2012 I Vigneri I Custodi delle Vigne dell’ Etna, Sæculare, Etna Rosso DOC Riserva, Sicily, Italy.
The Salvo Foti made I Vigneri I Custodi delle Vigne dell’ Etna Sæculare Riserva, which I was lucky enough to try at the San Francisco Slow Wine Tasting last month, is a Nerello Mascalese based red from old vine sites on Mount Etna, Sicily’s iconic active Volcano and one of Italy’s most prized growing areas. This wine is fantastic and pure Foti excellence with everything you’d expect from this place, it is very Nuits St.-George is scale and presence in the glass, but with exceptional varietal character and intensity with brandied cherries, dried flowers, iron mineral tones and red spices leading the way on the gorgeous medium bodied palate that adds plum, candied orange peel, anise, tobacco leaf, crushed rock, sanguine and lavender. Even at almost 10 years old this wine is tightly focused and taut with natural acidity and firm old vine dusty tannins, but that said the flavors are evolving nicely and there’s an amazing depth here that is completely seductive, it is a wine that also deserves a meal built around it and local inspired dishes would be awesome with this incredible Etna Rosso. I Custodi is run by Mario Paoluzi and relies on I Vigneri, led by Salvo Foti, and his team of Etnean winegrowers, plus Ciccio the mule to tend the vines and make the wines in the ancient way of Etna, as it has always been on Mt. Etna for centuries, without synthetic chemicals, as Paoluzi puts it, in respect of the people, the classic stone terraces, the landscape and the nature.

This absolutely stunning and structured Sæculare Etna Rosso Riserva is beauty and a terroir driven wine made from mainly Nerello Mascalese (80%), Nerello Cappuccio and some Alicante, which in this case is probably Grenache and not Alicante Bouschet, grown on the lava based soils of the volcano and using parcels of top vineyards on the cooler north face of Etna. The vneyards are up at 2,000 feet with sandy and mineral soils, they include the Contrada Feudo di Mezzo, Castiglione di Sicilia and Versante Nord dell’Etna, with some vines here close to 250 years old! For this special Etna Riserva, the grapes were all hand harvested with extreme care and methodically sorted and then brought to the winery in shallow crates, where they are crushed after de-stemming, but about 20% were whole clusters with partial stems included with fermentation and maceration going, as the winery notes, for about 12 days in steel vats. After which the wine is racked and the malolactic fermentation and aging is done in 500 Liter tonneaux and the elevage was close to 24 months. The 2012 Sæculare was then bottle aged in the cellar for another two years before release to allow the wine to mature and develop, which it has with remarkable poise and palate impact. Foti, the godfather of Etna wines has made another soulful masterpiece here with this I Custodi Sæculare Riserva, and I recommend getting some if you can find, it will drink fabulous for another decade, and don’t overlook the white here at I Custodi, it also is a brilliant offering that Carricante based gem.
($55 to 75 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

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