The Wines Of Etna – Excellence from An Extreme Production Zone (Forbes)

Ancient vine in the Etna production zone (PHOTO COURTESY MARCO DE GRAZIA)

Italy is one of the world’s most distinctive wine producing countries, largely because of the predominance of indigenous varieties used in wines across the country. You’ll quite often find a particular varietal planted in only one region or even a small production zone, such as Palagrello Nero and Palagrello Bianco in the Caserta region of Campania.

When it comes to Sicily, indigenous varieties, such as Grillo, Nero d’Avola and Frappato are also part of the viticultural landscape, but so too are international varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Chardonnay. Given the warm – or hot, depending on your viewpoint – temperatures and ample sunshine, just about everything ripens on the island. Continue reading “The Wines Of Etna – Excellence from An Extreme Production Zone (Forbes)”

Marsala emerges redefined rewarding the adventurous (Quench)

This is a wine you can bite,” declares Cantine Florio’s oenologist, Tommaso Maggio, as he draws some 1939 Marsala directly from the cask. “It’s almost like jam.” Nearly 80 years old, this Marsala was born at the start of the World War II.


I take a sip. Indeed, it is thick and unctuous. Decades of aging in wooden barrels have resulted in a slow evaporation of water, concentrating the dry extract to give the wine its unequivocal chewiness. The heady combination of salty bouillon, walnut, tea, dates and tobacco gives intrigue and balance, making it taste less sweet than its 120 grams/litre of sugar. The finish lingers with spices and burnt caramel. Maggio estimates a bottle would sell for 600 Euros. This is not the Marsala you casually pour into a classic veal sauce. Continue reading “Marsala emerges redefined rewarding the adventurous (Quench)”

Harvest on Mount Etna – Santa Maria La Nave (VIDEO)

This video tells about the 2017 harvest on Santa Maria La Nave’s vineyard on Monte Ilice. As you will see from this other video, Monte Ilice is a crater of incredible beauty. It is quite recent: less than 1000 years old, nothing if you consider that Mount Etna was born more than 600.000 years ago…

Etneans have understood Monte Ilice agricultural potential and started to cultivate it a few centuries after it was created. The soil, made of black volcanic sand and stone chippings, was perfect to grow Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Carricante, Catarratto, and other local grapes that would be used to make Etnean wines. The grapes stayed intact until they were perfectly mature, thanks to the inclination of the crater, its exposure and its sandy soil, and the wine was deemed of high quality and “suited to the navigation” – i.e. it could endure a long sea journey. These characteristics played a critical part in the survival of the vineyard on Mount Ilice through the centuries. Continue reading “Harvest on Mount Etna – Santa Maria La Nave (VIDEO)”

How Nero d’Avola is shaping the future of Sicilian wine (

For anyone whose main experience of islands is the Isle of Wight, Sicily comes as a bit of a shock. Admittedly, both have plenty of sea, beach and pensioners driving round on holiday. But, whereas you can cycle most of the way round the splodge in the Channel in a day (at least, you can if you’re fitter than I am), Sicily is big. And lumpy. Even if he doped himself up like Lance Armstrong, Chris Froome couldn’t get round this little beauty in 24 hours.

At 25,000 sq m, Sicily is bigger than Wales and its geography is, frankly, nuts. On the meeting point of two tectonic plates, it’s a mountainous island with no shortage of 1500m-high peaks in the central range and along the north coast.

At its eastern edge, gazing over the rest of the island like a bad tempered grandmother, is the looming, belching, grumbling presence of Mount Etna. The beach at Shanklin struggles to compete. Which – in a seamless segue – is also what Sicily was struggling to do until recently. Continue reading “How Nero d’Avola is shaping the future of Sicilian wine (”

Sicily – A Wine Region That’s An Island Apart (Forbes)

Sicily has many positive images (as well as a few not-so-positive), but when it comes to Sicilian wines, the subject is a bit of a puzzle to many. There are several reasons for this, but lately, producers in select areas such as Vittoria, Noto and Etna are crafting some pretty special products that are receiving a lot of attention and changing the mindset of consumers and the wine trade about the wines of Sicily.

Perhaps the most positive notion of Sicily is that everyone knows the name, and anyone can find it on a map of Italy; this last point is certainly not true with some of the country’s regions such as Abruzzo, Marche or Emilia-Romagna. So familiarity helps gets Sicilian producers get a foot in the door in the market, but unfortunately the identity of this region’s wines has for too long been one of sub-par quality.

This is based on the notion that Sicily is not a place to produce wines of elegance and finesse; the hot climate leads to lower acidity, meaning the wines lack structure and freshness. Add to that the fact that for decades, most table wine that emerged from the region was little more than bulk wine; flavorful, yet heavy, these wines were often shipped in tankers to other parts of Italy to “beef up” lighter red wines.

In fact, the history of quality for Sicilian wines in previous years was primarily focused on Marsala, one of the world’s most highly praised fortified wines, made in several styles, from very dry to medium-sweet. Yet even given the renown for the finest examples of Marsala, the strongest image with this wine for many consumers is for cooking, as with Veal Marsala or Chicken Marsala, hardly the stuff of greatness.

Antonio Rallo, proprietor of Donnafuagata Winery, one of Sicily’s most famous producers (PHOTO COURTESY OF DONNAFUGATA)

About 40 years ago, a few producers decided to do something about the image of Sicilian wines, so production of bulk wine was decreased – although it is still a large part of the region’s wine industry – and planting of international varieties such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah were undertaken. Add to this a new focus on indigenous varieties such as Grillo and Carricante for white and Nero d’Avola and Frappato for red, and all of a sudden, the Sicilian wine pallete was aglow with a multitiude of colors and flavors.

Talk to enough Sicilian producers and you’ll learn they believe that Sicily is a magical place to make wine, as it is such a distinctive land. “The climate, the countryside, the customs, the terroir and its varieties are very different from other regions,” says Alessio Planeta, co-proprietor of his family’s winery, one of the region’s greatest ambassadors.

Alessio Planeta, co-proprietor of Planeta Winery, one of the best known of all Sicilian wine estates (PHOTO COURTESY PLANETA WINERY)

The weather, though it may be hot, does assure that almost anything can grow on the island. “Sicily is regarded a place that can grow almost any grape presenting an extraordinary patrimony of biodiversity with over 70 indigenous grape varieties,” comments Antonio Rallo of Donnafugata, another renowned Sicilian wine estate. “This is why people describe Sicily as a wine continent.

Given its viticultural history skewed toward workman-like wine, it is no surprise that there has not been an iconic Sicilian wine, such as Brunello di Montalcino from Tuscany, Barolo and Barbaresco from Piemonte or Amarone from the Veneto. While this may have meant a lack of media attention toward Sicilian wines, the renaissance that started 40 years ago and continues today, has resulted in exciting new ventures and paths of the region’s viticulture. “Sicily is in a constant acquisition of auto renewal,” says Planeta. There is an improvement in knowledge and awareness of our terroirs, as well as among ourselves.”

Today, the wines of the Etna District in northeastern Sicily, are the ones that garner the greatest attention. “Etna is the hot ticket for driving Sicily’s quality image, both in Italy and abroad, with its cooler climate, volcanic contenders red Nerello Mascalese and white Carricante having attracted much global attention among sommeliers and independent merchants,” Rallo remarks. Planeta agrees, commenting, “Etna has the magic at the moment and is a positive thing for all of the island.”

The wines of Etna are something of a minor miracle given the rocky soils of volcanic ash and pumice that were formed by lava flow from the nearby volcano. It’s a difficult venture for a grape grower, notes Giuseppe Tornatore of the eponymous Etna estate. “It takes a lot of patience and dedication because what elsewhere is done in one year, it is done in two years in Etna. It takes a lot of sacrifice, suffering always the magnetism of the volcano and everything that depends on it.

Examples of Etna Bianco are made primarily with the local Carricante grape and have various characteristics, with some offering melon and pear fruit, while others display distinct minerality, even resembling the wines of Chablis in Burgundy. Overall, the best of these whites have shown tremendous improvement in a very short period of time.

It is the reds however that are most famous, made from the indigenous Nerello Mascalese variety. These wines have been called “Italy’s Burgundies,” and no wonder given the appealing cherry and sometimes strawberry aromas and its sleek finish. Some producers have opted as of late for a more powerful style of Etna Rosso that is more tannic (almost like a Nebbiolo-based wine from Piedmont), but this dual identity only adds to the allure of the red wines of Etna.

Planeta Winery near Noto, one of several wine facilities of the company (PHOTO COURTESY OF PLANETA WINERY)

Arguably the best-known red from Sicily over the past twenty years has been Nero d’Avola, an indigenous variety. Its popularity is due to its appealing black cherry and plum fruit backed by relatively smooth tannins. Sicilian producers love it, as it also works well when blended with other red varieties such as Merlot and Syrah.

The Duca di Salaparuta winery bottled the first monovarietal Nero d’Avola they named “Duca Enrico” back in 1984; today this is still regarded as one of the best examples of this variety. Other classic examples include the “Mille e Una Notte” from Donnafugata (about 90% Nero d’Avola) and the “Santa Cecilia” from Planeta, labeled as Noto DOC. This last wine, initially made in the 1997 vintage, has become a classic example of Nero d’Avola structured for aging, as 12 and 15-year old bottles are still drinking well.

Another red that has become successful over the past few years is Cerasuolo di Vittoria, a blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato. Cerasuolo means “cherry like”; this fruit emerges in the aromas, along with red and orange rose perfumes, and there are soft, silky tannins, thanks to the Frappato. Here is a red that tastes great when chilled for 15-20 minutes, and given the lightness of the tannins, it is ideal with duck breast, chicken in red wine or even tuna. Top examples include the Feudi del Pisciotto “Giambattista Valli”, the “Floramundi” from Donnafugata, and the alluring, ultra delicious “Dorilli” from Planeta.

Briefly on whites, Grillo is an indigenous variety that for years was used in the production of Marsala. But on its own, it has appealing exotic fruit aromas and pairs well with a variety of foods, from poultry to lighter seafood; look for the examples from Valle dell’Acate and the “Sur Sur” from Donnafugata.

There are countless other whites that I can recommend, from the 100% Fiano from Planeta known as “Cometa,” a sumptuous, dry white that is among Italy’s best, as well as “Lighea” a dry Zibibbo (Moscato) from Donnafugata, and the Tasca d’Almerita “Contea di Sclafani” Chardonnay. There are countless treasures – white, red and sweet – throughout Sicily – and the best producers there are diligent in their efforts to take the region’s wines to the next step, as Planeta remarks. “We are past the period of experimentation and are now in a period of increasing our knowledge of our terroirs. We are uniting the results of past years with a studious attention of tradition.

The rest of this interesting article and the notes on current releases are here.

New releases from Frank Cornelissen: single-vineyard Etna wines (Jamie Goode)

Frank Cornelissen was in town showing off his new wines. It’s a series of single-vineyard wines from his 25 hectares and 19 plots on Mount Etna. ‘It’s the focus of my work,’ he says, ‘but less than 10% of my production.’ He’s held off making these wines before, because his winemaking wasn’t good enough to show all the nuances. ‘It took me 10 years to vinify in a better way to make this quality,’ says Frank. ‘I still have some fine tuning to do, but this will take time and money. The last 5-10% of quality costs as much as the previous 90%.’

Risultati immagini per frank cornelissen

Frank uses epoxy-lined amphorae to make these wines, and his goal is to produce wines that allow us to taste the vineyard. He’s convinced that the future of Etna is parcellation. ‘It is a booming area to the professionals,’ he says, ‘but for the consumer it is not yet known. This will come.

Continue reading “New releases from Frank Cornelissen: single-vineyard Etna wines (Jamie Goode)”

A Lesser Known Wine of Sicily Benefits From Globalization (The NY Times)

Sicily is again the subject of a lesson of Eric Asimov’s Wine School; this time he speaks of Frappato on this New York Times’ article (here you can read it the complete post).

While it is true historically that Sicily’s best-known wines internationally were sweet, I would guess relatively few people in the last 20 years have seen or consumed a Sicilian sweet wine. A lot of bad ones are available, though, and the best known, Marsala, has unfortunately become a synonym for cheap “cooking wines.” Good Marsalas, like those from De Bartoli, can be exquisite, though expensive.

As for nero d’Avola, it became well known beyond Sicily in the 1990s, primarily because a few successful examples allowed Sicilian winemakers to focus on it rather than cabernet sauvignons and merlots designed to earn approval in the export market. While Sicilian nero d’Avolas back then won praise, many of the wines were heavy, out-of-balance or just plain bad. Now, the reputation is mixed for varietal nero d’Avola wines, though I have certainly had some excellent examples.

Nonetheless, nero d’Avola continues to be an important grape. In the southeast corner of Sicily around the city of Vittoria, it is often blended with frappato to produce what is now recognized as one of the island’s best red wines, Cerasuolo di Vittoria.

Did frappato and other newly anointed Sicilian red grapes like nerello mascalese simply pop into being through puffs of magic? Of course not.

They, along with nero d’Avola and many others, have long been grown on the island. For generations, they were made into bulk wines and shipped to northern Italy or France, where they were used to add color and power to local wines deemed too anemic on their own. They were also consumed locally in the communities where the grapes were grown.

Continue reading “A Lesser Known Wine of Sicily Benefits From Globalization (The NY Times)”

3 Frappatos to Drink Right Now (The New York Times)

A new article of the Eric Asimov’s Wine School on the New York Times about Sicilian wines: today he writes about Frappato.

The grape is frappato, and the wine comes from the Vittoria region of southeast Sicily. The wines of Mount Etna may be getting all the attention, but the wines of Vittoria deserve to be recognized.

The leading wine of the region is Cerasuolo di Vittoria, a blend of frappato and nero d’Avola. We will be tasting straight-up frappatos, which are a little lighter than Cerasuolos and can be enjoyed a little sooner.

Reds like frappato have gained popularity in recent years as consumers have come to appreciate wines that rely on freshness rather than power. Twenty-five years ago it was an entirely different story, as producers in Sicily were betting on international varieties like merlot and cabernet, but tastes have evolved. Nowadays, consumers are far more interested in indigenous grapes like frappato than those grown everywhere else in the world.

The three wines I recommend are:

COS Frappato Terre Siciliane 2015

Occhipinti Il Frappato Terre Siciliane 2015

Valle dell’Acate Il Frappato Vittoria 2016

As is so often the case, you may not be able to find these wines, which are made in limited quantities. It’s a small region, so the selection is not vast, but here are some alternatives: Tami, Manenti, Planeta, Vino Lauria, Bellus, Biscaris and Lamoresca, which is technically not within the confines of Vittoria but is close enough.I realize that looking for small-production wines can be frustrating, yet they are almost always worth seeking out. The alternative — recommending mass-produced bottles — results in either a limited number of subjects endlessly repeated or wines that generally do not show a genre’s potential.

Don’t worry about the vintage. Both 2015s and ’16s will be good choices.

You can read the article here: 3 Frappatos to Drink Right Now

Sicily: Dramatic landscapes, delicious wines (The Spectator)

Not only is Etna gaining global attention for the diversity of its wines from the indigenous varietals of Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, and Carricante, but it’s also receiving recognition because of the remarkable producers at work there. These are the stories behind the family-owned wineries that encircle this lava-strewn terrain crafted by earthquakes, eruptions and extraordinary people. The following wineries are places with heart and soul—that are worth visiting not only for their refined, finessed wines, but also for their timeless Sicilian charm.

Barone di Villagrande

Dating back to 1727, Barone di Villagrande is one of the oldest wineries in the region of Etna. Family run for 10 generations, Barone di Villagrande is open to the public (with reservations) for tours and tastings and has four guestrooms—not to mention an impressive infinity pool carved from lava stone. Set on the eastern slopes of Etna in the area of Milo, this region gets 10 times more rain than the rest of Sicily. But though autumns and winters are very wet, summers are very dry, and it is this interesting microclimate that allows for the creation of special wines, high in acidity and crisp minerality. ‘For me, the typical taste of Etna is the freshness,’ says Marco Nicolosi, who now runs this certified organic vineyard and wine resort with his family. Nowhere is this freshness more apparent than in Barone di Villagrande’s Etna Bianco DOC Superiore, which pairs especially well with Sicilian dishes made with the wild fennel that can be found growing everywhere.


Though this winery and tasting room is still under construction for a few more months, Pietradolce—on the cooler and dryer northern slopes of Mount Etna, in Solicchiata—has some of the most interesting wines in the area and is certainly worth a visit once opened. Don’t let the ultra-modern new winery and tasting room fool you; these wines are made from old roots (this will become apparent on a short walk to the Eden-like, verdant and wild Barbagalli vineyard that looks completely forgotten by time). Don’t miss a taste of the creamy Sant’ Andrea Bianco made with white Carricante grapes (this is their passion-project with an annual production of only 1,800 bottles), or the dusty tannins and bright acidity of the Archineri Etna Rosso, made from red Nerello Mascalese. The gorgeous graphic on the wine’s labels—a majestic, fiery female figure—is a nod to the volcano, or ‘Mama Etna’.

Tenuta di Fessina

Part-historic winery and part-boutique hotel, Tenuta di Fessina is completely magical. The property’s 17th-century buildings on the north-eastern slopes of Etna have been styled into stunning suites (seven in total), tasting rooms, barrel cellars, and a refurbished palmento (a traditional pressing room). In a curving amphitheatre layout, terraced vineyards surround the stylish property, the vines getting progressively older as you move farther away. Fessina’s vineyards are also lush with olive, fig, peach, almond, and cherry trees—a throwback to older, more rustic times when survival was the main concern of farmers. Sip the silky, fragrant, and finessed Laeneo, made from 100% local red Nerello Cappuccio grapes, which is very rare and original—even for this terroir—and reminds us that the power of Sicilian wine lies in its authentic diversity.

If you like to read the whole article, you can find it here: Sicily: Dramatic landscapes, delicious wines

Etna’s Eruption (Wine Spectator)

Driving along the northern flanks of Sicily’s Mount Etna some weeks ago, I noticed how much the wine scene there has changed in the past decade.

I’d come for the 11th edition of Contrade dell’Etna, a wine event that’s part barrel tasting of the recent harvest and part Sicilian party.

Etna was nowhere 10 or 11 years ago,” said Andrea Franchetti, founder of Passopisciaro winery and creator of the event, which opened early morning on the grounds of an ornate 19th-century villa. “Now producers come from Northern Italy to see what’s going on, and some start making wine. Continue reading “Etna’s Eruption (Wine Spectator)”