While I wasn't staring into the abyss of the volcano and dodging flowing rivers of lava, I did get the chance to visit the vineyards surrounding Mount Etna in Sicily and taste the wines in a much less perilous fashion. And the wines I sampled were some of the most fascinating and distinctive I've tasted. Though the indigenous Carricante and Nerello Mascalese were grapes unfamiliar to me, I now have a thirst to seek out more wines from this dramatic destination.
We arrived at Tenuta di Fessina and were met by winemaker Federico Curtaz, who, when talking about the estate and wines from the Mount Etna region, explained that he is still an "Etna student." (Not a bad place to study; I could see enrolling for a semester or three.) "Every day," he continued, "we understand something new. We are curious." And I was curious to try the Puddara white, made from Carricante, and the Erse red, made from Nerello Mascalese with a small amount of Nerello Cappuccio. The Puddara struck a nice balance between richness and refreshment. Richness from some oak aging and refreshment from the natural acidity in the grapes. My notes say "zesty, lemony, curdy." Like when you eat lemon curd: there's no denying the underlying richness but the zip of the lemon refreshes you for the next bite. Or, in this case, sip.
Here's Federico showing off the extremely gnarled, unusual vines that produce Nerello Mascalese, the major component of the Erse red. I absolutely loved this wine. It was very fresh and especially tasty served at cellar temperature, with a slight chill on it. It reminded me of a very nice Beaujolais. A great wine to drink outside while having lunch on a shaded patio, protected from the rigors of the midday Sicilian heat. I did venture out again and brave the sun in an attempt to use up the majority of my camera's memory photographing the vines; I was really fascinated by their shape and the peculiar and distinct path each took from the ground to the sky.
Although I was most interested in what was inside the bottle, the rehabilitating wine retailer in me wanted to show you the label. I liked how understated it was; very elegant and artistic. (Just like the wine.)
Finally, one important food note: Our group was served a ricotta infornata, which I would say was something out of my dreams, but my cheese-themed dreams were never this grand. This giant wheel of ricotta was slowly baked in the oven, developing a wonderful crust. The combination of the peaceful surroundings, great host, fantastic company, and fascinating wines had already made it very difficult to leave Tenuta di Fessina; this sensational cheese made it near-impossible.
Full disclosure: My trip to Italy was sponsored by Winebow.