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For Giovanni Ferlito, Aurelio Marconi, and Gianluca Strano, specificity of place and vintage character are first priorities. At Mount Etna's Azienda Agricole Monterosso, the 2018 harvest was difficult, "with [a] hot summer and lots of rain towards the end," Ferlito explained in an email. "We had to pick in different times to achieve balance." Some of the team's red wines, which have yet to be released, won't have the required alcohol level to meet regional regulations. "But for us," Ferlito continued, "[it] is more important that the wine is the real expression of vintage than pleasing the regulation to get the DOC on the label." And based on my exerience, if the reds are anything like the incredible whites that we tasted from Monterosso, Ferlito and the gang have little to worry about.
And isn't this what it's all about? Capturing a snapshot of time, that accumulation of work, weather, soil, and exposure, all packed into a grape and then transferred into a bottle?
Monterosso started as a project of three best friends who had deep interests in food and wine. In the aughts, they were living in the coastal city of Catania on Sicily's eastern shore. And though Ferlito left to pursue ambitions in London, Marconi and Strano stayed in view of the towering Mount Etna. In 2012, the friends decided to seek vines, and after two years of searching, they claimed half a hectare on what Ferlito described as "the most beautiful cru on the volcano." They released their first vintage in 2015.
The estate drew its name from the 600 meter-high volcanic cone, red with iron-rich soil and aptly known as Monte Rosso. (Mount Etna's slopes are covered by countless "parasitic" cones like this. They are created when volcanic activity causes breaks or swelling along magma channels en route to the major, or central, cone. Explanation courtesy of San Diego State University, College of Sciences website.) Monte Rosso, for example, emerged during an eruption in 1329. The friends, who now have two hectares, organically care for old Nerello Mascalese and Carricante vines (averaging 70 years of age) on soils of sand and pumice. Ash from the volcano, with elements such as potassium, phosphorus and manganese, is also intermingled. The vines are trained in an ancient style known as alberello egeo, which means each one is planted alone and supported by a single chestnut post.
From their holding on Monte Rosso, the team produces bottles like Sisma and Crater. Whereas, the grapes that go into their Volcano label are purchased from vineyards that they either manage or that meet their standards of organic farming.
This small-production estate is creating wines that represent the world around it. WIth an eye to tradition, a dedication to organic production, and a determination to display vintage character, Monterosso is an exciting producer to follow. David Hatzopoulos
Sisma bottles come from a single vineyard in the crater of the Monte Rosso cone at the base of Mount Etna. The 2016 vintage conditions were excellent; it had the appropriate amount of sun and rain, all at the right times. This led to perfect fruit maturation. The nose offers wild fruit (strawberry, raspberry, blackberry) with pepper and spice. The palate offers flavors of plum (and plum peel), Provençal herbs, and pepper. There is a plush tannic framework – engaging but far from mouth-drying. David Hatzopoulos
The Sisma by Monterosso is structured, with bright acidity. The 2017 vintage was hot compared to the 2016. Earthy aromas of smoke, iron, and crushed black stones mix with dark cherry and cassis on the nose. On the palate, the flavors are framed by ripe, firm tannins, with bursts of earthy red plum and blackberry/raspberry fruit. This is an assertive Nerello Mascalese, especially in contrast with the gentler character of the 2016. A few years in the cellar should allow the flavors and structure to integrate. David Hatzopoulos
In addition to farming their two hectares, the Monterosso team sources organically-farmed Nerello Mascalese for their Volcano bottling. The 2017 vintage was hot and had very little rain, resulting in an extremely small harvest. Grapes were picked two weeks earlier to ensure freshness. The wine is bold and robust. The fruit on the nose is dark (blackberry, cherry), with a hint of amaro-like aromas and smoky earth. The palate has a character of bitter and herbaceous red/black fruit and savory cured meats. David Hatzopoulos
Made from organically farmed Carricante grapes from a single vineyard inside the crater that sits towards the top Monte Rosso. The vines here average 70 years old. The ‘18 Crater is more substantial in flavor and weight than their Carricante released in 2017. On the nose, there are essences of smoke, light spices, lemon peel, and tea leaves. The palate is muscular, with a depth of lemon, pear, apricot and pepper flavors. David Hatzopoulos
From organically sourced grapes, this white is 100% Carricante from the lower elevations at Mount Etna's base. The nose is subtle and pretty, with hints of cured lemon, green herbs, and wisps of white flowers. The palate is complex and layered with notes of salty yellow citrus and fresh grass. David Hatzopoulos
Monterosso is named for the reddish Etna soils of sand and pumice in which their vines are grown. The Volcano Rosato is produced using 100% Nerello Mascalese, sourced from vineyards that Monterosso either manages or knows are being farmed with organic practices. In the glass, it shows an elegant shade of rose gold. The nose is redolent of cherry, wild raspberry, white and red flower aromas, with a lean accent of green herbs. The palate is more assertive, with cherry, cranberry fruit, and laced with iron minerality. David Hatzopoulos