Thursday, June 28, 2018

Wine Bar George: Positive vibes emanating from Disney Springs (Lake Buena Vista, FL)

I had high expectations for the recently opened, George-MiliotesMS-led Wine Bar George (WBG) project at Disney Springs; the final product exceeded all my expectations.

George has been around the Orlando food and wine scene for some time having: (i) been a part of the California Grill (Disney's Contemporary Resort) opening team; (ii) managed that restaurant from 1995 to 2002; and (iii) headed up the Darden Restaurant wine program from an Orlando base from 2002 until he left to pursue the WBG project. Having known, and appreciated, George's body of work over his career, I was keenly interested in what he would bring to the table in this effort.

I was unable to visit WBG when it opened initially. I noticed an upcoming Rosé tasting on the site and decided I would make that my first foray into the enterprise. On the morning of the event I went onto the website to purchase my tickets and was greeted by a message saying that it was sold out. I thought that maybe an in-person plea would yield better results so we hit the road, headed for Disney Springs.

It is a bit of a walk from the parking lot to WBG but, as I approached, I was immediately pleased with what I could see of the upper-level balcony. A fully subscribed balcony, I might add. I was even more pleased when I stepped inside and saw the centrally located bar with off-bar seating on both sides and a stairway in the distance leading to the upper level. The hostess stand was to the right immediately upon entrance. The setting was light, bright, and airy and filled with the hum of wine-infused conversation and the hustle and bustle of bartenders and waiters working in a busy environment.

After having my pleas for entry to the Rosé tasting fall on deaf ears, I sheepishly informed my crew that there would be no Rosé tasting but that we would hang out at this wonderful bar and have a good time anyway. They were cool with that. So we did. And we did.

It was busy but, after a while, we were able to snag four seats. A quick perusal of the menu assured me that there was more than enough food and wine to keep our interest levels high (as a matter of fact, there are 100 separate by-the-glass labels on offer).

We started out with a cheese board and a Tasmanian Sparkling Wine. The board was attractive in its setup and the cheeses were very interesting. I had not previously had the Tasmanian wine. I liked it. We followed this up with an Octopus ceviche and a Txakolina. Our final wine of the night was a 2013 Arpepe.

My takeaway from the day?
  • The wine list was unlike any other in Orlando in terms of diversity and depth
  • The food aligned very well with the wines on offer and the concept
  • The service was stellar
  • Foot traffic at the bar was high.
During the visit I congratulated George on the space and vowed to be back.

By the middle of the following week I had put together a group to have lunch at the bar on Friday. Jairo, Sommelier at WBG, reached out to help set things up.

When we arrived we were taken upstairs into a small room set off the rear dining room (itself called the Barrel Room).

Bev, Ron, Scott, and Brian. 

Over the course of the afternoon we tasted most of the items on the menu. The food is tasty and of extremely high quality. The Executive Chef, Ron Rupert, had worked with George at California Grill and has put together an exciting menu of small plates and larger, family style dishes with no diminution of quality between the two styles. We ordered two each of the tapas dishes and one each of the large plates. This is among the best food in Orlando. A subset of the dishes that we shared are shown below.

Octopus Ceviche
House-Made Meatballs
Skirt Steak
In addition to the dishes shown, I would highly recommend the Hummus and Chicken Skewers (to die for) from the Tapas menu and both the Sea Bass and the Wine-Braised Chicken from the large plates.

Our nightcap wine and George behind the bar

We paid another visit on Wednesday for validation purposes. This place is valid.

And it has the smell of a long-term success around it. The combination of George's wine knowledge, managerial skills, and demonstrated startup skills; the skills of the Executive Chef and the high quality of the meals this early in the cycle; the staff quality and eagerness to please; the wine list; the look and feel of the establishment; the location; and the manner in which locals are warmly welcomed, all point to a very positive long-term result.

We needed something like this in Orlando and George has delivered.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The wines of Mt Etna, Sicily

In recent posts I have sketched out the current Mt. Etna viticultural and winemaking environments. In this post I describe the types of wines that issue from the region.

Etna Rosso DOC
The wine that initially earned the region a position on the wine map is the Etna Rosso, a wine which, according to regulations, must be a minimum of 80% Nerello Mascalese, a maximum of 20% Nerello Cappuccio, and a maximum of 10% of other red or white non-aromatic grape varieties, all grown within the DOC demarcation lines. The table below shows the contribution of each of the core varieties to the blend.

Nerello Cappuccio Nerello Mascalese
Wines of splendid color Opposite
Wines not suited to extreme aging Opposite
Subtle, cryptic notes
  • Wooden essences and vanilla
  • Some floral notes
Complex variety of scents
- From Muscat notes to hints of tobacco 
Good acid and tannin levels Distinctively tannic
Information gleaned from Santa Maria La Neve and other sources.

In general, Nerello Cappuccio brings color and perfume to the blend as well as serving to soften up some of the harder edges of its partner.

The best of the Etna Rosso DOC wines are produced on the north face of the mountain and show notes of cherries, tobacco, spice, and earth on the nose. Cherry flavors continue through to the palate along with minerality and silky tannins. These wines are elegant, balanced, and in possession of lengthy finishes.

Driven primarily by "outsiders" such as Marc DeGrazia (Tenuta Delle Terre Nere) and Andrea Franchetti (Passopisciaro), some Etna winemakers are labeling their wines based on the contrada within which the grapes are grown.

The argument behind this approach is that the multitude of lava flows emanating from the volcano have imparted differing characteristics to the soil and this is reflected in differences in the wines. Some experts are skeptical of this claim, taking the position that altitude and aspect have greater impacts on wine differences than does soil composition.

The sandy nature of the volcanic soil, plus the cold temperature at the upper reaches of the mountain, have combined to hold the scourge of phylloxera at bay. This has resulted in the continued productivity of old, ungrafted vineyards and labels that celebrate the wines produced therefrom.


Table 1: A selection of the pre-Phylloxera vineyards used in wines from Etna.
ProducerLabelVineyardContradaSize (ha)Vineyard Age (yrs)Training System
I VigneriVinupetraCalderaraFeudo di Mezzo


Tenuta Terre NerePrephylloxeraDon PeppinoCalderara Sottano
130 - 140do.
GraciQuota 1000

PietradolceVigna BarbagalliBarbagalliRampante

80 - 100do.


80 - 100do.

Archineri Etna Bianco

100 - 120do.
Frank CornelissenMagma Rosso



Munjebel Rosso ChiusaZottorinotoChiusa Spagnolo


Munjebel Rosso Vigne Alta

Barbabecchi, Tartaraci, Monte Dolce


Munjebel Bianco Vigne Alta



Some of the notable Etna Rosso wines include:
  • Tenuta di Fessina's Erse Etna Rosso DOC (90% Nerello Mascalese, 8% Nerello Cappuccio, and 2% white grape varieties, all sourced from the Rovitello vineyard)
  • Pietradolce Etna Rosso, Archineri Rosso, and Barbagali Rosso DOCs (100% Nerello Mascalese) 
  • The Tenuta delle Terre Nere lineup
  • Salvo Foti Vinupetra (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.).
  • Benanti Rovitello (Nerello Mascalese-Nerello Cappuccio (10%)) and Serra della Contessa (an old-vine (100+ years), NM-NC (20%) blend from the Monte Serra vineyard). 
Etna Rosato DOC
The regulatory requirements for the Etna Rosato DOC is the same as for the Etna Rosso DOC. Rosatos range from 100% Nerello Mascaleses to traditional Nerello Mascalese-Nerello Cappuccio blends to Nerello Mascalese-Carricante blends. Some of the wines are made with minimal skin contact while others are pressed-off and immediately fermented. Some of the wines are aged on lees.

Colors of the Rosatos range from salmon (as is usual for Provence rosés) to the more powerful colors associated with Tavel. The dominant aroma is strawberry while the palate is most likely to experience strawberry, minerality, and bright acidity.

There are a number of high-quality offerings in this segment to include offerings from Benanti (a 100% Nerello Mascalese made with grapes sourced from Contrade Demone located in Viagrande on the South-East slope of the mountain), Terra Costantino (a 90/10 Nerello Mascalese/Nerello Cappuccio blend), Pietradolce (Nerello Mascalese), and Barone di Villagrande (90% Nerello Mascalese).

Etna Bianco DOC and Etna Bianco Superiore
Etna DOC Bianco is to be made from Carricante (> 60%), Catarratto (< 40%), and up to 15% of other non-aromatic grapes such as Minella or Trebbiano while Etna DOC Bianco Superiore is to be made from Carricante (> 80%) and Trebbiano, Minnella, or other non-aromatic Sicilian grape variety (< 20%). The grapes for the Superiore are to be sourced exclusively from the area of Milo on the eastern side of the volcano.

Etna Bianco DOC wines are made from grapes drawn from all aspects of the mountain but the characteristics differ between the wines grown on the north face and those grown elsewhere. Carricante-based wines from the east to south flanks of Etna are characterized by salinity, minerality, and acidity and, at its optimum, these characteristics meld extremely well. These characteristics also allow the wines to age well (based on my experiences drinking aged Benanti Pietra Marina wines). While the characteristics of the wines are consistent, the quality of individual wines will vary based on winemaking practices, elevation, soil composition, and other related factors.

Etna DOC wines from the north face have lower levels of salinity and a perception of higher acidity, herbaceousness, and minerality than their counterparts to the south and east.

The Etna Bianco Superiore's, when done well, can be counted among the great white wines of the world. The Benanti (Pietra Marina) and Barone de Villagrande (Etna Bianco Superiore) offerings are more savory in style than the piercing nature of the Salvo Foti wines. Exceptional examples of the Bianco Superiore that I have tasted are as follows:

Salvo Foti
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.

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. This wine was fresh to go along with a salinity and slatey minerality.

2012 Benanti Pietra Marina. The wine showed petrol, dried herbs, rosemary, thyme, and sawdust on the nose. On the palate it was bright, with lime, saline minerality and some drying characteristics. 
Benanti 2011 Pietra Marina Brawn and heft accompanying the saline minerality and acidity. Nutty and saline, with tar, florality, minerality, walnut, and a green herb. On the palate, lemony-lime, citrus rind, and blackpepper towards the rear. Balanced and consistent through all the tasting zones. Rustic.
1995 Pietra Marina. Characteristics included petrol, orange, orange rind, burnt orange and some tropical notes to include sapodilla skin and pulp. A textured wine with orange notes on the palate giving away to a long, spicy, drying finish.

Barone di Villagrande
The 2015 Etna Bianco Superiore exhibited white peach, white pear, white pear skin, and a vegetality. Savoriness and dried herbs also evident. On the palate, clean, lean, and austere with a slight green note. 

Etna Spumante DOC
The Etna DOC Spumante should be minimum 60% Nerello Mascalese and maximum 40% of other Sicilian grape varietals.

Given the climatic conditions, it would seem that stellar sparkling wines would be produced here but, for the most part, I have not encountered many of those. All of the wines that I have tasted are Methode Champenoise. Murgo makes a Nerello-Mascalese-based Brut and Brut Rosé which spend between 20 and 22 months on the lees. Its Extra Brut spends 60 months on the lees.

Cantina Nicosia makes a Carricante- as well as a Mascalese-based sparkling and they are both pleasing.

The most eye-popping of the sparkling wines I have tasted on the mountain though, was the Salvo Foti 2014 Vinudilice Metodo Classico. This sparkling wine was stunning but, unfortunately, it is not made every year. It is made with grapes sourced from Vigna Bosco, a vineyard nestled within the depths of a holly oak forest 1300 meters up. The wine does not qualify for Spumante DOC as the included varieties are Alicante, Grecanico, Minella, plus some other unidentified varieties. They are co-vinified to produce a field-blend Rosato. The wine is matured in old oak casks and concrete. Fresh and attention-grabbing. Mouth-filling mousse and great persistence. The world deserves to see more of this wine.

IGT Sicilia/Terre Siciliana
This is the default label for non-DOC wines made on the mountain. A wine may carry this label as a result of one or more of the following circumstances:
  • Native grape varieties but the blend does not comport with the specifications
  • Native grape varieties in the specified amounts but falling outside the DOC demarcation zone
  • Non-native grape varieties
  • Winemaker choice.
An example of the second of these conditions is the 2017 Laeneo Nerello Cappucchio (100%) from Tenuta di Fessina. This wine was very aromatic. Fruitiness and spice on the nose. More refined and elegant than most of the 100% Nerello Cappuccios that I have tasted.

Calabretta, with its Pinot Noir, and Passopisciaro, with its Chardonnay and Franchetti (a Petit Verdot-Cesanese blend) are two shining examples of the non-native-variety IGT wine. The Franchetti is one of the best IGT wines coming off the mountain and can be argued to be among the best wines from the mountain.

Natural Wine
For the most part, Etna producers make conventional wines but, as is true in most wine regions today, there are a few natural-wine adherents in town. Examples include Salvo Foti, Frank Cornelissen and Vini Scirto. The range of Cornelissen wines are presented below as the most apparent example of this wine style.

The Munjebel bianco 2014 is a white wine is made from 60% Grecanico Dorato and 40% Carricante. Unlike the majority of Etna producers, Frank does not see Carricante as the best grape for the region's white wines. He feels that it is too acidic. The grapes for this wine are grown on 40+-year-old vines grown in the Calderara Soprano and Borriglione vineyards. This wine is amber in color, a result of fermentation on the skins. Florality, spice, and a savoriness on the nose. Savoriness flows through to the palate. A textured wine with great acidity and a long finish.

The Contadino 2014 was made from 85% Nerello Mascalese with contributions from Nerello Cappuccio, Alicante Bouchet, Minella nero, Uva Francesca, and Minella bianco. This 24,000 bottle production is sourced from 50+ year vines grown in the Piccolo, Malpasso, Campo Re, Crasa, Piano Daine, and Porcaria vineyards. This wine is red-fruit dominant but has some blueberry notes. Rich and earthy. Structured.

The Munjebel rosso 2014 is a pure Nerello Mascalese from 60+ year vines grown on the Chiusa Spagnolo, Monte Colla, Porcaria, Barbabecchi, Rampante, Piano Daine, and Crasa vineyards. Red berry fruit and drying tannins. Rich and balanced.

The 2014 Munjebel Feudo di Mezzo, in this case an en primeur sample. Savory with a preponderance of black olives. Long, bitter finish.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A visit with Vini Scirto (Passopisciaro, Mt Etna)

In my recent post on winemaking on Mt Etna, I mentioned the Vini Scirto winery as falling into the "comeback kid" category of winemakers. I provide more details on this winery herein.

Being an Etnaphile, I am always on the lookout for things emanating from the region. So it was with great interest that I discovered and followed a couple on Instagram who were making wine on the mountain and were continuously posting about their exploits. Winemakers posting on social media about making wine is not unusual. What was unusual about this couple -- Giuseppe and Valeria of Vini Scirto -- was the unabashed, almost innocent, manner in which they manifested love for each other, their land, their vines, and their wines. I reached out to Brandon Tokash, my resident Mt Etna friend, and asked him to set up visit with this couple when I was in for Contrada dell'Etna 2018.

That visit occurred on the afternoon of April 22, after a morning spent exploring the higher reaches of Mt. Etna. We met Giuseppe and Valeria at a pre-determined spot and, after all-around introductions, bundled back into our cars to go see a vineyard to which they had recently acquired farming rights. This vineyard plot -- located in Contrada Feudo in the village of Montelaguardia -- is 1.3 ha in size and is planted to Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappucchio, Carricante, and some other native varieties.  The soil is volcanic, very deep, and has very few stones. It has been on the official register since 1920 but has been in use for many years prior to the initiation of the registry.

The use contract covers 7 years. Vini Scirto expects to make a ready-to-drink, traditional Etna wine from the vineyard fruit but will also make an extended-maceration wine with a small portion of the fruit to evaluate the vineyard's overall potential.

Giuseppe and Valeria of Vini Scirto
Contrada Feudo vineyard
Parlo, Lidia, Valeria, Brandon with Wayne
Young off in the distance

We next paid a visit to the Vini Scirto cantina in Passopisciaro. It was a tight fit for the team. We found a new use for our smart phones when their was a brief, area-wide power outage. After looking around for a bit, we headed off to the Vini Scirto main vineyard in Contrada Feudo di Mezzo.

The farm house was set well back from the main road, nestled among olive and clementine trees. The property is comprised of 2.5 ha planted to olive trees and vines.

Vini Scirto within the context of the North slope landscape

The estate was most recently owned by Giuseppe's grandfather who had produced wine and olive oil and sold them off in bulk. During his childhood, Giuseppe had worked alongside his grandfather and had developed a love for the land and the products it yielded. But Giuseppe had not chosen winemaking as a career. Rather he was working in the Information Technology field when his grandfather died.

At that time, many estates were being sold off by family members upon the death of the patriarch. But Giuseppe and Valeria did not choose that road. Rather they opted to work the vineyard beginning in 2009. Giuseppe is not an agronomist nor an enologist but he applied himself according to the "natural" principles that his grandfather had taught him.

The estate uses no chemical fertilizers or pesticides in the vineyard and all treatments and harvesting are done manually. According to the duo, "We have completely banned chemistry from both the land and the winery ... The only chemistry we use is that of love." The first harvest was in 2010 and the first bottling of the Vini Scirto wines was in 2012.

We tasted the three wines shown below.

The 2016 Don Pippinu is a blend of Carricante, Catarratto, Minella Bianco, and Grecanico that has had 5 days of skin contact and then lightly pressed. It was aged for 10 months in steel and then bottled. Intense yellow color with dried fruits and minerality on nose  Fruit and mineral intensity on palate. Lengthy finish.

The red wines were primarily Nerello Mascalese which had been fermented in steel tanks, using natural yeasts, and aged in used oak barrels. Both wines showed varying intensities of red fruit, earth, cedar, and leather on the nose. Cherries and minerality on the palate. Balanced with silky tannins and lengthy finishes.

Excellent wines overall.

Refreshing people. Refreshing wines. Refreshing visit.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Winemaking on Mt. Etna

Mt Etna does not possess the continuous, deep-time, winemaking pedigree as does Burgundy and Barolo, the wines to which the region's product is most often compared. Rather, its winemaking environment is a patchwork of identities and experiences resident in the current occupants of the space and the boundaries imposed on that space by the "outside" world. And that patchwork, which the passage of time has not yet rendered irrelevant, is directly correlated to the origins of the parties:
  • Unbroken chain -- these are the winemakers whose relatives have been making wine on the mountain for generations and the current winemaker is a direct descendant and has always been employed in winemaking. Barone di Villagrande and Salvo Foti, for example, fall into this category. Barone di Villagrande has been making wine in the current location since 1727 and is now in the 10th generation. One would expect that some traditional winemaking tools and practices would be evident in this environment.
  • The comeback kids -- Relatively young and with an historical association with the mountain and its traditional winemaking practices. The current winemaker might have worked with his/her grandfather in the vineyards and then went off to do something else. The death of a family member, or the desire to "return to the land," have been the motivational forces. Winemaking at such an estate could run the gamut from traditional to modern, to include a mix of both environments.
  • Newcomers -- within this category there are a number of sub-categories:
    • Winemakers with experience outside the Mt Etna region and bringing that experience to bear in making wine on the mountain (Andrea Franchetti, as an example)
    • Winemakers with experience outside the Mt Etna region but hiring or partnering with local expertise (Kevin Harvey of Rhys Vineyards with Salvo Foti; Gaja and Graci)
    • Owners with expertise outside the wine industry who brings in an international consultant
    • Owners with expertise outside the wine industry who employ a local winemaker for the effort.
    • Owners with no winemaking experience who learn on the job (Frank Cornelissen)
With this frame, let us explore the Mt Etna winemaking environment as evidenced in the practices of selected entities.

Winemaking Approach
For the most part, Etna producers make conventional wines but, as is true in most wine regions today, there are a few natural-wine adherents in town. Examples include Salvo Foti, Frank Cornelissen and Vini Scirto (The former two dwarf the latter in terms of repute and name recognition.).

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.

Salvo Foti with Lidia Rizzo

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 described 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. He ferments 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.

Frank Cornelissen does not add sulfur to combat oxidation or micro-organisms. Wines are fermented by indigenous yeasts in small, food-grade plastic tubs. To ensure vintage integrity, all yeasts resident in the cellar are killed prior to the start of wine production. Fermentation is conducted with yeasts brought into the cellar on the grapes.

Frank Cornelissen

Vini Scirto is a small estate located in Passopisciaro and run by a cute, lovey-dovey couple named Giuseppe and Valeria. The estate uses no chemical fertilizers or pesticides in the vineyard and all treatments and harvesting are done manually. According to the duo, "We have completely banned chemistry from both the land and the winery ... The only chemistry we use is that of love."

Giuseppe and Valeria

Picking Decision
When to harvest is one of the most important decisions for the winemaker. It is a decision that cannot be undone. The winemaker will pick at optimal ripeness but optimal ripeness is a function of the style of wine being pursued. If you are looking for "Parker Points" your optimal pick time will be later than the winemaker who is pursuing balanceThe decision on optimal ripeness should be drawn from a number of objective (sugar, acid, pH, ratio between sugar and acid) and subjective (color, ease of removal of berries from pedicel, texture, aroma, flavor) criteria.

All of the wineries reviewed sought to pick at optimal ripeness. Terra Costantino harvests based on sugar and acid levels (as determined by tasting and analysis). The appropriate pick date for Barone di Villagrande grapes is set based on sugar:acid ratios (the estate seeks a 2:1 ratio). Calabretta and Franchetti seek perfect ripeness. In pursuing a Chardonnay that rivals Burgundy, Vini Franchetti determines pick-time as follows: "The harvest is quite fussy, as we pick little portions of the vineyard every day, tasting the berries trailing along the terraces day after day, harvesting only when each individual cluster is ripe."

The majority of these grapes are picked by hand to minimize damage as well as to provide a first-level of selection in the field. The grapes are placed in small containers (to minimize crushing pressures) and then transported to the winery as quickly as possible. It is obviously much more expensive to manual-harvest with in-field selection than it is to machine-harvest but high-quality grapes are a requirement for high-quality wines.

Harvest Reception
Terra Costantino follows up on the first selection in the vineyard with a second selection
at a sorting table in the harvest reception area as is the case for Tenuta di Fessina. Grapes are generally destemmed and crushed after sorting and placed into fermentation vessels.

Fermentation Management
Fermentation Vessels
The dominant fermentation vessel employed in Etna winemaking is a temperature-controlled stainless steel tank (25, 50, and 75 hL in the case of Tenuta di Fessina) but other examples abound. For example: at Calabretta, small- and medium-sized barrels are deployed; 500- to 700-hl barrels are used at Pietradolce; and small food-grade plastic tubs at Cornelissen. At Terra Costantino, cru reds are fermented in concrete tanks of varying dimensions while the top whites are fermented in barrels.

"Cold Soak (Pre-fermentation Maceration)
  • Wine and skin interaction prior to fermentation in order to extract color and phenols 
  • Generally conducted at low temperature to inhibit micro-organism growth and to prevent premature fermentation 
  • Most often associated with red wines but is utilized in the construction of skin-contact white wines.
Most of the winemakers that I interviewed on the mountain pursue crisp white wines and so do not employ cold soaks. Frank Cornelisson and Pietradolce (with its Etna Bianco) do employ skin contact in the making of their white wines. Tenuta di Fessina employs a cold soak for its red wines.

Alcoholic Fermentation
Both indigenous and inoculated fermentations are common on the mountain. Those winemakers who adhere to natural and/or sustainable principles are most likely to utilize indigenous yeasts in their ferments. In the case of red wine ferments, the cap is kept in contact with the juice by way of a mix of punchdowns and pumpovers.

Post-Fermentation Maceration
Most of the Etna red wines are subjected to a post-fermentation maceration. Pietradolce reds, for example, are fermented/macerated for 20 days in 500 - 700 hl barrels. Substances extracted during the maceration include: aromatic compounds, aromatic precursors, phenols and polyphenols, unsaturated lipids, nitrogen, and potassium.

Early-consumption wines are macerated for shorter periods (allows good extraction from the skin (color and enough tannins to ensure its stability) while avoiding the harsh tannins resident in the seeds). Extended-bottle-aging wines are generally macerated for longer periods and thus gain the benefits of the “high molecular weight tannins” which polymerize and precipitate out in the bottle. These tannins soften up over time, while aromas and flavors develop.

Andrea Franchetti does not macerate his Nerello wines. His first three vintages of this wine were not impressive (a problem was with his winemaking technique rather than with the cultivar, he surmised) so, in 2004, he changed his approach (Camuto). The fix that he settled on?
  • He ceased macerating on the skin
  • He lowered the fermentation temperature
  • He moved from barrique to botti for aging.
Franchetti, as cited by Camuto: "You see, I learned that the best part of the Nerello grape is not in the skins, like with the Bordeaux grapes. Its all in the juice."

This is not a widely held view on the mountain based on the number of wineries that macerate today.

Malolactic Fermentation (MLF)
In practice, most red wines undergo MLF. The process is encouraged in cooler areas where grapes have high malic acid content; in cases where the wine is aged in oak barrels; and when the wine style calls for long-term aging in bottle.

Easy-drinking red wines would not materially benefit from the organoleptic changes resulting from MLF. The goal in the case of these wines are to carry the fruity flavors to the market at the lowest possible cost and in the shortest time possible.

A wide variety of aging regimes are employed on Mt Etna. For example:
  • Tenuta di Fessina -- After fermentation the wine is transferred to used oak tonneaux and 35-hL barrels for aging. Wines are bottled only when they are deemed ready.
  • The Franchetti cru wines are subjected to 18 months aging in large neutral oak barrels
  • The entry-level wines of Pietradolce are aged for 3 months while the more complex wines are aged between 14 and 20 months.
  • At Cornelissen, red grapes are lightly pressed and then placed in large fiberglass containers, if destined for early bottling, or into epoxy-lined, underground amphoras for longer-aged wines.
35-hL barrels at Tenuta di Fessina
Fiberglass containers at Cornelissen

Underground amphoras at Cornelissen

The Barone di Villagrande cellar was built in 1858 to help realize a vision of dual production lines. Prior to its construction, everyone made a Rosato by blending red and white wines. Barone di Villagrande knew that it made a great white wine so decided to build its cellar to allow two production lines. The vats were built in place and the cellar built around it. The vats are made of chestnut and are either 22,000L, 18,000L, or 500L.

Vats built in the 1850s

Some premium wines are aged in bottle prior to market release in order to take advantage of reductive changes to tannins (softer), acid (softer), and flavor compounds (increased complexity). 

The table below is provided to show the Barone di Villagrande aging strategy across its product line.

Training System
Etna Bianco Superiore

Guyot, spurred cordon

50 hl/ha
Etna Rosso
Nerello Mascalese (80%), Nerello Mantellato/Nerello Cappuccio (20%)

On skins 6 - 10 days
12 mos barrel; 24 mos bottle
Etna Rosato

Nerello Mascalese 90%, Carricante 10%
On skins 12-18 hours

Merlot (80%), Nerello 
Mascalese (20%)
Guyot, spurred cordon

On skin 20 days
18 - 24 mos 
in barrel; 6 mos in bottle
Carricante (90%), Chardonnay (10%)

In wood
8 - 9 months in wood

Legno di Conzo
Etna Bianco Superiore DOC
In oak barrels
1 year in wood; 1 year in bottle

Fining and Filtering
These practices are not widely employed on the mountain. Franchetti does employ bentonite fining in the production of his contrada wines.

I will cover the wines that result from these processes in my next post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme