Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Barolo From Sicily

One of the greatest glasses I downed at the recent Polaner tasting was the Etna Rosso from Calabretta.

I was directed to the table excitedly by a Polaner operative. It was indeed an unheralded destination place. People were fainting at that table from sheer pleasure. They couldn't get over the power and elegance of the Sicilian red being poured. People expect big, earthy devils from that hot, rocky island. But this was medium-bodied, and drank like a Barolo. It was heady, but elegant—smoky, dusk, full of cherry and plus. And a beautiful finish. What's going on here?

First of all, you've probably never heard of the two native varietals being blended here: Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio. They're usually blended with their more famous brother, Nero d'Avola. But they should think of getting their own press agent, if this wine is an example of what they have to offer. The particular grapes that go into this bottle are from vines 70-80 years old, mostly ungrafted, and grow at a high elevation, where the temperatures fluctuate greatly. The wines are made by Massimiliano Calabretta, who professes to make Sicilian wines in the classic method.

Here's the other mind-blower. The wines are aged for 7-8 years. So the 2001 I tasted was basically a 10-year-old wine. I saw a 1999 in a store shortly after, and it was going for $28! A ridiculous price for such an old and good wine.

Calabretta also makes limited amounts of a mineral, citrusy white wine made from old vine Carricante, another obscure local grape. This is very rare, but worth grabbing if you see it.

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