The evening of Sicilia En Primeur’s Gala Dinner at Taormina I wandered about taking pictures until most of the guests had already taken their seats, and therefore found myself sitting outside, enjoying the view of the gardens of Naxos with a fellow journalist to the heat of a gas lamp. We were shortly joined by Marco Nicolosi and his wife Maria Valeria, from Barone di Villagrande, and a very pleasant dinner it was.
Barone di Villagrande has been in Marco’s family since 1727, when the Emperor Charles VI declared the Nicolosi Asmundo Family Barons of Villagrande in part to underline their dedication to making fine wines.
The winery is located in the Parco dell’Etna, at an altitude of about 700 meters. They have 14 hectares of vineyards (and another 2 on the island of Salina) planted on the rocky, acidic, mineral, and decidedly calcium-poor soils that form as the lava flows extending from both the central cone and numerous fissure eruptions degrade; the vineyards are located in a gently sloping area overlooked by the winery buildings, which look like they were built much more recently than they were — the mid-1850s — evidence that Charles VI’s recognition was well deserved.
The vineyards are on average 30-35 years old, and are planted predominantly to Carricante and Nerello Mascalese, though they also have a little Merlot, which is some of Sicily’s oldest. Planting densities are high, on the order of 7000 vines per hectare, while yields are 60-70 quintals per hectare.
Because of the altitude and exposure temperature excursions are considerable, as much as 30 degrees C, and rainfall is also considerably more abundant than in much of the rest of Sicily (the winds blow moist Mediterranean air up the slopes of the mountain, causing it to cool and rain out, and as a result Mount Etna is one of Sicily’s most important sources of water).
Marco decided to use our visit to give us an idea of the aging capacity of the wines from Mount Etna, and therefore poured two current and two older vintages. It was an eye opening experience; the Etna Bianco was as one might expect given the minerality of the soil and the temperature excursions quite crisp and eminently ageworthy. The Etna Rosso was even more impressive: Marco poured the first vintage, made by his father and grandfather in 1968, and it was a wine I will not soon forget.
Villagrande Etna Bianco Superiore 2011
This is Carricante, fermented in steel. Brilliant brassy gold with golden reflections and pale yellow rim. The bouquet is intense and savory with considerable gunflint and flinty accents supported by greenish vegetal notes and some lemony citron citrus acidity; as it warms it becomes more floral. On the palate it’s bright, with rich lemony fruit supported by savory minerality that flows into a fairly long rather flinty lemony finish that gradually settles into flinty minerality. Quite pleasant, and will drink very well with grilled or roasted fish, and also with fish based pasta sauces and risotti and similar.
Villagrande Fiore Etna Bianco Superiore 2001
From a magnum; Fiore was a selection they used to make, Carricante with other indigenous white varietals in the vineyards, fermenting in barriques and aged for a year. Gold with brilliant golden reflections and pale yellow rim. The bouquet is intense, and clearly mature, with honeysuckle mingled with sweet butterscotch, greenish vegetal notes, and flinty underpinning, and though it’s quick to write it displays great harmony and elegance. On the palate it’s full, with rich honey and minerality supported by some butterscotch and deft acidity, while the finish has butterscotch and honey that are accompanied by flinty accents as the wine flows into the finish. Very pleasant, beautifully fresh, and an eye-opening testament to the ageworthiness of Carricante.
Marco’s father started using barriques for the whites in the 80s. His grandfather began bottling the reds in 1943
Villagrande Etna Rosso 2010
Black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim with slight hints of orange. The bouquet is elegant, with brambly red berry fruit supported by deft greenish vegetal accents. Deft and quite harmonious. On the palate it’s bright, with lively crushed cherry fruit supported by moderate mineral acidity, and by tannins that have a warm rather dusky burr, and flow into a fairly long crushed cherry finish with a pleasingly bitter mineral underpinning that gives way to vegetal tannins as the fruit fades. Considerable depth and elegance, and will work very well with red meats. Much more about finesse than power.
Villagrande Etna Rosso 1968
This was the first DOC vintage, the Disciplinare for which Marco’s father and grandfather drew up. The wine was aged in chestnut casks, which stabilize the color of Nerello Mascalese better than French oak might. Deep almandine with black reflections and almandine rim paling to brown. The bouquet is intense, and quite mineral, with considerable Moroccan leather and leaf tobacco supported by equally powerful sea salt. And some vegetal notes, also smoky spice. Quite a bit going on in a clearly mature key. On the palate it’s bright, with rich slightly leathery cherry fruit supported by clean smooth tannins that have a slight burr, and by warm Moroccan leather acidity that flow into a fairly long rather dusky finish. Very nice, and has held up beautifully, and again is proof of the ageworthiness of Etna wines. Impressive.
Barone di Villagrande’s other wines, tasted at the Sicilia En Primeur presntation:
Barone di Villagrande Fiore IGT Sicilia 2010
Carricante and Chardonnay.
Lively brassy gold with greenish brassy reflections. The bouquet is fairly intense, with moderate butterscotch supported by vegetal notes, fairly intense minerality and some greenish notes. Pleasant in a fairly rich key. On the palate it’s ample and smooth, with fairly rich minerality supported by moderate acidity and some butterscotch, and flows into a fairly savory finish. It will work nicely as an aperitif or with foods.
Barone di Villagrande Etna Rosato DOC 2011
Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Mantellato.
Slightly dusky slightly orange pink with brilliant pink reflections and rim paling from orange overtones white. The bouquet is muted, though swishing brings up some berry fruit; it’s bottle shocked at present. On the palate it’s bright, with lively brambly raspberry fruit supported by brambly tannins and fairly bright flinty acidity, and if the palate follows the nose it will be pleasant in a fairly brash key and work very well as a summer wine, for cool dishes in the home or picnic and cookout dishes outside.
Barone di Villagrande Sciara IGT Sicilia 2008
Merlot and Nerello Mascalese.
Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, with red berry fruit supported by cassis and some spice, and by slight underlying cedar with some vegetal accents. On the palate it’s ample, with moderately intense red berry fruit supported by fairly bright sour berry fruit acidity and by tannins that have a dusky greenish burr coupled with underlying smoothness, and flow into a fairly long dusky greenish finish with a moderate amount of alcoholic warmth. It’s smoother and softer than the Etna Rosso, though it does retain a degree of brambly aggressiveness that will make it a wine to consider only if you like the style.