The office at Romeo del Castello.

Fresh Etna, and other recently arrived Sicilian wines

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Sicilian wine is gradually encroaching on Tuscany on our shelves (we realize that they aren’t entirely logical neighbors, but such is real estate). More and more excellent wine is coming from Sicily; the future potential there is tremendous, and this will present a serious editing problem for us, but for now it’s exciting to add to the collection.

Fortunately we don’t have to choose a favorite Etna wine or producer among the several we love, but serious contender status has to go to Romeo del Castello. This is a recent project, but unlike many other Etna wineries, this one is owned and operated by natives. In the past all of the estate’s fruit was sold; in 2007 Chiara Vigo returned to the family farm, inspired by Salvo Foti who “made me understand that I had a treasure, something I wasn’t really conscious of”. There is a tranquil and charming house, but the real treasure is the vines, 70-100 years old, all Nerello Mascalese, and never treated with any chemicals, chemical fertilizer, or herbicides. Foti helped guide Chiara for her first two vintages, and they produced beautiful and distinctive Etna Rosso. Now Chiara has added a second bottling called Allegracore; this is now the ‘basic’ wine, with the Vigo being reserved for the best vintages.

 

 

These vines are next to the house at Romeo del Castello; at the end of the rows you can see a wall of lava, which is 20-30 feet high, and about 100 yards wide. In 1982 this flow was headed straight for the house, but for some unknown reason the flow made a right turn at this point, the house was spared, as were most of the vines.

This is Ciccio the mule, plowing in the early spring on Mt. Etna for I Vignieri at 1300 metres. Here you can see how each vine is attached to its own wooden stake; Ciccio thus plows in a grid - both the length and breadth of the vineyard, stopping only to commune with visitors.

I Vigneri is a growers association founded and headed by Salvo Foti; the group helps the members manage their vineyards and market their wine in a cooperative fashion, pooling labor and resources. In many regards Salvo Foti should be credited with reviving quality winemaking on Mount Etna. Foti has worked as a winemaker and has advised on viticulture on Etna for more than 30 years, first at Benanti, later with Biondi, Il Cantante, Romeo del Castello, and others (as well as elsewhere in Sicily, notably at Gulfi). Foti’s devotion to Etna and to tradition has made a tremendous impact on Sicilian wine because of his integrity and insistence on quality without compromise. We all – lovers of Sicily and Sicilian wine – are in his debt. We have two wines from I Vignieri – we’re waiting for the new vintage of Etna Rosso, but the Bianco is great, and the ‘Vinudelice’ is amazing.

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Foti 2010 IGT Sicilia I Vigneri Vinudilice

Vinudilice, from one of the highest vineyards on Etna (1300 meters, or about 4,300 feet), is made from Alicante, which is what we know as Grenache. From very old vines farmed in albarello (little trees = bush vines). The vineyard is beautiful, and so is the wine – a rose style but as good or better than many reds, and certainly more subtle and complex than most Grenache we taste, with the minerality that you’d expect along with the freshness that comes from the high elevation.

  • Out of Stock
  • rosé
  • 0 in stock
  • $36.99

Foti (i Vigneri) 2010 IGT Sicilia Vinujancu

From Cataratto with a very little bit of Riesling, grown at 1200 meters on Etna. Yes, Riesling – it was there before I Vignieri. And 1200 meters is over 3,900 feet in elevation, which, I am reminded, is very high altitude for grape farming. The wine is delicious, dry and rich with some structure from a bit of skin contact; it’s not orange wine. It is very mineral and saline, and savory, and hauntingly tasty and long. 12 degrees alcohol, no SO2 used.

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $37.99

Romeo del Castello 2009 Etna Rosso Allegracore

We were thrilled with this wine when we tasted it last May (and again last week); it is a very pretty and pure expression of Etna, very bright, aromatic with cherry, earth and lava, herbs and flowers. Our friend Robert tasted and said “Fresh Etna!” and it really is – an elegant and feminine Nerello, and at a great price for quality.

The slightly tart aspect of good Nerello will work well on Thanksgiving, even with cranberry.

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $21.99

Romeo del Castello 2008 Etna Rosso Vigo

 

Vigo gets about 18 days of maceration in used wood, part barrique, and part larger tonneau. The wine is quite structured and serious, very mineral, with deep cherry fruit and a lot of stone, quite rich but also elegant. It was great to taste this here a couple of weeks ago: what was a brooding and reticent wine has really blossomed and is drinking beautifully. Aromatic, rich but racy and lively, with lovely dark fruit and terrific Etna minerality; Romeo del Castello is a great addition to the top ranks of Etna producers, and a must-try for Nerello afficianados.

 

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $43.99

Vino di Anna 2010 Vino da Tavola Etna Rosso

Like Frank Cornelissen, Anna Martens (and her husband Eric Narioo) are newcomers on Etna (and in Italy, for that matter) but they’ve all certainly settled in very nicely! The project is just a few years old, but uses very old organically farmed albarello vines. The wine is a field blend—mostly Nerello Mascalese, with some other local grapes. Whole clusters are fermented in open vats; no filtering, fining, or SO2 used. The result is lovely – a fairly delicate and gentle expression of Etna (at least in comparison to some of the bombastic and extracted wines that one tastes there). But there’s plenty of Etna minerality and earthiness, along with lively cherry and strawberry fruit and spices. Delicious wine. Just arrived for the first time in New York, we also have to compliment Anna and her importer for the sensible and fair price.

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $32.99

Ericina, Cantina 2010 IGT Sicilia Bianco "Tonnara"

Ericina is a cooperative of over 700 farmers, making olive oil, wheat, and sheep’s milk cheese as well as wine; all of their production is “practicing organic”, with many of the vineyards already certified organic – in itself a remarkable achievement. It’s unusual to find clean, well-made and unmanipulated wine from western Sicily, historically a source of industrially farmed grapes and wine; it may be even more unusual when the wines are inexpensive!

BTW – the name of the coop references the nearby medieval mountain town of Erice – a fine place to visit when you go to Sicily. The name of the wine — Tonnara — references local tuna fishing stations; tuna is still an important fish in Sicily. The photo shows albacore tuna in the market in Siracusa.

The Bianco is a blend of the three key Sicilian white grapes – Cattarato, Inzolia, and Grillo. Fermented in steel and concrete, the wine is fresh and bright, medium-bodied with a very pleasing balance of citrusy acidity and some lush texture from ripe fruit. Excellent quality : price rapport!

 

 

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $10.99

Valdibella 2011 Cattarratto Sicilia Munir

This is showing really well, with nice concentration but no heat — lime and lime blossom and herbs on the nose, bright and savory and crisp on the palette with lovely rich texture. If you think about Sicilian food — lots of fish, beautiful vegetables, a frequent mix of sweet and sour, liberal additions of capers — you are right on track for great matches for this wine.

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $15.99

Valdibella 2010 Sicilia Acamante Perricone

Valdibella is a very interesting place — an agricultural coop of just a few members, who make very good wine, along with a wide range of small farm products - olive oil, cheese, preserves, etc.

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $18.99