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This year at Vinitaly was the first time the Etna DOC had a separate designated space within the Sicily pavilion. We got to taste through such a variety of wines, from producers we know and love, as well as newcomers whom I have never heard of. That afternoon of tasting was most informative, and I guess I would say my biggest takeaway was that great terroir and old vines does not necessarily a great wine make. There is a hipness and coolness to the wines of Etna these days, and occasionally one gets the feeling that the rush to satisfy global demand for these wines gets in the way of true quality. And so we are very pleased to be able to present to you a new vintage of a little jewel we found, and keep being excited by. I feel Jaime's previous email about Masseria del Pino was quite perfect, and just as applicable today as it was two years ago, so it is shamelessly copied below, with only the added caveat that I believe the 2016 vintage of Masseria del Pino is even better than the 2015 was, with more balance and longevity. Oskar Kostecki
I first went to see Mount Etna in 1981; I’m sure we drank wine but I have no idea if it was something local. The mountain was most impressive, and I do remember seeing vines amongst the old lava flows; it seemed incredible that anything could grow there. I loved it, and I loved Sicily. I did visit a couple times after, but didn’t go back to Etna until 2007 when the wines were already becoming very popular, and Terre Nere, Cornelissen, Graci, Biondi, and others of the new era were in full swing. On every subsequent visit more development has been obvious (if not glaring), as in the sleek big new winery above Solicchiata, or the multi-acre field created by bulldozing the old vineyard terraces, courtesy of one of Italy’s biggest wine companies, or the (apparently) rich guy who hired Riccardo Cottarella to make wine because he wants to “fully maximize the purest expression of Etna.”* Land prices have soared, and now Gaja and Davide Rosso (from Barolo) are joining the party. We’ve tasted many of the new wines and they are mostly perfectly fine (when not over-oaked), but certainly not exciting. On the cheerful side, all the fuss is a compliment to the achievement of those already established on Etna, and of course to the potential of the area.
Given the current feverish gold-rush atmosphere, it’s a little surprising to find a true mom-and-pop (Federica and Cesare, that is) operation like Masseria del Pino, making delicious wine that definitely maximizes the purest expression of Etna. It’s truly tiny – a hectare of vines (about 2.5 acres) of 120 year-old bush-trained, organically farmed vines at 800 metres (about 2700 feet) in altitude; a bumper crop would yield about 300 cases of wine (remove some of those for ‘family use’, and there are about 250 cases for sale). To extend the bucolic image: the vines are part of a farm (from Cesare's family), and as Federica says, “400 olive trees, chestnut, oak & cherry trees surround the vineyard, vegetable gardens, sheep, sheep dogs, chickens, geese, etc.” The winemaking is straightforward, making use of the old winery (palmento) on the property; after fermentation and 1-3 weeks of maceration (depending on the year), the wine is aged in old tonneau. The 2015 has 13.5 alcohol, and low SO2 (30mg). We think the label is charming. Jamie Wolff
*Cottarella has frequently been described as “the Michel Rolland of Italy.” If that’s accurate, to me it means a “winemaker” who swoops in and does whatever it takes to produce a beverage that gets a high score – no manipulations or additives barred. In my past tastings, such wines have not offered a pure expression of anything, other than misguided money.
From a one hectare site of 120 year-old vines planted on the slopes of Mount Etna, this is volcanic wine at its best. The nose opens with a lovely bouquet of ripe raspberry and overripe strawberry, red currant, macerated cherry, deep red forest fruits, and dried orange peel. There are hints of nutmeg and other pungent spices, sage, thyme, and a hint of something green, perhaps tomato vine. On the palate it is medium bodied, with bright acidity and medium but soft, very finely integrated tannins. The palate introduces more citrus (blood orange) and pomegranate on top of the red fruit. The volcanic minerality really shines here, melding the fruit and herbal notes with ash and smoke. There is beautiful grip and intensity on the palate, which leads to an incredibly long finish. Paired perfectly with grilled sausages, but this is a very versatile food wine. Drink now with an hour's decant, this will continue improving for the next 10+ years. Oskar Kostecki