Posted by: tomciocco | November 7, 2014

A CONTEMPORARY FANTASY BLEND FROM THE ANCIENT SLOPES OF ETNA

Whether they’re red, white or pink, for me, there are really only two valid and basic philosophical approaches to winemaking. In the old world, make maximum use of your local grape varieties from the most common to the most obscure. Ancient/local varieties are the patrimony of the terroirs in which they’re grown and because these vines were spontaneously or intentionally developed in situ, they are far more likely to reach their fullest potentials in their respective homelands than they are planted willy nilly, thousands of miles from their points of origin simply because of a familiar (and therefore saleable) name and a sexy reputation (see Chardonnay planted in Napa).

The other ideal approach, which is more suited viticulturally to vine-friendly spots in the new world that have no native grapes, is the “sensible smorgasbord” model: produce blends from varieties that grow well in your region and that compliment each other without regard for the varieties place of origin – a Zinfandel, Mourvedre and Negroamaro blend produced in Texas, let’s say…

In essence what I’m stumping for here is either a strict adherence to tradition or a unwavering pursuit of innovation, and the avoidance at all costs of making some other region’s traditional wine in some random place. Without putting too fine a point on it, what is the ultimate meaning of a classic Bordeaux blend from Chile?

And though the “fantasy blend” model is more useful in the new world, there’s a place for them in the old world as well, and that’s just what we’ve got up on the bench this evening.

This wine hails from the viticultural paradise that is the ultra-vinophilic black volcanic soils of Sicily’s Mount Etna, and in essence it splits the difference between the poles of the ultra-traditional model and the free-flowing, no rules innovative one. This “middle path” if you will is effected by blending 60% Nerello Mascalese, an elegant, lightish, and pretty variety that is as native to Etna as the lava that flows from its crater, with 30% Cesanese, a fairly obscure grape that is native to and is grown almost exclusively in several regions south of Rome in the Lazio region, with the remaining 10% of the blend rounded out by Petite Verdot, a minor but very fine, old Bordeaux variety known for its deep, dark, and chewy character. And to allow these three “strangers” to harmonize while still emphasizing Etna’s superb terroir, the wine is aged for just 10 months in large-sized oak casks.

The bottom line here is that this is a wine birthed from a highly considered approach combining tradition, innovation, good “casting” (in the form of three disparate varieties that despite their differences in geographical origins and divergent natures, nonetheless make beautiful music together). This sort of combination of courageous modernism allowed to play out in such a unique terroir is all too rare, so it’s worth going a little out of your way to put your hands on a bottle of this wine and see what oenological “new wave” really tastes like.

I matched this very elegant but still muscular Sicilian red with a first course of rigatoni with mixed mushrooms, peas, potatoes, garlic and mint followed by a main course of quickly sautéed monkfish medallions that I finished with a gentle braise with red peppers, onions, raisins, pine nuts, oregano, tomato paste and Marsala.

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Passopisciaro “Scinniri” I.G.T. Rosso Sicilia 2012

Deeply saturated blackish crimson color. Complex and modern nose of plum jam, blackberry, blueberry, sweet brown spices, sandalwood, herbs, juniper, toasted hazelnut, coal smoke and black tea. In the mouth the wine is full-bodied, deep and balanced by a softly dry tannic structure and a bright and tart acidity that frames clean flavors of black currant, cranberry blackberry, raw beef, black pepper, and  vanilla bean. The finish is very long and spiked with flavors of bittersweet chocolate.

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