The first time I tasted a wine from the Etna, I knew that something very special was happening in the eastern part of Sicily. We were in New York in late January for an Italian Trade Commission wine event and we needed a bottle of wine for our friend Lisa's birthday party. I had become intrigued by the region while researching the wine producing areas of the island for our wine and culinary tour later that year, but there was nothing from the Etna in any of our wholesaler's portfolios. In fact, like me, most had never even heard of the region until I started inquiring about the wines.
So, needing a bottle of wine to take with us to a little party, we popped into a shop in the East Village, that actually had a decent selection of Sicilian wines and there on the shelf was a wine by one of the producers I had been researching, Terre Nere. The 2006 Etna Rosso was under $20, which was very reasonable for anything coming from the area, so I was really excited to try it. And needless to say we were all impressed as it was lush (a prominent quality in the 2006 vintage) and easy drinking, with a purity of fruit and hints of dark cherries, tobacco and wild herbs, it had an earthiness and texture reminiscent of Burgundy but is distinctly Sicilian. Made with Nerello Mascalese, a native grape to the region, I was hooked and needed to know more about this region.
Fast forward, almost 2 years later, having now spent time in the region, I had been working with 2 of our wholesalers, Uncorked and Lirette Selections, on getting some of these wines to New Orleans. Pietradolce and Salvo Foti's wines were on the shelf, Frank Cornelissen's were on their way, and the Terre Nere wines would be here for Uncorked's portfolio tasting this month. And arriving with the wines was the producer himself Marco de Grazia, one of the pioneers of the region and the man really accredited with putting the Etna on the map.
So last night we had the pleasure of Marco's company in the shop for an intimate, seated tasting of his wines as well as a few others he is importing. Soft spoken, loquacious and extremely passionate about the region, it was wonderful to hear about his approach to wine making on the Etna, to taste the wines with him and hear his stories about what makes this reason so special and one of the most exciting wine producing regions in the world today. His approach is one of minimal intervention, using certified organic practices, and an almost indiscernible use of oak, allowing the expression of the true character of the wine. And what a beautiful expression it is! Unbelievably fresh with incredible aromatics, finessed tannins and a weightless quality reminiscent of Burgundy and Nebbiolo, the wines speak for themselves.
It was a wonderful experience, coming full circle with this region that has so intrigued me now for almost 2 years. So the second time I drank the Terre Nere Etna Rosso was with Marco himself in our shop with friends and customers, and I'm still just excited as ever about this wild, crazy volcano and the incredible gift it gives us in these unique wines.
Thanks to our friends at Uncorked, our inventory should arrive next week and we'll be carrying the Rosato, Etna Rosso and single vineyard Gaurdiola. Trust me, you need to try these wines!
From Robert Parker: "Proprietor Marc de Grazia is one of the pioneers of the Etna. Not only was he among the first producers to recognize the value of these once-forgotten, ancient terroirs, he also was the first producer to bring attention to the specific qualities of these vineyards by bottling single-parcel Nerellos that have become reference-point wines for the Etna." Wine Advocate, June 2010