So, you think you know a little about Italian wines?
Be prepared to have your world turned upside down at our wine dinner on Thursday April 25 at 6:30 when we taste the incandescent wines of Sicily’s fiery Mount Etna.
Mount Etna is an active volcano located near the northeastern coast of Sicily. Stories of its violent nature go back to the year 1500 BC, and the latest eruption was on December 24, 2018. Life in the region is defined by the constant threat of annihilation that the volcano imposes.
Amazingly this wretched land, whose bleak, forbidding landscape has been featured in Star Wars and other movies, is the home to agriculture, including a number of celebrated vineyards. These are dedicated almost exclusively to the growth of native grape varieties, and includes rare examples of 130 year-old pre-phylloxera vines!
We will feature five classic wines, all from the slopes of Mt Etna and nearby areas, including several featuring nerello mascalese, the native grape of Mt. Etna. And the evening will finish with an amazing dessert wine made of Muscat grapes grown on the island of Pantelleria, located in the Mediterranean between Sicily and Tunisia.
Cost for this dinner is $65 per person, including all food and wine. RESERVATIONS ARE REQUIRED! Please call Stellina in person at 617-924-9475 to insure prompt confirmation.
COTTANESCA ETNA BIANCO
Muffuletta Crostini and Arugula Salad
CUSUMANO NERO D’AVOLA “SAGANO”
Tuna Conserva with Spicy Tomato Sauce & Squid Ink Pasta
FEUDI DEL PISCIOTTO CABERNET SAUVIGNON
Grilled Swordfish with Eggplant Caponata
ALTA MORA ETNA ROSSO
Roasted Pork with Braised Fennel
Lamb Ragu with Saffron and Mint, Fresh Pasta
PELLEGRINO PASSITO DI PANTELLERIA
Panna Cotta with Strawberries and Rhubarb
“Volcanic eruptions, wildly unpredictable weather, steep slopes: Mount Etna is an insane place to produce wine. But its winemakers have an intensity to match its extremes.
Two months before I left New York to visit Sicily’s Mount Etna, the volcano erupted. The lava didn’t hurt anyone or destroy any towns, but the videos were transfixing. For days I watched them, orange fireworks of molten rock shooting up into the night sky. Even more remarkable to me than the eruption was that people grow grapes in such a volatile place—and make incredible wines from them.
Etna is a region of extremes: vineyards planted on 45-degree slopes, rocky soil that ought to be impossible to farm, wildly unpredictable weather and, of course, that volcano. Every decade or so there’s a major eruption, during which lava can flow all the way down to the town of Randazzo at the base of the 11,000-foot mountain, destroying everything in its path and making the land unfarmable for hundreds of years. There have already been two minor eruptions this year. When I was visiting Etna, I kept noticing how nice and new all the roads were; then I realized they were so nice and new because the lava had wiped out the old roads. As one vineyard manager told me about the volcano, “It can give beauty and grapes—or it can take your house”
-This is an excerpt from “SICILIAN WINE FROM MOUNT ETNA”, published in FOOD AND WINE, by MEGAN KRIGBAUM 2017
A MOUNT ETNA WINEMAKER’S STORY
If Tuscany and Piedmont are the regions that produce Italy’s most excellent wines Sicily, on the other hand, one of the country’s most historic wine regions, has in recent years been increasingly asserting itself as a land of great wines. Besides, Sicily is the very region that the Greeks once called Enotria, by virtue of its celebrated vocation to the cultivation of vines. Not surprisingly, the climate and soil offered by this island are a guarantee of quality, as well as quantity. This is precisely why, in recent years, thanks first and foremost to the pioneering work of a number of large Sicilian business families, to the invaluable collaboration with a genius such as Giacomo Tachis, a long time Regional Institute of Vines and Wine consultant, as well as the commitment of local institutions such as the Regional Institute of Vines and Wine, the island’s wine production has seen a true renaissance, cultural as well as productive, with significant investments focused on the ability of this land to produce world-class wines.
“Volcanoes are gloomy places, and when I arrived, Mt. Etna was even gloomier because it was an abandoned volcano. Wineries lay collapsed all over its slopes; stonewalled terraces disappeared everywhere up the mountain in the bushes. There was the misery of blackened streets and ashen churches in large old towns. These were the feelings I had in the winter of 2000 when I first came to Etna. It seemed crazy to restore vineyards so high up the mountain – above, it was erupting – but I liked that they were planted so high.
At the top of the steep Passopisciaro property looms a hump of black gravel. It’s where the lava spill from a big eruption in 1947 had stopped, caking up just before it could submerge whole terraces below it, vines, walls, and buildings: on Etna you can lose it all.
Here, it’s always very cold at night, even in August. During the day in the vineyards the lava powder penetrates in the skin and you get intoxicated, tired. The first wine I made was pale and meager, and I was discouraged. I planted other grapes; whatever is planted there the wine always tastes of citrus and camphor, without that generous body that you like earth to lend right away to a wine.
There’s no mold, no moss; the ground sparkles black like the night; the wine slowly becomes very elegant and strange. During the day a soft light penetrates everything and then there are starry nights; Etna has enormous poetry. Making wine, you have access to it. There isn’t Mother Nature here. You are conducting your viticulture on stuff that comes out of the terrible below.”
– Andrea Franchetti
COTTANESCA ETNA BIANCO
100% Carricante with an average vine age of 45 years, all planted at 750 meters above sea level in mineral-rich soils of lava, clay, and alluvial sediment. Fruit is handpicked followed by a 24-hour maceration of the skins. Fermentation occurs in 40% French oak and 60% cement tank, where the wine then ages on the lees for 1 year prior to bottling
ABOUT THE WINEMAKERS: “The Cambria family has embarked on an ambitious renewal project… International varieties (like Merlot) have been replaced with indigenous grapes. Today, 42 of Cottanera’s 60 hectares of vines are planted exclusively to native Etna grapes. This important estate now farms five distinct contrade including Contrada Cottanera, Zottorinoto, Feudo di Mezzo, Calderara and Diciassettesalme… Keep your eyes on Cottanera because this is indeed an exciting winery to watch.” —Monica Larner, Wine Advocate August 2017
91 POINTS- WINE ENTHUSIAST Made entirely with Carricante, this opens with a lovely fragrance of Spanish broom, lychee, white fruit and Mediterranean herb. The juicy, linear palate delivers creamy green apple, bright citrus and mineral.
CUSUMANO NERO D’AVOLA “SAGANO”
Saganà by Cusumano winery is an intense red wine, with mediterranean character, made from pure Nero d’Avola grapes, cultivated in Tenuta San Giacomo in Butera (CL) 350 m.a.s.l.. The harvest takes place manually in the first decade of September. After destemming and maceration, the wine ferments at a controlled temperature of 28-30 °C for about 10-15 days, carrying out malolactic, before refining in barrel for 12 and then in bottle.
ABOUT THE WINEMAKERS: Diego and Alberto Cusumano are fierce promoters of Sicily’s wines. Firm believers in their land and the wine that it produces, the Cusumano brothers own hundreds of hectares throughout the different regions of Sicily. They produce wines from international varieties but have recently begun to shift towards autochthonous varieties and to push the quality and typicity of these.
This red wine fills the nose with spicy hints, pink pepper, juniper berries and dried figs, and finally with cocoa. On the palate, it is soft and rich perfectly balanced in its elegance, that gradually spreads with notes of licorice
95 POINTS-DOCTOR WINE- 100% Nero d’Avola grapes. Matured for a year in barrels of various sizes. Ruby red. Berries and black cherry flavors with balsamic and spicy notes. Lively, elegant and briny taste with light tannins, fresh acidity and long finish.
92 POINTS- GILBERT & GAILLARD Dark garnet. Elegant balsamic nose of moss with toast notes and truffle undertones. Ample attack, dense texture, substantial, well-crafted structure that is still present but mature. Fine tannins and aromatic potential intimate at cellaring potential.
90 POINTS- WINE ENTHUSIAST– This elegant and savory Nero d’Avola offers cassis, blue flower and baking spice aromas. It’s a full-bodied expression of the grape, boasting ripe black cherry, blackberry and black pepper hints alongside fine-grained tannins.
FEUDI DEL PISCIOTTO CABERNET SAUVIGNON
ABOUT THE WINEMAKERS: As part of this new Sicilian Renaissance movement, the Feudi del Pisciotto estate, the first Sicilian DCC Group company, is making its contribution complemented by the experience gained by Castellare di Castellina and Rocca di Frassinello. The company is located in south-eastern Sicily just minutes from Caltagirone (Sicily’s capital of pottery), Piazza Armerina and Vittoria, close to Villa Romana which has miraculously remained intact, at a distance of 7 km from the sea. The estate dates back to the 1700s and was one of the largest in Sicily. The old building includes the wine-making plant or “Palmento”, from the Latin word Paumentum, referring to the act of pressing something. Pressing the grapes, in tanks which then allow the must to fall to the bottom, as this has been found to be the best technique. Restored without any modification made to the existing structure, the Palmento is connected to a modern cellar built to produce up to 10,000 hectolitres of wine using the most advanced technologies available.
91 POINTS- WINE SPECTATOR– “A well-spiced, supple version, with creamy tannins married to expressive flavors of fig cake, raspberry puree, dried thyme and singed orange peel. This is medium- to full-bodied, lingering on the mouthwatering finish.
A finely meshed red that marries black currant, plum, and anise flavors with savory accents of leather, grilled herb, and tarry mineral. Framed by supple tannins that firm the sanguine finish, this is not a powerhouse, but remains elegant and expressive throughout.
87 POINTS- JAMES SUCKLING– “A big red with aromas of black cherries and plenty of vanilla. Full body, chewy tannins and a medium finish. Drink now.”
ALTA MORA ETNA ROSSO
Alta Mora is a new winery from the Cusumano family. These grapes are grown and harvested on the slopes of the active volcano, Mt. Etna, in Sicily. It has been a lifelong dream for the Cusumano brothers to build a winery among these black, fertile and dynamic soils. The Alta Mora name represents the great heights of the vineyards on the mountain and the dark, black volcanic soil. The volcano itself is nearly 11,000ft high and vineyards are planted up to 4,000ft high. Alta Mora Etna Rosso is 100% Nerello Mascalese grapes – which are indigenous to Sicily and the predominant red grape of Mt. Etna. Many wine enthusiasts compare this wine to a Nebbiolo or Pinot Noir. The deeply colored, thick-skinned grapes contribute gritty tannins and vibrant acidity.
100% Nerello Mascalese, a native Sicilian grape, trained in espalier and free-standing in 12 hectares of vineyards set at an altitude of 600/800 meters above sea leve
94 POINTS- WINE ENTHUSIAST Enticing scents of wild red berry, baking spice, aromatic herb and a balsamic note waft out of the glass. The elegant, juicy palate doles out succulent wild cherry, crushed raspberry, cinnamon and a note of white pepper while a mineral note backs up the finish. It’s well balanced, with bright acidity and ultrafine tannin
93 POINTS- JAMES SUCKLING-Enticing scents of wild red berry, baking spice, aromatic herb and a balsamic note waft out of the glass. The elegant, juicy palate doles out succulent wild cherry, crushed raspberry, cinnamon and a note of white pepper while a mineral note backs up the finish. It’s well balanced, with bright acidity and ultrafine tannin
91 POINTS- ROBERT PARKER THE WINE ADVOCATE This is the base red from the Cusumano brothers’ Etna estate. The 2014 Etna Rosso (100% Nerello Mascalese) is tempered and elegant. It offers pretty ruby color saturation and bright aromatic intensity. The bouquet delivers wild berry, cassis, dry earth and tobacco. It is aged in large oak casks for just six months, so you really get a good taste of the fresh fruit at hand. Grapes are harvested and blended from three separate vineyards, Verzella, Pietramarina and Feudo di Mezzo
ABOUT THE WINERY: Passopisciaro produces six different bottlings of nerello mascalese, the native grape to Mt. Etna, in order to showcase the profound differences in the terroir – lava flow, aspect, and altitude – of the various Contrade that we work with. The vines are all between 70-100 years old, and the nerello harvest typically occurs at the end of October/early November. The wines undergo fermentation in steel vats, followed by malolactic and 18 months aging in large neutral oak barrels; this minimal intervention approach to winemaking allows the differences in terroir to shine.
Before Andrea Franchetti visited Sicily in 2000, Mt. Etna’s profession winegrowing community had all but disbanded over the period between WWII and 1981. Commercial-scale viticulture could not overcome the cost of growing grapes in such an extreme terrain and climate, and the major 1981 and 1991/1992 eruptions of Mt. Etna were the ultimate disincentive to struggling growers from investing even further. However some vines of Carricante and Nerello Mascalese did remain viable on the terraces of Etna, even going back before 1900. Franchetti approached an owner of one neglected vineyard, and the owner settled for 1/5th his original asking price just to be rid of the property once-and-for-all.
Contrada Rampante (Contrada R) is our highest cru at 1,000 m (3,330 ft) above sea level. At the highest confines of viticulture on the northern side of Etna, Rampante is ancient contrada, producing one of volcano’s finest, most aromatic wines because of the sandy character that the lava has acquired. Due to the altitude, it is typically the last contrada to ripen. We own and cultivate 1.4 hectares on this domain.
Wine Enthusiast, 94 points: “Restrained, subtle aromas of crushed rock, charred earth, Mediterranean scrub and eucalyptus take center stage. The smooth, elegant palate is ethereal and almost weightless, offering succulent strawberry, crushed raspberry, dark baking spice and a hint of anise alongside polished, silky tannins and fresh acidity.
93 POINTS INTERNATIONAL WINE REVIEW This superb bottling is from the estate’s highest vineyard. It is ripe and lean yet mouth filling with lovely dried cherry, spice, minerals and floral notes. It has a soft texture, fresh acidity, round light tannins, and is long on the palate.
“In a blind tasting these… wines could easily be mistaken for a Barbaresco…”
-INTERNATIONAL WINE REVIEW
PELLEGRINO PASSITO DI PANTELLERIA
The island of Pantelleria lies in the southern Med, between Sicily and the Tunisian coast, and lightly-fortified sweet wines like this are a speciality. Made from Zibibbo (Muscat), part dried on mats before fermentation, it has a golden hue and attractive nose that is both floral and lightly honeyed, with tea and tobacco notes. In the mouth it is much lighter than the Port wines tasted alongside, and the burnished orange and apricot character of the fruit is offset by very good acidity and only a gentle hint of the spirit adding a little warmth.
About 100 miles southwest of Sicily—closer to Tunisia—Pantelleria is a volcanic island covered in volcanic rock with a thin layer of non-irrigated topsoil. The vineyards were separated hundreds of years ago by stone walls, which protect them from fierce Mediterranean winds. Pantelleria’s rich, peachy-tasting dessert wines are some of Italy’s best
Appearance: Golden yellow-orange. Aroma: Complex and elegant, reminiscent of dried fruit and apricots. Flavor: Beautifully balanced. Bursts with rich, intense fruit that lingers on the finish.