The New Sicily Couldn’t Be Much Older

May 08, 2018

For centuries, Sicily was the preferred stomping ground for practically any Mediterranean nation with an army.

Conquerors came and went at will from the time of the Punic Wars in 700 BC through successive waves of Mycenaeans, Greeks, Romans, various Germanic tribes, Byzantines, Arabs and Normans before Sicily endured a nal few hundred years under the thumb of rival royal houses in Spain and France. Not until 1860 was the great battle eld commander Garibaldi able to resolve things in a uni ed Italy’s favor. Only then did Sicily become one of Italy’s 20 provinces.

The historic turnover is understandable. Everything about Sicily invites conquest, from its triangular coastline and strategic position in the Mediterranean to the abundance of agricultural wealth throughout its interior. One can see Africa on a clear day looking from Sicily’s southern shores, while up north the Strait of Messina separates island from mainland by a mere two miles. Add to that vast healthy herds of livestock, signi cant mineral deposits, superior soils and a great climate. Small wonder so many wanted a piece of Sicily. They probably thought it was paradise!

This exciting new winery’s story could be the textbook tale for modern viticulture on Mt. Etna and founder/owner Michele Faro could be the poster boy for the mountain’s heirloom grape cultivation movement. Since 2005, Faro has been assiduously collecting tiny patches of high elevation (2,000-3,000 feet), low-yielding, mostly pre-phylloxera vineyards on the northern slopes of the behemoth mountain. To date he has assembled 27-acres in two top “contradas” (de ned superior areas), Rampante and Zottorinoto.

Pietradolce’s vineyards are cultivated organically and entirely by hand. The soils are a pristine mix of volcanic loam and sandy patches super rich in minerals. It’s the perfect environment for Faro’s vision to develop “cru” level vineyards and make sophisticated boutique wines from native Mt. Etna grapes grown in ancestral sites. The range starts with a classic set of entry style wines, builds to a couple of single vineyard expressions and tops off with a monumental single vineyard wine entirely made from old vines.

Pietradolce Archineri Etna Rosso DOC carries the message of Michele Faro’s respectful mission as clearly as any wine can. It’s 100% single vineyard Nerello Mascalese from a 50-year old terraced site that sits above 2,000 feet on the mountain’s cooler northern slope. Great grapes deserve special attention and that’s what happens here. An 18-day (risky but very carefully controlled) maceration succeeds in extracting a wide berth of densely layered ripe fruit avors accented with subtle balsamic notes and woven together by fourteen months aging in lightly toasted French oak. This missionary wine from Michele Faro makes clear that a new day is dawning in an ancient land. Fittingly the inspiration comes from the old masters.

Pietradolce Archineri Etna Bianco DOC is a special wine. It’s produced from 100% single vineyard Carricante from pre-phylloxera Alberello vines ranging in age from 100 to 120-years and grown in tiny vineyards high on Etna’s warmer, eastern slopes. This is the kind of “cru” wine Michele Faro is aiming for.

Pietradolce Etna Rosato DOC is one of those more serious styles of rosé, typical of the mountain. It’s 100% Nerello Mascalese from 40 to 50-year old vines and has both tension and rich avor de nition making it a good rosé alternative for any season.

Pietradolce Etna Bianco DOC is a no-holds-barred 100% Caricante from the mountain’s cooler norther slopes. It’s got both scale on the palate and hi- tone avors that emphasize the wine’s inherent core of mineral and fruit.

Pietradolce Contrada Rampante Etna Rosso DOC is the estate’s top wine based on grapes grown in its oldest pre-phylloxera vineyard. Rampante is a recognized top zone (or contrada) and the most esteemed location on the mountain’s harsher northern face. Pietradolce’s site features 90-year old vines planted on stone terraces at random spacing. These sparse conditions are responsible for this wine’s amazing texture and incredibly deep avors ampli ed discreetly by fourteen months in ne grained, lightly toasted French oak barrels.

Carlo Hauner was a brilliant Italian designer and painter who rst achieved fame in the 1940s. In search of rest and inspiration the renowned artist began to vacation in the Aeolian Islands off the northern coast of Sicily. It was here he rst discovered and quickly fell in love with the sensual Malvasia Delle Lipari, a beguiling grape responsible for an even more beguiling wine, famous for its penetrating sweetness and delicate fruit tones.

After falling under the island of Lipari’s haunting spell, Hauner bought 49 acres of terraced vineyards in volcanic soils near the sea where he planted Malvasia and proceeded to bring to the undeveloped island all of the tools and equipment he required to make his wine. Hence refrigeration came to Lipari along with modern science.

In 1996 Carlo Hauner died leaving the estate he founded to his talented son Carlos Hauner Jr. Together with his partner in crime, the accomplished general manager Gianfranco Sabatino, young Carlos Hauner has been able to continue along his father’s path. Today’s Hauner wines are at the top of their game and include the following.

Hauner Malvasia Delle Lipari Riposo is the full-throttle version of Hauner’s favorite grape. Concentrated, ripe grapes (95% Malvasia Delle Lipari and 5% Corrinto Nero) are hand- harvested from low yielding vines in late fall before being arranged on special drying mats called “cannizzo” for 15-20 days prior to slowly being fermented. It doesn’t get much better than a masterpiece like this.

Hauner Salina Hiera (Rouge) Terre de Sicilia IGT is a showpiece effort based on 60% Alicante, 30% Nocera and 10% Nero d’Avola grapes grown in 25-year old vineyards planted in volcanic soils at 1,300 feet. No oak interferes with the robust savory fruit character of this idealistic wine, nor does it need any.

Hauner Salina Bianco, a blend of 60% Inzolia and 40% Carricante is made from grapes grown in rich volcanic soils in vineyards sitting above 1,300 feet in elevation. To showcase the edgy fruit, no oak is employed in the production of this imminently drinkable wine.

Hauner Malvasia Delle Lipari is the wine the estate was created to produce. Made from 95% Malvasia Delle Lipari grapes blended with 5% local favorite Corinto Nero, it spends eight months settling in a cool tank before being bottled and settled for another six months in bottle. Crisp, edgy, saucy and full of avor, this wine more than honors the memory of the great artist.

This impressive new estate sits on the northeast corner of triangular Sicily in Faro, near Messina, an elevated area of ridges and terraces overlooking the Straits of Messina that separate the island of Sicily from mainland Italy. Faro has been a DOC since the mid-1960s but its winemaking culture dates back over three thousand years.

Although its wines have been on the market for only a few vintages, Le Casematte is the product of a decade of preparation and collaboration between a trio of natives, including the famous Italian soccer star Andrea Barzagli. It takes that long to get good vineyards established especially in challenging locations like the severe slopes of Faro.

At Le Casematte, the intent is to work with ancient native varietals only – Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Nocera and Nero d’Avola. So far seventeen acres of terraced vineyards have been established at elevations ranging between 800 and 1,200 feet. The work is arduous and entirely done by hand. Recognizing the need for an independent quality control palate, Le Casematte’s partners have hired Carlo Ferrini, one of Italy’s top consultants to participate in the winemaking process. Here’s what this inspirational team has come up with so far.

Le Casematte Peloro Rosso Terre Siciliane IGT a blend of 70% Nerello Mascalese and 30% chewy Nocera is the other side of the estate’s indigenous coin. Two months in light grained French oak boost the wine’s compelling counterpoint of stone and savory herb avors.

Le Casematte Peloro Bianco Terre Siciliane IGT is a native blend of 65% Grillo and 35% Carricante, both sturdy indigenous grapes with grip and a wide band of mineral-laced oral and fruit notes. It’s a delicious and immediately likable wine.

Le Casematte Faro Quattroenne is the estate’s big boy blend of 55% Nerello Mascalese, 25% Nerello Cappuccio, 10% Nocera and 10% Nero d’Avola. It’s an homage wine to the ancient days featuring lengthy skin maceration to build texture and tannin around seriously ripe, late harvested fruit blended for both harmony and intensity. This is a super wine.

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