2018 Ayunta Nerello Mascalese Rosso
Region: Mt. Etna < Sicily
Grapes: Nerello Mascalese
Farming Practice: Organic farming; 50-100 year-old vines on Etna’s volcanic soils; grapes are de-stemmed and pressed, followed by spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel and aged in cement for 7 months; 500 cases; 12.5% ABV
Winemaker: Filippo Ayunta
FUN FACT: Mt. Etna is the highest volcano in Europe, and one of the world’s most active. It tops out at nearly 11,000 feet (you can ski Etna - yes, skiing in Sicily!) and vineyards dot the black volcanic landscape as pretty high up the mountain.
We love Etna wines, especially ones that come from small and scrappy one man (or woman) operations, like this project from Filippo Ayunta, who still holds down a day job (as export manager for a big Northern Italian winery). He grew up on the other side of the Sicilian island, where his family grew grapes and made wine until grandpa died and the estate had to be sold off. Years later, walking the slopes of Etna, Filippo met the old owner of a nearly abandoned vineyard in Calderara Sottana who wanted someone to continue his life’s work. He told Filippo, “Take it. Don’t let this vineyard die.” So Filippo spent his entire savings to buy the vineyard, and now makes wine from a few parcels around Randazzo on northern Etna, totaling 2.8 hectares of super old vines. Filippo guesses they are up to 300 years old each. He also renovated the original palmento (open-topped stone fermenter) next to his house, where the wine basically makes itself using the indigenous yeast that has been helping ferment wine since before the early 1800s.
This style of wine from Mt. Etna was known as “pista e’mmutta” (Meaning: press it and put in the barrel straight away), and that natural spirit can be felt in the bottle. But the concrete vs. oak aging keeps it fresh and light, and not as serious (or big) as many Etna reds. It starts with punchy red fruit before the smokey, flinty minerality creeps in, reminding that this is very much a product of the world's most active volcano, from soils (if you can call them that) made literally of porous black volcanic rock. Lovely with a slight chill.