My girlfriend was not happy. She was sitting next to me yesterday while I was looking at something on the Internet when an e-mail arrived on my MacBook Air. The subject line read: “Hotties from Sicily.”
“What’s this?” she said, with a slightly perturbed smile, and then smacked me on the shoulder.
“It’s some wines that I tasted last week in the office,” I said.
She didn’t look amused or convinced. I assured her a number of times that they were tasting notes, and they had absolutely nothing to do with the pleasures of the flesh, or anything else of that nature. She finally understood after looking at my tasting notes. But the incident made me laugh.
Last weekend, I tasted about 130 reds from Sicily in blind tastings in my office in Tuscany. I still believe that Sicily has a long way to go to make great wines, particularly with local grape varieties. But there are some hopeful things happening at the moment. One is that the reds from Tenuta delle Terre Nere, a small estate producing wines near the volcano of Etna, are a big move forward for the island.
I have not been to the estate myself, though I plan to go this year, but it’s producing some exciting handcrafted wines from old vines in a very precise way. Some of the wines from Terre Nere have fine aromatic qualities as well as silky fruit and tannin structures that are reminiscent of premier cru Burgundies from such appellations as Gevrey-Chambertin or Morey St.-Denis.
Brothers Iano, 59, and Marco de Grazia, 55, who also own and run the wine export company of Marco di Grazia in Florence, are the creators of the estate. With a little over 37 acres of vineyards, they have divided the parcels into seven distinct terroirs. For the moment, four are bottled separately as reds, with the rest going into Etna red and whites.
I did not really care all that much for earlier vintages from the estate. The first year I tasted, 2002, was good quality, but nothing special. And the note is in our database. I tasted the 2003 unofficially for the magazine a couple of years ago and it was flawed. I never tried the 2004 or 2005.
But Marco and Iano apparently have been working like dogs in their vineyards and cellar, and the fratelli are now making some excellent wines, especially their latest release of reds from 2006. Their old-vine (pre-phylloxera) 2006 La Vigna di Don Peppino and Etna Calderara Sottana are outstanding quality. I also like the other 2006 reds: Etna Guardiola, Etna Feudo di Mezzo Il Quadro delle Rose, and the blended Etna. All reds are made with Nerello Mascalese, with some Nerello Mantellato or Nerello Cappuccio. A good hearty white is also made under the simple Etna appellation of Carricante.
My tasting coordinator Jo Cooke spoke to Marco a couple of days ago, and he said that place was a mess when they bought it in 2004. They had a lot of tidying up to do in the vineyard as well as improvements in the cellar. "I knew the vineyards had potential, but I never thought I could get this high quality," he said.
I can’t wait for new vintages from Terre Nere.