Terre Nere Rosso: Volcanic Power with Burgundian Grace
We love island wines, and we love wines grown on volcanoes. Therefore it stands to reason that we especially love wine from volcanic islands . . . and we do! Perhaps the most prominent of these special vineyard sites is Mt. Etna, on the northeastern corner of Sicily.
These incredibly high elevation (some of Europe's highest) vineyards sit on complex, chaotic and ever changing soils. This is, after all, a very active Volcano. The special combination of unique geology, warm, dry summers and cool nights thanks to the elevation rewards us with distinct and delicious wines. But Etna has something else going for it: a diverse and collaborative winemaking community.
Consider that today’s wine is from Tenuta Terre Nere, an estate founded by famed Italian-American importer Marc de Grazia almost 30 years ago. Marc is a true wine industry “insider” and consummate professional whose tastes used to lean a bit to the modern side of winemaking. But his neighbors include the Benanti Brothers, staunch supporters of their family’s old-school Etna roots, Frank Cornelissen, a Belgian born implant who is one of the world’s foremost proponents of natural, untouched winemaking and Salvo Foti, a roaming consultant and sort of a mystic of Volcanic wines.
All of these vignerons and many more are constantly sharing ideas and learning from each other. And they all share a commitment to practicing the best, sustainable viticulture they can. Marc has always farmed organically, and his attention to his vineyards is his primary passion. He has studied and isolated the unique terroirs of his property and has become an expert on all things in the earth of Mt. Etna.
In the cellar his approach is loosely defined as “Burgundian”. He ferments in both barrels and tanks and ages his wines in a combination of small and large barrels, then racks them and returns them to tanks for a month to settle before bottling unfined and unfiltered. The goal is to make elegant, graceful wines that perfectly display the savory, mineral and earthy qualities of Etna terroir.
The 2019 vintage achieves this goal in spades. A cold, wet winter and spring led to a warm dry summer and a long growing season with harvest in late October. Exactly the growing conditions that help Etna shine. There is both power and richness but plenty of verve, structure and snappy acidity too. The cru wines will be released later, but for now the humble Etna Rosso is a true testament to the work that Marc, and indeed many of his neighbors, have accomplished in this remote wine region.