Spring arrives in Sicilia earlier than in the rest of Italy. By Easter, people are already crowding the beaches, taking their first swims in the sea. The Valle dei Templi, Valley of the Temples, in Agrigento offers the magnificent spectacle of the almond trees in blossom. The smell of zagara, the orange blossom, fills the air with an intensity that stuns. If I may suggest a season to visit this region, it would be this one. Summer is nice but often too hot. The siroccos, winds that come from the Saharan desert in Africa, are debilitating; the only thing you want to do is lie in the shade with a granita in hand. Granita, a staple of the Sicilian food traditions, is a shaved ice dessert that can be flavored with pistachios, almond milk, tangerine, chocolate, coffee, and more.
It’s hard to avoid talking about food in Italy without talking about Sicily because this island is so rich in layers of cultures. The influences of the old Mediterranean civilizations, the Arab world, Africa, Alemannic Swabia, Spain, and France, have shaped the profile of this region through the centuries. You can see it in the architecture, in the language and, of course, in the food.
Sicily is an Island of mysteries and contradictions and therefore fascinating. While surrounded by water, it has a heart of fire; just think - Etna is the tallest active volcano in Europe with its 11,000 feet elevation. And it's from the heart that we get this month’s selection of wines. While there is still snow at Etna’s top (unless it is melted by sudden lava explosions) below the soil is made rich and fertile by the volcanic activity - it is a great environment for farming. Here the vines can reach deep into the soil for nourishment, where the unique combination of mineral elements brings specific characteristics to the fruit. The Carricante and Nerello Mascalese grapes are autochthonous to Sicily, and exhibit their best expression here on the slopes of Mount Etna.
Enjoy these Sicilian wines and listen to the sound of Ulysses’ sirens singing in the glass. No need to resist. Ithaca can wait….
Elio Longobardi, Italian Wine Specialist
PlumpJack Wine & Spirits – Noe Valley
Winemaker: Francesco Cambria
Price per bottle / Price per case : $26 / $280.80
About the Winery:
The story begins in 1962 with Francesco Cambria who, seeking a retreat from his career as lawyer in Messina, bought 100 hectares of vines and hazelnut groves near his birthplace in Randazzo. Initially, Francesco cultivated hazelnuts and sold grapes to the local cooperative. In 1968, with the arrival of DOC status for Etna in 1968 and hazelnuts losing market share, he decided to focus on grape growing for bulk wine production, replanting the hazelnut groves with vines. In the late 1980s however, Francesco’s son, Guglielmo, decided to build a winery to make his own wine rather than selling the grapes and he was quite successful selling it “sfuso”, not bottled, in demijohns to local consumers and restaurants. The initial success of these wines spurred Guglielmo to focus on quality wine production and in the mid-1990s he renovated his father’s vineyards to increase density and lower yields, and the first wines labeled as Cottanera were born.
In 1995 it’s important to remember that the fame of Etna had not yet reached most markets; it’s not like today, with Etna fully recognized as one of Italy’s most exciting oenological territories.
Resting about 700 meters (2,296 feet) above sea level over lava alluvial and clay soils, the Cottanera vineyards are positioned in 5 different “contradas” (local districts); Cottanera, Diciassettesalme, Calderara, Zottorinoto, and Feudo di Mezzo. In 2011, after changes regarding the production methods of Etna DOC, the geographic area of origin of the grape could be indicated on the label, highlighting the differences and singularities among the various Etna contradas, giving a voice to the wine and the territory itself. Indeed, Cottanera strives to express these differences through both the work in the vineyards and in the cellar.
About the Winemaking:
The vineyards from which the fruit for this bottle comes are an average of 15-20 years old, planted on lava-alluvial and lava-clayed soil. The harvest is done manually with small crates.
Cold maceration for about 24 hours, followed by cold setting. Fermentation in stainless steel at controlled temperature, 16°C for about 20-25 days.
Refining in stainless steel on yeast for about 6 months prior to bottling.
100% Carricante fruit. Light gold with green reflections in color. A slate and flinty mineral note, sustained by floral accents of orange blossom and jasmine with a reminder of pear fruitiness. In the mouth it shows a youthful body supported by a pleasant acidity dictated by the soil composition. A wine that reminds you of a sea breeze on warm evenings.
Suggested Food Pairing
Rice arancini; spaghetti and sea urchin; spring rolls; swordfish rolls (see recipe)
Price per bottle / Price per case: $34 / $367.20
About the Winemaking:
Contrada Diciassette Salme is at 750 meters elevation on lava-alluvial soil. The vines are about 12 years old. Harvest occurs during the first 10 days of October, all done manually. The grapes are brought to the cellar, first going through a gentle de-stemming, then macerated with skin contact at a controlled temperature, 28°C, for about 25 days. Fermentation in controlled temperature, 26-28°C, with constant pumping of must over grapes and wine pressing. Malolactic fermentation in French oak barrels. Ageing and refining for 8 months in large oak barrels prior to bottling.
Bright ruby color. Small berry fruits wrapped around a cedar wood spiciness are the first impressions when we swirl the wine in the glass. Light polished tannins and a velvety cleanness leave the palate fresh and ready for more. This 100% Nerello Mascalese expresses the fine elegance of the varietal.
Suggested Food Pairing
Pasta alla Norma; Porchetta; cous-cous with lamb stew; mild cheeses