Sunday, June 28, 2015

2011 Benanti Pietra Marina Etna DOC Bianco Superiore at San Francisco's A16

I made a quick jaunt into Davis last weekend, making stops in San Francisco and Napa along the way. On my evening in San Francisco, I dined at A16, the freshly minted James Beard Foundation Award winner for Outstanding Wine Program. Given the restaurant's wine pedigree, I decided to entrust the evening's choices to the staff while I concentrated on gazing at my navel. The only direction I gave was that the white should be an Etna DOC.

Based on this directive, the staff came back with four options but recommended the Benanti Pietra Marina highly. They had recently held a wine dinner featuring the owner and thought that his wines were fabulous. I assented. And was not disappointed.

The Benanti estate was founded in 1988 by Guiseppe Benanti, a Pharmaceutical entrepreuner who had recently conducted an extensive study of the soils of Mt. Etna with an eye to re-invigorating its moribund wine industry. The estate's initial vintage -- 1991 -- yielded 20,000 bottles, a figure that has grown to 150,000 - 180,000 annually ( Key to the success of the venture is the microclimate within which it operates:
  • Proximate to the sea
  • Volcanic soil
  • Excellent exposure to sunlight afforded by the cone-shaped nature of the slope
  • Sea breezes and altitude working in partnership to cool the grapes in an otherwise hot climate.

The estate produces wine from local (Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Carricante, and Minnello) and non-indigenous (Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Nero d'Avola) varieties. Fifty percent of the fruit is estate-grown while the remainder is from 1 ha (on average) grower-owned vineyards wherein Benanti controls all aspects of the viticultural practices. Both the estate and grower vineyards are sited on the north, east, and south sides of the massif.

The wines produced at the estate are sold domestically as well as in the broader Europe, US and Japan. Now back to the wine in question.

The wine was brought to the table by Alex Wettersten, who proceeded to school me on its virtues and the esteem in which the estate is held. I listened intently (After all, these guys are James Beard Award winners) and then tasted the wine.

After having had a couple of days to think about it, I would describe this wine as "Neanderthal Assyrtiko" -- or "Caveman Assyrtiko" -- due to the brawn and heft accompanying the saline minerality and acidity. It was nutty and saline, with tar, florality, minerality (as much as I dislike that word), 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 (The combination of the rusticity, minerality, and tar being the neanderthal markers).

In addition to free-drinking, I had this wine with both a whole roasted mackerel and roasted chicken livers (The latter of which was to die for). It paired best with the chicken livers (I was distracted by the bone in the fish) where the smokiness and richness of the maillard reaction was complemented by the rusticity of the wine as well as contrasted by its lemeony-lime character.

I have been meaning to spend some time getting better acquainted with Etna DOC wines and this wine assured me that time would not be wasted.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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