Saturday, September 3, 2016

Sicily's Scorched Earth Wines at Gambino Winery

Tasting Volcanic Wines at Gambino Vini 

On a recent trip to the Italian peninsula, we were able to spend some time in the south.  Having some root in the boot (Sciacca), we spent the most time in Sicily.  Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean to the very south.  Sicily has nine provinces: Palermo, Catania, Messina, Siracusa, Ragusa, Enna, Caltanissetta, Agrigento, Trapani. It's varied landscapes add to its beauty, charm and character.  Sicily has an amazing coastline (all the provinces have one, except Enna) and mountains, such as the volcanic Mount Etna. Sicily is known for its great cuisine (arancini, pasta alla Norma, caponata, italian ice, spumone, ) which has Greek, Spanish and Arab influences. The region is also notorious for its beaches, such as Cefalu and Mondello.  However, Sicily is not only known for its outstanding food and breathtaking beaches--it is also known for its wine region.

Although Sicily has 7 IGT appellations(Avola, Camarro, Fontanarossa di Cerda, Salemi, Salina, Sicilia, Valle Belice.), there is one DOCG wine (Cerasuolo di Vittoria), there are 22 DOC Appellations, with the Etna being one of the main ones. Etna is an Italian wine DOC which covers the slopes of the volcano.  The Etna DOC was the very first in Sicily, created in August 1968.

While there, we explored a few of the wineries on the Mount Etna Wine Trail.  However, we spent the most time at Gambino Winery.

About Gambino Vini:
Gambino Winery is a family-run winery located in Linguaglossa, Sicily.  Their location is on the northeast side of Mount Etna, and near to the Mediterranean Sea, which creates an ideal climate and soil for winemaking.  Here, wines are made with both traditional and sophisticated methods. Francesco Raciti Gambino, the Owner and Winemaker of Gambino Vini, insists that grapes and quality are their priority, not mass production.  Therefore, Gambino does everything organically. They do not use pesticides or sprays, and all harvesting is done by hand. Gambino explained their philosophy, that "wine=a mix of knowledge and generation," in which there is a combination of old and new, of experience with technology.

The vineyards and grounds at Gambino Vini
As Gambino Vini is located on the northeast side of Mount Etna, the terroir plays a huge role in the production of wine.  Volcanic ash and rocks facilitate prime conditions for the vines to absorb water and nutrients.  Mount Etna is active and is in an almost constant state of activity so its lava is able to transport nutrients to the plants. Therefore, the fertile volcanic soil is more than conducive for agriculture and the volcanic soils naturally contribute to the distinctive mineral quality and taste in the wines produced in this region. Moreover, the high altitudes help the grapes retain acidity.   Gambino maintains that, while their region is not always easy, it is an "interpretation made up of experience, contingency and long-sightedness."  Gambino Vini absolutely captures the essence of Etna and its scorched earth.



The Wining Hour's Gambino Vini Tasting:
After a tour of the winery and stroll through the vineyards, we sat down to talk and taste the fruits of their labor with Francesco, who was the most hospitable and presented a tasting fit for a Queen.  We tasted wine after wine, each one tantalizing and delighting our palate. We appreciated that each of their wines have names that reveal a history and characteristics about the wine. Along with an abundance of meats, cheese, olives, bread and more, here's what we tasted:


Feu d'O Sicilia Bianco (IGP)

This wine is made from Grillo and Carricante grapes grown in chalky, volcanic soil.  It was aged in stainless steel for 5 months. This wine is pale straw in color with flowers, melon and peach on the nose.  It was light and dry, with citrus bursts on the palate. Feudo, in Italian, means fief, which is an estate of land. This wine effectively expressed the earthy, mineral characteristics of the region and had 13.5% ABV. Feud'O Sicilia Rosso is also available. Clearly, we were off to a good start with our volcanic wine tasting!

Tifeo 
Gambino's Winemaker & Owner

According to legend, Tifeo (also known as Typhon or Typheus) is actually the name of a giant, monstrous figure in Greek mythology who battled with Zeus.  Their dispute was over Zeus' imprisonment of the Titans.  Eventually, Tifeo was defeated and condemned to imprisonment under the island of Ischia.  Here, Tifeo could express his anger and let his (hot) tears flow.  These tears supposedly led to the natural thermal springs that exist there today. Ischia is another volcanic island in the Campania region.  However, the giant Tifeo was large enough to reside under the entire region between Etna and Cuma, linking volcanic activity in Campania to Sicily.  As indicated by its name, Gambino's Tifeo wines are the manifestation of scorched earth soil.

Tifeo Etna Bianco (DOP)
This Etna wine is made from Carricante and Catarratto grapes grown on the slopes of Mt. Etna, 800 meters above sea level. Carricante is the dominant grape used in white Etna DOC wines like Etna Bianco and Etna Bianco Superiore.  Tifeo Etna Bianco was aged sur lie for 6 months to extract maximum flavor, and then for another 4 months in the bottle.  To the eye, it has an intense straw color.  Emitting an herbal and floral bouquet on the nose, the palate is refreshing with citrus notes of green apple, kiwi, melon and a higher concentration of earthy, limestone minerals. Tifeo Etna Bianco is dry, acidic, and bright. 13%ABV.

Tifeo Etna Rosato (DOP)
What's better than sipping a delicious rosé to cool off in the Sicilian summer sultriness?  A volcanic rosé! This vino rosato is made from Nerello Mascalese grapes that went through sur lie aging for 5 months, followed by another few months in the bottle.  In the glass, Tifeo Etna Rosato is a pink, strawberry color with summer fruit aromas.  The rich, clay pot minerals are on the palate, along with watermelon and strawberry. Tifeo Etna Rosato is fresh, dry and crisp with balanced acidity.  It would work solo as an aperitivo and with other light fare. A very tasty rosato at 13% ABV.

Tifeo Etna Rosso (DOP)
This Sicilian red wine is made from Nerello Mascelese and Nerello Cappuccio grapes, grown in volcanic soil, rich in minerals. It aged for 12 months in oak barrels.  Tifeo Etna Rosso is a garnet color and very fragrant, with a nose of herbs, black plums, mulberry, chewing tobacco, dark chocolate and licorice.  Did we say that it is very fragrant? On the palate was spicy prunes, blackberries and candied red fruit.  This wine could certainly be a crowd-pleaser for any red wine lovers, and it will compliment most red meat or game dishes. 13.5% ABV.

Alicant Sicilia Rosso (IGP)
This wine is made from an awesome mix of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache grapes.  In fact, the Alicant, is the Italian name for grapes also known as Cannonau, and originally known by the Spaniards as Grenache. Alicant was aged for 12 months in barriques and minimum of 6 mo in the bottle.  Alicant Sicilia Rosso has an intense ruby appearance, with equally intense perfume of spicy, mature, dark red fruits.  Blackberries and currants accompanied every sip. This wine is full of flavor and well balanced with a lingering taste of almonds.  14% ABV.
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Duvanera Sicilia Nero D'Avola (IGP)
A Sicilian winery would not be complete without a Nero D'Avola, Sicily's most important indigenous grape.  We gathered that Duvanera is a wine near and dear to Francesco, and a special wine it is.   It was aged for 12 months in French oak and 6 months in the bottle.  Duvanera is a deep ruby red, and is intoxicatingly aromatic with an onslaught of spicy dark berries, chocolate and vanilla tickling the nose.  The palate is caressed with ripened plum, blackberry, black currant and chocolaty leather.  Duvanera is definitely a complex wine with lots of character.  Well-balanced, with a long finish and 14.5% ABV.






Petto Dragone Etna Rosso (DOP)
Petto Dragone is actually the subdivision in which Gambino Vini is located, so this wine is their territorial namesake.  As such, it definitely represents well. It is produced with Nerello Mascalese grapes planted on volcanic soil at 800 meters above sea level and aged in huge oak barrels for 12 months and then another few months in the bottle. To the eye, Petto Dragone is ruby with hues of garnet.  An earthy nose of volcanic rocks, rhubarb and stewed plums. The palate is warm and spicy, with minerals, jammy blackberry, raspberry and plum.  Petto Dragone is fruity, tannic, smooth and medium-bodied. Tasty. 14% ABV

We enjoyed Gambino's wines immensely and were compelled to more than a few home with us. If you have you have not tasted volcanic, scorched earth wines, do try the aforementioned from Gambino Vini. Regarding their portfolio of wines, Francesco Raciti Gambino explained that it is "the small details that must be the expression of the place where the grapes are grown."  This was quite evident in all of the wines we experienced.  Our tasting and time spent at Gambini in Sicily was exquisite, exciting and explosive! The scorched earth, volcanic wines of Gambino Vini truly express the terroir in which they're from.

However, there is much more to discover about volcanic wines.  Continue the exploration with our crew:

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