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What our expert thought of Tenuta di Fessina, 'Erse' Etna Rosso

about this wine About this wine
This week's wine is a Sicilian red from the slopes of Mount Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe. Sicily used to produce more wine than any other region of Italy and still produces an eighth of all Italian wine, but until quite recently was known only for cheap bulk wine and Marsala - Italy's answer to sherry. It's now a hotbed of innovative winemaking, just like France's Languedoc. Some producers are using international varieties like Shiraz and Chardonnay to great effect, while others are championing traditional local wines, made from varieties unique to the island.
This wine is definitely in the latter camp, being made from Etna's traditional 80/20 blend of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, grapes unknown outside this northeast corner of Sicily. The pale-skinned, late-ripening, fragrant and tannic Nerello Mascalese is now perhaps the most fashionable variety in all Italy. At least, it is if you're a winemaker - few consumers have heard of it. Winemakers relish its similarities to the great Nebbiolo of Piedmont (the grape of Barolo and Barbaresco), and its ability to reflect the terroir in which it is grown. Nerello Cappuccio adds alcohol, body and colour to the blend.
This wine comes from gnarled old bush vines planted in 1950 in the 15-acre Contrada Rovitello vineyard close to the village of Rovitello, 670 metres up on Etna's northeastern slope. (Yes, I know - old bush vines again. Next week's wine will be from different vines, I promise!) The vineyard also contains a few white grape vines - Carricante, Minella and Catarratto - which are added to the blend to add freshness and complexity.
Erse is the Greek goddess of dew, and the producers call this a "morning wine", referring, I think, to the east-facing slope of the vineyard which gets sun in the mornings and is shaded from the afternoon heat. Though perhaps if you live on the side of an unpredictable active volcano you learn not to put off your pleasures until tomorrow - or even until lunchtime.
The wine is fermented and matured entirely in stainless steel, revealing the character of the grape varieties and their vineyard without any masking oak.
the tasting The Tasting
The colour is a light ruby red, which is typical of Etna Rosso wines made mostly from the naturally pale Nerello Mascalese.
Although the nose is only of medium intensity, its complexity and finesse are fascinating. It's strongly mineral, with a papery aroma (like riffling the pages of a quality hardback) combined with smoky red fruits, floral notes (violets, dried roses), dried herbs and spices (star anise).
The bone-dry, medium-bodied palate follows up on the promise of the nose, with stony flavours that remind me of graphite (like chewing the tip of a pencil), overlaying fresh, red fruit flavours of raspberry, cranberry and redcurrant. It's poised, elegant and balanced, despite the mouthwateringly high acidity and grippy but fine-grained tannins. A savoury, almost meaty note joins the red fruits on the long finish.
Tenuta di Fessina enigmatically describe this as a vertical wine, referring to its marked acidity and fragrance. Certainly it's the opposite of fat, instead being lean, supple and sinewy. It reminds me of a young Premier Cru Burgundy (not new world Pinot Noir), crossed with a Barbaresco (Barolo's lighter-weight, less oaky cousin).
Those are two of my favourite reds and although this wine isn't cheap it's considerably less expensive than either. It shares with them a strong sense of place: this isn't some identikit wine made from international grape varieties by a flying winemaker but a distinctive wine rooted in local traditions that could come from nowhere else. I love wines like that.
This is also a textbook example of what wine writers mean when they talk about minerality. Or at least, what they ought to mean: the word is greatly overused. Basically, mineral flavours and aromas are those which aren't fruity, floral, herby or spicy, and especially those which bring to mind earth or stones.
I remember snorting with derision the first time I read graphite in a tasting note, along with crushed rocks - both favourite terms of the hugely influential wine critic Robert Parker and the other contributors to his Wine Spectator magazine. This is the first time I've used it myself, but it just seemed to fit. I'll try not to make it a habit!

Tasting notes

light ruby

Intensity medium

Aromas complex and fine - red fruits, minerals (paper), flowers(violets, dried roses), dried herbs and spices (star anise)

Development developing

Sweetness dry

Acidity high

Body medium, despite high-ish 13.5% ABV

Tannins medium+, grippy but fine-grained

Intensity medium

Flavours Very stony (graphite), fresh red fruits (cranberry, raspberry, redcurrant)

Length long

Flavours as palate, but with a savoury note
Other notes
Unoaked. Great poise: ethereal. Like a cross between 1er Cru Burgundy and Barbaresco. Lovely now, but will improve.

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