Sicilia en Primeur 2019
Exploring the DOC Etna wine region.
6-10 may 2019
Sicilia en Primeur is an annual event organised by Assovini Sicilia dedicated to the press and industry professionals. It offers an opportunity to learn more about the companies belonging to Assovini Sicilia and the island’s main artistic, archaeological and outdoor attractions.
Almost 100 Italian and international journalists attended Assovini Sicilia’s annual event. Before meeting at the brand new Ortea Palace in Syracuse, we were divided into 8 groups, each of which will explore a specific area of Sicily, My choice was the D.O.C. Etna region which was established in 1968, with about 960 ha of vineyards and main varieties like Carricante (white) and Nerello Mascalese (red)
Mt. Etna is an exceptional terroir. Located in northeastern Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and Italy’s fourth largest wine producing region, there is abundant sunshine and warmth. There is also a cooling effect from sea breezes and high elevation, which together preserve acidity, enhance structure and bring complexity to the wines. The region’s volcanic soils are both fertile and well drained and therefore ideally suited to viticulture.
Day 1 Etna Doc
Our first visit was at the Tornatore wine estate which was set up by Francesco Tornatore, who earned his living in telecommunication. It was only in the 21st century that he created a beautiful wine estate in Castiglione di Sicilia, on the north side of Mount Etna on the volcanic soil. Francesco's great-grandfather, however, already planted vineyards in 1865, so that Tornatore can not only boast more than 150 years of experience, but there are also some old vineyards.
Tornatore owns 60 hectares of land located in the Agro of Castiglione di Sicilia and another 40 directly held. The land is cultivated for about 65 hectares of vineyards, 8 hectares of olive groves and 5 hectares of hazel groves, the rest is undergoing conversion. Tornatore have recently developed the single largest vineyard in the ETNA DOC area. Covering 30 hectares, just off the Castiglione to Randazzo road, near Verzella, it is an expansive project using abandoned ground recovered from one of the volcanoes many historic lava flows.
Their brand new cellar, which is now located under the estate house, opened its doors for the first time only 3 years ago. It’s equipped with the best of modern wine-making technology including tulip-form cement fermentation tanks and a climate controlled barrel cellar resplendent with new large oak barrels of varying sizes. The wines are fermented on modern concrete cuves and aged in feeds, so that there is virtually no wood use in the wines. All in all, this results in very precise, elegant, fresh and drinkable wines, which are also very pleasantly priced for Etna standards.
After visiting the cellar we had a lovely dinner with a tasting of their wines.
Day 2 – Etna Doc
Alta Mora – Cusumano
In 2013, Sicilian wine producers Alberto and Diego Cusumano purchased 18 hectares of existing vineyards between Guardiola, Feudo di Mezzo, Solicchiata and Verzella districts, on the northern slope of Europe's largest volcano: Mount Etna.
The Alta Mora name represents the great heights of the vineyards on the mountain and the dark, black volcanic soil. Etna wines are booming and more and more producers are discovering the energetic terroir of this mountain. After extensive research, the project started with the reconstruction of the Guardiola terraces at an altitude of 800 to 1000 m above sea level and a winery was built. This was called Alta Mora, inspired by the location and the beauty of the landscape. The modern, innovative and environmentally-friendly winery is located in Verzella on lava rocks that together with the natural insulation (partly underground) and the use of bioenergy provide cooling in the summer and insulation in the winter.
After visiting this impressive cellar we tasted the Alta Mora and top range of the Cusumano wines.
In 2002, the Vivera family finally realized their dream to purchase an estate in the Martinella district of Mount Etna, on the North Eastern side of the volcano, and build a winery there. The Viveras are a classic example of “all things Sicilian,” with mother Armida coming from Corleone in Palermo, father Antonino hailing from Chiaramonte Gulfi in Ragusa, and their three children, Omar, Eugenio, and Loredana born and raised in Catania. The whole family is involved in the winery.
The estate has 45 hectares of vineyards and olive groves divided on three properties: 12 hectares in Martinella at 550-600 meters above sea level are planted to native grape varieties of Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio and Carricante, all organically grown.
The other wines include grapes sourced from the family’s other property in Corleone, 27 hectares planted to both international varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Chardonnay) and local varietals such as Nero d’Avola, Catarratto and Insolia. A third property in Chiaramonte Gulfi near Ragusa is dedicated solely to the production of extra-vergin olive oil.
We visited the vineyards and after that we had a lunch with a selection of the wines.
The Cottanera winery was established in the early 1990's by Guglielmo Cambria and his brother Enzo who had a vision of turning the then hazelnut grove into a winery. The winery has 100 hectares of land 65 of which makeup the vineyard. The name of the winery comes from an ancient village that runs alongside the family vineyards, along the banks of the Alcantara River. Today, after the death of Guglielmo, Cottanera is run by his brother Enzo, and the children of the co-founder, Mariangela, Francesco and Emanuele.
The first plantings were international grapes, and, traditional grapes grown on Mt. Etna, such as Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio and Carricante. It was like this that a project of research and reintroduction of autochthonous grapes was started.
Today, of the 65 hectares covered with vines, over 40 are cultivated with grapes which go to the production of Etna Doc. In 2011, after changes regarding production methods of ETNA DOC, it was possible to indicate the geographic area of the origin of the grape on the label, so as to enhance and heighten the differences and singularities
After visiting the vineyards we had a fabulous dinner with a great selection of their wines.
Day 3 – Etna Doc
Pietradolce was founded in 2005 by Michele Faro. The company is located in Solicchiata, an area in the district of the town of Castiglione di Sicilia, on the northern slopes of Mount Etna. The company has a total of around 27 hectares of vineyard, which are composed of stony, light, sandy loam, with an abundance of minerals.
The philosophy of Pietradolce, from the owner Michele Faro, getting the best out of the love for the country by combining modern technologies with age-old traditions. The red wine is made from the Nerello Mascalese grape. - the little black grape from the town of Mascali, The vineyards were planted in the thirties (around 1930).
Almost every family in the area had a handful of gnarled vines, and home-made wine was drunk along with local meat products on family meals. These vineyards were abandoned after the Second World War. In the early nineties (1990s) it was the young local winemakers who started working the vineyards again and reintroducing the grape for wine production.
The Faro family is in possession of one of the largest citrus farms on the island. They also had a few small plots of Nerello Mascalese vines whose rootstock is more than 100 years old. Winemaker Michele Faro remembered that his grandfather of the Nerello makes beautiful wines with delicate aromas.
In 2005 he made the decision to devote himself entirely to viticulture and to make use of this age-old vineyard.
Pietradolce means "sweet stone" in Italian. The wines from the black lava rock terroir of Etna give somewhat "sweet" tannins and an exceptionally beautiful and soft, juicy texture. The estate is a beautiful modern building with a cellar below. At the back of thee state you can find the old vineyards in a great natural environment.
After visiting the vineyards and the cellar we tasted a range of their wines. Really amazing well made wines.
In 2005 Peter and his wife Susie bought the Montecarrubo estate from an old woman in the countryside of Melilli. In 2006, Vinding-Diers started leasing three hectares of 20 years old Syrah vines, which he used to produce the first few vintages of his wines. In the meantime, he started to plant the nearly virgin Montecarrubo plot with a Massal Selection of Syrah vines supplied from Rhone Valley by his friend Pierre Marie Guillaume.
The Danish Peter Vinding-Diers has already a long career, starting his career as a war correspondent reporting from Vietnam, then ending up making first-class wines in South Africa (Rustenberg), then moving to Bordeaux (Domaine La Grave, Château de Landiras, Château Rahoul).
Montecarrubo sits on a few-millions year old extinct volcano. It was a piece of land grazed by sheep and full of rocks and boulders. Few olive and almond trees. The limestone rich Ibei mountain range around. Syrah has been planted here at a density of 5,000 vines per hectare with bush training (alberello) system and biodynamic cultivation. The Grecale wind coming from East helps cooling the site down even during the hot Sicilian summers. There is a first (Il Carrubo) and a second wine (Il Piccolo) produced here, with few cases of a special cuvee (Suzanne, named after Peter's wife). All of them made of Syrah, with small and variable percentages of Nero d'Avola. Around 30.000 bottles produced every year.
We tasted their wines with also some barrel samples. They are almost finished with their cellar.
Day 4/5 – Primeur tastings in Siracusa and meeting the winemakers.
Day 4 starts with a tasting from about 350 wines at the Ortea-Palace in Siracusa. This is also the place we stayed. Ortea Palace has been completely restored preserving the original architecture. The imposing building served as a post office for many years and has a unique location in the center with a panoramic view of the Porto Piccolo harbor.