One of the most compelling wines I have ever had comes from Mount Etna, so it was a bit of a disappointing discovery for me when I realized there are as of yet very few producers making high-quality wine on the slopes of the active volcano. Driving through the area, it is easy to imagine that there were far more vineyards producing wine years ago, as there are overgrown abandoned terraces dotting the landscape. Looking on the bright side, the wines from Etna are on the rise in the national market and more and more vintners are popping up every year.
For Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo lovers, Nerello Mascalese is an exciting find. It can produce reds with impressive delicacy as well as those with great structure. It is a complex grape grown in a complex terroir. The vineyards are planted on ancient lava flows, all varying in age, mineral content, and topsoil composition, with underground pockets that allow water retention to keep the vines hydrated during the heat of the summer.
Giuseppe Russo is a quiet thoughtful man, formerly a pianist. Since 2005 he has been organically farming his family’s old vineyards, many of the vines around 100 years of age, and he is restoring the old cellar under his house. He has 15 hectares of vines on the Northside of Etna around the town of Passopisciaro and sells off the fruit from the youngest vines.
The majority of Russo’s grapes goes toward making his entry-level Etna Rosso, called a’Rina. While a’Rina is mostly from his younger vines, there is fruit from vines dating back over 100 years included in the blend.
In addition to a’Rina, Giuseppe produces wines from three different crus, San Lorenzo, Feudo and Feudo di Mezzo. Giuseppe will tell you that the more generous examples come from Feudo, a 6-hectare site planted in the 1950s. From San Lorenzo, 8 hectares planted around 1940, you get a wine with more structure and aging potential. Giuseppe began making wine from his third single vineyard, Feudo di Mezzo, a tiny, 1-hectare, in 2011. The parcel was planted between 1920 and 1940 makes for a sleek, polished bottling.
In addition to his reds, Russo also makes an Etna Rosato from Nerello Mascalese and an Etna Bianco from Carricante, Catarratto, and other local whites.