Why is this Wine so Yummy?
Although Buscemi is a new winery, it has some serious pedigree with family history both direct and married in the industry, and, most important an excellent plot of vines near 100 years old!
A chemist by profession & intuition, Mirella Buscemi, was born near Siracusa. Inspired initially by her grandparents, who owned vines & made wine, Mirella fell in love with Etna & then met her ‘principe azzuro’ in Alberto Aiello Graci to whom she gave her hand in marriage ‘in exchange for’ a single 1.5ha old vineyard in the Contrada of Tartaraci, near Bronte, Etna!
The promise & potential of the Tartaraci Contrada was identified by Graci.
Lying at close to 1000 metres above sea level (asl), this ancient single plot was famously once the proud possession of Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson, to whom it was bequeathed in 1799 as part of the Duke of Bronte estate in recognition of his fleet’s action in fighting off the pesky French!
The around 90 year old vines, bush vines, comprise not only Nerello Cappuccio & Nerello Mascalese for the rosso but also 30% Granaccia (Grenache), probably imported by the Bourbons & planted here at Tartaraci to offer a fruity softness & fragrance to the minerally Nerello…especially as the vineyard is at 980m asl!! The same viticultural approach was applied for the scarce quantity of bianco vines: here they planted the fruitier Grecanico, 30%, alongside the indigenous, but sapid Carricante, 70%.
The two wines: Tartaraci Bianco (production only 300 bts of the inaugural 2017 vintage!) & Tartaraci Rosso (c. 2,900 bts for the 2016) lie outside the Etna Rosso DOC zone at 980m asl; the DOC zone is currently limited to vineyards planted between 600 – 850m asl. This means that the harvest is one of the latest on Etna, indeed the red grapes were picked on 1st Nov in 2016!
Mirella makes her wines at the Graci winery in Arcuria, however they are very much from her own hand.
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. Like Buscemi’s Contrada ‘Tarataci’, 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.
The 2016 Vintage
Sicily will remember the 2016 vintage as one to remember. If this is the general agreement throughout the whole island, we must mention the notable peaks in quality on Etna.
Two thousand sixteen was a year of generally better-balanced wines
The reasons are easy to see given the meteorological conditions; the summer was cool and refreshed by a useful rainfall, with very pleasant temperatures. Thus we arrived at the end of September in an idyllic situation for the growth/production balance and health of the grapes. The harvest, thanks to the stress-free summer, began with spectacular grapes. The results are a fresh and aromatic Nerello Mascalese of great quality, without the excessive alcohol which is a defining feature in certain vintages, but with brilliant colour and ample tannins.
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: 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!