There's a lot of awareness about Sicilian wines these days, as evidenced by the publication of a big feature in the Spectator recently. In addition, I'm seeing more and more entries from the island on my retailer's shelves as consumers expand their search for good quality everyday wines. There's a lot to like in this region's wines as they usually represent excellent values - from the more fruit forward bottlings from the warmer areas to the more complex and minerally examples from the slopes of Mt. Etna. I've been buying wines from Tasca d'Almerita, di Giovanna, Planeta and Tenuta delle Terre Nere for a long time, the latter of which is owned by the influential importer Marc de Grazia. But when I spotted for the first time the Firriato Etna Rosso in my local shop, I eagerly grabbed one to sample.
Firriato's website touts that all of it's vineyard holdings are now certified organic yet for some reason, this basic bottling isn't listed anywhere. It's possible that this wine is bottled exclusively for the American importer. No matter, this a good example of what kind of flavor and structure a wine born of Mt. Etna hillside fruit can produce, even at the $15 price point. 2011 was a very good vintage in Sicily and you might expect a fairly lush, fruit forward wine from this generally hot climate zone. However that's generally not the case with wines from the Etna DOC, where vine altitudes can reach 3000 ft. Wines from vines planted up the side of this famous and still active volcano often are leaner in style while bringing more aromatic complexity to the table. Such is the case with this bottling as well.
This wine has beautiful aromatics featuring a distinct stony minerality in the nose with bright cherry fruit and herbal notes. It's got a fairly angular flavor profile with the sour cherry and raspberry fruit supported by earth and spice notes. It finishes long with zingy acidity. This wine is what some might call a "food wine" and in truth, the big fruit crowd might find it a bit too bright. But this wine is right in my wheelhouse and in a certain sense isn't all wine "food wine"? It drinks a little like a good but more structured entry level Burgundy and is produced from 50% Nerello Mascalese and 50% Nerello Cappuccio. Nerello Mascalese, one of the most important Sicilian grapes, is a late ripening varietal that needs hang time for the tannins to mature while the Nerello Cappuccio lends softer tannins and darker, less acidic juice to the blend. This beauty paired perfectly with a locally raised lamb shank with a lemon parsley gremolata. It's imported by Soilair Selections of New York, yet another wonderful small importer we have here on the right coast. On a side note, Ian d'Agata's exhaustive Italian grape encyclopedia called "Native Wine Grapes of Italy", is an amazingly instructive reference tool which will certainly be aiding me in my never ending wine journey, just as it did for this post.