The impact Salvo Foti has had on the wines, vineyards, and producers of Etna is a tough task to complete in a few paragraphs. He is the Godfather of wine on this volcanic landscape. His work was for so many years tied to other top estates like Biondi and Benanti, serving as an oenlogist and vineyard consultant. But, in 2001 he began to focus nearly exclusively on his own project, I Vigneri - The name derives from the 1435-established Maestranzi dei Vigneri, a collective of vineyard workers who influenced the foundation of these magnificent vines atop Etna.
At I Vigneri production is split between the white Carricante on Etna's Mediterranean-influenced south-east facing vineyards, and its very old vine Nerello Mascalese in the high altitude northern side of the volcano. Today, both wines truly set the bar for the heights now expected from Etna wine.
Foti's Aurora is composed of Carricante (with 10% Minella) grown in the village of Milo. It captures the brilliance and purity of the variety that's so heavily influenced by the sea breeze. At once its fleshy, honeyed, with notes of melon, pear, and almonds, but the driving vein of salinity is what ultimately defines it. All the components are in place to allow this to age beautifully, but current release is generous and seemingly holding nothing back. The exquisite balance and drinkability of Aurora is what stands out in the end.
Foti's top red wine, Vinupetra, comes from just a single hectare of 100+ year-old-vines on Etna's north side. Simply put, it's a magnum opus for Nerello Mascalese. The north side is home to the most serious reds on Etna, and the terroir here is a great departure from what we see earlier in the south. At 2,300 feet these are some of the highest altitude vines in Europe. Massive mountain ranges form the back drop of the terraced vineyards here, as compared to the Mediterranean seen from Milo.
Nerello Mascalese sees intense sun exposure, but the huge swing into low temperatures at night keep acidity very high and allow this to walk that tightrope between concentrated, ripe fruit and a disciplined frame of structured minerality. Vinupetra dazzles the senses, each sip driving home the point more and more that this is what every other red wine in Sicily will be using as a benchmark. Transparent and ethereal on one end, and powerful and concentrated at the other. The aromatics soar from Vinupetra and it takes some time to finally go in for the first sip. Wines that find a harmony between grace and power are not easy to come across. Vinupetra is more than the top example of Nerello Mascalese or a Sicilian red, it's one of the world's great wines of terroir.
2015 I Vigneri (Salvo Foti) Aurora Bianco
$33 per bottle.
The name Aurora derives from the butterfly on the label. One whose numbers have dwindled over the years as pollution on the island has steadily increased.
2014 I Vigneri (Salvo Foti) Vinupetra
$61 per bottle.
Vinupetra translates to "Wine of stone".