Cien y Pico En Vaso Bobal 2011

en_vaso_bobalFirst, an explanation of the words on the label.  Bobal is the grape variety, Manchuela the region in Spain that gives its name to the Denominación de Origen,  Cien y Pico is the producer, and En Vaso the name of the wine.  En Vaso actually refers to a vine pruning technique, but you’ll have to ask the Cien y Pico marketing people what the exclamation marks and ellipsis signify.

I discovered Cien y Pico En Vaso on the shelves of D Byrne in Clitheroe, and grabbed a bottle because I wanted to learn more about Bobal.  My interest in the grape had been piqued a few years ago by Zev Robinson’s documentary La Bobal y otras historias del vino, recently reworked as La Bobal Revisited, but you do not see a lot of it around in the UK.  I enjoyed the first bottle so much that I ordered another half case, from Byrne’s again as their price of £9.60 seems to be the best in the country.  Now, after three bottles, I feel I at least understand this particular wine quite well.

As with my last post, about Paparuda Pinot Noir, I am strongly recommending this wine, but again it comes with a caveat because I don’t think it will suit everyone.  It is a very different wine to the Pinot Noir, so if that does not appeal this one might.  Here’s the tasting note…

Intense ruby red with hints of purple.  Intense nose, with lots of interesting stuff going on, to the extent that my notes I keep differ quite a bit.  Take your pick: treacly, farmyard, and maybe some smoke from one bottle, or volatile, slightly vegetal, and dark fruit from another.  But on both occasions I had a heavy, rustic wine, quite possibly technically faulty, but nevertheless attractive.  On the palate, high acidity, and big but nicely structured tannins.  Intense ripe dark fruit, but in the presence of the acidity and tannin it has a good refreshing character.  Hints of cocoa and orange on one bottle.  Excellent length.  This is a brute of a wine – big on everything except elegance and subtlety.  Good for drinking now with a big juicy steak or chili con carne, but I imagine it will improve with time *****

Here are other reviews from Jamie Goode, Tom Cannavan and Olly Smith.

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Paparuda Pinot Noir 2013

paparuda_pn

I discovered this wine at Manchester SITT this year, and am now approaching the end of my second case.  So I am strongly recommending this wine, but read the tasting note below first to see if it is for you – I am sure it will not suit all tastes.

It is a Romanian wine made by Cramele Recas, and has a modest 12.5% alcohol.  The region is not specified on the label, but according to Tanners the estate is “located in the western fringes of the Transylvania/Banat region near the city of Timisoara in the west of the country”.  I got mine from Tanners, who now sell it for £6.80, but Google will throw up a number of alternative merchants.

Light ruby, with a violet tinge. Definite Pinot Noir aromatics on the nose, but equally definitely not Burgundy.  And not like pretty much any other style of Pinot Noir I have encountered before.  Most importantly, it is emphatically not the dire concoction that cheap Pinot Noir usually is. This is soft, light and fruity, and suggestive of carbonic maceration. I would say confected, but that commonly has negative connotations.  There is also a very slight hint of oak. The aromas carry through to the impression on the palate.  Here, it is not at all flabby. The acidity is pretty much middle of the range, and there is noticeable but not obtrusive astringency. Pretty good length. Back in March, I thought this wine had a slight reductive note, but a few months later it seemed to have sorted itself out. Not one for keeping, but with a wine as gluggable as this why would you want to? A very easy wine to match with food.  Try it with anything savoury apart from the lightest of white fish and the darkest of meats.  A slight chill on the wine wouldn’t hurt.  Excellent value for money  ***

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Native Wine Grapes of Italy – book review

native_wine_grapes_of_italyI got my copy of Native Wine Grapes of Italy by Ian D’Agata from Amazon for just under £24, and it is the best £24 I have spent on a wine book for a long time.  I am delighted to be able to enthuse about a wine book for a change.

This book certainly deserves to be considered in its own right, but inevitably it will be compared with Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz.  So, with apologies to Ian, I shall occasionally refer to The Other Book.  To compare at the most superficial level, while Wine Grapes unambiguously boasts on its cover that it is a guide to 1,368 varieties, Ian more vaguely claims to have identified over 500 native Italian grape types, not all of which may prove to be varieties, with the implication that most of these are described in the book. Also, you will find more Italy-related information about each grape in Native Wine Grapes of Italy than you will in Wine Grapes.  So, if quantity of information is important to you, when it comes to native Italian grapes you get more in Ian’s book.  All that does rather raise the question of Ian’s definition of a native Italian grape.  It includes all grapes that have formed part of Italy’s viticultural tradition.  Thus Cannonao (Grenache) is included, as it is traditional in Sardinia, but more recent imports like Cabernet Sauvignon are definitely out.  Also excluded are grapes only traditional in Alto Adige, on the basis that the region was not part of Italy until after the First World War.  All rather arbitrary in a way, but you have to draw a line somewhere.

In my last book review, I mentioned that information can be made interesting by ensuring there is plenty of detail, and this book is a good example of how that can work. You learn not only about the results of the latest genetic studies, but also how the varieties are officially recorded, synonyms, misunderstandings, ampelography, what the wines taste like, and what growers have to say.  It is clear that, even in this terroir-obsessed age, Ian is a firm believer in the importance of grape variety, and a true champion and enthusiast of Italian varieties.

The enthusiasm is infectious, and I found myself not treating the book as a mere reference work, but actually reading it page-by-page from the start.  So far I am on page 110 of over 600, and may still falter before I get to the end, but already I have read more than I ever did of Wine Grapes.  And as I read I was inspired to get hold of some of the wines described.  One notable feature of the book is that specific wines are recommended, not on the usual basis of how good they are, but from the point of view how varietally correct they are judged to be.  I definitely feel a Lambrusco tasting coming up :)

Amazingly, I am nearly at the end of this book review, and have not yet mentioned any criticisms.  The main one I can think of is that the book is not ideally laid out for reference purposes.  The varieties are listed alphabetically, but distributed across four chapters: Grape groups and Families, Major Native and Traditional Grape Varieties,  Little-Known Native and Traditional Grape Varieties, and Crossings.  So unless you know the category your grape fits into, you may not hit it on your first loo-up in a chapter.  I have already mistaken a few varieties for being “little-known”, when in fact they are “major”.  Rossese Bianco, for example, is actually quite major, and not at all little-known!  The best solution would probably have been to use italics in the index to indicate the main entry for each variety.  Clearer headings for each variety would also make them easier to find.

If you have anything more than a passing interest in Italian wine, I would strongly recommend this book.  If you don’t, buy it anyway, and discover what you are missing out on!

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Why conclusions from grape DNA profiling can be wrong

dna

Researchers have built up databases of grape varieties by name and DNA profile.  Then, when a variety not in the database is profiled, it can be determined whether the name should be recorded as a new variety or merely as a synonym for an existing variety.  If the profile does not exist in the database, it will be a new variety; if it does, it will be a synonym. On the face of it, and subject to the very small probability that different varieties may have identical profiles, this method gives definitive answers.

However, if the vine being profiled is not of the variety it is claimed to be, obviously no conclusions can be drawn about that variety.  Less obviously perhaps, the name associated with DNA profiles in the database might be incorrect.  Unfortunately that does happen, and in the past it has indeed lead to false conclusions being drawn about varieties being synonymous.  Many varieties have currently been profiled only on the basis of a few vines, and it is precisely those lesser known varieties that are most likely to be misidentified, and those for which we are now most eagerly awaiting DNA profiling results.

So DNA profiling can reliably determine whether two different vines are of the same variety, but we still need to rely on local knowledge and good old-fashioned ampelography (systematised descriptions and images) to determine that the correct names are being applied to the vines under question.  DNA profiling can by itself tell us about vines that have actually been tested, but ampelography is needed to generalise the results to varieties.

I owe this insight to the excellent Native Wine Grapes of Italy by Ian D’Agata.  More on the book later!

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The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting – book review

concise_guideThis is a review of The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting by Burton and Flewelllen.  I bought my copy for just under £23 from hive, who were offering the best price at the time.  Hive are definitely are worth checking out if you have ethical issues with Amazon, and also are one of the few online bookstores to accept book tokens as well as offering discounted prices.

One of the authors lead the Oxford University competitive blind tasting team, so I was disappointed that the book was a bit light on blind tasting.  I was hoping for techniques and tips so I could amaze my friends by my ability to identify wines blind, but despite some pointers I fear my ability to amaze remains unaltered.  It turns out that only about one tenth (including the appendices) of the 376 page book is devoted to tasting, and a lot of that is not specific to blind tasting.   History, viticulture and vinification together gets a bit less space than tasting, and the rest is devoted to the wine countries and regions, with the usual focus on the old world and classic.  Overall, the scope of the book is very similar to the wine bits of the WSET textbook for Level 3 – at least the editions I used 10 years or so ago.

On the subject of blind tasting, it is noteworthy that this book has many generic tasting notes for wines from the various regions, often comparing the wines with similar varietals or blends from elsewhere.  Considering all the variation that can occur within any region I wonder how useful these generic notes are, but if they help win blind tasting competitions I suppose there must be something in them.  These notes and comparisons are in the regional sections, but also gathered together in an appendix and published online.

The slight criticism hinted at by other reviewers is that the style is dry, and that it reads like a text-book.  That is correct, but it did not bother me.  In fact it was one of the factors that lead me to get the book.  I think part of the dryness of style is due to the level of detail in the book. In more superficial works I think you can afford to be more chatty, and the few facts you convey can be selected to be particularly interesting and relevant.  And in more detailed accounts it is often precisely the detail that is interesting.  This book falls between the two stools in terms of level of detail, and suffers a bit for that.  However, every now and then there is a hint of quirkiness which you may or may not like.  So far so good as far as I am concerned.  Now for the negatives.  I’ll give some example, and you can judge for yourself if you think they would bother you.

The maps are in my opinion inadequate.  Colour really would have helped with the maps, where a confusing combination of hatching, shading and text is used to identify regions, and the lines for regional boundaries and rivers sometimes just form a tangled mess.  I do realise that colour printing would add to the cost of the book, and good quality map design would too, but maps are important in understanding wine. I don’t expect atlas quality maps, but something more readable would be good.  And maybe it is just me, but I get frustrated if I am reading text describing the geography and flicking backwards and forwards to check a map, and then suddenly find mention of a place that is not on the map.  That happened a few times with this book.

The section on pruning is far too short and confused.   For example, without even a definition of spur and cane, all the stuff about cane-pruned vines being spur-trained and vice versa is pretty pointless.  In fact I am not sure it is at all important anyway.   If the book could just have explained the basics of cane- and spur-training it would have been great.

Then there were two specific errors I spotted.  On page 21 we have what seems to have now acquired the status of an industry-standard factoid, namely that the EU bans the blending of red and white wine except for Champagne production.  This is simply not the case, but the more books trot this out, the more people will think it is true.  In fact a counter example is given later on p141, where it is explained that rosé Franciacorta may be made by blending in red wine.  Secondly, on p72, we are told that Bourgogne Passetoutgrains allows up to 2/3 Gamay.  Well, that used to be the case, but now it is actually 70%.  Is it important?  Maybe not, but if not why say it at all?  My main concern though are the potential errors I did not spot.  Rosé production and Passetoutgrains are merely a couple of topics I have had cause to research in the past.  What about all the other subjects I know a lot less about?

Do these criticism sound familiar?  They are in fact very similar to the ones I levelled at Sotheby’s Wine Encylopedia despite the fact that they are very different books.  Maybe it is just me. To be honest, I suppose there is little here that would raise the eyebrows of most wine people.  The book offers a quick scamper through the subject, and will serve as a reference that is handier to access than more heavyweight books such as The Oxford Companion.   But there are quite a lot of things that I found questionable at best – things that are said and repeated in wine circles, and eventually written down, probably in other places as well as here.  A good example is the assertion that some vineyard soils are good because they absorb and reflect heat well.  But heat doesn’t work like that.  Any heat that is not absorbed is reflected, and vice versa.  Do they mean absorbed and radiated at night?  That would make more sense.  What it really means I suspect, is that people think the soil has good heat properties, without really being too sure, or caring about any details.  Welcome to the world of wine.

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Terroir scepticism again

Three years on and I am still waiting for someone to take on my Terroir Test and show positive results.

I have not been holding my breath for the Terroir Test in particular, but I was rather hoping that someone somewhere would come up with an interesting example of terroir differences being consistently identified blind.  Instead, in the last edition of The World of Fine Wine, there were another couple of failures reported: the failure to be able to identify granite and limestone terroirs in Alsace Riesling, and the failure to be able to identify Burgundy villages.

I shall add those failures to my list, which earlier included the Judgement of Paris, where Bordeaux and Burgundy was confused with American wines, and a tasting reported in Jasper Morris’s Inside Burgundy, where the different levels of Clos Vougeot were not identifiable.  Plus many incidents from personal experience of course.

Those examples do not demonstrate that terroir does not exist, but they do in my opinion show that many who talk and write about it should be far less glib.  I already try to tread carefully in this area myself, but maybe even greater care is in order.

On a more positive note, someone did point out to me that the best blind tasting teams perform rather well, at least in being able to identify the villages and vineyards in classic wine regions.  I’d like to better understand how well they perform, and how they do it.  I suspect that a lot of focussed hard work and practice is involved – a commitment that most wine-lovers, writers and critics would not be prepared to make.

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Fooling the experts again

What We Really Taste When We Drink Wine, an article by Maria Konnikova in The New Yorker, is another journalistic take on how easy it is to be influenced by extraneous factors (those that have nothing to do with the wine itself) when tasting, and although the word “fool” does figure in the article, it is a lot more nuanced than the typical UK press versions of the same thing, which can be summarised as “ha-ha, all you experts are stupid, and we are all so smart for buying plonk because it is just as good as your expensive stuff.”

The only bits I am uncertain about are those attributed to Galloni, but  I am prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, as sound-bite quotations are rarely sufficient to express yourself adequately.  Regardless, I think it is important to be aware that the story behind a wine may well be cynically manipulated to make the wine taste good.  If that happens, we should all be ready to take a stand against it.  Be aware too that critics and wine writers are often complicit by retelling the marketers’ stories.  It is likely I also fall into that writers trap from time to time, but I try to avoid it.  Rely on your own common sense.

Having said that, if you want to enjoy wine, it makes no sense to fight against extraneous factors.  We need to learn how to use them to best advantage.  Things like the best wine glasses, the perfect match with food and the ideal decanting time rarely exist, but if everybody around the table believes, the magic will work anyway.

If you want to take the game to a higher level though, and not get caught up in chasing the same expensive wines as everyone else, create your own stories to believe in.  I suppose even the idea held by many, that plonk tastes as good as really expensive stuff, might even come under that category.  But personally I prefer to believe in, and tell, the story that experimenting with unusual wines is fun.

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A tasting of Etna wines

Ben (that’s Benjamin Spencer of Etna Wine Lab) had just shown us around the palmento at our hotel, and ferried us the short distance to the restaurant Da Antonio for this tasting.  It was from one palmento to another.  This restaurant used to be in the town of Randazzo, but had recently moved a few miles out into the country.  The tasting was upstairs in the old treading area of the beautifully restored palmento, where we met Valeria Càrasto, also of Etna Wine Lab, who arranged this tasting for us.  They did receive payment, but in the interests of full disclosure I should add that I very much doubt that what we paid covered the full cost of the event.

etna_tasting

We soon got stuck into the pleasant task of tasting wines from the Etna region, starting with the whites.  I finished up with 20 tasting notes, so a bottle must have arrived after the initial line up shown above.  The tasting table picture was taken with permission from Valeria’s Facebook page and shows, left to right, Ben, my wife and me.  The only thing missing from the picture, but not from the event, was the wonderful finger-food provided by Da Antonio, and the wine producers.

grasso
calcagno

Towards the lunchtime, and I think about halfway through the tasting, producer representatives arrived to say hello to us and meet each other - owners and family members of the smaller producers, and winemakers and marketers from the larger ones.  Left to right above are Mariarita Grasso, and Franco Calcagno with Valeria Càrasto.

falcone
planeta

And here is agronomist Giovanni Marletta with Alberto Falcone holding one of his bottles, and Patricia Tóth, winemaker at Planeta, in thoughtful discussion with Ben.

benanti
scirto

Finally, Ben with Agatino Failla, responsible for export sales at Benanti, and Valeria Franco and Giuseppe Scirto. We also met Antonino Destro, Peter Wiegner, and Irene Badalà, but sadly they will have to remain pictureless, and is as far as I can tell Irene does not have a website.

As ever, please do not take my tasting notes too seriously – they show my impressions on the day, no more no less - I hate to be seen as a judge of wines, but also feel I want to communicate my impressions.  Looking back on my notes I see that there are a lot more high scores than usual, which is measure of how I enjoyed the day, but which I fear might be a bit unfair to wines elsewhere in my blog.   The prices are approximate UK retail, or my best guess in the cases where they are not available over here.

Saxanigra, Vino Spumante, Metodo Classico, Brut, Destro, 2010, 12.0%, £20.00 
This is 100% Nerello Mascalese, with 36 months on lees. Pale greenish straw.  Very persistent surface foam, whose appearance reminded me of Asti. But appearance was the only similarity to Asti.  This was fresh, dry, and had high acidity.  Intense minerality and fruit. I think I would probably drink this now, but it could have aging potential ****

Isolonuda, Etna Bianco DOC, Destro, 2013, 12.5%, £13.00 
Carricante, with some Carraratto. Pale straw. Intense fruit, and with a distinctive spice. Clove perhaps? Medium acidity. Dry, intense, viscous. Excellent length. Drink now ****

Mari, di Ripiddu, Etna Bianco DOC, Filippo Grasso, 2011, 12.5%, £13.00 
Carricante, with some Carraratto, 50% from Milo. Medium gold.  Don’t get a lot on the nose.  Medium acidity. Dry, with citrus fruit. Thought I detected oak, but there is none! Excellent length.  Drink now ****

Eruzione 1614, DOC, Sicilia Planeta, 2013, 14.0%, £14.00 
Carricante and 5% Riesling.  Medium gold.  Again, that spicy note that could be clove.  Medium acidity. A little off-dry I think? Citrus. Excellent length.  Drink now ***

Dayini, Bianco, Etna DOC, Terre di Trente  2012, 12.5%, £18.00
Carricante and Minnelo.  Medium gold. Reductive and farmyard – but in a good way. Medium acid. Dry, elegant, complex and subtle.  Drink now *****

Wiegner, Elisena, Sicilia IGT, 2011, 13.0%, £15.00
Fiano. Medium gold.  Dumb on the nose.  Medium acidity. Dry, elegant, some complexity. Something about this wine that I find difficult to characterise.  Drink now *****

Quantico, Etna Bianco DOP, Giulemi, 2012, 13.5%, £25.00
Carricante and Cateratto. Biodynamic, natural, and I’ve heard they do weird stuff with electromagnetism in the vineyards (which I am sure someone else told me was bad for cosmic energy, but what do I know).  Medium gold.  Nose is complex and had a sweet nature.  Medium high acidity. Definitely dry on the palate. Hugely intense. Apples.  Drink now *****

Eruzione 1614, Nerello Mascelese, Sicilia IGT, Planeta,  2011, 13.5%,  £14.00
Pale ruby garnet.  Slightly reductive red fruit.  Medium low acid. Medium low tannin.  Drink now **

Treterre, Sicilia IGT, Rosso, Wiegner, 2009, 14.0%, £15.00 
Nerello Mascalese.  Medium garnet.  Rasiny red fruit.  Medium high acid. Medium tannin. Raisiny, but fresh. Intense.  Drink now ****

Arcuria, Etna Rosso DOC, Calcagno,  2011, 14.0%, £17.00
Arcuria is the Contrada name.  2010 was the drier vintage in this Contrada, but 2011 is generally better. Medium garnet.  Dumb.  Spicy red fruit.  Medium high acid. Medium tannin. Good sweet intense fruit.  Drink now or keep ****

Arcuria, Etna Rosso DOC, Calcagno, 2010, 13.5%, £17.00
More tawny than the 2011.  More intense, and spicier,  but otherwise quite similar. Good intense fruit.  Drink now or keep *****

Capu, Chiurma, di Ripiddu, Etna Rosso DOC, Calderara Sottano, Filippo Grasso, 2011, 14.0%, £18.00
Intense garnet.  Smoky.  Reductive.  Medium acidity. Medium high tannin. Big, powerful and intense. Sweet fruit. Needs several years *****

Etna Rosso DOC, Azienda Agricola Irene Badalà, 2012, 14.5%, £20.00 
From a 3ha vineyard.  The wine is made at Terre Nere. Intense ruby garnet.  Intense sweet perfumed fruit.  Medium high acid. High tannin. As nose.  Very attractive wine.  Needs more time ******

A’Culonna, Scirto, Etna Rosso DOC, 2010, 14.5%, £30.00 
Medium pale garnet.  Fresh red fruit.  Medium acid. Medium tannin. As nose. Delicate and elegant.  Another great wine.  Drink now or keep ******

Nerello Mascalese, Sicilia IGT, Terre di Trente, 2008, 14.0%, £21.00
Medium pale garnet.  Reductive.  Medium acidity. Medium high tannin.  Metallic finish.  Maybe will come round with time, but I find this difficult to like now **

Quantico, Etna Rosso DOP, Giulemi, 2012, 13.0%,  £25.00 
Pale garnet. Gentle nose with blackcurrant.  Medium high acidity. Medium low tannin. Excellent length. Drink now, but no hurry *****

Aitho, Etna Rosso DOC, Azienda Falcone , 2012, 13.5%, £15.00 
3ha South-West of Etna, and high altitude vineyard. Medium pale garnet. Reductive, perhaps. Fresh aromatic fruit.  Medium high acid. Medium high tannin.  Needs more time ***

Rosso di Gulfa, Etna Rosso DOC, Feudo di Gulfa, 2011, 14.0%, £25.00 
South-West of Etna. Medium pale ruby garnet.  Intense fresh fruit.  Medium high acid. Medium tannin. A little raisiny, but still refreshing. Excellent length. Spice. Good now, but will improve *****

Serra delle Contessa, Etna Rosso DOC, Benanti, 2004, 14.0%,  £31.00 
Prephylloxera. Nerello Mascelese and approx 20% Nerello Cappuchio. Medium pale garnet. Intense, mature, complex, aromatic. Medium high acid. Medium high tannin. Intense. Great now, but still scope for improvement ******

Pietra Marina, Etna Bianco Superiore DOC,  Benanti, 2009, 12.5%, £31.00
Pale greenish gold.  Complex, and not too intense on the nose.  Medium acidity. Dry. Intense, and complex in ways I find difficult to describe.  Good now, but will keep for several more years ******

For those that know Benanti maybe it is no great surprise that I liked their wines so much, especially considering they had the advantage of a fair amount of bottle age over the others at the tasting.  But I was really impressed by them, even though they were numbers 19 and 20 of a 20 wine tasting.  The white was even tasted “out of order”, after the reds.

My other two favourites (given all the caveats already expressed) were a couple of wines less familiar to UK drinkers.  They are pictured below to help you recognise them should you get a buying opportunity. The Scirto A’Culonna was difficult for me to adequately describe, but had a quiet elegance that I really liked.  While the Irene Badalà was very different, being very astringent and with intense and good quality fruit.  I really didn’t think the Badalà was ready for drinking now, but I took a bottle home with me and look forward to trying it again in several years time.

scirto_wine
badala_wine

After my Etna trip, and this tasting in particular, I certainly understand Etna wines a lot better than before, but I still don’t think I have a great handle on the major grape varieties of Carricante and Nerello Mascelese.  Indeed I am beginning to doubt there is much of a handle to grasp.  I view them both as being like Chardonnay, in the sense that they are good quality, but seem to be able to adopt a broad variety of styles, but do not have easily recognised aromatics. The only style that I have not encountered in Etna wine is over-ripe flabbiness – they all have good structure, even reds with raisiny notes.  Where the comparison with Chardonnay breaks down is in the underlying cause of style variation.  That is, I suspect that the Etna varieties are more similar to Riesling and Pinot Noir in their ability to express terroir, if not the distinctiveness of their aromas. I would be interested to hear other views on that subject. I have certainly seen Nerello Mascelese aromatics compared to Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo, but I am personally not convinced.

Finally, I’d like to say a big thank you to Ben and Valeria of Etna Wine Lab.  They are great people, very knowledgeable, and responded very positively and flexibly to my requests for help to become better acquainted with Etna wines.

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A visit to the Etna vineyards Monte Ilice and Carpene

Monte Ilice and Carpene were both owned by Vini Biondi until 2011, at which point Ciro Biondi and his business partner Giuseppe Brancatelli separated.   After the separation, Giuseppe finished up in possession of Monte Ilice and Carpene, and Ciro the vineyards Chianta, San Nicolò, and Cisterna Fuori.  The right to the Biondi company name is now a matter of legal dispute, but it is useful to understand that Giuseppe currently has control of the old Vini Biondi website www.vinibiondi.it, which still seems to reflect the state of the business before the split, while Ciro’s website is www.levignebiondi.it.  I contacted an email address given on www.vinibiondi.it, and so was looked after by Gino Paternò who works with Giuseppe.

We met Gino in Sant’Alfio square in Trecastagni and were land-rovered off to two vineyards, starting with Monte Ilice, shown below, which is significantly higher and steeper than Carpene.  Monte Ilice is very difficult to work. Walking uphill between the vines is very much like climbing a sand dune – your feet constantly slide back in the deep, fine soil.  To make life easier, a cable transportation system was installed for moving goods up and down the hill.

biondi

Note the beauty of the vineyard.  This beauty is not by any means unique on Etna, with many of the good vineyards seemed to including small trees, shrubs and undergrowth, or having them nearby.  See the picture of one of Terre Nere’s for another example. This is not the uniform monoculture of many of the better French vineyards.

To my eye, the soil at Carpene was very similar but, contrary to my expectation, the grapes here ripen later than in Monte Ilice, as the steep slope of Monte Ilice catches the sun, whose warming effect more than compensates for the higher altitude.

Sadly it was not possible to visit the winery or taste the wines, but we were given a present of three wines for later: two Outis whites and one red.  Note that these were both of vintages before Ciro and Giuseppe went their separate ways.   I had already tasted the red last year, and liked it a lot.  Here are notes from that wine and the three gifts, which were all tasted and drunk with a meal.  They probably retail in the UK for between £20 and £25.  You can see that my notes are very different for the same wine.  I never pretend to be a consistent taster, but I do think that in these instances there was some bottle variation.

Etna Rosso DOC, Outis (Nessuno), 2008, 13.5%

I first tasted this in August 2013.  Medium pale tawny garnet. Intense, complex and mature red fruit. Medium high acid. Light. Medium low tannin. A peppermint note. Fruit is vibrant and tangy as well as having some maturity.  Drink now *****

Later on my Etna trip, at La Rocca della Rosa, where we were staying at the time.  Medium garnet.  Fresh mature red fruit.  Medium high acid. Low but detectable tannins. Savoury mature fruit. Sous bois maybe.  Possibly a bit tired ***

Etna Bianco DOC, Outis (Nessuno), 2010, 12.5%

At La Rocca della Rosa. Medium pale gold. Nose difficult in this glass. Medium acidity. Dry. Rich, deep and mature flavours. Orange, apricot. Excellent length. Ginger that is pretty dominant. Other spice too – more obvious as wine warms up.  Drink now ****

Back home, after the trip.   Pale amber gold.  Intense.  Pear maybe.  Very slightly oxidised. Smoky.  Mature.  Medium acidity.  Dry.  Excellent length, with smoky finish
Drink now.  Significantly more oxidation the following day ****

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A visit to Calabretta, Randazzo, Etna

The cantina of Calabretta, despite being on the main road through Randazzo, is easy to miss. We just about managed to locate it the previous day, Sunday, when it looked pretty much like it did in Street View, shown below (click image to go to Google Street View). There may have been a sign to indicate its presence, but we couldn’t find one. The following afternoon however, the shutters were open and the cellar man Salvatore was by the entrance to greet us.

calabretta_outside

It soon became apparent that Salvatore had about as little English as we had Italian, and only a little longer to discover that actually it did not matter.  We could get the drift of most of what he said, and he seemed to understand most of our blend of English and pidgin Italian.  His friendly smiling manner helped no end, and the more technical it got the easier it was.  Fermentazione malolattica?  No problem.  He showed us a list of wines that we were to taste: Carricante 2012,  Nerello Cappuccio 2012,  Nonna Concetta 2012,  Contrada dei Centinari 2012,  Pinot Noir 2012, Pinot Noir 2013,  Etna Rosso 2012, Etna Rosso 2010, Etna Rosso 2007, Etna Rosso 2005.  The non-varietally named wines were basically Nerello Mascalese, the Etna Rosso also having some Nerello Cappuccio.

calabretta

With the list in mind, we set about exploring the cantina to find each of the wines.  As at Terre Nere, this was to be a tasting from barrel and (here) stainless steel tank.  As I remember it, the cantina consisted of the basement, ground floor and first floor of the small block shown in Street View above, plus some out buildings in the yard behind, and it certainly felt like we visited all corners.  It’s amazing how much wine you can store in a small space.  It seemed chaotic, but was clean, and Salvatore knew exactly where to find each wine. My tasting notes are so sketchy as to be meaningless to anyone else, so I will just give some brief more-or-less general impressions here.

Overall I was very impressed, with all my scores being **** or *****.  Supposedly Calabretta make wine in a more traditional manner than most Etna producers, for example favouring large barrel maturation to barrique.  I am not sure I was  (or am now) knowledgeable enough to be able to recognise that traditional quality in the wines, but I will say that they generally had a straightforward fresh honest simplicity about them, which I liked a lot.

The Nonna Concietta 2012 and the Etna Rosso 2012 had a raisiny note, which I also came across in Etna wines of other producers.  Normally I do not like that character, associating it with flabby wines made from over-ripe grapes.  But the raisiny Etna wines also seemed to show good acidity and astringency, which made them very appealing.

A star wine for me was the Pinot Noir 2012, grown at the high altitude of 900m.  This definitely showed varietal character, but was a Pinot Noir unlike any other I have tasted.  In addition to the intense fruit, it had a remarkable focus, and a steely minerality.  We also tasted the 2013, which was a little frizzante and farmyardy – fermentazione malolattica.

Towards the end of the tasting, we had the mini-vertical of Etna Rosso - 2012, 2010, 2007 and 2005.  All were very enjoyable.  The 2012 was still very astringent, but not such that it would stop me drinking it with food, and I thought the 2007 and 2005 were fully mature.

After the tasting I bought a bottle of Etna Rosso 2004 without reflecting on it too much, but was later told that it is Calabretta’s to sell their Etna Rosso only 10 years after the vintage, when it is judged to be ready for drinking – a fine principle that I wish more producers would adopt.  The other two bottles I bought, based on my liking of the barrel sample vintages, were Nonna Concetta 2010 and La Contrada dei Centenari 2011.  The Etna Rosso was a very reasonable 12 Euros at the cellar door, and would be likely to sell for around £20 in the UK, if you can find it at all.  I didn’t see a complete price list, but none of the wines I bought were over 15 Euros.  If you think you might wish to buy several cases, as well you might, take plenty of cash as credit cards are not accepted.

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