Week 4 | The Future of Etna.
At A16, we’re welcoming Benjamin North Spencer - founder of the Etna Wine School and author of ‘New Wines of Mount Etna’ (May 30 SF - May 31 Rockridge) - an evening where we continue to dive into the incredible renaissance of one of the world’s world-class wine growing areas.
also pouring by the glass and bottle:
Idda - Angelo Gaja and Alberto
Graci’s inaugural vintage is here!
| past weeks |
Celebrating the women winemakers of Etna. We'll be poring wines from these producers by the bottles and by the glass.
Fattorie Romeo del Castello | Rosanna Romeo + Chiara Vigo
Proprietors Rosanna Romeo and her daughter Chiara Vigo are taking
Etna's historic Fattorie Romeo del Castello to a higher level.
The 14 hectare estate is surrounded by a 20 foot wall of petrified
lava formed during an eruption in 1981, one of Etna's most vicious.
The stream that forms the wall was headed directly towards the
vineyards and house, but miraculously took an abrupt right turn before
extinguishing itself into the Alcantara river. Though 15 hectares of
land were scorched, luckily their 100 year old vineyard of Nerello
Mascalese was spared. And to top it off, the wall of lava has modified
the vines' exposure to wind, creating a unique micro-climate! On a
lower plateau, young vines of Mascalese from massale selection have
been planted over the last decade, for a total of 14 hectares at 700m
All of the vines are trained in alberello, the traditional cultivation
method of the region. In her beginnings, Chiara was heavily assisted
by Salvo Foti's I Vigneri team of workers in the vines as well as
Salvo in the cellar. But with accumulated experience, she now does
The grapes are hand-harvested, fermented in open wood vats for the
"Vigo" cuvée and stainless steel for "Allegracore," without yeasts,
enzymes, or temperature control. Sulfur is used sparingly, if at all.
"Vigo", a riserva made only in exceptional vintages, is aged in older
oak casks for about 14 months then bottled without fining or
filtration. The "Vigo" shows all the remarkable characteristics and
potential of this perfect match of terroir (pure volcanic ash and lava
flow) and a delicious grape variety only found in this corner of the
world. How great are the soils here? A thousand year old olive tree
survives in them.
Beyond the wine itself, Chiara has used Fattorie Romeo del Castello to
pen a love letter of sorts to her family's past through the dynamic,
ever changing labels. Each cuvée tells a different story, with each
vintage adding an element to the narrative (we highly recommend you
reading each wine's "fun facts" to dive deeper into their meanings).
Prior to coming back to the winery, Chiara earned her PHD in art and
specifically focused on wine labels (she even published a book!), so
it's no surprise her own wines would serve as an artistic outlet.
Ciro Biondi | Stef Biondi
Ciro Biondi's family has owned vineyards in this area since at least
1800, and first sold bottled wine under their label a century ago; the
modern iteration of the Biondi winery started in 1999. Ciro (an
architect by training) and his wife Stef own three vineyards near the
small town of Trecastagni and have reworked an old palmento in one of
their vineyards as a winery. Barrel storage is in the little old
cellar of the family house in the center of Trecastagni.
Once the overall reputation of an appellation is established, the next
step (particularly for an area as large as Etna) is to find out how
the parts of the appellation differ. Biondi's cellar and three single
vineyards are on the south-east slope of the volcano, in Trecastagni.
At the moment, the wines grown and produced on the north side Etna,
such as Passopisciaro and Terre Nere, are better-known. In my view,
this is because there are more established producers there, not
because the wines are better. Historically, the south side was better
known than the north.
The northern slope of Etna produces wines that are more structured and
darker, while the south side of Etna tends to produce wines that are
more subtle, more Pinot-like, often paler in color. For this reason,
Nerello Mascalese, the predominant variety in all Etna Rosso, is often
blended with Nerello Capuccio, a darker variety. I like both styles,
and I think time will show that the very best wines from Etna will
come from both sides of the mountain. Biondi's wines are now
unquestionably in this top echelon, and they are improving every year.
Eastern Sicily: 83 terraces, stretching between Contrada Praino and
Contrada Volpare, through the pathways of the Milo forest, 700 m above
sea level, on the eastern slopes of Mount Etna, the highest active
volcano in Europe.
Maugeri is the wine-growing project of an Etnean family, who have
returned to their home district to make wine once more. The unbroken
line of more than 2.8 km of lava dry-stone walling borders the 7
hectares of the property, an amphitheatre of fertile volcanic soil, in
a close embrace with the Mediterranean landscape.
Renato remains a child of the 1960s, knowing every corner of the
estate, with his children Carla, Michela and Paola accompanying him in
Three professional women, who through the wine give expression to the
intimate relationship between the calling of the land and their family
values linked to environmental and social sustainability.
An architect by trade, Carla Maugeri has taken over the restoration of
her family's estate, comprised of seven hectares.
Buscemi | Mirella Buscemi
In 1799, England’s Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson had just vanquished the
French in the Mediterranean and was given by the Neapolitan king the
title, Duke of Bronte—plus a plot of land on Mount Etna’s northwest
face, covered in grape vines.
These few acres, more than 3,000 feet above the azure Mediterranean
with midnight-black volcanic soils, today still retain the same mix of
grapes they did centuries ago: Nerello Mascalese, Etna’s native red grape, and Grenache—a legacy, perhaps, of the Spanish House of Bourbon that ruled the region during the 18th century.
Indeed, Azienda Agricola Buscemi is the single winery in Sicily that honors the ancient ties of the Mediterranean winemaking diaspora.
These two red grapes thrive amid Etna’s extreme climactic conditions—for wines of impeccable balance and freshness that are like few other wines from Sicily.
Winemaker Mirella Buscemi, originally from Syracuse, is a trained chemist; it was her grandparents who owned vineyards and who inspired in her a love of viticulture and wine. Fate showed its hand once she met and married winemaker Alberto Graci (of Azienda Agricola Graci in Passopisciaro), with a wedding gift of ‘Tartaraci,’ the plot of land once owned by naval legends, now back in native hands.
With bush-trained vines more than 100 years old, ‘Tartaraci’ is a
unique vineyard, covered in snow during winter and Mediterranean-hot
in summer. Yet great wine is always made at the extremes—and it is
here, at altitude, where Mirella crafts world-class red and white
wines redolent of wild herbs and silky fruit, in micro-quantities.
Cottanera | Mariangela Cambria
Mariangela Cambria, the owner of Cottanera Winery, is a strong woman
who tamed Etna's territory to produce one of the best wines on the
market. Established in the 1960's Cottanera was once a hazelnut grove that was turned into a winery.
Week 2 | In Memoriam | Pioneers of Etna Wines.
Giuseppe Benanti + Andrea Franchetti
One could not write or talk about Etna without mentioning Cavalier Benanti.
Long before the appellation reached its current fame, Giuseppe Benanti was one of the key figures in the rebirth of Etna wines; he had always believed in the territory's potential, surprising everyone in unsuspected times with elegant reds and whites capable of evolving for many years, first and foremost the Pietramarina.
At the helm of the winery he leaves his sons Antonio and Salvino, who have inherited from their father the great passion for the wines and we have welcomed many years.
Andrea Franchetti - In 2000, Franchetti began a new adventure. Arriving on the northern slopes of Mount Etna, he found abandoned vineyards and desolation. He also saw what others hadn’t: Untapped potential thanks to high altitude, intense sunlight, marked day and night temperature differentials and extremely old, free-standing bush vines called alberello. Many of the plants had survived phylloxera and weren’t grafted on American rootstocks.
One of the first of the modern pioneers on Mount Etna, Franchetti had to drastically change his winemaking approach on the volcano. As he told Wine Enthusiast in a recent interview for an article on Etna’s northern stars, “Unlike wines I make in Tuscany with Cabernet Franc and small amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, Nerello Mascalese doesn’t need lengthy skin contact during vinification. On Etna, I basically make wine from the juice. And instead of aging in barriques, we age in large neutral casks.”