A Must-Try to Spice up Your Rosé Game

Today’s Story: Tenuta delle Terre Nere

Tenuta delle Terre Nere is a somewhat young but highly regarded wine estate founded by Marc de Grazia on the northern slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily. The first commercial vintage was in 2002, and the estate focuses on local Sicilian varieties with Nerello Mascalese and Carricante of principal importance. The estate today consists of about 55 hectares, of which 27 hectares are planted to vines in production and 7 hectares are breeding. The holdings are broken up into 24 parcels across six crus and range in elevation from 600 to 1,000 meters above sea level, with an ultimate plan to reach 38 hectares planted to vine. Aside from the 7 hectares recently planted, Terre Nere works with vines aged 50 to 100 years old, and the estate even has one parcel that survived phylloxera and is 130-140 years old!

Marc de Grazia has long been a proponent of single cru Etna wines, so he vinifies, ages, bottles, and labels each of his crus individually. These include Calderara Sottana, San Lorenzo, Bocca d’Orzo, Santo Spirito, Guardiola, and Feudo di Mezzo. All viticulture has been organic since Terre Nere was established (certified in 2010), and the prior owners farmed their vineyards organically for the previous two generations as well. Winemaking is meant to be minimally invasive, allowing de Grazia to showcase the unique Etna terroir in all of his wines.

To learn more, view images of the estate and vineyards, or explore the range of wines from Tenuta delle Terre Nere, I recommend visiting their website here. I also previously reviewed their 2019 Etna Bianco if you care to explore or revisit my thoughts on another wine in the portfolio.

Today’s Wine: 2020 Etna Rosato

100% Nerello Mascalese; 13% ABV

The 2020 Etna Rosato is pale copper in color, rather light for many rosé wines I’ve enjoyed. The aromas are of medium intensity, but the rather complex nose shows itself over time with notes of white strawberry, cherry, peach, raspberry, cured charcuterie meat, rose petal, flint, and saline mineral. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity and the palate displays notes of Rainier cherry, freshly-picked strawberry, peach, cantaloupe, chopped green herbs, crushed rock, sea salt, and white pepper. This dry rosé is medium-bodied though very crisp and lean with high acidity, medium alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $23. I think this is a great buy, as it offers beautiful balance, length, and complexity while being immensely chuggable on a hot day. This is the most fun, delicious, and rock-solid rosé I’ve had in a long, long time and I’ll be buying more as soon as I can.

An Etna Rosso to Introduce You to Etna Rosso

Today’s Story: Girolamo Russo

Girolamo Russo is a family-owned and operated wine estate located near the town of Passopisciaro on the north side of Mt. Etna in Sicily, Italy. The estate was “re-established” by Giuseppe Russo in 2005 who, though formerly a pianist, desired to continue his family’s tradition of winegrowing and named the estate in honor of his father. Girolamo Russo consists of 18 hectares of vineyards situated between 650 and 780 meters (2,132 and 2,559 feet) above sea level, with all farmed adhering to organic viticulture. Russo grows fruit in the crus of San Lorenzo, Feudo, and Feudo di Mezzo with many vines being a century old. In culmination with a minimally invasive winemaking philosophy that includes fermentation with indigenous yeasts and minimal oak influence, the wines are often described as pure representations of place.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Etna Rosso ‘a Rina

94% Nerello Mascalese, 6% Nerello Cappuccio; 13.5% ABV

The 2018 ‘a Rina is medium garnet in color with hints of pale ruby. I decanted this for about an hour but drank it over several. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of red cherry, stemmy strawberry, orange rind, a hint of rose petal, thyme, volcanic earth, mild smoke, and slight peppery spice. Meanwhile the flavors are of medium intensity and the palate displays notes of dried cherry, cranberry, dried strawberry, licorice, tobacco, leather, crushed gravel, cracked pepper, and stony mineral. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium but fine-grained tannins, medium (+) alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $32. I think this offers pretty solid value for Etna Rosso, as it demonstrates good balance, intensity, complexity, and an obvious sense of place. Though it isn’t the best Etna Rosso I’ve had, for the price this is worth trying.

Fun Sicilian Amber Wine That Needs a Few More Years

Today’s Story: Azienda Agricola COS

Azienda Agricola COS is a revered wine estate established in 1980 in Vittoria on the Italian island of Sicily. COS was established by three friends, Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti, and Cirino Strano, with the first letter of their last names creating the acronym of COS for which the project is named. COS is largely considered a pioneer and champion for Sicilian wines, namely seeking to prove that world-class and high-quality wines can come from the island. COS farms all of their vineyards adhering to organic and biodynamic principles, and they have never used synthetic or chemical fertilizers throughout the life of the venture. This philosophy carries over into the cellar as well, where the wines are made as naturally as possible. For instance, COS is an adopter of clay amphorae dug into the ground for aging because Occhipinti believes them to be a vessel that doesn’t mask any terroir-driven element of the wines. For any bottlings that do not age in amphorae, they use large neutral Slavonian oak botti or concrete tanks to similar effect. All wines see extended maceration, including the whites, which Occhipinti uses as natural preservative so zero sulphur needs to be added during winemaking and at most a minimal dose is added at bottling.

I previously wrote about the 2014 Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico delle Fontane from COS, which is a fun wine made from 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato.

Today’s Wine: 2019 Pithos Bianco

100% Grecanico; 11% ABV

The 2019 Pithos Bianco is pale amber in color. Given some time to blossom in the glass, the aromas are of medium (+) intensity and the nose showcases notes of orange rind, apricot, tangerine, peach skins, honeysuckle, delicate dried green herbs, honeycomb, and finely crushed rock. Meanwhile the flavors are of medium intensity and the palate displays notes of peach, tangerine, apricot, melon, honey, saline, and crushed rock minerality. This dry amber wine is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, medium (-) alcohol, and a long finish. Quite good, though this is lacking some intensity I was hoping for and I will be curious to see how this develops over the next several years.

Price: $35 (closer to $20 in Europe). This is a very good value closer to the prices found in Europe, however for an average price of $35 in the US (I paid $40) I think this is just okay in value terms. The nose is gorgeous and quite complex, though the palate is lacking in intensity for me to really wow me. Given the acidity, great balance, and length though this should only improve.

Blending Traditional and Modern Practices in Piedmont

Today’s Story: Luciano Sandrone

Luciano Sandrone is a highly regarded producer in Piedmont, Italy, established by Luciano in 1978. Luciano was passionate for winemaking at a young age, exploring viticulture as young as 14 or 15 years old and ultimately working as a cellar hand at Marchesi di Barolo. In 1977, Luciano depleted his savings and purchased his famed Cannubi Boschis vineyard. Starting with his first vintage in 1978, Luciano crafted all of his wines at home and started in his parents’ garage so he could learn and hone his style and talents over time. When his wines started receiving high critical acclaim for the 1989 and 1990 vintages, Luciano started to think of building a winery which was completed in 1998 and first used for the 1999 vintage. Luciano today produces wines from Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto, with his most famous and prized bottling being the Cannubi Boschis Barolo.

Sandrone’s viticulture and winemaking styles are often characterized by straddling traditional and modern techniques. Sandrone farms about 27 hectares (67 acres) of vineyards, of which roughly 75% are owned and the balance is leased out under long-term contracts. They practice green harvesting with an incredible focus on training, pruning, and harvesting to limit yields and enhance quality of their fruit. Winemaking is where the blending of traditional and modern practices occurs most notably, as all wines ferment with native yeasts but typically see shorter maceration times than tradition dictates. During the maturation process, Sandrone also utilizes some new oak in 500 liter French barrels and ages his wines for slightly shorter periods which also blends the lines between traditional and modern. These wines are often much more approachable in their youth due to this blending of practices, though they retain the same structure and characteristics to provide for long aging potential as well.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Barbera d’Alba

100% Barbera; 14% ABV

The 2018 Barbera d’Alba is deep ruby in color and opaque. I decanted this for about 45 minutes, which the wine needs at this stage. The aromas are of medium intensity, with a rather gorgeous nose showcasing black plum, crushed blackberry, black cherry, anise, violet, scorched earth, sandalwood, and cracked black pepper. Flavors are also of medium intensity, and the palate displays notes of juicy blackberry, blueberry, cherry sauce, plum, dried green herbs, truffle, and mild peppery spice. This dry red is full-bodied with high acidity, medium (-) tannins, high alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Overall a very enjoyable Barbera that should only improve with a couple more years in bottle.

Price: $37 (though there’s a wide range of pricing depending on location). This is a very solid value to step into Piedmont with, particularly if you haven’t explored the region or the Barbera variety yet. It’s showing very solid complexity at this stage and is a high-quality offering from a great producer.

Clean and Pure Amber Wine From the Carso Region of Italy

Today’s Wine: Azienda Agricola Škerk

Azienda Agricola Škerk is a small family-owned winery situated very close to the Slovenian border in the Carso region of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia in northeastern Italy. The winery is run by father and son Boris and Sandi Škerk, and they focus on the varieties of Malvasia, Vitovska, Sauvignon, and Terrano. The Škerk family cultivates seven hectares of vineyards, with densely-planted but low-yielding vines that see rigorous pruning but minimal treatments and no chemical fertilizer additions. Come harvest, everything is done by hand and the minimal intervention practices continue into the cellar. The wines ferment in contact with the skins using only indigenous yeasts, and there are no added enzymes or other winemaking additions. Sandi adds little to no SO2 throughout the winemaking process, and the wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered in an effort to showcase the varieties and a true sense of place. Škerk produces about 1,700 cases per vintage across four wines, including the Vitovska, Malvasia, Ograde (blend of Vitovska, Malvasia, Sauvignon, and Pinot Grigio), and Terrano.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Vitovska

100% Vitovska; 12% ABV

The 2018 Vitovska is pale amber in color. Given some time to blossom in the glass, this opens up with aromas of medium intensity. The nose showcases notes of peach, dried apricot, orange marmalade, perfumed florals, white mushroom, herbs de Provence, and wet slate. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity, with the palate displaying notes of apricot, mandarin orange, tangerine, honey, eucalyptus, saline, and a hint of smoke. This dry amber wine is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, no noticeable tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium length finish.

Price: $40. This is only my second Vitovska from the Carso region in Northeastern Italy, so while I am still exploring how this stacks up on a value perspective it is a very fun, delicious, pure, and well-made wine that I do recommend trying. Great balance to this wine.

Fun Representation of Sicilian Terroir

Today’s Story: Azienda Agricola Arianna Occhipinti

Azienda Agricola Arianna Occhipinti is a continuously rising star of a winery established by Arianna Occhipinti in the Vittoria region of southeastern Sicily in 2004. Though Arianna started making her own wines at the young age of 22, she first got into wine even younger at age 16 thanks to a visit to Vinitaly with her uncle Giusto Occhipinti of COS, another benchmark Sicilian wine producer. Today Arianna works with estate fruit, sourced from her 25 hectares of certified organic vineyards which are planted to about 50% Frappato, 35% Nero d’Avola, and 15% between the white varieties of Albanello and Zibibbo. Arianna never irrigates her vineyards or uses any chemicals, and since 2009 she transitioned to biodynamic viticulture. As far as philosophy goes, Arianna’s wines are meant to showcase the terroir of Vittoria, and they are made in as “natural” a way as possible. Vineyard work is very manual, all grape and wine movements use gravity, and the wines ferment with only indigenous yeasts in concrete tanks before aging in neutral oak. Arianna produces ten wines (including three single-vineyard bottlings called Vino di Contrada) and total production each vintage is around 10,000 cases.

I somewhat recently reviewed the Occhipinti 2019 SP68 Rosso, so feel free to check that out if you missed it!

Today’s Wine: 2018 Il Frappato

100% Frappato; 12.5% ABV

The 2018 Il Frappato is pale to medium ruby in color. This is still very youthful and requires a good 45 minutes to blossom in the glass, though it’s already showing a very elegant representation of Frappato. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, showcasing a nose of strawberry, red cherry, leather, clay pot, tilled rocky soil, charred savory green herbs, mild chocolate, exotic spices, and clove. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity, with the palate displaying notes of dried strawberry, tart cherry, pomegranate, anise, sweet tobacco, ground green herbs, clove, and white pepper. This dry red is light- to medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium length finish. Certainly has the stuffing to go a few more years, but it is rather delightful and hard to resist already.

Price: $45 average in the US (cheaper in Europe). I haven’t had enough 100% Frappato to say how this compares to other representations of the variety, however compared to other wines of a similar price-point I think this offers great value. This drinks so pure and shows a lot of complexity for its age already, all while being decidedly high quality and a great representation of the terroir.

Fun and Easygoing Riesling From Northwest Italy

Today’s Story: Oddero

Oddero is one of the great, historical producers of Barolo and Barbaresco, with the family owning property in Piedmont dating back to the 18th century. This being said, Giovanni Battista Oddero started producing wines in the commune of La Morra sometime between the 18th and 19th centuries, kicking off what today marks seven generations of winemaking for the Oddero family.

As Oddero’s wines found their way into the world, first by small barrels, bottling began in 1878 under Giacomo Oddero and the winery recently discovered that their Barolo was exported to the Americas via small barrels as early as the late 19th century. This is in stark contrast to today’s winery, which is impacted immeasurably by another Giacomo (grandson of the above).

The second Giacomo worked tirelessly during the 1950s to renovate the farm and winery, meanwhile fighting to demonstrate the quality of Piedmont wines to the world. In doing so, Giacomo helped lay the foundation for DOC and DOCG certifications for wines of the Langhe and guided agricultural regulation for products such as cheese, nuts, and vegetables.

Today, Oddero is led by his daughter Mariacristina and two grandchildren, Isabella and Pietro. Together they work 35 hectares (about 86 acres) of vineyards of which 16.5 hectares are planted to Nebbiolo in Barolo and Barbaresco. Oddero started experimenting with organic farming practices in 2008, ultimately becoming certified organic in their Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto vineyards while the Moscato and Riesling vineyards are still sustainably farmed.

I previously reviewed a couple of Oddero’s wines, first the 2010 Oddero Barolo and then the 2012 Barolo Riserva Bussia Vigna Mondoca.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Langhe Riesling

100% Riesling; 13.5% ABV

The 2016 Langhe Riesling is pale yellow in color. Aromas are of medium intensity, showcasing notes of tropical citrus, tangerine, white peach, yellow apple, white floral blossom, petrol, and stony mineral. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity, with the palate displaying notes of white peach, pineapple, lemon zest, stone fruit, honeysuckle, and crushed rock. This dry Riesling is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. This is a very easy-drinking wine, quite enjoyable for patio sipping. It’s not too complex and not as intense as other Rieslings, but it’s a fun wine. Roughly 333 cases produced.

Price: $25. I think this is pretty fairly priced, but there are better values out there in terms of complexity and intensity. It’s a fun wine with an uncommon variety in its region, and as I mentioned a great patio sipper.

Shining Star in Tuscan Winemaking

Today’s Story: Bibi Graetz

Az. Agr. Bibi Graetz is a Tuscan wine producer located in the hills of Fiesole overlooking Florence, and it was established in 2000 by artist and winemaker Bibi Graetz. Bibi has quickly catapulted to near cult-status, producing exceptional wines from old vines using Sangiovese, Colorino, and Canaiolo for the reds and Ansonica and Vermentino for the whites. Bibi started off small, making wine from 5 acres of vineyards on his parents’ property around the medieval castle, Castello di Vincigliata, they call home. He also sources fruit from vineyards around Tuscany, putting an emphasis on old vines for their added complexity and concentration. In the Testamatta I am reviewing today, for example, vine age is 35-50 years and for his Colore bottling the vine age is over 70 years. These vineyards total around 75 acres across 20 small plots, which are all farmed organically. Bibi does not adhere to DOC or DOCG regulations, instead practicing an “artisanal approach” to winemaking (he has no formal training) so his wines are labelled as Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT).

Today’s Wine: 2016 Testamatta

100% Sangiovese; 13.5% ABV

The 2016 Testamatta is medium ruby in color. Given about 1-2 hours in the decanter, this blossoms into a beautifully expressive wine with aromas of pronounced intensity. The nose showcases black cherry, black raspberry, anise, lavender, tobacco, leather, scorched earth, black truffle, tomato leaf, clay, and mild baking spice. Meanwhile the palate is also of pronounced intensity with notes of red cherry, red plum, black raspberry, roasted tomato, tobacco, black tea, oregano, iron, and clove. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high but refined tannins, medium alcohol, and a long, long finish. Outstanding wine that is already beautifully balanced and finessed with only promise for the future.

Price: $100 average (though I paid $70 and you can oftentimes find it for a similar price). This is a glorious Sangiovese, offering great balance, length, intensity, and complexity for the price. I’ve seen these prices creep up (and these wines get considerable attention from critics) however for now these remain a very strong addition to your cellar.

Refreshing Italian White for the Summer Months

Today’s Story: Feudi di San Gregorio

Feudi di San Gregorio is a fairly large winery established in 1986 in the village of Sorbo Serpico in Irpinia (Province of Avellino) of the Campania region of Southern Italy. Though Feudi di San Gregorio consists of about 300 hectares of vineyards and they produce roughly 3.5 million bottles of wine annually, the winery is known for their high quality and a dedication to native varieties such as Aglianico, Falanghina, Greco, and Fiano. Many of their vines are a century old (some even closer to 150 years old), providing Feudi di San Gregorio with unique holdings after many of their neighbors replanted to non-native varieties. This being said, they don’t entirely ignore non-native varieties and have a small percentage of their vines planted to Merlot. With all these factors in mind, Feudi di San Gregorio is often credited as a leading winery bringing glory to Campania with a marriage of tradition and modern winemaking.

I previously wrote about the Feudi di San Gregorio 2010 Pàtrimo, so feel free to check that out if Merlot is your thing!

Today’s Wine: 2016 Fiano di Avellino

100% Fiano; 13% ABV

The 2016 Fiano di Avellino is medium yellow in color with deep straw hues. Aromas are of medium intensity but beautifully perfumed, showcasing notes of lemon, pear skins, yellow apple, honeysuckle, beeswax, dried green herbs, and chalky mineral. Meanwhile the palate is also of medium intensity, with notes of lemon, pear, honeydew melon, nectarine, chamomile, flint, white pepper, and savory herbs. This dry white is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol, and a long finish. This is a very enjoyable and refreshing wine.

Price: $22. Fiano is a variety that I need to explore further, though for the price-point here I think this offers pretty solid value. The quality is palpable and this wine is an absolute pleasure to drink, so I’ll be stocking up for the warmer weather.

Fun Sicilian Blend From a Rising Star

Today’s Story: Azienda Agricola Arianna Occhipinti

Azienda Agricola Arianna Occhipinti is a continuously rising star of a winery established by Arianna Occhipinti in the Vittoria region of southeastern Sicily in 2004. Though Arianna started making her own wines at the young age of 22, she first got into wine even younger at age 16 thanks to a visit to Vinitaly with her uncle Giusto Occhipinti of COS, another benchmark Sicilian wine producer. Today Arianna works with estate fruit, sourced from her 25 hectares of certified organic vineyards which are planted to about 50% Frappato, 35% Nero d’Avola, and 15% between the white varieties of Albanello and Zibibbo. Arianna never irrigates her vineyards or uses any chemicals, and since 2009 she transitioned to biodynamic viticulture. As far as philosophy goes, Arianna’s wines are meant to showcase the terroir of Vittoria, and they are made in as “natural” a way as possible. Vineyard work is very manual, all grape and wine movements use gravity, and the wines ferment with only indigenous yeasts in concrete tanks before aging in neutral oak. Arianna produces ten wines (including three single-vineyard bottlings called Vino di Contrada) and total production each vintage is around 10,000 cases.

To learn more or view the portfolio of Occhipinti wines in more depth, I recommend visiting the website here.

Today’s Wine: 2019 SP68 Rosso

70% Frappato, 30% Nero d’Avola; 12.5% ABV

The 2019 SP68 Rosso is medium ruby in color. Given about 30-45 minutes to open up in the glass, the nose offers up aromas of red cherry, dried strawberry, red rose, mild tobacco, gravel, dried garden herbs, and scorched earth with medium intensity. Meanwhile the flavors on the palate are also of medium intensity, showcasing notes of pomegranate, red plum, tart cherry, candied rose, eucalyptus, white pepper, and crushed rock minerality. This dry red is light- to medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $28. I think this offers pretty solid value for the price. Even though I would prefer a bit more intensity out of it, the balance, length, and complexity of the wine all shine and should only get better in another year or two. Very easy to drink, so the bottle didn’t last long.