Earlier this week, we took a closer look at one of Sicily’s hidden treasures: 2007 Gulfi Nerobufaleffj. We are staying in Sicily a little longer for today’s review which features an Etna red wine from a highly interesting wine maker: Salvo Foti.
Mount Etna is a terrific volcano that is towering above the Sicilian city of Catania. The soils of Europe’s largest active volcano are very fertile which is why grapes have been cultivated at Mt. Etna for more than almost 3000 years. In fact, the first records of wine making at Mt. Etna date back to 800 BC which is way before the Greeks colonized the island. Over the years, thousands of terraces were built at Mt. Etna, almost exclusively with lava rock. On these terraces, vines are grown after the traditional Sicilian alberello vine training method. Alberello means little tree in Italian.
Alberello vines have to be harvested by hand because of their bushy nature and come with a much lower yield compared with vines grown with more modern vine training methods like the espalier trellised vine training system. However, the fruit from alberello vines is considered higher in quality than the one from espalier vines.
For economic reasons, lots of producers have abandoned the traditional alberello vine growing method and switched to an espalier vine training system which is easier to harvest. But some wineries that not only respect the traditions of their land but also want to preserve them for future generations like I Vigneri di Salvo Foti and Gulfi, among others, still use the alberello system in their vineyards.
The present-day winery I Vigneri di Salvo Foti has taken its name from the Catania-based wine growers guild which has been operating since 1435. The members of these guild were called i vigneri, the wine growers. These vigneri worked at the many volcanic terraces at the northern slope of Mt. Etna and laid the foundation for a higher quality Sicilian winemaking. The vigneri produced their wine for centuries in so-called palmenti (singular palmento). A palmento is a traditional Sicilian three-story structure in which the entire process from fermentation to maturing takes place. Pretty much every Sicilian winery in the Etna region has such a palmento but most are not longer used. Why? Because the European Union outlawed the usage of these palmenti for hygienic reasons. This highly upset many Sicilian winegrowers. Some refuse to obey that law and more or less secretly still use their palmento to make wine.
I Vigneri di Salvo Foti
Salvo Foti, a renowned Sicilian oenologist, founded together with fellow wine growers the present-day company I Vigneri di Salvo Foti. About 30 people work at Foti’s winery and all the work is done manually, including harvest, because Foti only works with alberello vines. Foti wants to make wine in the most traditional way possible. His approach to winemaking includes spontaneous fermentation in concrete vats, no filtering and no temperature control . Foti also uses only old oak casks and concrete for the maturing process. In the vineyard, he works as organically as possible. His wines are bottled according to the phase of the moon.
If you want to learn more about Salvo Foti and his philosophy of winemaking then I recommend you watch this documentary. It is in Italian but has English subtitles.
Tasting Notes: 2012 Rosso Etna
Tantris, a two michelin star restaurant in Munich, opened a natural wine bar which I recently visited. There I had the pleasure of not only eating fabulous food but also of drinking Salvo Foti’s 2012 Rosso Etna.
The wine is a blend of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio; two autochthonous Sicilian red grape varieties which are exclusively grown in vineyards in the Mt. Etna area. The grapes for this Etna wine are contributed by wineries for which Salvo Foti’s I Vigneri work for.
The wine has a natural fermentation and ages solely in concrete vats without the use of oak.
In the glass, the wine has a cherry red color with purple hues. 14% is the label indicated ABV.
There are intense aromas of cherries, lavender, blackberries and black pepper on the nose, as well as some leather and hints white of mulberries. The nose is a work of art.
On the palate, full-bodied with a medium acidity and smooth tannins. This is a well-balanced, slightly complex wine that comes with flavors of gianduia chocolate, nuts, raspberries and a slight touch of red fruit bonbon. This Rosso Etna wine is round and harmonious and has a lingering aftertaste.Average price on Wine Searcher: €24
The wine is advertised by Salvo Foti as well the Tantris Natural Winebar as Etna Rosso DOC but somehow on the bottle label the appellation was not indicated. Not even the friendly Tantris sommelier could explain why that was.
This concludes my post on Salvo Foti’s I Vigneri and his ’12 Rosso Etna. What’s your opinion on wine from Mt. Etna? Do you have any favorites that you’d like to share?