2018 I Custodi delle vigne dell’Etna, Etna Bianco DOC “Ante” Mount Etna, Sicily, Italy.
An outstanding dry Etna white from Mario Paoluzi’s I Custodi winery, the Ante comes from 2,500 feet up on north side of Sicily’s active volcano and made from a field or Contrada (vineyard) blend of native varietals with 90% Carricante, along with minor amounts of Grecanico and Minnella that was fermented and aged solely in stainless steel to preserve purity and freshness. This 2018 is beautifully detailed and starting to reveal its true nature and textural quality with mineral intensity, coming from that ancient lava (volcanic), mineral rich, sandy soils, as well as a saline persistence on the rounded, but steely medium bodied palate with white peach, tangerine, pear, delicate tropical and quince fruits, boosted as well by spicy accents, clove, crushed stones and a lingering lime tanginess. This lightly floral and crisp, greenish/straw hued Etna Bianco is energy filled and grows in presence with air and gains a more serious mouth feel as it warms in the glass, making for a stylish and delicious companion with an array of cuisine choices, though I can say for sure it is best with fresh catch sea foods from swordfish to octopus, as well as ceviche and or Moroccan inspired lemon chicken and couscous. As the price for white Burgundy and especially top Chablis goes up and up, the wine world has began to explore other options and certainly these mineral and terroir driven Carricante based Etna Bianco wines are great and slightly exotic alternatives, especially with efforts like this one.

The I Custodi delle vigne dell’Etna is an exciting label and is part of the I Vigneri collective dedicated to preserving historic traditions and natural wine growing from vines to bottle, overseen by the legendary Salvo Foti, the godfather of Mount Etna wines. The mission here is healthy vines and environment, with these grapes growing in densely planted parcels on ancient dry stone terraces on the slopes of the volcano. They are cultivated in harmony with the nature that surrounds them, hand tended only by the manual labor of the mention I Vigneri group, the skillful Etnean winegrowers with methods that have been employed on Mt. Etna for centuries, without synthetic chemicals or pesticides, in respect of the people and the land here. The Ante comes from a selection of younger vines, located at Contrada Puntalazzo, Mascali and Versante Est dell’Etna with the grapes being hand harvested and brought into the winery with great care in shallow crates and then gently whole cluster pressed with a cool fermentation, finishing with just about 12.5% natural alcohol. Then the wine is matured in the stainless steel vats for 12 months on the natural lees and allowed to go through malolactic conversion, after which the Ante Etna Vianco sees about 6 months of bottle aging before release. There were close to 800 cases made of the 2018 I Custodi Ante white, so while somewhat rare, it can be found and it is a fabulous and exciting example of Etna Bianco that I highly recommend, along with all of the I Custodi and any of the Salvo Foti wines. I tasted through the lineup of the I Custodi offerings at this year’s Slow Wine event in San Francisco and as I had in the past, was very impressed by them, especially the Nerello Mascalese based Saeculare Etna Rosso Riserva 2012, which I already reviewed, and this brightly focused Ante.
($36 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

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