Friday, May 18, 2018

Pre-Contrada dell'Etna visit to the Calabretta (Randazzo, Mt Etna) cantina

On Saturday morning of Contrada dell'Etna weekend, we grabbed a quick coffee and headed off to a tasting of Calabretta wines at the estate's cantina which is housed in a three-level building in the heart of Randazzo. Upon arrival, we were greeted by Salvatore Caggegi, the estate's Agronomist and Cellar Master.

The Calabretta estate was founded in the early 1900s with the resulting products sold in bulk to restaurants and private customers. In 1997, Massimo and Massimiliano opted to bottle their best wines to sell on the commercial market.

The historical Calabretta vineyards was comprised of 7 ha of 60 - 80-year-old Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappucio vines located in Randazzo. The old vine stocks has been supplemented with an additional 3 ha. Within the past 5 years total vineyard hectares has been expanded with new plantings of Nerello Mascalese (1 ha), Carricante (1 ha), and Pinot Noir (1 ha).

The estate adheres to a sustainable, noninterventionist approach in both its grape-growing and winemaking activities. The grape vines are grown among olive trees and fruit orchards and never see chemical pesticides or herbicides (small quantities of copper sulphate and sulphurum are used to combat powdery and downy mildew). Old vineyards are head pruned while newer vineyards are trained Guyot.

Calabretta seeks to harvest perfectly ripe grapes and is aided in this quest by the volcanic soil, the temperature differential between daytime and nighttime temperatures, and the high incidence of solar exposure. Grapes are hand-harvested and fermented with indigenous yeasts in small- and medium-sized barrels. The estate's wines are shown in the table below.

Label Variet(y)ies Contrada Description
Cala Cala Rosso

Non-vintage cuvée
Rosato Nerello Mascalese Calderara Mostly from young vineyards
Vigna Vecchie


Little A

Feudo di Mezzo

Nonna Concetta Nerello Mascalese Porcaria

Piedefranco Nerello Mascalese Taccione Ungrafted
Cappuccio Nerello Cappuccio

Young vineyards
Pinot Nero


Gaio Gaio Rosso

Young vineyards. Sepcial fermentation to be more fruit-forward
Contrada dei Centenari


Carricante Carricante

Minella Bianco


Semi-carbonic fermentation. Young vines
Cala Cala Bianco Grillo

The first wine tasted on the premises was the 2017 Vigne Vecchi. This wine is made from grapes grown on ungrafted 80-year-old vines in Centenarian vineyards in the Contrada Calderara. The variety mix is 97% Nerello Mascalese with the remainder Nerello Cappuchio. The wines are macerated for a short while in steel vats and then transferred to large Slavonian vats for extended aging.

Writing about this wine in the Wall Street Journal (11/12/15), Lettie Teague had described it thusly: "... the style of this red is different from other more modern Etna Rosso bottlings. It is a soft Old World-style wine, with notes of earth and tobacco reminiscent of a traditional Barolo." This particular wine was too young to exhibit the characteristics of which she spoke but manifested both dark and red fruit on the nose and rich blue fruit on the palate. Smooth.

Example of the large vats on premises

Salvatore Caggegi, Calabretta Cellar Master and

Cellar heaven

Sue, Parlo, and Lidia

The 2017 Passopisciaro is sourced from 60 - 80-year-old vines, is aged fro 8 - 10 months in used barriques, and is released to the market after 1 year. Vinosity. Structured, spicy red cherry. Light-bodied and high-toned. Soft tannins. Persistent, bitter finish.

Parlo, Brandon, Lidia, Salvatore, and Sue.

The 2017 Feudo di Mezzo is 100% Nerello Mascalese. Cherry and dark olives on the nose. Faded strawberry on the palate. Light but textured. Smoky.

The 2017 Cappuchio was aromatic, more so than the Nerello Mascalese. Match flint and spice. Short finish. Unimpressive.

The 2017 Pinot Noir was rich but seemed to lack balancing acidity.

We then doubled back and tasted a 2012 Vigna Vecchi. Brandon described this vintage as producing some of the most concentrated wines in Mt Etrna's history. This particular wine exhibited tobacco, ginger, port, balsamic, and green herbs on the nose. Concentrated on the palate with port, amarone, and walnut flavors. Powerful with strong tannins and a cupric finish.

These wines will benefit from the passage of time.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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