Sicilian Wine Adventures – Part 21; 7 interpretations of Etna Rosso



The volcano man; that’s me. I guess I have no-one but myself to blame. If you’re a fan of Madeira wine, Etna and Santorini, one kind of merits the epithet. Thus, no surprise when I was asked to conduct an Etna tasting!

The Nerello Mascalese based wines of Etna can hardly be placed in the crowd-pleasing category. However, don’t read this as Etna is only for those intellectual enough to understand them; people who clearly wants to distinguish themselves from what the general crowd is drinking. It’s not like that. Not nearby. Nerello Mascalese needs food. And plenty of aeration. And a proper glass. Put slightly chilled to that by the way.

Already now I guess you start to see the tough parts, in turning an audience into Nerello freaks. A tasting with 40 people attending means…ISO glasses. Hardly a favorite for the ethereal Etna wines. Furthermore, in order not to scare the curious ones away, those joining the tasting, you need to show just how many different styles Etna today offers.

Ok, no Riedel Vinum Burgundy glasses. No decanting for several hours. Never mind. Come acidity, come sour cherries, come tannins. We are ready!

Seven wines tasted. All representing their own interpretaion of Nerello Mascalese. First one out; the 2001 Etna Rosso (88-89 p) from Calabretta. Several years in botti, five at least. Perfectly mature now. Dried fruits, smoke, old wood. Mouth-watering acidity and fine length. Gotta love it for its personality. Anyone like it? Quite many actually, which surprises me a bit. Almost like crossing a traditional Barbaresco with a ditto Aglianico.

Next one; the 2003 Serra della Contessa (90-91 p) from Benanti. A totally different style with its barrique aged appearance. Darker fruit and toasted oak. Smoke and violets. Fine balance on the palate with a modern approach. I get the feeling it will benefit from further aging. Not so many seem to have this one as a favorite which again surprises me. Thought its more accessible style would result in the most likes tonight.

Number three; people who follows me, knows Giuseppe Russo’s wines are a weak spot of mine. The 2009 a’ Rina (88-89 p) is no exception. What about those tasting it tonight; do they like it? Seems so. The entry wine in Giuseppe’s small portfolio is a total contrast to the other wines tasted so far; light, floral and with high-altitude fruit. Drop-dead gorgeous acidity which calls for a Bolognese. A wine to buy by the case!

Allora, numero quattro. 2007 Làvico Vajasindi (88-89 p) from Duca di Salaparuta. I’m curious to hear the opinions about this one. Normally I am a bit skeptical when the big sharks goes boutique, but this doesn’t hurt to drink, not at all. Many holds it high this evening, others are not enthused at all. Cherries and violets. A herbal note. Wet earth. Not as classy acidity perhaps as the Russo wine, but
here it becomes evident how some wines scream for a proper glass. At 15 euros it’s a fine buy.

Time to gear up. In with Tenuta di Fessina’s beautiful 2007 Musmeci (91-92 p). This one needs time and a proper glass, something that becomes evident in the ISO glass. Still, sour cherries, floral scents, wet earth and such a clean bouquet. Just love it. Quite closed at the moment but lots of fruit and tannins. Some seem to cherish it a lot this evening although I feel more hands would have been raised if served with food.

The 2007 Guardiola (91-92 p) from Tenuta delle Terre Nere surprises me the most. The wine is a blend from two sites at a very high-altitude and yet it feels quite accessible. Perhaps the amount of new oak helps? It certainly represents an oak treatment style that feels a bit non-european, but hey, I like it. The fruit level and tannin structure is impressive with darker berries and toasted notes. Doesn’t seem to possess the longevity of the previous glass but provides joyful drinking the coming years. Many likes tonight.

Consensus. The 2008 M I, Monte Ilice (93-94 p) from Biondi is the unrivalled number one this evening. Impressive intensity, both on the nose and palate, spiciness, cherries and this ethereal feel I cherish a lot in Etna wines. Has a long life ahead and is just starting to show its full potential. Find it, buy it, store it!

For those taking part in the evening, hoping to understand and finding a typical style of Etna rosso, it must have been a confusing tasting. Seven wines. Seven approaches. On the other hand, this is the beauty of microclimates, different interpretations of the Nerello Mascalese, different backgrounds and of course, young wineries. A lot of Etna producers only have a decade or so behind them – and with time I suspect a more uniform style will be the case.

If you’re interested to find out more about the wines of Etna, don’t get frustrated if you can’t find them. Quantities are small and will remain so due to the fact the vineyards can’t grow much more. Ask your retailer, use wine search engines or ask the producers, where to find a specific wine. Believe me, they’re worth it!

Previous posts on Etna; Girolamo RussoTenuta di Fessina, Tenuta delle Terre NereDuca di Salaparuta, Biondi and Graci. More posts, click on the Etna tag.

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