Thereâ€™s a wine revolution taking place on the northern slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily. One of the leading lights is Tenuta delle Terre Nere, owned by Marco de Grazia, an US importer of fine Italian wines. His first vintage was only in 2002, while the wine featured here, Feudo di Mezzo, was first made in 2004, immediately winning the coveted Gambero Rosso three glasses award. This is my pick from his wine range.
Tenuta delle Terre Nere (meaning â€œblack soilâ€) is sited on the best slopes of the Etna DOC, between the towns of Randazzo and Passopisciaro. The azienda is found down a long rutted track that must deter all but the most zealous visitors. Here individual vineyard parcels are vinified separately; each is named after the local Contrade (or district) where they are sited and all show different terroir. The wines represent separate Cru, a similar system in a way to that of Burgundy or Barolo.
Hence this wine is from the 1.35 ha north-facing vineyard in Contrada Feudo di Mezzo, specifically the part known as Il Quadro delle Rose. The soils here are black volcanic ash as opposed to the adjacent rocky lava flows that make Terre Nereâ€™s other Cru; Calderara Sottana and Guardiola.
The gnarled albarello (freestanding bush) vines were planted in 1927 and 1947 and their yields are kept commendably low. The vineyard lies at an altitude of 650-700 metres and this confers important advantages. There is considerable diurnal variation, a slow ripening season and a late harvest – early November is not uncommon.
Being an Etna Rosso DOC, the wine must be made from at least 80% Nerello Mascalese and here it is 98%. Its compulsory sister grape, Nerello Cappucio, contributes just 2% – just enough to get it classified within the DOC rules. When Nerello Mascalese is tended with care it is capable of making very fine wines.
All the Terre Nere vineyards are farmed organically, helped by a low natural incidence of pests and fungal diseases. Organic Certification will be awarded from the 2008 vintage and just 5,200 bottles are made per year.
After hand-picking, the grapes were macerated and fermented on their skins for 15 days. The wine was then matured in oak, 25% of it in new barriques, for 18 months.
Given its youth, Feudo di Mezzo 2006 was decanted for 30 minutes to open it up, and as there is neither fining nor filtering, sediment was expected.
In the glass it is a light crimson colour, rather Burgundian in appearance. The nose is perfumed and floral â€“ cherries and violets interweave with an herbal garrigue note. The palate has great balance and finesse, the fruit features sour cherry, a little blackcurrant and a very attractive blueberry note that all overlay a savoury undertow.
Already quite silky and mouth-filling, those tannins could still use a little more maturity to resolve fully. I was delighted by the already seamless oak integration, especially as the combination of Nerello Mascalese and oak barrique is rarely the unqualified success it is here.
A nerve of minerality appears during a long length bound with an amazing amount of Nerello spice. The oak then delivers a final espresso note to rounds things off.
I enjoyed this wine while watching a blazing Mount Etna sunset and moon-rise from the vantage point of Feudo di Mezzo itself. A few rounds of Bruschetta topped with funghi porcini were all that were required to complete a memorable evening.
Wherever you drink it youâ€™ll find that this is a serious and fine example of Etna Rosso, proving that Etna can produce exciting wines with lift, poise and energy without resorting to International varieties or full-on oak effects.
Drinking now, it ideally needs another 3-4 years to peak and then ought to hold easily in the longer term -perhaps to 2018.
Do also look out for the other Terre Nere wines, all classified as Etna DOC. At the entry level there is an Etna Rosso, Rosato and a particularly fine Bianco. Next come the Contrada or Cru Rossoâ€™s; Feudo di Mezzo, Calderara Sottana and Guardiola.
Finally, there is the hyper-premium Rosso made from pre-phylloxera vines in tiny quantities called, (wait for it) Prephylloxera.