Enjoy watching the 🎥 or listen to the 🎧podcast below.
Having finally tasted through the range, it’s clear that Massimiliano, has wisdom beyond his years, these are such together wines of great purity and individuality.
Complete wines of great harmony, filled with vibrant fruit and such personality. No journey through the world of Lava Juice would be complete without trying them!
The winery looks like a mechanics garage, right on the main road through the village of Randazzo. Its pretty small, with a mixed collection of tanks holding as little as 400-500 litres of some single vineyards. The underground cellars are cut into the lava rock, holding the botti that age his flagship Vecchie Vigne Nerello Mascalese for seven years. 2007 is the current vintage.
Their first vintage widely released was 1997, but since the early 1900’s the family has been making wine from these vineyards and shipping it north to supply their wine shops in Genova.
We need to put this in context, they have 4 generations of experience on Etna. Few could say that!
The Vigne Vecchie made in the traditional way, are always aged for a long time in botti, something that has seen Calabretta compared to many of the greats in Barolo.
Calabretta is part of the Triple A group – which stands for Agricoltori (Farmer) Artigianale Artisti. It’s a collective of wineries across Europe that that includes E.Pepe, Radikon, A. Occhipinti, Foradori and SRC in Italy. The vineyards, planted piede franco (ungrafted rootstock), are mostly in Contrade Calderara and no chemicals have ever been used. Over the last few years Massimiliano has planted 60,000 new vines, also piede franco.
About Nerello Mascelese and Nerello Cappuccio
Typically wines made from the Nerello’s exude an entrancing perfume with a delicacy, elegance, and, sophistication that carries through to the palate. With vineyards from 400-1000m in elevation, the lower lying vineyards tend to yield bolder styles, while the higher sites offer greater restraint often being quite ethereal. Texturally the tannins often remind of a more supple Barolo.
Wines of Nerello Mascelese and Nerello Cappuccio have been called the Barolo of the South by some, Italy’s Burgundy by others. I prefer to call them, simply, great wines from Etna.
Whilst Nerello Mascelese’s enormous bunches, with their big berries, result in wines of a relatively pale appearance, there is nothing insignificant about their aromas, flavours, and, textures.
Indigenous to the Etna region, Nerrello meaning Black and Mascelese derived from Mascali, a comune to the east of Etna. Research indicates it is possibly a cross between Sangiovese and Mantonico Bianco. That parentage would make it a sibling of Gaglioppo from Calabria. The full parentage is and number of different varieties have yet to be determined with commercial Nerello Mascelese plantings including several unidentified varieties. Some genetic work suggests Nerello Mascelese could be related to the white grape Carricante.*
What’s the Etna style?
Such a naff question in so many ways! Although many of the vines of Etna have been planted for decades if not centuries, Etna’s renaissance really only started 20 years ago. SRC first vintage less than a generation ago!
In 30 years we may have a better picture of the regions true capability. One thing is certain, Etna is producing some of the most exciting, personality-filled wines I’ve come across in a long time.
Like any variety, there is an array of styles being made with variation to maceration time, new vs old oak, small vs large oak, élévage (maturation before bottling), being the most significant factors.
One of the biggest factors yet to show itself fully is the difference between vine that are ‘Pei Franco’ (French Foot) planted on their own roots and those that are grafted onto rootstock ‘Pei Rupestris. Direct comparison from the same producer has typically shown own-rooted vines tend to make more elegant styles, vines on rootstock bolder styles. The jury is still out and until a proper scientific comparison can be made my opinion is simply from empirical evidence.
We are also seeing the introduction of other varieties to the hill. SRC’s Rivaggi is blended with Grenache, their Etna Rosso with Sangiovese, the Alberello (which translates to bush vine) being the only 100% Nerello wine.
If you take a short trip from Etna to Faro, with only 35 acres of vines for the entire appellation, located on the North East tip of the island, Casematte are making excellent blends. Their top wine the ‘Faro’ blends Nerello Mascelese wines blended with Nerello Cappuccio, Nocciola, and Nero d’Avola. The level of intrigue is off-tap, such complexity and harmony. I was fortunate enough to devour one a week ago. Accidently leaving a half glass in the bottle proved I should have been more patient. The wine went to the next level with 24 hours of air! The Nocciola adds a degree of richness and generosity without overwhelming the Nerello. Somewhat like the Grenache in SRC’s Rivaggi. Casematte’s second wine the Peloro blends Nerello Mascelese with Nocciola and is a triumph.
In a nutshell, with varieties suited to the climate, old vines, and, good vineyard management there’s plenty of good material to work with. As lovers of delicious beverages, we got to watch, play, and, drink as the those who labour on the slopes of Etna and Faro strive to make even more exceptional wines.
Where in the world are they made?
I thought I’d share these three maps to help you get your head around Etna and it’s place in Sicily. The first map gives you the big picture. The second highlights the general area planted on Etna, mostly South to South-East facing. The third shows most, but, not all of the Contrada (single vineyards) and their relative elevations.
Calabretta’s Contrade (Vineyards)
Calabretta plantings are in the Contrade: Solicchiata/Montedolce, Passopisciaro/feudo di mezzo, Calderara, Taccione, Battiati/Zocconero. The amount of rock in the soil gives you an indication of the age of the lava flow. The soil with the greatest amount of rock will be the youngest. The soil with the least amount of rock, shows us that more time has passed and the rock has weathered and broken down.
Calderara (in Randazzo): sand soli with a lot of “ripiddu” and a bed of stones on the soil. It gives us elegant, good structure & long-lived wines. The wine needs long aging in big oak barrel.
Passopisciaro (di Castiglione di Sicilia): historical contrada of Etna able to express very deep & structured wines. Half aging wine. The soil has lower quantity of stone and higher land & sand. 680 meters.
Solicchiata (di Castiglione di Sicilia): Elegant wines with finest flavours & perfumes. 780 meters alot of quantity of lava sand.
Battisti / Zocconero: 900 meters, a lot of quantity of alluvial sand.
Tips for Drinking these Wines
If you have a full set of these wines taste at least two of them at a time you’ll get so much from the experience. The different sites, and, tannin structures will stand out more clearly. By drinking in Context (Etna’s from Calabretta) and with Contrast (at least 2 of their wines at a time) you’ll accelerate your understanding of what’s possible and more importantly your enjoyment of the wines.
🌡Temp: 16°C. We tend to drink reds an edge warm. There’s nothing wrong with chucking the bottles in the fridge for 15minutes to drop a few degrees off them. If they end up too cold they’ll warm up quickly in the glass.
🍷Decanting: Massimiliano’s élévage is excellent the wines are well and truly through puberty and into adulthood. Decanting is not essential, looking at the wines in glass over many hours will be rewarding.
⏳Time: I love trying good wines stand alone, with food, and, often the next day. It gives them the chance to shine and ensures you don’t miss a good wine through impatience or fail to bring out it’s best by not marrying them to food. Make sure you leave a splash in the bottle to try it 24 hours later, you’ll be rewarded for the experience, particularly when these wines are young.
🕯Cellaring: The wines are drinking so beautifully now it will be hard to hold off, we’re all going to be experimenting a bit to work out the drinking windows, so if you get some, please share with the community how they’re looking when you crack a bottle!