Friday, August 27, 2021

A Trip to Mt. Etna with Etna Bianco from Firriato

 In the fall of 2019 I had the unique pleasure to be a guest of the Firriato winery on the island of Sicily.  For a week I toured the island visiting their vineyards starting on the eastern side on Mt. Etna to the western side in Trapani.  Quite the experience that you can read about from my previous articles, especially the opportunity to walk Mt. Etna after watching it smoke during my morning caffe.  Today I’m featuring their Etna Bianco, Le Sabbie dell’Etna,  highlighting the main grapes in the blend along with the Etna Bianco DOC wine region. 

The Grapes 

The Etna Bianco that I’m sharing today is made up of two Sicilian native white grapes, Carricante and Catarratto.  Carricante is the main white grape of Etna where it calls home on the higher elevations.   The name derives from the Italian word, caricare, meaning to load, and represents the grape ability to produce high yields. It is a grape that provides aromatics and high acidity to wines and is typically blended with other local varieties to soften the acidity or harvested later for the same reason.   

Catarratto is Sicily’s most widely planted grape representing about a third of the vines on the island.  When it’s combined with Carricante it can soften acidity and bring out more tropical flavors.  It’s a grape that lends structure and body and produces high yields as well.  It will typically be found in blends and historically comes from the western side of Sicily where it was used in producing Marsala. 

The Region ~ Etna DOC 

The Etna DOC is located in the Catania province and was Sicily’s first DOC that forms somewhat of a circle around Mt. Etna.  Although Sicily is known for being very hot, the wines produced on Mt. Etna can be located on very high elevations that grow in cooler climates with diurnal swings between day and night temperatures.  The vineyards on Mt. Etna are some of the highest in Italy that can be up to 3,600 ft above sea level.   

In order to be labeled as an Etna Bianco DOC the wine must include a minimum of 60% Carricante and at least  11% ABV.  Up to 40% of Catarratto can be added with up to 15% of other white grapes.  The wines tend to be paler in color as this one is shared today with notes of pears, citrus and flowers.   These wines are typically produced in a lighter bodied, fresh, crisp style perfect with local seafood fare.   

Firriato wineries in Sicily
Copyright of Firriato

The Wine 

The grapes of this wine came from their Cavanera Etnea estate in the Contrade Verzell on the north side of Mt. Etna on northeastern slopes.  Firriato has about 27 acres of vines planted at about 2,100-3,100 feet above sea level.  The soils in this area are made up of sandy, well drained soils of volcanic matter rich in minerals like magnesium, potassium and phosphorous.  The soils tend to be darker in color, which helps to radiate and absorb heat.   

Firriato Cavanera Etnea wine resort in Sicily
Terraced vineyards at Cavanera Etna

The 2019 Firriato Le Sabbie Dell’Etna Etna Bianco DOC couldn’t have been a brighter wine on these hot, humid days we’ve been facing in New Hampshire.  This wine is made from 80% Carricante with 20% Catarratto.  The wine spends 3 months on the lees in stainless steel, which my assumption would be to soften the acidity.  

2019 Firriato Le Sabbie dell’Etna Etna Bianco DOC
The color was pale straw yellow with a slight greenish hue.  Intense florals on the nose showing mostly tropical flavors of melon, peach and pears with a hint of lemon citrus.  Real bright acidity up front with a tingling on the palate.  Very dry and tangy lemon with a hint of peach.  Refreshing and crisp with a noticeable lingering saltiness and minerality that lasted for awhile after tasting it.  I saw various pricing online from $15-25.  ABV 12.5%   

Firriato Le Sabbie Dell'Etna with Potato Pie
Le Sabbie Dell'Etna paired with Potato Pie with smoked Scamorza chees on vegetable velvet soup

Firriato’s philosophy is to “produce wines with strong territorial identities” and the wines of Mt. Etna scream nothing but unique, terroir driven wines.  Heck, they are grown on volcanic soils from Etna’s 1556 eruption and not many producers can claim that.  If you are intrigued by the volcanic wines of Mount Etna I recommend checking out Benjamin Spencer’s book, “The New Wines of Mount Etna”.     

Active Mt. Etna volcano over vineyards
Mt. Etna from Firriato's Cavanera Etnea

Italian wine blogger on Mt. Etna

*This wine was provided as a sample, but opinions are always my own. 

Friday, August 20, 2021

The Diversity of Pinot Grigio with Albino Armani

Back in 2015 I had the luxury of being on a press trip to visit a bunch of wineries in the Valpolicella wine region, including Albino Armani.  It’s been awhile since I’ve tasted their wines and was excited to join a virtual tasting a couple weeks ago hosted by Susannah of Vigneto Communications where Albino Armani presented along with his wife, Egle, and their US Ambassador, Dario DiStefano.  

Egle Armani from Albino Armani
Egle Armani from my visit

The Winery ~ Albino Armani 

The Albino Armani winery was established back in 1607 and today is operated and managed by the 16th generation.  Albino Armani is located in the Adige Valley, Valdadige, in the town of Dolce where the headquarters are situated.  Their vineyards cover 750 acres across the 3 wine regions of Friuli, Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige also known as the TriVeneto 

Albino Armani winery

This area about 40-50 years used to be dedicated to red grapes and thanks to Santa Margherita that determined the land was better suited to whites and today has converted over to 70% white wine focused.  Although according to the QPR in my opinion I'm digging these Pinot Grigio opposed to the higher priced wines of the former mentioned.    

Albino Armani Winery in Marano Valpolicella
Albino has a preference for cooler climates at higher elevations with large temperature swings between day and night, which he believes is the best terroir for his Pinot Grigio.  Plus, he has a love for extreme sports that tie in well to these conditions in which he lives and grows his grapes. The average temperature in the Delle Venezie DOC is between 57 to 59 degrees.  Albino shared that warmer climates produce a very different Pinot Grigio that lack complexity and acidity.  Albino has seen climate change definitely affect the harvest.  When he was younger they use to harvest the grapes and now they harvest them much earlier into August. 

Albino Armani winery Veneto

The Grape ~ Pinot Grigio 

The tasting highlighted 4 of Albino Armani’s Pinot Grigio wines from the TriVeneto, whose regions make up 85% of Itay’s production when it comes to Pinot Grigio.  Globally, Italy makes up 37% of the world’s Pinot Grigio prodution with the US being the #1 export market occupying 40%.   

Pinot Grigio is an early ripening grape that although produces white wine is actually a grayish/red grape.  It can be difficult to grow as it can face issues like botrytis, a fungal disease, and needs well-drained soils.  It’s a very delicate grape and it ultimately just high maintenance.   

The Wines 

The DOC Delle Venezie is a relatively newer appellation with Albino serving as the President of the Consortium.  With any government, it was a long and arduous 8 year process to get the DOC Delle Venezie to be established and what was amazing to learn was that all 15,000 farmers and producers of the 3 regions that this DOC covers were in agreement to have it be establishment.  It is the biggest European appellation and with the establishment of it you will no longer find any more IGT wines in the Northeast for Pinot Grigio.  The wineries had to cut yields considerably from 20 tons per hectares down to 13 to increase the quality.   

The 2020 Albino Armani Pinot Grigio DOC Delle Venezie was pale yellow with nice floral aromatics showing mostly citrus notes along with some pears.  The wine was light to medium bodied with juicy acidity showing more pears on the palate with some apple.  A really nice, enjoyable Pinot Grigio and at $11.99 a bottle I wouldn't hesitate to try it again. It was recommended to taste with to sample with prosciutto and melon or sushi. ABV 12.5% 

The Friuli Grave DOC is the most northern DOC.  In this area the terroir is 80% made of stone from the Dolomite Mountains. The wines there tend to have lower alcohol levels with higher elevations as one can imagine with more salinity characteristics in the wines. 

The 2020 Albino Armani Pinot Grigio Friuli Grave DOC was straw colored and another with great florals of pear and apples.  Fresh, lively acidity on the palate mostly showing lemon citrus with some hints of almonds and minerals.   A great household Pinot Grigio.  Recommended with a variety of vegetarian dishes including an asparagus risotto or roasted chicken.  ABV 12.5% SRP $12.99 

Pinot Grigio from Albino Armani

The 2020 Albino Armani Pinot Grigio Corvara Valadige DOC is a single estate wine and is the top of their line.  The winery has about 38 acres planted next to a rock wall where the sun reflects of it onto the grapes.  The area experiences also great ventilation with healthy winds along with thermal exposure with diurnal swings allowing great aromatic concentration in the wines.  Pale straw colored with beautiful aromatics of ripe peaches and citrus.  Love the green apple notes on this one along with some pear and lemon.  Medium-bodied with crisp acidity and some flinty minerality.  I’m big fan of this one, especially at $14.99.  Recommended with fish tacos.  ABV 12.5%.    

The 2019 Albino Armani Pinot Grigio Colle Ara Terradeiforti Valadige DOC comes from a small part of the Valadige DOC, Terradeiforti.  It's a very special territory for Albino and his family's history.  The Romans settled there and it has been in his family a very long time.  The name, "Colle Ara", comes from the word Ara, meaning alter, since Albino wanted to make something sacred to represent this special terroir.  It's not your typical Pinot Grigio, but does represent the ancient style of Pinot Grigio.  The grapes are macerated with the skins for about 15-18 hours so the wine has hues of a pinkish copper.    Very aromatic as well with citrus and peach on the nose.  Good weight on the body with grapefruit very prevalent on the palate along more tropical, pineapples notes.  A very interesting wine with layers and was my pick of the tasting with the Corvara as a close second.  Recommended with asian food.  ABV 12.5%, SRP $21.99. 

After the tasting I was inspired to prepare a roasted chicken with risotto topped with grilled zucchini from my garden.  Although most folks like to drink Pinot Grigio in its youth, Albino recommends holding onto these wines as they develop nicely over time.    

Pinot Grigio pairing with Roasted Chicken and Zucchini Risotto

Albino stated that he has a “responsibility to the family legacy and their territory”.  The winery is certified sustainable. He demonstrated a high level of respect for farmers and how it is possible to live off the land as his family has been doing for generations.  The rich family history and dedication to producing high quality wines and seeing the passion during Albino’s presentation made me quite the fan of their wines and I hope you have the opportunity to try them for yourselves.  It seems these wines can be find at Total Wine and More.


*These wines were provided as samples, but opinions are always my own.