At a recent staff tasting, we opened and tasted a bottle of this 2018 Etna Rosso Sciare Vive, and no one said anything for a few minutes. Instead, there were merely wide eyes, raised eyebrows, and grunts of pleasure, maybe punctuated by a “Wow.” We are not often lost for words while tasting wine, so what came over us? To start this is only the third vintage we have imported from Vigneti Vecchio, and it is especially thrilling to taste the nuances from year to year with such a new discovery. Second, after a hot 2017 vintage and a correspondingly rich wine, it was fascinating to notice how different this bottling from the cooler 2018 tasted. Aside from environmental factors, Vigneti Vecchio’s wines are unusually elegant relative to most from Mount Etna for at least two reasons: tall, alberello-trained vines that shade the grapes from the sun, and the co-planting and blending of indigenous white grape varieties. The third potential reason behind our response is that we are not immune to the thrall of Mount Etna, which contains some of the most intriguing terroirs in the world. There is no other place like this for growing grapes: high elevation, plenty of Mediterranean sunshine, and jetblack soils of decomposed lava make it unique on Earth. One could mention bright notes of red fruit, high acid, and a “volcanic” character, but you just need to taste this wine for yourself to feel the magic of Vigneti Vecchio’s Etna Rosso.
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.
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.
I want you to realize once and for all: Even the winemaker does not know what aging is going to do to a new vintage; Robert Parker does not know; I do not know. We all make educated (hopefully) guesses about what the future will bring, but guesses they are. And one of the pleasures of a wine cellar is the opportunity it provides for you to witness the evolution of your various selections. Living wines have ups and downs just as people do, periods of glory and dog days, too. If wine did not remind me of real life, I would not care about it so much.
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