Pietro Caciorgna Etna Rosso Ciauri’a
Sicily, Italy 2015
“Sicily’s still-erupting Mount Etna is one of the most talked-about wine regions in the world, for good reason—this is extreme viticulture yielding exciting wines, both white and red.” – Ian Cauble, Master Sommelier
So much is happening so fast on Sicily’s Mount Etna that it can be hard to keep up. There are a lot of big wine names descending on the area, because it offers a real opportunity to make red wines with the energy and aromatic lift of great red Burgundy—a Holy Grail for so many winemakers the world over. As SommSelect Editorial Director David Lynch describes below, Tuscan winemaker Paolo Caciorgna got the opportunity to jump on the Etna train, and he has made the most it, crafting wines of great purity and finesse.
Everyone wants a piece of Etna. Or so it seems, anyway. My last visit to the region preceded the news that Piedmont’s Angelo Gaja—Italy’s most famous winemaker—would be pursuing a project there, but even before that, it was clear that Etna was, figuratively and sometimes literally, on fire. When I made my first visit to Sicily in 2000, no one was talking about Etna; there were great producers and wines up there, but the focus in those days was on richer, ‘international’ reds and whites from other parts of the island. On the red side, it was the dark-hued Nero d’Avola grape—often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah—that got all the attention. But times have changed: On Etna’s lava-strewn slopes, the wine world has discovered a trove of old vineyards, most never touched by phylloxera, and the late-ripening, perfumed local red, Nerello Mascalese, has catapulted into the ranks of Italy’s ‘noblest’ varieties. This isn’t one of those “beautiful setting, mediocre wine” scenarios that, frankly, plagues many historic wine regions. Etna is the real thing—extreme viticulture producing world-class wines, especially reds. Today’s wine is a passion project of Paolo Caciorgna, a Tuscan winemaker who seized an opportunity to acquire some choice vines on Etna’s north slope. We’re among the very first retailers in the country to debut the 2015 vintage of “Ciaurìa,” an Etna Rosso of exquisite purity and finesse that is also, in the ever-escalating Etna wine market, an exceptional value. This isn’t merely bright and evocative now, but a wine that promises to evolve beautifully over the next 3-7 years. I am taking a case, and I strongly urge you to do the same.
As I’ve noted before, Etna is a genuine phenomenon—a still-erupting volcano in eastern Sicily that is also home to some of the most exciting wines in the world. Investment is pouring in, from big names in Italy and beyond, even though the possibility of a lava flow burying one’s vineyard is very real. Etna’s summit is about 11,000 feet, while its vineyards are planted between 1,500 and 3,500 feet (making it some of the highest-elevation viticulture in Europe). These cooler altitudes, along with the volcano’s mineral-rich, black volcanic soils, help compensate for Sicily’s near-complete dryness during the wine-growing season: vineyards on Etna are steep terraces are planted mostly in the “bush-trained” style (called alberello, or “little tree,” in Italian), so that grape clusters are protected from harsh winds and roots dig deep for moisture. One of the most strangely beautiful sights in all of wine is that of a vineyard full of gnarled old alberelli strewn with large black pumice stones from a previous sciare (lava flow). As many have remarked, it looks like a lunar surface.
Paolo Caciorgna’s father, Pietro (for whom his winery is named), was from the Marche but moved his family to Tuscany in the 1950s; it was in Tuscany that Paolo received his early wine education, and one of his first jobs was in a lab where he got to taste side-by-side with legendary Tuscan consultant Giulio Gambelli (nicknamed bicchierino—“little glass”—Gambelli wasn’t technically a winemaker but a “master taster” who worked with many important Tuscan estates, including Montevertine and Soldera). Caciorgna later joined a winemaking consultancy called Matura, alongside the well-known flying winemakers Attilio Pagli and Alberto Antonini, but he eventually yearned to go out on his own—which he did, in 2004, when he launched a small project outside Siena called Tenuta delle Macchie, focused on reds from Sangiovese. A few years later, at the invitation of Marc de Grazia—the wine broker whose Tenuta delle Terre Nere helped launch the modern Etna wine phenomenon—he was introduced to Etna and managed to acquire a few hectares of vines there. “Ciaurìa,” a Sicilian dialect word meaning “perfume,” is his flagship wine from Etna, and it is true to its name and place in every way.
Sourced from old bush vines in the communes of Castiglione di Sicilia and Randazzo, the 2015 Ciaurìa Etna Rosso was fermented in stainless steel and aged six months in used French barriques and six months in bottle before release. What you’ll notice as you taste your way through Etna’s wines are fairly wide variations in weight and style, with some wines all about brightness and lift and some considerably heavier, with healthy doses of oak to boot. This 2015 is, without a doubt, one of the most ‘Pinot-like’ Nerellos I’ve tasted. In the glass, it’s a bright, reflective garnet-red with pink highlights at the rim, with a perfumed nose of wild strawberry, black cherry, dried cranberry, blood orange peel, warm spice, underbrush, and rose petals. Medium-bodied and tangy, it has a perfect mix of ripeness and freshness—a true ‘cool climate’ expression despite its near-equatorial origins. My big takeaway with this wine is how long-lasting it is on the finish; it blossoms in the glass both aromatically and texturally, and is ready to drink in Burgundy stems at 60-65 degrees. It will continue to broaden and soften into something even silkier and more evocative with a few more years in bottle, but do feel free to indulge now. It is finessed enough to bridge the gap between meat and seafood; I’ll go down the middle with a Sicilian-inflected pork roast as in the attached recipe. This is a gem of a wine—don’t miss it! Cheers! — D.L.