I was afraid it would be hard to beat yesterday’s great visits but today’s winery experiences were just as good and maybe even better.
We started with an exceptional visit at Le Terre Nere led by Marco DiGrazia himself. Marco started by importing great artisanal wines from obscure winemakers who became well known once people
experienced them. He was one of the ‘Barolo Boys’ who wanted to do something more than representing wineries: he wanted to make his own wine and he chose the North slope of Mt. Etna to begin his wine legacy.
We learned that the Nerello Mascalese grape originally came from the town Mascale by the sea and from there moved up the mountain. There are only 2/3,000 hectares of vineyards on Etna with a total production of 3 million bottles. And there are only 200 hectares of DOC Etna wines.
When Marco first came here in 2002, he bought the Guardiola vineyard and immediately named the wine after the terroir. Guardiola is 900 meters high, one of the highest in the world.The micro climate has a lot of positive things going for it: ample rain, big variations of temperature between day and night. The harvest starts late, almost at the end of October and he only produces 8,000 bottles.
Marco helped popularize the concept of a contrada on Etna, with specific characteristics, an Italian version of a cru. Vines range in age from 50 to 120 years, with some vines 150 years old. The trellising is the traditional alberello or tree. His basic Etna Rosso was the Wine Spectator’s top 100 wines. It is mostly Nerello Mascalese with 2% Nerello Cappuccio added for color.
Our tasting started with Etna Bianco 2018, Carricante 70% and the rest a variety of other grapes.This is not your typical Southern Italian wine since it has lots of acidity, citrus aroma and taste that lingers.
Our 2nd wine was the Caldarra Sottano 2018 single vineyard Carricante 100%, reminiscent of wines of Northern Italy with an intense citrus aroma and flavor. Wine #3 was the Etna Rosso 2017, a blend of vineyards, delicate violet and rose aromas, very much like a Pinot Noir with cherry fruit, soft tannins. Our 4th wine was Etna Rosso Moganozzi 2017 with a dark color, very reminiscent of Nebbiolo or Pommard, ripe dark cherry aroma and great balance of fruit and tannins in the mouth.
Our 5th wine was the Santo Spiritu 2017 grown on volcanic ash, eminently drinkable when young but will age gracefully, like a Burgundy with intense fruit aromas of dark cherries and serious tannins. Our last wine was Caldarra 2017, a wine that is on a higher pedestal with ripe fruit aromas, silky texture and lingering tannins.
Lunch was at the nearby Palmento Costanzo. The Costanzo family was in the construction business in
Catania when they bought this derelict property and started a remarkable restoration of the traditional palmento where wine was made in the past, and a state of art wine making facility.
To accompany our lunch we had 5 wines:#1 Etna Bianco 2018, a blend of Carricante and Catarratto 70/30 to pair with our antipasti of local cheese and salumi. #2 Bianco di Sei 2018, Carricante and Catarratto 90/10, more complex with 6 months in stainless steel and 6 more months in bottle. Etna is the 6th most active volcano in the world, hence the 6 in the label. #3 Etna Rosso 2016 Mefite, redolent of raspberries, soft tannins, easy drinking- both wines were paired with a soup of ceci beans and pork.
Wines #4 and 5 accompanied the main course of locally produced sausage: Nero di Sei 2016, Nerello Mascalese 90%, with a deep ruby color, ripe dark fruit; Santo Spiritu 2016, Nerello Mascalese 90%. The wine spent 20 days in maceration, 2 years in big barrels and 1 year in bottle, a more complex wine with delicious ripe dark red fruit.
We ended with a great visit to Graci and a tasting conducted by the affable Riccardo Negri. Riccardo spoiled us by treating us to a tasting of mostly 2017 wines, the driest vintage in 40 years with no rain for 6 months. We started with Etna Bianco Classico 2018, a blend of Carricante and Catarratto 70/30. It was fermented in cement vats with no temperature controls, then aged 6 months in cement tanks on lees for 9 months where it developed an herbal aroma, some pineapple, yellow gold hue, citrus flavors and a long finish.
Our 2nd wine was Etna Bianco Arcuria 2017, Carricante 100%, with a pale yellow color, more fruity, pineapple, fermented in cement and wood tanks, big barrel aged 12 months followed by 12 months in the bottle which produced a full bodied round wine.
Riccardo then served 2 rosatos: Etna Rosato DOC 2013 and 2018, made from Nerello Mascalese 100%
but vinified like a white wine with little skin contact. The older vintage had ripe fruit aromas and was smooth and elegant while the younger version had great acidity.
He followed with the Arcuria 2017 and the Feudo di Mezzo 2017, 2 cru wines with completely different profiles. The Arcuria had a medium red color and aromas of dark red fruits with noticeable acidity and tannins while the Feudo was lighter in color with aromas of strawberries. They all received the same treatment: located close to each other , same grape, same vinification and fermentation in large oak vats, 18 months aging in large oak tanks and 6 months bottle aging but completely different tastes. This was a remarkable eye-opening comparison of the effect of terroir.
Riccardo treated us to 3 more wines: first was the Arcuria 2016, clear ruby red with slight onion skin, red berry fruit, a young wine. second was the Barbabecchi 2014, Nerello Mascalese 100%, only 980 bottles produced. It received 30 days skin contact and aged 24 months in large vats with an additional 12 months in bottle. This wine had aromas of leather and mushrooms, so different yet so delicious.
Lastly we tasted the Sopra il Pozzo 2015, a Grand Cru in his estimation. This is a small section within the Contrada Arcuria. It received a maceration of 3/4 months of skin contact. It is the essence of Nerello. After 18 months aging in large oak vats and 12 months bottle aging, the wine had a medium ruby red color with some onion skin and exquisite red plum fruit flavors.
I did not think we could top this day of wine visits but tomorrow had a surprising conclusion.