There are tastings that prompt you to remember where you’re tasting – an armchair travel of sorts, when you think of the terroir within a wine region. Although Sicily has a perfect wine-making climate and a history of wine dating back to 4,000 B.C., I found my latest tasting of six bottles of Tenuta di Fessina to be challenging, to say the least. The whites, a 2017 Etna Bianco ($25) made with 90% Carricante, 10% Catarratto and Minella, and a 2017 A’Puddara ($65) made with 100% Carricante proved interesting to sip. The Carricante grape is late harvested, which would explain the intense minerality and candied notes.
I’ve never been to Sicily, so I kept an open mind to these wines and the differences a terroir can make. This is a terroir of volcanic soil, so I was excited to try the wines, but once I tasted a few bottles, I became even more eager for a visit to explore this wine region as it relates to other wine regions of Italy. What I do know — Sicily is where the highest active volcano in Europe sits, and in the village of Roviteelo, on the northeastern side of Mount Etna, are where the vineyards of Tenuta di Fessina produce their grapes.
When I brought a few bottles over a friend’s house, three of us tried the 2017 Laeneo ($42) made with 100% Nerello Cappuccio grapes. We had the same reaction. “Sour cherries!” We were not fans. So, I opened a 2016 Erse Rosso ($25), made with only 8% of Nerello Cappuccio – 90% Nerello Mascalese and 2% Minnella & Carricante. This wine was a bit better, but those sour cherries still seemed to dominate our palates. Although these grapes are known for their sour cherry flavors, we were all disappointed and I had only wished I’d brought the bottle of 2012 Il Musmeci Rosso, made with 100% Nerello Mascalese, a burst of dried cherry fruit with a bit of tar, mint and nutmeg notes.
My conclusion is that when aged, these Sicilian wines are much more palatable. The 2012 Il Musmeci Rosso presented an expression of Sicily that should make Tenuta di Fessina and all Sicilians proud. I read that the Nerello Mascalese is reminiscent of pinot noir, and I would have to say yes, but only a little. I will say that this 2012 Il Musmeci Rosso was my favorite of the half dozen bottles. My next favorite bottle was a 2018 Erse Rosé ($25) made with that same Nerello Mascalese, but only 50%; the other half is Nerello Cappuccio, which clearly tastes better when blended as a rosé.
Charlene Peters is a wine writer living in Napa Valley. She can be reached by email: SipTripper@gmail.com