Grape(s): Carricante 70%. Inzolia, Coda di Volpe, Catarratto
Localization: Sicily, Italy
Tasting Notes: This Carricante-dominant (70%) Etna Bianco is loaded with flavors of citrus, dried fruits, ash, and crushed rocks. ‘Nerina’ is the only white cuvée that Giuseppe Russo makes and we absolutely love it.
Notes: Carricante is often described as the Chablis of Italy. The elevation of the vineyards and natural acidity certainly have it heading down those lines. The mineral texture, line, and length are a match. It adds that little bit of Italian flair, playfulness, a couple of wild dimensions. More than 70% Carricante with the rest being Inzolia, Coda di Volpe and Catarratto , harvested from San Lorenzo , Feudo and Calderara Sottana.
Food pairing: Serve with fresh fish, salads, or fire-roasted white pizzas.
The Domain: The Girolamo Russo estate was founded in 2005 by Giuseppe Russo, in memory of his late father. The family are native of Passopisciaro, one of the key villages at the heart of the rebirth of Etna’s most important grape variety, Nerello Mascalese.
This is the north face of Europe’s largest active volcano, Mount Etna, in the north-eastern corner of Sicily.
The Russos have 26 hectares of land in and around Passopisciaro, with 15 hectares of vineyards surrounded by olive and hazelnut groves. The vineyards are high up, between 650 and 780 meters above sea level, inland from the beautiful town of Taormina. Many of the free-standing bush vines are over 80 years old, surviving in harmony with Etna’s black, mineral-rich volcanic soil.
Giuseppe works the vineyards organically and makes the wines himself. He vinifies each parcel separately, seeking out their individual identities in a series of wines that reflect the diverse character of their terroirs.
Some lava flows are very recent, too recent even to plant on. The area is broken up into sectors known as ‘Contrada's. Each Contrada has a name and is linked to one of Etna’s townships. So San Lorenzo – which is the largest and highest Contrada the Russos own vineyards in – is close to the town of Randazzo. Feudo is nearby, also near Randazzo, whereas Feudo di Mezzo is closer to Castiglione di Sicilia. Due to its positioning on the layers of lava, ash, and other volcanic soils, each Contrada has its own character. In the same way, the wines that are made from each Contrada vary as they reflect these differences in terroir.
The other aspect that makes these vineyards so special is the way that the local farmers – or contadini – have worked the vines through time. These are difficult vineyards to cultivate. Often comprised of narrow terraces held in place by dry-stone walls, the plants have to be able to live in mineral-rich but sometimes very dry conditions. It often does not rain in summer here.
Traditionally the best system for keeping the vines alive here was to grow them as bush vines, ad alberello: as free-standing ‘little trees’ that could find their own balance in these soils and that are cared for by hand.
Each plant is pruned, hoed, and tied individually. More modern systems have seen these alberelli adapted to be trained onto wires, but the principle remains the same. Giuseppe Russo and his small team of co-workers cultivate the vines by hand, using natural fertilizers sporadically and spraying against disease and pests following organic principles.
That’s how he’s always done it, from the time he used to follow his father into the vineyards as a young boy. Giuseppe left for a time, trained as a pianist and music teacher, and studied literature, but after his father’s death he came back to what he now recognizes is the central theme of his life: making the best wines he can in this exceptional, often challenging but uniquely beautiful area, an area that is now attracting winemakers from the all over the world but that to Giuseppe and his family has always just been home.