Fresh Etna, and other recently arrived Sicilian wines

 10/21/12 -

(The office at Romeo del Castello)

Sicilian wine is gradually encroaching on Tuscany on our shelves (we realize that they aren’t entirely logical neighbors, but such is real estate). More and more excellent wine is coming from Sicily; the future potential there is tremendous, and this will present a serious editing problem for us, but for now it’s exciting to add to the collection.

Fortunately we don’t have to choose a favorite Etna wine or producer among the several we love, but serious contender status has to go to Romeo del Castello. This is a recent project, but unlike many other Etna wineries, this one is owned and operated by natives. In the past all of the estate’s fruit was sold; in 2007 Chiara Vigo returned to the family farm, inspired by Salvo Foti who “made me understand that I had a treasure, something I wasn’t really conscious of”. There is a tranquil and charming house, but the real treasure is the vines, 70-100 years old, all Nerello Mascalese, and never treated with any chemicals, chemical fertilizer, or herbicides. Foti helped guide Chiara for her first two vintages, and they produced beautiful and distinctive Etna Rosso. Now Chiara has added a second bottling called Allegracore; this is now the ‘basic’ wine, with the Vigo being reserved for the best vintages.



These vines are next to the house at Romeo del Castello; at the end of the rows you can see a wall of lava, which is 20-30 feet high, and about 100 yards wide. In 1982 this flow was headed straight for the house, but for some unknown reason the flow made a right turn at this point, the house was spared, as were most of the vines.

This is Ciccio the mule, plowing in the early spring on Mt. Etna for I Vignieri at 1300 metres. Here you can see how each vine is attached to its own wooden stake; Ciccio thus plows in a grid - both the length and breadth of the vineyard, stopping only to commune with visitors.

I Vigneri is a growers association founded and headed by Salvo Foti; the group helps the members manage their vineyards and market their wine in a cooperative fashion, pooling labor and resources. In many regards Salvo Foti should be credited with reviving quality winemaking on Mount Etna. Foti has worked as a winemaker and has advised on viticulture on Etna for more than 30 years, first at Benanti, later with Biondi, Il Cantante, Romeo del Castello, and others (as well as elsewhere in Sicily, notably at Gulfi). Foti’s devotion to Etna and to tradition has made a tremendous impact on Sicilian wine because of his integrity and insistence on quality without compromise. We all – lovers of Sicily and Sicilian wine – are in his debt. We have two wines from I Vignieri – we’re waiting for the new vintage of Etna Rosso, but the Bianco is great, and the ‘Vinudelice’ is amazing.

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