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Details for Tenuta di Fessina, 'Erse' Etna Rosso

AppellationEtna Rosso
Nerello Mascalese
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Tenuta di Fessina
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Sicily is today the fourth-largest wine-producing region of Italy, which is itself the largest producer in Europe. A decade or two ago Sicily was far and away the largest producer in the country. Yet the island was known chiefly for hot, over-baked bulk wines and Marsala - Italy's answer to sherry. Much of its vast output was distilled into brandy or industrial alcohol.
Much has changed: Sicily is now Italy's most innovative wine region. Partly this is due to the absence of prestigious appellations, which has allowed Sicilian winemakers freedom to experiment. International varieties like Shiraz flourish here, often blended with local grapes like the Nero d'Avola. Other winemakers have championed Sicily's unique local varieties: the red Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio and aforesaid Nero d'Avola, and the white Catarrato, Grillo and Carricante.
Sicily's mountainous terrain is key to this transformation. Low-lying areas are scorchingly hot but altitude changes everything, providing a bewildering array of different microclimates. Despite the differences in temperature, everywhere in Sicily is dry so vine disease is not a problem.
Sicily’s best known red variety is its native Nero d’Avola, a rich and intensely flavoured grape that is grown everywhere but is most revered around Agrigento in the south. Another red gaining a reputation is the fragrant and tannic Nerello Mascalese, which is confined to the high-altitude, cool-climate areas on and around Mount Etna in the northeast.
The white Cataratto and Grillo were the main grapes of Marsala, but today are being used to produce increasingly interesting dry whites. Grecanico is another white that has developed a following, though it isn't as local as was once thought - recent DNA profiling has shown it's identical to the Garganega used to produce Soave in Italy's northeast.

Tenuta di Fessina

Tenuta di Fessina sits in the small village of Rovitello, 670 metres up on the northeast side of Mount Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe. The vineyards cover about 7 hectares and are enclosed by two semicircular, centuries-old lava flows, which protect the vineyards from the damaging winds and create a unique microclimate. Within this natural walled garden there is a patchwork of hazel groves, olive trees and vines.
The estate dates from the the 18th Century but Tenuta di Fessina was founded only in 2007, when Tuscan wine producer Silvia Maestrelli and winemaker Federico Curtaz (who had previously worked at Gaja for 20 years) bought the 1 hectare Musmeci vineyard here. The remaining 6 hectares of the old estate had been subdivided to the point where there were 14 owners, but Silvia and Federico were determined to acquire them. Intense negotiations culminated in an epic 10 hour session lasting well into the night before the final papers were signed.
The result must have satisfied everyone concerned, because the vineyards are still worked by the same families who have tended them for generations. Everything is done by hand here; the terraces are too steep for machines. The vineyards are planted with a mixture of native Sicilian varieties: the red Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, and the white Carricante, Minella and Catarratto. Of these only the Catarratto is widespread in Sicily; the others are specific to this corner of the island.
The older vineyards (Musmeci was planted in 1921) have different varieties intermingled, including the occasional table grape vine for the benefit of vineyard workers at harvest time! (Wine grapes are too thick-skinned, tannic and acidic to make good eating.) The old vines are trained in the traditional gobelet (bush vine) method at high planting densities. This best resists the drought of summer and the powerful winds blowing off the mountain, but at the cost of low yields.
Winters in Rovitello are bitterly cold with heavy snowfall; springs are mild and wet; summers are hot and dry; and autumns are long and warm with large diurnal (day/night) temperature variation. Textbook conditions for fine wine, in fact! There are no streams or rivers here; the vines survive the summer on snowmelt trickling down through the volcanic subsoil. Those soils are very varied, comprising sand, pumice stone, ash and clay, and are rich in minerals. The wines they produce have fine structure, marked acidity, and complex aromas.

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