Posted by: tomciocco | February 16, 2011


Last time we (oenologically) visited Sicily, it was in Noto in the southeastern corner of the island. This time, we’re going to slide north up the eastern coast to the northeastern corner of this triangularly shaped island at the true heart of the Mediterranean.

And like it or not, this Sicilian neighborhood is dominated by Europe’s most active volcano, Mount Etna. Somewhat slightly balancing Etna’s prolific activity is the fact that, unlike its pyroclastically explosive cousin Vesuvius, Etna flows (similar to the volcanos in Hawai’i) slowly like a sort of molten glacier, arms of which can and do take out neighborhoods, or even entire villages…but at least you’ve got a warning.

Fortunately, most Etna winemakers do not have daily worries about lava flows, but as sure as this snowcapped volcano will continue to churn, they reap the benefits of farming their vines on the ultra-fertile, black volcanic soil that are derived from this same lava, and that grape vines love so well. And in this fecund soil two grape varieties in particular – Nerello Cappuccio and Nerello Mascalese, were developed over hundreds or even thousands of years – deep and powerful varieties that reflect the heat and smoke of the land from which they sprout.

Wines with this sort of heft call for equally big food so I matched this solid red with pennoni pasta with green caulifower, raisins, pine nuts, garlic, pepper flakes,etc. and then lamb meatballs stewed in a tomato, mint, and basil sauce with a side of carote in agrodolce (sweet and sour braised carrots).

Firriato Etna Rosso 2008

Sultry, blackish purple garnet color. Mildly pungent nose of black cherry and blackberry fruit, smokey oak notes, cinnamon prune danish and hint of jasmine flower. The texture is big and chewy, with stiff tannins that lead into funky, vinous flavors laced with caramel that pop into a big burst of minerally cherry and strawberry jam on the mid-palate, and finish with a weighty warmth. The wine continues to deepen and develop complexity with exposure to air. A thoroughly modern (a touch too much so for me) that manages to fairly accurately reflect its terroir.



  1. Hi Tom,

    I’m opening one of my twp bottles of this tonight, and am curious what “modern” means to you?


  2. Hey Kevin-

    I think that a term like “modern” with regard to wine is by its nature is compound, but for me it always involves deeper colored wines, that are more or less “fruit forward”, and tend to have some significant tendency to roundness or plushness in the mouth.

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