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This young, family-run estate high on the northern slopes of Mount Etna has just bottled its first vintage from minuscule plots of very old vines. Planted in 1930, this single-vineyard Nerello Mascalese—co-planted and co-fermented with a smattering of other indigenous varieties—is a statement in power and finesse from Europe’s most active volcano. Recalling smoky ash, white pepper, and brandied cherries, it makes me crave a wood-fired pizza with a rich tomato sauce, hunks of fennel sausage, and crispy bits of singed, blackened crust. The suave mouthfeel and grippy finale lend themselves to pairings with a number of more nuanced dishes as well.
Carmelo Vecchio and his wife, Rosa La Guzza, did not come from afar to make wine on Etna: they are true locals, raised in the heart of the vineyards. Carmelo began working at the nearby Passopisciaro winery at a young age, and after fifteen years of hands-on experience, the time came to strike out on his own. From barely one hectare of vines up to 130 years old inherited from Rosa’s family, the couple took matters into their own hands: sustainable farming by hand, with the goal of achieving an elegant balance in the grapes; micro-vinifications in the tiny cellar beneath their home, with respect for tradition and terroir; and aging the wines in used barrels before bottling without fining or filtration.
Every three or four months I would send my clients a cheaply made list of my inventory, but it began to dawn on me that business did not pick up afterwards. It occurred to me that my clientele might not know what Château Grillet is, either. One month in 1974 I had an especially esoteric collection of wines arriving, so I decided to put a short explanation about each wine into my price list, to try and let my clients know what to expect when they uncorked a bottle. The day after I mailed that brochure, people showed up at the shop, and that is how these little propaganda pieces for fine wine were born.—Kermit Lynch