Masseria del Pino - 120 year old vines on Mt. Etna

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I first went to see Mount Etna in 1981; I’m sure we drank wine but I have no idea if it was something local. The mountain was most impressive, and I do remember seeing vines amongst the old lava flows; it seemed incredible that anything could grow there. I loved it, and I loved Sicily. I did visit a couple times after, but didn’t go back to Etna until 2007 when the wines were already becoming very popular, and Terre Nere, Cornelissen, Graci, Biondi, and others of the new era were in full swing. On every subsequent visit more development has been obvious (if not glaring), as in the sleek big new winery above Solicchiata, or the multi-acre field created by bulldozing the old vineyard terraces, courtesy of one of Italy’s biggest wine companies, or the (apparently) rich guy who hired Riccardo Cottarella to make wine because he wants to “fully maximize the purest expression of Etna.”*  Land prices have soared, and now Gaja and Davide Rosso (from Barolo) are joining the party. We’ve tasted many of the new wines and they are mostly perfectly fine (when not over-oaked), but certainly not exciting. On the cheerful side, all the fuss is a compliment to the achievement of those already established on Etna, and of course to the potential of the area.

 

“With the name, I Nove Fratelli [The Nine Brothers] we chose to remember Cesare’s grandfather and his brothers, who as you might imagine, were not abstemious.”

Federica & Cesare, April 2017                                           

Given the current feverish gold-rush atmosphere, it’s a little surprising to find a true mom-and-pop (Federica and Cesare, that is) operation like Masseria del Pino, making delicious wine that definitely maximizes the purest expression of Etna. It’s truly tiny – a hectare of vines (about 2.5 acres) of 120 year-old bush-trained, organically farmed vines at 800 metres (about 2700 feet) in altitude; a bumper crop would yield about 300 cases of wine (remove some of those for ‘family use’, and there are about 250 cases for sale). To extend the bucolic image: the vines are part of a farm (from Cesare's family), and as Federica says, “400 olive trees, chestnut, oak & cherry trees surround the vineyard, vegetable gardens, sheep, sheep dogs, chickens, geese, etc.” The winemaking is straightforward, making use of the old winery (palmento) on the property; after fermentation and 1-3 weeks of maceration (depending on the year), the wine is aged in old tonneau. The 2015 has 13.5 alcohol, and low SO2 (30mg). We think the label is charming.

 

The main thing is that the wine is very good! Jamie Wolff

*Cottarella has frequently been described as “the Michel Rolland of Italy.”  If that’s accurate, to me it means a “winemaker” who swoops in and does whatever it takes to produce a beverage that gets a high score – no manipulations or additives barred. In my past tastings, such wines have not offered a pure expression of anything, other than misguided money.

Cesare, standing on the lava stone fermentation tank in the palmento.                                                

 

** I think it was Eric Nairoo who first told me to look out for this wine – anyway - thanks to Eric! So we tried a bottle at San Giorgio e Il Drogone in Randazzo (one of my favorite restaurants, anywhere) and we loved it. Then 2 American friends said we really needed to get the wine here, and that got me off my very slow moving seat. So: special thanks to Jonathan Weiss, and to Jay Cavallaro (who lives on Etna, the lucky so-and so)…

And thanks to Jan d'Amore for the photos of Federica and Cesare.

Masseria del Pino 2015 Etna Rosso I Nove Fratelli

Masseria del Pino’s I Nove Fratelli is a great example of why people get so excited about the wines of Mount Etna. Produced from one hectare of organically farmed 120 year-old bush trained vines of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, the wine is elegant and frankly delicious.  The nose shows a smoky character up front with layers of tart black cherries and black raspberries over crushed violets and dusty earth. The palate is structured but lifted by bright acidity with flavors of ripe cherry fruit, blood orange,and woody herbs; I’d like to avoid any kind of pandering cliché here, but the wine tastes like it was made on the side of a volcano – like sun-baked lava – which a lot more tasty than it might sound.  The tannins are bold and ripe but fade harmoniously towards a grippy mineral finish. I would recommend decanting for a few hours to enjoy this wine at its very best. Try it with fennel stuffed pork loin, roast game bird, grilled sausages, cured cheese, or rich mushroom dishes. Andy Paynter


He took the words out of my mouth! Tasting notes are subjective, but Andy and I seem to agree about this one pretty much down the line (although for fruit analogs I was more on blackberry and cranberry). Also, I think this (like many of the other best wines from Etna) is very versatile when it comes to food pairings; I don’t disagree with Andy’s suggestions (he’s a damn fine home cook, btw), but you shouldn’t feel limited by them. Last night we had grilled swordfish with a sauce of fresh tomato, capers, and herbs, and it was a great match – our guests, who are not wine people, seemed to love it. Jamie Wolff

  • red
  • 16 in stock
  • $39.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur