Making Wine On A Volcano – Cantine Russo

Tuesday, December 6, 2016 11:32 AM

2015 Rampante Etna Bianco from Cantine Russo


The stable of Italian producers that TWH directly imports has increased by one: Cantine Russo. Cantine Russo sits on the northeast slope of Sicily’s Mount Etna, Europe’s most active volcano. The winery is family-run and can trace its winemaking roots back to 1860. It wasn’t until 1955 that Ciccio Russo began bottling wine to sell commercially. Ciccio’s son, Vincenzo is the current owner. Vincenzo runs the winery with his son, Francesco, who is the winemaker and his daughter, Gina, who handles the day-to-day operations.


In an article celebrating the women of Etna, Gina recalls running around her grandfather’s cellar with her brother. She describes her first harvest at about age 5 and claims to not have missed a single one in 40 years! This tight-knit bond the Russo family has to the land is common among natives of Etna. Having visited the area, I can understand the lure to stay in this harsh, yet painfully beautiful landscape. Over the last decade or so, more and more attention has been given to Sicilian wines particularly those from Mount Etna. It really is incredible to think about all the challenges and risks involved in growing grapes on an active volcano. It takes steadfast dedication.


Cantine Russo concentrates on indigenous varietals, like Carricante and Cataratto, which make up the blend for the 2015 Rampante Etna Bianco. Carricante makes up 80% of the blend and is thought to have grown in Sicily for at least a thousand years. Today it is fairly rare, only the 31st most planted grape variety on the island. It is noted for its acidity and citrusy flavors. Carricante is often blended with Cataratto, which is far more common, taking up nearly 60% of the island’s total vineyard area. Cataratto is low in acidity and therefore makes a nice blending partner with Carricante. The 2015 Rampante, though unoaked, is quite complex and above all is mineral-driven. The wine is golden-hued, the aromas are subtle and delicate…notes of flint and white pepper emerge slowly. If you like steely, nervy white wines, than the 2015 Rampante is right up your alley. I enjoyed a bottle over the course of three days. The wine stayed fresh and vibrant. I noticed different aspects with each glass. Though subtle, its definitely not a one-note kind of wine. I’d love to stow away a few bottles to see how it ages. My prediction is that is would do quite well in the near term.


I travelled to Sicily with my husband (who at the time was my boyfriend), his parents, sister and a cousin. It was a memorable trip with its ups and downs, and I long to go back. With each glass of the Rampante I imagined some of the dishes that stood out for me during that trip like the raw marinated shrimp or deep-fried baby whitebait. I can’t wait to try the 2015 Rampante with cracked Dungeness crab – now that should be quite a match!


I’ve been taking deep breaths lately. December is holding up to its promise of being a whirlwind month. My daughter, the thespian, is in six performances of Annie Jr. this weekend. Last night I signed up to volunteer in the dreaded “Room 5”. I’m not sure why no one signs up for this duty, which is to supervise the younger cast members. In this case, I was the “orphan wrangler.” Sure, the kids were super cute, boisterous and extremely talkative, but what touched me was the professionalism shown by these young actors. One orphan arrived late. By this time most of the costumes were spoken for. I helped her find something that would fit over her tiny body, pinning it were needed. She never complained that it wasn’t fair that somebody took her costume. No, nothing like that. Instead she reassured me that she was an orphan so didn’t need to wear anything special. Now that’s pretty special! – Anya Balistreri

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Spotlight On A Sicilian Estate: Di Giovanna

Tuesday, May 10, 2016 6:25 PM


 
When you search on the internet for Riserva Naturale Monte Genuardo, the results are entries written in Italian, nothing pops up in English. Talk about “off the beaten path”. Nestled near this protected land is where you will find the vineyards belonging to Di Giovanna. Located approximately 42 miles southwest of Palermo, on the side of the triangle that faces the Mediterranean, Di Giovanna occupies an unique location and history for Sicilian wine production. It is a special winery that pushes for quality while offering the wines at market for a very fair price. Di Giovanna wines over deliver for price.
 
Klaus and Gunther Di Giovanna
 
I first met Gunther Di Giovanna three years ago. Yes, Gunther. Not your typical Sicilian name! His Sicilian father Aurelio married German-born Barbara, hence the name. Gunther’s brother, Klaus, partners with him to manage production from the vineyards to the wine cellar. I liked the wines then and brought in the Nerello Mascalese to stock at The Wine House. Very soon after, their American importer ceased operating in California, so I was no longer able to buy it for the store. Back in the California market,Gunther paid me a visit to present their new wines. I could readily detect an even finer quality to the wines than before.
 
Di Giovanna Vineyards
 
Though wine production at Di Giovanna can be traced back to 1860, it was 1985 when Aurelio and Barbara decided to make a serious go at making fine wine on their family’s estate. There was much work done in the vineyards to identify soils and microclimates. Aurelio hired friend and famed Bordeaux oenologist Denis Dubourdieuto consult at the estate. The Di Giovannas were intent on making the best possible wine, bucking common Sicilian wine practices of the time that favored higher yields and bulk production. Gunther and Klaus inherited their parents’ strong commitment and appreciation for their land and winery. During my conversation with Gunther, I learned that he spent many years working in corporate business on mainland Italy and Germany before returning to Sicily to work at Di Giovanna. He tells me that now he is never tired. His work at the winery energizes and inspires him, bringing joy every day.
 
Another view of Di Giovanna
 
I have included photos that I borrowed from Di Giovanna’s Facebook page. As you can see, the winery is remote, farfrom civilization. You don’t see other wineries – there aren’t any but Di Giovanna – nor towns or many homes. The elevation of the five main vineyards range from 1100 to 2800 hundred feet! Their immediate surroundings are pristine. The winery has traditionally farmed organically, but became certified organic in 1997. It is indeed a special place.
 
 
My collection of Pysanky
 
I celebrated Eastern Orthodox Easter May 1. My family and friends (it was a small crowd with only 31 in attendance)gathered at the River on the deck to feast on Russian delicacies and some non-traditional, but revered, dishes. It was a glorious day as the weather was warm, the freshness of spring was in the air and the company convivial. Everyone was exactly where they wanted to be and it felt good. I live for those moments; it makes everything else worth it. I suspect Gunther and Klaus have similar moments at their family’s estate tucked high above Sambuca di Sicilia. Life is bedda!
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