Barone di Villagrande
Nerello Mascalese + Nerello Cappuccio * Etna, Sicily 2017
These two grapes are the reason why Mt. Etna has become the most important region in Sicily, perhaps all of Southern Italy in the past two decades. Despite their obvious differences, theses two grapes (as well as a third, Nocera) were traditionally interplanted with one another and field blends were simply common place. The grapes have been growing here on this iconic volcano for several generations, but only recently has the true potential of the wines been unlocked, and the ceiling for world class wines seems nowhere in sight. As you can imagine, however, there isn’t much land to go around and so the growing popularity of it is coming at a premium.
Barone di Villagrande is one of the original houses to be tending to these volcanic vines for many years. Marco Nicolosi is 10th generation and his family has basically written ‘the book’ with regards to the viticultural history here. Located on the more eastern edge of the old vines areas in a valley essentially created by the collapse of an ancient volcanic crater lake. Nothing like a good dramatic back-story to make a wine even more intriguing, eh? The Barone di Villagrande vineyards in Milo are set in an incredible picturesque natural amphitheater, 700 meters high and overlooking Sicilies eastern coastline. Drinking this wine is not only a piece of local history, but a pure example of tasting everything this stunning corner of the world has to offer.
We reach the more distinctly earth driven side of this comparison, along with a lot more cherries and wild strawberries. Where many wines from Etna can pick up a more smokey element from the volcanic influence, it is simply a background note here to the complex flavors of dried flowers and blood orange. The Nerello grapes can have a fair bit of natural tannin, but they are velvety smooth in this wine simply providing a persistent dry grip but not at all overpowering the wine and, thankfully, there is no new oak here. This wine is far more akin to the Pinots of either Sonoma coast or Willamette Valley. Lean and crunchy with beautiful aromatics and tart acidity. Again, it is really fun and a bit wild to think of these wines from Sicily having such similarities to wines coming from such different climates.
Marco and his wife Barbera have breathed new life into this historic winery in recent years, but have not changed a thing when it comes to the wines. Remarkable quality for this kind of value is as rare as it comes in modern day Etna.