaps one of the best Nerello Mascalese wines I’ve tasted. Decanted ten hours ahead. The ’08 needs it if you, just like me, can’t wait to taste. Dark ruby color. Transparent. Ethereal. Minerals en masse. A real class act beauty on the nose with cherries, a touch of bitter-almond, violets, tobacco and just a hint of oak. Coolness surrounding the bouquet. Really impressive structure. Signs of a class wine. Smoke, meat, wet rocks, violets, plums and black cherries. Tobacco and a herbal note. Clean, intense finish with Nebbiolo-like tannins. A wine in need of another four or five years of cellaring.

Need I end this saying Etna is hot, hot, hot?

PS. In need of some poetry with your Etna wine? Then stay on the island of Sicily and pick up Luigi Pirandello’s both humoristic and sad La Giara. And if you like that, the entire collection of his short stories are named Novelle per un anno. Classical stories just as great today as they probably were, when written 70-90 years ago. Luigi Pirandello is sadly, it seems, a forgotten-about author. At least outside of Italy. Your summer read?