Firriato's Etna Rosso - An Esoteric Sicilian Red

May 13, 2011

The beaten path is boring. For every new California Chardonnay or Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon there is an audible yawn amidst true wine lovers. Though we are often deplored as geeks or wine bloggers, like film critics who have seen the same romantic comedy formula tried out again and again, we tire of the same wines.

Certain wines are like moods and there's a time and place for beginners to get their share of the famous, 'noble' varieties. 

But as palates become more intelligent, it's time to indulge in the 'market of the multitudes' as Chris Anderson in his bestselling book, The Long Tail explains. Though we all begin somewhere the same, we eventually diversify and become acquainted with unique offerings that expand our awareness and knowledge. 

This is why I love Southern Italian wines - they are somewhere off the radar but remain in range and deliver not only the intensity of stand-by varietals and blends but also tweak one's curiosity. 

The famous German poet, playwright, naturalist, novelist and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once wrote in his Italian Journey that without “seeing Sicily one cannot get a clear idea of what Italy is.” 

Goethe had escaped to Italy to discover himself, to learn about art, to fall in love and surround himself with an Ancient Culture. He wanted to get beyond the stuffy confines of Weimar and the customs of his Germanic homeland.

For many wine consumers looking for a way to break out from the heaps of everyday Cabs and Aussie Shiraz, Nero d'Avola (also known as Calabrese) has become the first  and most famous go-to Sicilian wine, a fun popular choice for those leaving the beaten path.

In terms of white varieties, you can look to traditional Catarratto and Inzolia as well as Grecanico  to please your curious summer palate. 

But for those questing out something special, I recommend wines from....

In the nineteenth century, the Etna wine district - Northeast, just south of Messina - became popular overnight. As phylloxera made its way through the vineyards of France, the Etna region with the help of the modern railway made it possible for grapes to be carried to wineries.

In the twentieth century, output fell, the volcano erupted (several times) and vineyards slowly became abandoned.

But as with many things overlooked, there is a return to greatness. 

Today, with modern research and the passion and enthusiasm of today's wine makers, the region is enjoying a small, but quiet renaissance. 

The soil is obviously volcanic, well-drained and temperatures shift back and forth between hot days and cool nights. Vines are old, sometimes 80 plus years. 

Salvatore Di Gaetano and his wife Vinzia Novara are the dynamic couple behind Firriato's's success. Begun in the 1980's, the winery has since acquired several estates throughout Sicily, notably vineyard land south of Trapani  (in the west) and on the north eastern slope of Mount Etna in the region of Castiglione di Sicilia. 

In the latter area, one can find the Cavanera vineyards, 11 hectares planted to Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappucio and Carricante. The soils here are rich with minerals making their 2008 Etna Rosso, a blend of 80% Nerello Mescalese and 20% Nerello Cappucio a charismatic choice for savvy wine consumers. 

I was immediately struck by the licorice aroma of this wine. But I must emphasize, not a typical black licorice but more the Dutch, salted drop kind, the one I had in childhood. There's also a welcome hint of chocolate but also charred stone and candied raspberries.

My first sip, a fine balance of sinewy acidity and chewy tannins. This wine is absolutely refreshing and delicious (the raspberries carry through with the salted licorice). 

An easy, esoteric wine to recommend and available through your LCBO Vintages sections.


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My focus is mainly on wine culture, history and education. I love the stories behind wine - the people, places and the regional personalities of the wine-countries around the world.

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