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  • Writer's pictureCynthia Chaplin

Mt Etna wines meet art and poetry at Al Cantàra



iron gate post with entry sign for Al Cantàra winery
Entrance to Al Cantàra winery on Mt Etna

Vinitaly is always a time to check in with favourite producers, as well as investigate new finds.  I was delighted to reconnect with Gianluca Calì, Commercial Director from Al Càntara winery on Mt. Etna, which became a benchmark of Etna for me after they won Winery of the Year at 5StarWines & Wine Without Walls selection in 2023. Over the past year, I’ve been able to get to know and use these incredible wines, so it was definitely time to check in again at Vinitaly 2024.


Gianluca filled me in on the news from the winery.  They are no at 50%/50% production of red and whites, as well as continuing to cultivate their 1000 olive trees, experiment with new wines, make use of their 83 year old ungrafted vines and curate one of the most fascinating art and poetry collections in the area.



white shelves filled with wine bottles and colorful labels
Al Cantàra wines with their eye catching labels

I was captivated all over again by the artwork used for the eye-catching and unforgettable bottle labels and the tasting reconfirmed my love for the quality and expressivity of these wines.  Not only that, but I resolved to finally visit the winery in person in May during Contrade dell’Etna.  Spoiler:  I got there!  But more on that later………


We tasted 10 wines and I’m delighted to share my notes here.


  1.  Re Befè 2018, 100% Nerello Mascalese vinified blanc de noir, classic method sparkling with 43 months on lees.  The project began in 2005 and they now make +/- 4,000 numbered bottles per year from 10 hectares of very carefully located vines.  The wine is dedicated to owner Giuffrido Pucci’s grandmother and features the words to her favourite song on the back label.  The wine has an exceptional balance of acidity, saline minerality, tropical fruits like mango, dried pineapple and dragon fruit, with just a touch of crumbly shortbread biscuit in the background.


2. Occhi di Ciumi 2022 is a blend of Grecanico and Carricante, 6 months on lees in steel tanks. An easy drinking, sunny, juicy, briney wine perfect for every single event a summer can bring.


3. A Nutturna 2022 is a long standing love of mine, 100% Nerello Mascalese vinified white, which Gianluca and I agreed needs time to mature in the bottle because it is actually a “red wine in a white dress.”  Made all in steel, the wine is complex,  full of fresh green figs, oyster shell, lemon zest and a gorgeous play of acidity and sea salty tang.  Slightly phenolic and just a little grippy on the mid-palate, impossible to put down. 


4. Luci Luci 2020 takes its name from the local word for fireflies.  Carricante 100% from a cru vineyard at 650 meters above the sea, the wine is Chablis-esque in style, with a fumè, wet stone, phenolic texture recalling crunchy white gravel and crushed sea shells.  The fruit is restrained, with notes of ripe dry quince, yellow apple skin and unripe yellow plums.  Sophisticated and elegant.


5. Amuri di Fimmina e Amuri di Matri 2022 is the rosé that truly speaks to me of Mt. Etna.  Nerello Mascalese 100% from very specific and very few rows of vines located above an underground water source, these grapes are hand selected and the wine spends 4-5 hours on the skins.  Luminous rose-gold in colour, the wine has a whisp of subtle bonfire smoke to the nose combined with ripe rosey apricots, sage, mediterranean dried brush and fresh salted almonds.  Persistent and lingering in the finish, this is a gastronomic rosé, worthy of a fine dining table.  The name is a nod to the love women have and the love mothers have and, as a woman and a mother, this wine felt like love in a glass. 


red rose bush at the end of a row of green grape vines
Rose bushes are the natural alarm system in the vineyard


6. The same wine, vintage 2023 showed a much bigger presence of fruit, with a pleasantly bitter touch to it, likely to relax over time in the bottle.  The colour is slightly darker, more in the range of Tropea onion skins, pointing again to needing a bit more time in the bottle.   Judging by the elegance of the 2022 vintage, I am happy to lay this ne down for another age and let it evolve.


7. La Fata Galanti 2019 takes its name from a local saying that basically equates to “make nice” in English.  And nice it truly is!  Nerello Mascalese again, this time a year in oak barrique, the wine is deliciously fresh with a sheer ruby colour and a nose full of blood orange and ripe red cherry, with just a touch of nutmeg.  Its high acidity makes it perfect for serving chilled and easy to pair with endless dishes from many international cuisines.


8. Bellisime Novembre 2020 is another pure Nerello Mascalese, this time surprisingly aged in chestnut casks, which used to be traditional in the area but is highly unusual now.  The enologist said, “this wine looks at the past to confront the future.”  The red plum and cherry notes combined with a walnut  note and super smooth tannins that disappear from the palate, leaving an engaging rich fruit cake sensation on the finish.  The enologist told me he only makes this wine when the vintage is perfect, the grapes are perfect, and he is sure the chestnut will behave.


9. O’Scuru O’Scuru 2020 is made from 83 year old Nerello Mascalese ungrafted vines that the owner discovered in the middle of a nut grove on the property.  I loved this wine so much, vinified for 1 year in oak tonneaux, it was so bright and sheer in colour yet warm on the palate with complex notes of sea salted caramel, orange juice, nutmeg and burnt brown sugar.  The acidity, supple tannins and fresh vibrancy of this wine ensures huge aging potential, although the seductive quality of this wine will make it hard to save!


10. And to end this brilliant tasting, we shared “Lu Disiu” 202, whose name speaks to the desire of a woman to be interesting, pregnant, captivating, complex.  This is a passito style sweet wine made from Nerello Mascalese that is harvested late, usually in early December.  The grapes are further dried in the nocciaio (hazelnut house) on the property, which also houses the art museum.  WIndows stay open til late February and the resulting wine is full of rich notes of dried mediterranean herbs, chinotto medicinal herbs and dried flowers, with an acidic and saline character that makes it feel much less sweet on the palate.  Scrumptious, different, a true Etna post-prandial tipple. 



small rustic statue of a farmer with bent leg and arm pouring wine
Art work in the museum at Al Cantàra

Getting back to the visit to the winery part, here is the action!  In mid-May I had the honor of taking part in the Contrade dell’Etna conference and tasting in Randazzo so I seized the moment to finally visit Al Cantara, with none other than enologist Salvatore Rizzuto as my host.  Charming, passionate and unbelievably generous with his time and his knowledge, Salvatore treated me to the best morning ever, exploring every corner of the vineyards, barrel and tank tasting with him in the winery, taking time to visit the beautiful nocciaio and the art and poetry museum, as well as see all the new projects taking place in the grounds and the buildings of this sustainable winery.


a woman and a man tasting wine from tall steel tanks
Myself and enologist Salvatore Rizzuto tank tasting



two-tiered oval shaped structure made of black lava stones
Lava stone pyramid viewing point in the vineyard

 


Mt Etna is almost all organically farmed and Al Cantàra is going another step further by building a series of mini lakes to clean and repurpose grey water, as well as carrying on their project of using lava stones cleared from the vineyards to construct pyramid-esque viewing towers throughout the property.  If I didn’t already love this winery, my morning there with Salvatore would have sealed the deal. Standing on one of the pyramids, looking out across the vineyards to Mt. Etna in the distance, smelling the perfume of the roses blooming at the ends of all the rows of vines, and dreaming of a life lived in the beautiful old nocciaio – this was my idea of heaven.


old stone barn in the middle of a vineyard with mountains in the background
View of the old nocciaio

By Cynthia Chaplin IWA

       



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