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 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.

Beautiful Representation of Chardonnay From Sicily

Today’s Story: Planeta Winery

Planeta is a large, family-owned and operated Sicilian wine estate that actually consists of six separate estates spread across Sambuca di Sicilia, Menfi, Vittoria, Noto, Etna, and Capo Milazzo. Though the Planeta family has been involved in Sicilian agriculture and viticulture for five centuries and 17 generations, they built their first winery under the Planeta Winery label only in 1995. Cousins Alessio and Santi Planeta founded the venture with their uncle Diego Planeta, who was already a well-established and highly regarded individual in the Sicilian wine world (particularly for his time with the Settesoli wine cooperative). Planeta is a major innovator when it comes to increasing quality of Sicilian wines, utilizing their vast terroir portfolio to trumpet both native and international varieties best suited for each individual site. Sustainability is a major push for Planeta, and they farm all vineyards with this in mind. Meanwhile winemaking can best be described as “open-minded,” a term that while vague speaks to the mission of producing wines with a sense of place and from the best varieties possible for each distinct estate.

To explore each estate in depth, peruse the extensive portfolio of wines, or simply view pictures of the incredible Planeta vineyards, I encourage you to visit their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 14% ABV

The 2018 Chardonnay is pale to medium gold in color. Given some time to blossom in the glass, the aromas are of pronounced intensity and include ripe yellow apple, stone fruit, lemon zest, pineapple, vanilla cream, a hint of butter, and clove. Meanwhile the flavors on the palate are also of pronounced intensity, showcasing notes of yellow apple, pineapple, peach, white florals, butter, vanilla, clove, and crushed rock minerality. This dry Chardonnay is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Comes across fairly Burgundian.

Price: $36. I think this actually offers pretty solid value, especially compared to the California Chardonnay and white Burgundy I tasted alongside it (they were 80% and 40% more expensive, respectively). The intensity and balance in this wine are quite good, and it should only improve with another 3-5 years in the bottle.

Refreshing Etna Bianco With a True Sense of Place

Today’s Story: Tenuta delle Terre Nere

Tenuta delle Terre Nere is a somewhat young but highly regarded winery and estate founded by Marc de Grazia on the northern slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily. Tenuta delle Terre Nere produced its first commercial vintage 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.

Today’s Wine: 2019 Etna Bianco

60% Carricante, 25% Catarratto, 10% Grecanico, 5% Minnella; 12.5% ABV

The 2019 Etna Bianco is pale yellow in color and transparent. Aroma intensity on the nose is rather light, and this took some effort to pull out notes of crisp underripe pear, meyer lemon, white peach, white florals, dried herbs, mild cheese, and volcanic minerality. Meanwhile the palate offers medium intensity, showcasing notes of crisp yellow apple, lemon curd, white grapefruit, lime zest, underripe pineapple, honeysuckle, and saline. This dry white is light- to medium-bodied with high acidity, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Very crisp and refreshing, and it seems like it’d be a good pairing for oysters.

Price: $25. I would like to see some more intensity out of this wine, though perhaps it will evolve in the bottle over the next few years. Nonetheless, this is a good Carricante-dominant wine showcasing its sense of place well for the price.

Young but Beautifully Complex Etna Rosso

Today’s Story: Passopisciaro – Vini Franchetti

Passopisciaro is a highly regarded wine estate founded in 2000 by Andrea Franchetti on the northern slopes of Mount Etna. Franchetti purchased an old farm and cellars at about 1,000 meters up the volcano and they desperately needed restoration, clearing, and replanting of the vineyards. Franchetti was somewhat instrumental in the renaissance for Etna winemaking, taking great risk by working on an active volcano surrounded by ancient estates long abandoned due to lava flow. He focuses primarily on the native Nerello Mascalese variety, but grows Chardonnay, Petit Verdot, and Cesanese d’Affile as well between roughly 600 meters and 1,100 meters in elevation.

Today, Passopisciaro consists of 26 hectares planted to Nerello Mascalese, 4 hectares planted to Chardonnay, and 2 hectares of Petit Verdot and Cesanese d’Affile. Franchetti makes six wines with 100% Nerello Mascalese, and they range from the Passorosso (blended from various elevations and terroirs) to five different Cru, or Contrada as they are known on Etna, bottlings he introduced in 2008. The five Contrada bottlings of Chiappemacine, Porcaria, Guardiola, Sciaranuova, and Rampante come from different elevations and are planted in varying lava flows that offer unique mineral characteristics. His red blend of Petit Verdot and Cesanese d’Affile, called Franchetti, entered the portfolio in 2005 and his Chardonnay, called Passobianco, entered in 2007.

Winemaking is without a doubt very unique on Mount Etna for a number of factors. First, the fact that this is an active volcano with frequent smoke plumes and lava flows which can destroy vines…or worse. Second, the elevation stretches to 3,300 meters on Mount Etna and even vines planted 1/3 of the way up face winds and drastic temperature swings, though it does stay cooler and help produce more complex and elegant wines. And third, the soil is naturally very rocky and volcanic and, due to its black color, diffuses sunlight across and throughout the ground to provide additional indirect sunlight to the vines. Franchetti seems to have mastered these elements, crafting wines with a true sense of place, great depth and complexity, and beautiful purity of fruit.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Passorosso Etna Rosso

100% Nerello Mascalese; 14.5% ABV

The 2017 Passorosso Etna Rosso is translucent medium ruby in color. Given about an hour to open up, the wine showcases a surprisingly deep nose of red cherry, raspberry, strawberry, black plum, red rose, leather, scorched volcanic earth, black pepper, dried green herbs, cocoa powder, and cedar with pronounced intensity. Meanwhile on the palate I get notes of cranberry, sour red cherry, pomegranate, blood orange, licorice, violet, tobacco, smoke, crushed rock mineral, and chocolate. This dry red is full-bodied with high acidity, high tannins, and a long finish. Very young, and the tannin and alcohol should integrate beautifully with a couple more years of bottle age.

Price: $35. I think this is a great value, especially given how beautifully it drinks at such a young age. Give this one or two more years to better integrate the alcohol and tannin, but this certainly has the stuffing to drink well for the next 5+ years.

New Etna Rosso From Two Great Wine Families

Today’s Story: IDDA

IDDA was established in 2016 as a partnership between the Gaja family of Piedmont and the Graci family of Sicily. While the Gaja family is rightfully famous for their Barbaresco and Barolo, Angelo Gaja became incredibly interested in the history, culture, and terroir of Sicily and particularly Mt. Etna with the Etna wines being produced in recent years. After Angelo met Alberto Graci, whose family makes wines on the northern slopes of Mt. Etna, the two joined together to purchase vineyards on the southern slopes. With about 52 acres of vineyards today located between 2,000 and 2,600 feet elevation on this great volcano, IDDA cultivates Carricante, Nerello Mascalese, and Nerello Cappuccio with the first vintage being 2017.

Today’s Wine: 2017 IDDA Etna Rosso

98% Nerello Mascalese, 2% Nerello Cappuccio; 14.5% ABV

The 2017 IDDA Etna Rosso is translucent deep garnet in color. Given some time to blossom in the glass, this wine opens to showcase a nose of strawberry, raspberry, bing cherry, leather, tomato paste, volcanic soil, bright mineral, and charred oak. There is some slight heat there too, which should become better integrated over time. On the palate, I get notes of tart cherry, stemmy strawberry, boysenberry, rose petal, anise, sweet tobacco, smoke, tilled rocky soil, ground green herbs, and basil. This is medium-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $50. This is the inaugural vintage of this wine, and although young it is both approachable with air and immensely promising as this project comes into its own. I think this is priced very fairly given the apparent quality, and like similar Etna Rosso wines provides QPR that can be hard to find in the world.

Tasty and Opulent Nero d’Avola

Today’s Story: Gulfi

Gulfi is a family owned and operated wine estate located in Chiaramonte Gulfi, and it was established by Raffaele Catania. Though Raffaele fled Sicily during the crisis following WWII and moved to France, he always desired to return to Chiaramonte Gulfi and even sent his savings there with the hope of purchasing property. In 1970, the Catania family moved back to Sicily and Raffaele devoted himself to winemaking which began during the 1980s following the first release of Gulfi’s Nerojbleo label. When Raffaele passed away in 1995, his son Vito had the important decision of leaving his career in the chemical sector (at his own company no less) or selling the family vineyards. Fortunately for Gulfi, Vito had a deep-rooted interest in wine from growing up in France and decided to take over the Gulfi winery.

Gulfi practices organic viticulture by not using any chemical fertilizers, insecticides, or pesticides and only uses manure and/or leguminous crops in the vineyard to enrich the soil. Meanwhile the hot and dry climate defends against insects and mold. Furthermore, Gulfi does not irrigate their vineyards which forces the vines to struggle and reach deeply for nutrients in turn producing higher quality and healthier fruit. Gulfi grows Nero d’Avola, Frappato, Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Carricante, and Albanello (all native varieties) and all are harvested manually.

Today’s Wine: 2016 NeroBufaleffj

100% Nero d’Avola; 14% ABV

The 2016 NeroBufaleffj is opaque medium purple/ruby in color. Given about an hour to open up, the nose showcases aromas of black cherry, black plum, prune, licorice, dried tobacco, charred loamy earth, cocoa powder, and light oaky spice. On the palate, this wine displays notes of spiced black plum, dark cherry cola, jammy blackberry, dried strawberry, anise, tobacco, dusty volcanic earth, dried green herbs, and a hint of oak. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish dominated by syrupy black and blue fruits.

Price: Typically $40-45 (I paid $35). Very well-priced if you can find it around $35 like I did, but I think the more common $40-45 range puts this a little over the top to be called good value. Without a doubt a delicious wine though. Pair with grilled game, beef stew, or mature cheeses.

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.