Etna’s volcano wines are no longer a secret. Top wines, like this Don Peppino from 130+ year old prephylloxera vines, are not cheap. Despite this increasing fame and pricing, the wines remain headed in the right direction and continue to prove that Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio grown on the slopes of Etna make some of Italy most exciting wines that will continue to improve and excite.
Winemaker as Midwife
Terre Nere was the winery that introduced me to the wonders of Etna. It was founded in 2002 by former US importer Marco de Grazia, who is a thoughtful man who took an intelligent risk that paid off very well. Now Terre Nere is one of the top wineries on Etna, making an outstanding range of wines from their entry level rosso and bianco to single cru bottlings and topping out with the ancient vine Don Peppino.
de Grazia has a subtle, but in my view correct, take on ‘minimalist’ wine making. First, the winemaker cannot let her or his ego get in the way and must focus not on leaving her or his stamp on the wine, but rather on the raw material. However, as he said in an interview from 2015, “if the winemaker cannot tell the difference between a good wine and a great wine, how can you make a great wine?” The winemaker must understand greatness to coax the raw material into it. Thus de Grazia compares a winemaker to a midwife – he or she assists the baby into the world, but the baby must be its own.
Some of Europe’s Oldest Vines
Don Peppino was the farmer who tended this special vineyard located in the cru or “contrade” of Calderara Sottana for over 70 years. It is one of the last parcels of prephylloxera vines left in Europe and a testament to the difference that grafting makes.
The Don Peppino is somewhat obfuscated when young as its oak frame colours more obviously, though its powerfully expressive fruit is clearly present. This was surprising to me given how poor the 2013 was alleged to be for Etna, with much rot and many grapes failing to ripen. However, it seems Terre Nere managed to make something great out of the challenge, though at very low volumes 65% less than normal.
If opening this bottle young, many drinkers may write this wine off as too oaky. This is premature. The wine simply needs age to settle and integrate. Drinking older wines from Terre Nere has proved this to me. The fascinating aromatics of the 2013 are unique to Nerello Mascalese, which has a vintage transparency found only in the most exciting red grapes (Syrah, Pinot Noir, and Nebbiolo). This red-fruited wine is very fine and elegant and requires subtle foods to allow its intricacies to have space to shine rather than being covered over by bold food flavours.
Terre Nere was once imported into BC many years ago, but is currently not available in the market. I hope that changes.
For more on Etna, read this wonderful piece from Jon Bonné by clicking here.
$79 USD at Vinopolis, Portland