Tuscan wine producer Silvia Maestrelli, and Federico Curtaz bought Tenuta di Fessina on Etna’s northern slopes in 2007, part of the growing band of producers on this active volcano. From just a decade ago numbers have increased almost tenfold to around 40 wineries, all of whom make less than 3% of Sicily’s total production.
The Etna property of Maestrelli and Curtaz comprises 10 hectares, which used to belong to eleven people. Curtaz said “it’s an old property, planted after the second world war, all bush vines. They are single stake bush vines, 1m by 1m – the old-fashioned way” he added proudly, planted on finely textured, black volcanic soils.
The vineyards are planted to red varieties nerello mascalese and nerello cappuccio which are “similar to nebbiolo” said Curtaz, who still lives in Piedmont, and used to be the vineyard manager for Gaia, “with high acidity, and which need a long maturation.”
Their white carricante vines are planted at 800 to 1,000m above sea level, which they pick in late October, early November, with around 12° of potential alcohol. Their A Puddara 2009 Etna Bianco was recently awarded the top, tre bicchieri (three glasses), in the 2012 issue of the Gambero Rosso Italian wine guide.
The top red, Il Musmeci, is named after the family who formerly owned the vineyards. It is made from the best selection of all the nerello mascalese and nerello cappuccio grapes, from small bunches. Fermentation is in stainless steel, then maturation for 14-15 months in 500-litre and 35hl casks, and bottled after around two years.
In addition to their Etna wines, the pair also produce a chardonnay on calcareous soils near Segesta in the west of Sicily, where Curtaz said poetically “every stone has chardonnay written on it”, and a nero d’avola from Val di Noto in the south-eastern tip of the island. Nero d’avola, said Curtaz “has high acidity, like Piemontese barbera, with 6.5g/l total acidity (tartartic) at the end of malolactic.” And despite the hot temperatures, on occasion more than 40°C, the vines “are not oppressed because there is a fresh wind in Noto”.
The aim, said Curtaz, is elegance, whether red or white, and with plentiful character. Among other things this means a lot of new oak is avoided. They also aim to remain artisanal in production – the maximum capacity of the winery is just 70,000 bottles, and they’re still a good way off that yet.
Tasting notes, in situ, June 2011
Tenuta di Fessina, Chardonnay Nakone 2009, IGT Sicilia €13
All stainless steel, on skins till May.
Curtaz: “it has no big structure, but finesse and elegance. The character of chardonnay is riper because it’s in the middle of the Mediterranean.”
Melon, peach, hint of mandarin zest. Rich palate, sweet and succulent, with sweet freshness. Full bodied, and very appealing
Tenuta di Fessina, Apuddara, Etna Bianco 2009 €30
Vineyards face south at 1,000m. Carricante. Oak fermentation and maturation in big casks.
Curtaz: “it could stay in bottle 15 years. The acidity is around 7g/l. It’s a wine that searches for the centre of Europe, not the south. We pick cool grapes in late October, early November.”
Fresh, leesy nose, with Chablis-like mealiness on palate, though this has more fullness and roundness. Quite full, in a lush- fresh form, and sophisticated. Long mealy, citrus finish. Very good.
Tenuta di Fessina, Erse 2009, Etna Rosso €16
Curtaz: “No wood, fresh, simple wine, with strict Etna character; spice, freshness, tannins, acidity is the centre of the wine.”
Pale colour, strawberry initially, then hint of stick liquorice and nutmeg spice, and a little more complex than Curtaz suggested. Nicely balanced with a fresh core of supple fruit. Good.
Tenuta di Fessina, Il Musmeci 2007, Etna Rosso €35-40
Pale colour, aromatic, wafty smoke nose, almost full bodied, fresh core with sweet baked, red forest fruits, strawberry and raspberry, and supporting fine grains from tannins. Good.
Tenuta di Fessina, Laeneo Nerello Cappuccio 2009, IGT Sicilia €13
Curtaz “A curiosity, we make just 2,000 bottles to see what nerello cappuccio could give to the blend.”
Medium pale, juicy red fruit nose, sweet attack, fresh and straight lined. Young and youthful. Think Chinon.
Tenuta di Fessina, Ero Nero d’Avola 2009, IGT Sicilia €13
Bright and purple hue. Nose a bit muted, but the palate is fresh and elegant, with a silky smooth tannin frame, and sweet black currant and loganberry fruits.
My research visit to Sicily in June 2011 was sponsored by the Sicilian Regional Institute for Viticulture and Wine.