Thursday, April 20, 2017

The wines of Salvo Foti

Salvo Foti decries the use of the words "natural wine." There is no "all natural" wine he says. "It is a marketing ploy" as vines left to their own designs would seek to maximize reproducibility rather than great winemaking fruit. The wine grape is a human contrivance and there is nothing natural about that.

Yet, if one were to consider the natural-wine bucket in today's winemaking arena, Salvo Foti is as natural as they come. I have previously discussed his traditional, low-impact, sustainable farming practices built on respect for the land and the people who work it. And that philosophy, and those practices, extend into the cellar.

If the laws allowed it, Salvo would make all his wines using the traditional Palmento (he owns a functioning Palmento on the Vigna Caselle property) but, lacking that option, he ferments instead in oak vats using indigenous yeasts and no temperature control (By the time of crush, temperature on the mountain is cold enough to allow that practice without unduly stressing the yeasts and resulting in the production of off-odors or stuck or sluggish fermentations.). Wines are never filtered and minimal SO₂ is used at bottling. Wines are racked and bottled according to the phases of the moon.

After our lengthy promenade among the vines, and being subjected to hundreds of Lidia's must-have picture compositions, we made our way down the hill and across the street to the Palmento in Vigna Caselle. We stepped through the small entry door and negotiated a catwalk-type structure to the crushpad where a table and chairs resided conference-room style. And it was here that we were treated to Salvo's wines and the philosophies and practices that I reported on in previous posts.

Salvo Foti and Author (Picture credit Lidia Rizzo)

In this post I report on Salvo's wines. The tasting group was comprised of Salvo, his son Simone, Brandon Tokash, Lidia Rizzo, a female winemaker, and the author. From time to time visitors would pass through to greet Salvo and he would have to take a small break to go acknowledge them.

I Vigneri vineyards around Mt. Etna (Source: Salvo Foti)

We started out with a 2014 Aurora Etna Bianco Superiore, a blend of 90% Carricante and 10% Minella. This wine was made from grapes sourced from the 5-ha, 5-year-old Caselle Vineyard. Slate, salinity, and eye-popping acidity. Salvo mentioned that this bottle had been opened for a week and offered to open a new one for comparison purposes. We did not object. The new bottle exhibited the same characteristics but with greater freshness. 6500 bottles.

The second wine tasted was the 2014 Vinudilice, made with grapes sourced from Vigna Bosco, a vineyard nestled within the depths of a holly oak forest 1300 meters up. This vineyard lays claim to being the highest in Europe.

100+-year-old vines in Vigna Bosco (Photo courtesy of
Sarah May Grunwald. Used with permission)
The varieties planted here are Alicante, Grecanico, Minella, plus some other unidentified varieties. They are co-vinified to produce a field-blend Rosato. The wines are matured in old oak casks and concrete.

The coloration on this wine was slight. It yielded subtle red fruit on the nose and a density, coupled with freshness and a mineral complexity, on the palate. This is not your grandfather's Rosato. 2,500 bottles.

In addition to the Rosato, we were also treated to a 2014 Vinudilice Metodo Classico. This sparkling wine was stunning but, unfortunately, it is not made every year. This is without a doubt the best sparkling wine I have tasted on the mountain to date and I have not been so excited about a non-Champagne sparkling wine since I tasted the Xinomavro-based Karanika. Fresh and attention-grabbing. Mouth-filling mousse and great persistence. The world deserves to see more of this wine.

Vigna di Milo 2014 is a 100% Carricante Etna Bianco Superiore sourced from a 0.15-ha vineyard located at 950 m asl and planted to 10,000 vines/ha. The wine is matured for one year in stainless steel and then racked into large wooden barrels for further refinement. This wine was fresh to go along with a salinity and slatey minerality. 2500 bottles.

Vinupetra 2014 is an Etna DOC red wine produced from grapes grown in a 0.5-ha plot in the Calderara vineyards of the Feudo di Mezzo district on the mountain's north face. The varieties included in the blend are Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Alicante, and Francisis. The vines here are in excess of 100 years old and are planted albarello style and at 10,000 vines/ha. This wine had a perfumed nose with plum and cherry notes accompanying spice and sweet vanilla aromas. Focused, with a lengthy finish. This wine was pleasing. 3500 bottles produced annually.

In addition to the wines shown above, Salvo produces two other wines (not a part of this tasting). The first is a white made from Carricante, Rhine Riesling, Grecanico, and Minella grown in a 0.4-ha plot in the Nave Vineyard (1200 m asl) in the Agro di Bronte district. These bush vines were planted 10,000 vines/ha in 2005. The wine is bottled under the Vinjancu label.

The second wine is the I Vigneri Etna DOC which is produced from Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio grapes given to the cultivators by vineyard owners to make wine for their personal consumption. This wine is fermented in a Palmento and sees no wood during the maturation process. Four thousand bottles of this wine are produced annually.

As an overall observation, each of the wines tasted was of extremely high quality and fully representative of its place. For the Carricante wines, salinity, acidity, and minerality were not in short supply. I remain blown away by the Vindilice Metodo Classico.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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