Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Etna Rosso

     Wine Club is back! After a very, very long break, we finally got it together to host our first Fall meeting. Since temperatures have been rapidly falling here in Rome, I was in the mood for red. We hadn't yet tasted any Sicilian wine, so I opted for one of my favorites, Etna Rosso.  While Sicily has been making a name for itself for quite a few years now, most of the attention has been on the New World- style whites (think oaky Chardonnays) and their most famous red grape, the Nero d'Avola, Etna Rosso (and Bianco) are only just starting to get the attention they deserve.  Winemakers have discovered that the volcanic soil here is the perfect setting for the local nerello mascalese and nerello cappuccio grapes. Originally used in the rare Rubino Marsala wines, the grapes make deliciously spicy dry reds as well. I first became acquainted with these interesting varieties through another Sicilian red, Faro, most famously (and virtually exclusively) made by the producer Palari.  After winning various Wine-of-the-Year titles, these wines can be a bit pricey (though worth every penny). Etna Rosso, on the other hand, offers some excellent bargains. We tasted five different versions of the wine ranging in price from 14 to 36 euros. The prices were lowest for the most recent vintages.  The youngest was from 2008 and the oldest from 2005.
     Overall the wines were all typical of the grapes and zone, expressing attractive red fruit and spicy flavors.  Where they differed was in terms of concentration and complexity. Of the two wines from 2008, the group was fairly evenly split in terms of preference. While the bottle from Tenuta delle Terre Nere was a bit more complex than the one from Firriato, it also had a firmer tannic grip to it, and some preferred the easy-drinking quality of the Firriato.  The favorites of the evening were also pretty evenly divided between the third and the fifth wine. The third, called Le Vigne di Eli, reminded me of what a dry Port would taste like. It was very rich and full-bodied, with lots of dried-fruit flavors and spice.  Everyone remarked on the label, saying that it looked like a child's drawing. The wine in fact is owned by Tenuta delle Terre Nere owner Marco de Grazia and is named after is daughter, Elena (Eli). The colorful label is in fact penned by 2 year-old Eli, who each year will draw a new one. As her drawings become more mature and complex, I imagine so will the wine. The fifth wine, while lacking a child's drawing to grace the label, has a good story nonetheless. From the Biondi winery, it is named Outis, with the word nessuno (nobody) in parenthesis. The word Outis is often used as a pseudonym by artists and writers to hide their identity (thanks Wikipedia!)  With such a lovely wine full of red fruit, chocolate, and leather, I can't imagine why any wine maker would want to remain anonymous. The fourth wine was the selection from Firriato, Cavanera. It was just edged out by the third and fifth bottles, but had pleasant red fruit and distinct yet smooth tannins.

Everyone was pleased with the overall quality of the wines, and were quite happy to have discovered a previously unknown wine zone. The next time you reach for a Nero d'Avola, consider an Etna Rosso. Chances are you'll love it!

The line-up:
1. Etna Rosso 2008 Tenuta delle Terre Nere
2. Etna Rosso 2008 Firriato
3. Etna Rosso Fuedo di Mezzo 2007 Le Vigne di Eli
4. Etna Rosso Cavanera 2007 Firriato
5. Etna Rosso Outis (Nessuno) 2005 Biondi