By Cynthia Chaplin IWA
Wednesday morning began with “a little bit of Scienza,” with Il Professore presenting a session on his latest research, at Il Picciolo Etna Golf Resort and Spa, translated by yours truly, with many thanks for such a supportive audience! Scienza’s ground-breaking work is extremely important for the future of our industry and everyone in the room was engaged and attentive. Keep your eyes open for the new edition of Italian Wines Unplugged, coming soon, with an entire chapter of Scienza’s new material, plus many other updates and fresh content. We also recently published Il Professore’s new book, “Vine and Prejudice, Fake Science and the search for the perfect grape,” a must read for anyone interested in the science behind wine.
Another bus ride on Etna’s winding roads took us high up on the volcano into the vineyards of Alta Mora with Alberto Cusumano and enologist Rino for a visit to their Etna Rosso vineyard at over 900 meters above sea level, where they expected to begin the harvest the next day. An intensely hot summer with only a small amount of rain was saved by the huge diurnal temperature shifts common to the region. Cultivated completely in albarello style, which is very hard work and 10-15 times more expensive than guyot training, the vineyard’s fruit represents thousands of man hours of labor. We walked even higher, to the Guardiola cru vineyard at almost 1000 meters asl. The vines are over 150 years old in this 3 hectare plot and the sun pouring down on us prompted Kodjo to comment, “it’s hotter here than at midday in Ghana!” Needless to say, despite the incredible experience of sitting among these spectacular vines, it was a bit of a relief to head down to the modern winery at a mere 550 meters asl. We tasted Alta Mora’s 2021 carricante Etna Bianco DOC, made with grapes from a blend of vineyard plots, using indigenous yeast, no malolactic fermentation, and aged 6 months on lees in steel. The wine was fresh with a good balance of fruit and acid, notes of grapefruit, lemon verbena and a nice mouth feel. Etna Rosso 2019 was almost 100% nerello mascalese, a very pretty, transparent ruby color with violet reflexes and a nose of mixed black and red fruits. This wine ferments in steel at 28°C for 16 days with no pumping, only one punch down per day, the cap is completely hand maintained. The wine spends 8-9 months in large botte and tonneaux. The wines from the old vines of the Guardiola Cru 2017 vintage were made from hand selected grapes with 30 day fermentation in steel and transferred to botte for 2 years, fined in bottles for 3 years. This wine gave us a lot to talk about, with the oak very present, the fruit subdued and the tannins chalky. Alberto believes this will age very well and we will be keeping our eyes on it.
Palmento Costanzo was our lunch venue, where Valeria Augusto di Costanza herself greeted us with cool glasses of refreshing Etna Bianco 2020 on her magnificent terrace overlooking rolling hills and vines in Contrada Santo Spirito facing north at 600-800 meters above sea level. Beginning in 2010, the old palmento here was respectfully restored with creativearchitecture incorporating modern technology without loosing the history of the original building. This family estate is looking forward to the return of their daughter who is studying viticulture and currently working in France. Using 20% French oak in the maturation process, we found this wine to have a more tempered acidity and rounder mouthfeel, likely also due to the 10% of catarratto included in the blend. Etna Bianco 2020 from Contrada Cavaliere grown facing southwest at 1000 meters above sea level was beautifully elegant, full of iodine and texture, like “clean clear sea water” as remarked by many of our Ambassadors. Interestingly, the black strip at the bottom of the all white label was rough with the feel of the black volcanic sand so prevalent in the soil here. Tasted again, 30 minutes later, this wine was still complex with a subtle structure, gentle phenolic grip and excellent balance. Bianco 2020 Di Sei was 100% carricante, with a fresh, vertical, mineral, citric, green feel reminding us of fresh parsley. Etna Rosso 2017, 100% nerello mascalese, was aged 24 months in oak barrels and gave a gorgeous aroma of balsamic herbs, licorice, ripe cherry, plums, prunes, orange rind, caramel and soaked dried fruit, rich with baking spice and refined tannins. The cantina is also making metodo classico brut rosé, 100% nerello mascalese, 24 months on yeast and a still rosé aimed at a Provence style. Rounded off by a project using amphorae to mature carricante, this cantina was a very interesting contrast to those we had visited so far, and we were all very grateful for the stunning lunch, particularly the artichokes in puff pastry, a huge favorite of our food and wine journalist colleague, Fosca Tortorelli.
We rounded out our visits for the day at Palmento Carranco, a joint project between partners Tornatore from Etna and Borgogno from Piemonte. Young enologist Andrea Farinetti from Borgogno described the investment which began here in 2018 as a minute between tradition and innovation. The old palmento was still in use until 2008, but the new wines are currently being made at Tornatore’s facilities until the renovation at Carranco is completed. The property covers 8 hectares, including a zen garden of trees, and everything they do is about the future, which will include the Villa dei Baroni resort, a cellar facility, a shop and a tasting room when it is complete, hopefully sometime in 2023. Using some French and some Slavonian oak, this is a small production, experimenting and learning. Originally, they vinified by varietal, but learned that nerello cappuccio was necessary in the reds to “be the shoulders,” and provide color and structure. Their “Ervu” (or RV in English) is a riserva wine which falls outside the DOCG regulation, using oak maturation for only 1.5 years. The wine itself is a sour cherry party in the glass, using semi carbonic maceration and meant to be served chilled for friends. In a totally different style, the Etna Bianco Contrada Carranco 2022 was made with some use of untoasted new oak and presented with an acidity balanced by acacia notes, lemon, lime and thyme, with a soft body and an irresistible saline and phenolic grip. The Japanese inspired labels are taken from a painting created by Andrea himself after a trip to Japan, which got him thinking about Mt Fuji and Mt Etna and the respect for nature held by people who live on volcanoes.
This evening we had dinner at San Giorgio e il Drago in Randazzo, and it was a completely rollicking affair, with heaps of delicious food, an atmosphere full of camaraderie between our Ambassadors, the Italian journalists who joined us throughout the week, and several producers. Aside from having a pile of plates smashed over me and being somewhat fragrant with pesto sauce, I have to say this was a particularly entertaining evening filled with amazing hospitality, serious wine talk, lots of great tastings, and a huge amount of fun.