That's what Massimiliano Calabretta told Mascarello's New York importer when he first visited the estate on Sicily's Mt. Etna. Taking cues from Piedmont's iconic producer is not something one would expect to hear in these parts of Italy. Etna is a landscape built on rich winemaking history, but the style has veered modern as global awareness has skyrocketed.
At Calabretta the wines are firmly entrenched in the traditional, just as Bartolo Mascarello would've approved. And for a turn to Calabretta's white, Carricante from vines up to 100 year of age, we're looking at the single most precise and delicous example I had during my June 2017 visit.
Today, I'm happy to offer the two wines that best illustrate the magic of Calabretta and the own-rooted old vines they farm on Mount Etna's volcanic soils.
You may consider Nerello Cappuccio to be an Etna blending grape (and you'd be right). But, Calabretta saw his old, ungrafted vines offered a very differnt expression of the variety used by many to add color and body to their Nerello Mascalese blends.
Cappuccio certainly adds something special to the Mascalese-dominant wines that are Etna's signature. But, the primary reason Cappuccio is rarely seen on its own relates more to viticutture difficulty and its succeptibility to diesease than to any varietal shortcoming. Own-rooted vines often give an aromatic lift that simply stands apart from grafted counterparts.
In Calabretta's Cappuccio it's this animated yet sensual quality that's so delicious, and so unique. There's dark red fruits, smoke, lavender, violets, and a saline-infused finish that make reaching for this glass of 12% alcohol wine habitual.
The formula at Calabretta is a simple one, with organic farming, reliance on old vines (over 60-yrs), and own-rooted parcels preserved as long as possible. The 100% Nerello Cappuccio is fermented in steel with pumpovers only by hand, contributing a seamless and velvety texture that stands out first and foremost. Elévage takes place in a combo of used barrique and steel for 6 months. These two parts are then blended into 12-hectoliter botti for an additional 6 months prior to bottling.
For Sicilian whites, Carricante's bar is set very high for me, just in terms of what really pulls me in and brings a refreshing elemenent that I often find missing from producers here. Calabretta's Carricante has become my favorite white in all of Sicily. First sip immediatley showcases that crisp structure, with deep and incisive volcanic minerality that almost dances on the palate. White pear, lemon oil, and green apples cover the kaleidoscope of fruit here, but it's the crystaline core of pulverized volcanic soil that ultimately grab my attention and linger on the finish.
Vines range in age from a selection of 100+ yr-old through some younger plantings. Fermentation and aging is done in steel, a huge factor in how this Carricante maintains that sleek and taut structure, but buffered with those deep and textural traits from these old vines. If there's one white in all of Sicily I can get behind enthusiastically this would be it!
Calabretta was founded in 1900, but it wasn't until 1997 that the father and son team of Massimo and Massimiliano decided to bottle their best wines and sell under their own label. This was a guarantee that historic practices of vinification and aging would stand protected as the world around them was changing at a rapid pace.
2014 Calabretta Carricante
$24 per bottle.
2014 Calabretta Nerello Cappuccio Etna Rosso
$42 per bottle.