You won’t encounter many rosés made like this one, literally born from the ashes high on the northern face of Mount Etna. Cesare Fulvio and Federica Turillo, proprietors of Masseria del Pino, produce a few barrels each year inside a reconditioned palmento—one of the ancient little farmhouses that dot Sicily’s rural landscape, where growers once brought their grapes to be pressed. Their method of making rosé, explained by Federica, much resembles what one might have encountered here hundreds of years ago: “We destem the grapes and leave them to macerate in wooden crates for about an hour—the time to eat lunch—and then press off the juice in our basket press. The must goes into tonneaux and fermentation begins naturally.” Owing to the heat wave that swept through Sicily in the summer of 2017, the wild yeasts were unable to finish the job, leaving a delightful tinge of sweetness in the wine. Recalling a pulp of fresh pomegranate and stone, this atypical rosé is perfect for dishes featuring assertive spice, garlic, cured olives, or briny anchovy.
Driving down the dusty road to Masseria del Pino, Cesare Fulvio and Federica Turillo’s little farm upslope from Randazzo, it is hard to tell which century we are living in. This is Etna in all its pastoral serenity, with only the sights, scents, and sounds of the mountain to stimulate the senses. This simple, peaceful lifestyle is precisely what the couple envisioned when they settled here in 2005. Catania natives, they left their jobs—Cesare as a commercial air pilot, Federica as an archery instructor—to cultivate the two hectares of terraced vineyards at Contrada Pino, elevation 800 meters. They renovated the property’s ancient palmento, a traditional farmhouse featuring an old press and large fermentation vats made of lava stone, and began to work the 120-year-old vines, plus some olive trees and vegetable gardens, according to organic and biodynamic principles.
Italy’s southernmost region and the largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily has no shortage of sunshine to grow high-quality grapes on a yearly basis. It also does not lack a history of winemaking: since the Greeks settled here almost three millennia ago, the vine has played a major role in the island’s agricultural makeup. Production of cheap bulk wine for blending dominated much of its recent history until now, as we are witnessing a quality revolution that puts forth its great diversity and quality of terroirs, indigenous grape varieties, and local production methods.
While Sicily’s historical reputation is for sweet wines—Marsala and the Muscats of Pantelleria stand out—a number of dry whites and reds are enjoying the spotlight today. The cooler, high-altitude slopes of Etna, with its ashy volcanic soils, have seen an explosion of activity from producers both local and foreign; both whites (primarily from Carricante) and reds (Nerello Mascalese) here are capable of uncommon freshness and finesse. Other noteworthy wine regions are Eloro, where Nero d’Avola gives its best; Noto, an oasis of dry and sweet Moscatos; Vittoria, with its supple, perfumed Frappatos; and Salina, where Malvasia makes thirst-quenching dry whites and deliciously succulent passiti.
Countless foreign invasions over the centuries have given Sicilian architecture and cuisine a unique exotic twist, making it a fascinating destination for gourmands as well as wine importers. With a wealth of dedicated artisans proud to show off the riches of their land, you can bet there are many exciting things still to come from this incredible island.
Trust the great winemakers, trust the great vineyards. Your wine merchant might even be trustworthy. In the long run, that vintage strip may be the least important guide to quality on your bottle of wine.—Kermit Lynch
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