At I Vigneri, production is mainly split between Carricante on Etna's Mediterranean-influenced, southeast-facing vineyards and old-vine Nerello Mascalese on the high-altitude northern side of the volcano. Salvo Foti's Nerello Mascaleses are Mt. Etna benchmarks in their respective price points!
From some of the highest-altitude vineyards in Europe, here you'll find the most structured and deeply concentrated examples of Nerello Mascalese. Vino Rosso is fermented and aged in concrete, giving this young wine an approachability that makes it impossible to resist upon release. Vinupetra comes from just a single hectare of century-old vines. And the latest bottling to our selection, Vinudilice Rosato comes from an century-old field blend planted to at least 10 red and white grape varieties, including Alicante, Grecanico, and Minella.
Foti's impact on Mt. Etna is monumental. For many years, he worked as an oenologist and vineyard consultant with top estates, like Biondi and Benanti. He began to focus nearly exclusively on his project in 2001. The name I Vigneri derives from the 1435-established Maestranzi dei Vigneri, a collective of vineyard workers who influenced the foundation of these magnificent vines atop Etna.
I stepped out of the car and was hit by an intense blast of heat when arriving at Stella di Campalto. Tuscany was in the middle of a very extended heatwave, and the north side of Montalcino had been substantially cooler. How was this the home of the famously dubbed Burgundian estate in all of Montalcino? However, Stella di Campalto wines defy any preconceived notions you may have about Montalcino Sangiovese Grosso.
There are many keys to the surprisingly fine and lifted personality of Stella’s wines. Many parcels contain high sand and white quartz concentrations, and strong breezes come down from Mount Amiata, a former volcano. A nearby river also plays a role, helping temperatures dip low at night and preserving much-needed acidity. We tasted parcel by parcel (a rare opportunity) and could see how these elements worked together to create this tiny estate's grand image; some were high-toned with white pepper spice, and others darker and more savory.
Young Stella grew up in Milan, fell in love with Italian wine, and inherited her property on the southern side of Montalcino in 1992. (Podere San Giuseppe dates back to 1910 when Giuseppe Martelli had a sharecropping estate and abandoned it in 1940). After exploring the rundown farmhouse and finding the quiet setting comfortable, Stella planted vines. She was adamant about growing 100% Sangiovese and farming the land with certified organic and biodynamic principles.
The estate comprises six hectares of vines, with each parcel fermented on its own before blending. Fermentations are in old, open-top wood casks, with four pump-overs per day, an element of the soft tannins. The wines age in botti with a tiny addition of old barrique. It is rare to come across a Brunello that shows well each time it's poured—no matter the vintage, whether it's decanted, or popped open and served.
Frank Cornelissen has been producing wine on Etna's highest, north-facing vineyards since 2001. His style has changed a lot over the years, but he's perhaps most recognized for his insistence on a zero sulfur approach in the cellar when possible. After years of changing small details, his wines are cleaner and more composed than ever.
Everything exceptional and intriguing about the Cornelissen wines exists in the vineyard. The 100-plus-year-old Nerello Mascalese vines sit on terraces over the valley below and towering mountains in the distance, and the black, sandy volcanic soils are a reminder of the active volcano beneath your feet. The wines are raised in fiberglass-lined tanks, as Frank is interested in the purest expression of Etna with the most minimal intervention, outside of materials from the vineyard.
Frank grew up surrounded by wine in Belgium where his father worked as a wine broker. His studies inspired an intense fascination for the volcanic terroir on Mt. Etna's north side. With a plan to tell his own story of place, he set his eyes on working strictly with old vines. His project started with 1.5 hectares and has grown to 12 hectares, with plantings going back to 1910.