Incredible Complexity From the Northern Slopes of Mount Etna

Today’s Story: Pietradolce

Pietradolce was established in 2005 on the northern slopes of Mt. Etna in Solicchiata and consists of 11 hectares of vines situated between 600 and 900 meters above sea level. The vineyards are divided into three sections, with two in Rampante and one in Zottorinoto, but overall the soil is dominated by stones and sandy loam rich in mineral elements thanks to the volcano. Since its founding, Pietradolce chose to work only with native varieties of Mt. Etna with Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, and Carricante taking center stage and growing largely as traditional bushes. At the heart of Pietradolce is a philosophy of caring for the land and both the winemaking practices as well as the physical winery itself are eco-friendly.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Contrada Rampante Etna Rosso

100% Nerello Mascalese; 14.5% ABV

The 2014 Contrada Rampante is almost fully opaque deep garnet in color. This seemed to show best after 1.5 hours decanting, however it continued to evolve and add complexities throughout the 3 hours from pop to last drop. The nose showcases aromas of bing cherry, strawberry, licorice, rose and violet, leather, black volcanic earth, smoke, oregano, cinnamon, stony mineral, and oaky spice. Some slight heat surfaces as well. On the palate this beauty displays notes of black cherry, dried stemmy strawberry, crunchy black raspberry, cola, anise, tobacco, rocky yet loamy earth, earthy mineral, mocha, and allspice. This is medium-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish characterized by lingering notes of iron.

Price: $38 (but good luck). I’ve had many Etna Rosso’s that I proclaim as exceptional values, but this wine might take the cake as the greatest one yet…if you are lucky enough to find it. The utter complexity that surfaces in this wine and its rustic beauty that could be mistaken for a great red Burgundy demands attention and respect. Pair with pasta bolognese, veal parm, or swordfish.

From Tuscany to Sicily

Today’s Story: Pietro Caciorgna

Pietro Caciorgna is a very small family-owned and operated farm and winery based in Casole d ‘Elsa of the Siena province of Tuscany. Giovanni and Fulvia Caciorgna moved to this countryside location in 1953 with their seven children and set about farming cereals, corn, sunflower, and cattle fodder. Fortunately for us, the family also practiced viticulture for their own consumption which spawned into the wines for purchase today. Having grown their property to 20 hectares, the Caciorgna family farms 2.3 hectares of Sangiovese planted in 2001 on the hill of Osteria delle Macchie in Tuscany and branched into Sicily to produce their Etna Rosso. Pietro and his wife Elda manage the day-to-day of the estate, and their philosophy is to produce quality wines while caring for the environment. For instance, they use zero chemical fertilizers in the vineyards and only copper and sulfur when necessary to produce honest and terroir-driven wines. The family was driven to start a new venture in Sicily in 2006 by none other than Marco de Grazia (behind Tenuta delle Terre Nere) where they purchased a small 0.5 hectare vineyard of Nerello Mascalese before expanding with the purchase of another just over 1 hectare in size. Pietro also purchases some fruit from his neighbors and produces his wines in a small cellar located in Rovittello, yet the drive for quality and terroir-driven wines remains the same.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Guardoilvento Etna Rosso

100% Nerello Mascalese; 13.5% ABV

The 2016 Guardoilvento Etna Rosso is medium garnet in color with ruby hues and moderately opaque. I decanted this for about an hour which allowed the nose to showcase aromas of ripe red cherry, stemmy strawberry, dried raspberry, tomato paste, red rose, leather, dried earth, rocky mineral, and pine. Once in the mouth, this wine displays notes of baked cherry, raspberry, red licorice, red and purple florals, thyme, crushed rock, tobacco, volcanic earth, allspice, and earthy mineral. This is medium-bodied with vibrant medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $30. This is an outstanding value and another example of why I love Etna Rosso so much. For those unfamiliar with Etna Rosso and a step deeper the variety Nerello Mascalese, I highly suggest giving them a try. Pair this with pork chops, veal parm, or tomato sauce pasta.

Gorgeous Etna Rosso With an Incredible Backstory

Today’s Story: Le Vigne di Eli

Le Vigne di Eli is a small, family-owned winery established on the slopes of Mount Etna in 2006 by Marco de Grazia who is also behind the acclaimed Tenuta delle Terre Nere. Marco decided to establish Le Vigne di Eli after being offered two of Etna’s tiniest and most coveted vineyards (Feudo di Mezzo and Moganazzi-Voltasciara), though instead of adding them to his portfolio at Tenuta delle Terre Nere he started another winery. Marco says the two vineyards made him think of his daughter Elena (Eli), so not only did he create this winery out of his love for her but he uses her artwork on his labels and dedicates a significant portion of his profits to the Ospedale Pediatrico Meyer children’s hospital in Florence to make it truly a “child’s estate.” Over time Marco selected additional tiny vineyards to increase his offerings and the estate produces about 20,000 bottles annually across several Etna Bianco and Etna Rosso bottlings.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Etna Rosso

98% Nerello Mascalese, 2% Nerello Cappuccio; 13.5% ABV

The 2016 Etna Rosso is moderately opaque and medium garnet in color with bright ruby hues. I let this breathe in the glass for about an hour and the nose emits aromas of ripe strawberry, muddled raspberry, red cherry, red licorice, lavender, tobacco, barnyard, volcanic soil, savory Italian herbs, marine minerality, and oak. Once on the palate, the wine offers notes of strawberry, cherry, wild raspberry, red and purple florals, sweet tobacco, graphite, baking spice, crushed rock minerality, and smoke. This is light- to medium-bodied with vibrant medium (+) acidity, refined medium tannins, and a long herbaceous finish. The wine is incredibly precise and its drinking experience is completely gorgeous. 1,000 cases produced.

Price: $30. This is one of the better Etna Rosso wines I’ve had, and for this price it is a screaming value as a lot of Etna Rosso is (for now). Pair this with chicken parmigiana, tuna with tomatoes, roasted pork, or even pepperoni pizza.

Wonderful Etna Rosso

Today’s Story: Frank Cornelissen

Frank Cornelissen established his winery on Mount Etna in 2001 with vineyards located on the Northern Valley of the active volcano. While the winery is relatively new, Etna was still largely undiscovered as a wine region at that time. The estate currently encompasses 24 hectares, 13 being old vines in the alberello training system, 9 being old vines in modern rows, and 2 being olive orchards. To me, this is remarkable because Frank produced his first wine in 2001 with only 0.40 hectares of vines.

Viewing himself as a steward of the land, Frank adopted a farming philosophy that natural interactions in the vineyards are complex and we should allow the earth to steer farming of grapes rather than laying a heavy hand. To this end, Frank seeks to avoid all treatments on the land such as chemical or pesticide use. The farming is organic (certified in 2010), while some practices of homeopathic or biodynamic farming are also used. Buckwheat is added to soils low in organic material instead of industrial compost, soil-tilling is avoided as much as possible, and local fruits are interplanted in the vineyards to foster bee colonies. Nonetheless, Frank will use treatments such as copper sulphate and sulphur if he absolutely must to keep the vines from dying (this occurred in 2013 and 2015, both very tough vintages).

Today’s Wine: 2016 Munjebel PA

100% Nerello Mascalese; 15% ABV

The Munjebel PA is produced from the Porcaria cru in the contrada Feudo di Mezzo. Situated at 640m above sea level, the vineyard is challenging to farm and harvest though the average age of the vines is 60+ years. This wine is made with destemmed fruit that is lightly crushed, and fermentation is accomplished using only indigenous yeasts. The wine sees skin contact for 60 days during fermentation, is aged in neutral epoxy tanks, and is unfined but filtered before bottling with cartridges of 5 micron. They add as little sulfur as possible, typically ranging from 5-30 mg/l.

The 2016 is pale to medium ruby in color and fairly transparent. This benefits from a little decanting, and I’d suggest serving it in an aroma collector glass such as a Zalto Burgundy. Once this opens up, the nose offers aromas of ripe raspberry, strawberry, red rose, green herbs, tar, smoke, and volcanic soil. In the mouth, the wine showcases flavors of strawberry, raspberry, cranberry, green cooking herbs, scorched earth, and mineral. There is also a prominent rocky component to the wine as well. This is light-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a medium length finish. Roughly 166 cases produced.

Price: $65. Etna wines are starting to jump in price (and justifiably so). While this bottle is on the pricier end, I’d suggest trying some of Frank Cornelissen’s other bottlings to gain exposure to the magnificent wines being produced there. You can typically find the standard Munjebel Rosso for $40 or less. Pair this with meatballs, steak, pork, or tuna.