Ciro Biondi: Tasting Etna Terroir

It had been a year since I’d seen Ciro and Stephanie Biondi (see the blog post here). Sitting down for dinner in their home reminded me immediately that their enthusiasm for their work is matched only by their enthusiasm for life. Over the course of the evening, they poured three of their single vineyard crus: Chianta, Cisterna Fuori and San Niccolò, and we talked about terroir. These wines are intriguing, even mysterious. They are full of the fire of the volcano and yet subtle and elegant…complex, and yet honest and straightforward…intense and yet, vivacious and light hearted.

Before I tell you more about them, I want to share with you a video I took of Ciro talking in the cellar about how strong Etna terroir is. His main point is that like Burgundy and Piedmont, Etna has soil and climate characteristics that tend to speak louder than any individual wine producer or any particular grape variety.

At dinner, Ciro continued on the subject, saying that once upon a time as an experiment, he planted some cabernet sauvignon, but the wine still came out tasting more like an Etna wine than a Cabernet. So he stays with the native grapes and lets the Etna terroir speak.

Ciro noted that Biondi Etna Bianco “Chianta” DOC 2012 was made mostly from Carricante grapes grown at 650 meters (2100 ft), grown on alberello vines, tended and harvested by hand, fermented and aged for about a year in used barriques–only to allow some contact with oxygen not to add any taste of wood. The wine is crisp but structured (13,5%). As he explained,”It’s almost like a rosé except for most people, rosé comes from making white wine out of red. But we are doing the opposite: making ‘red’ out of white.”

(By comparison, his Biondi Etna Bianco “Outis” 2013 is from the same grape varieties and the same vineyard, but ferments in stainless steel and is released within a year. It is less structured and has 12,5% alcohol).

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Biondi Etna Rosso “Cisterna Fuori” DOC 2012, made from Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio from an alberello vineyard that is part of a crater that was formed about twenty-one hundred years ago. The grapes are hand harvested, fermented in stainless steel and aged for a year in small or large barrels.

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In 2012, Ciro and Stefanie made “San Nicolò” for the first time, from another alberello vineyard that is part of another crater that was formed much earlier, 25,000 year ago. Since the grape varieties, vintage year, vinification and aging were the same, the wines tasted similar, but each had a distinct personality. We tasted and talked about these exquisite wines. The “Cisterna Fuori” seemed a little more “masculine” while “San Nicolo”, more feminine, with a slightly more delicate and rounder flavor.

When I left, I took a bottle of Biondi Etna Rosso “Outis” 2012 with me. It is made from grapes from both the “Cisterna Fuori” and “San Nicolò”vineyards and is fermented and aged in stainless steel–no wood. I will let it stay a while in my cellar and open it when I want to be carried back to the volcano and the Biondi vineyards.

The total Biondi production is only about 12,000 bottles so the wine can be hard to find, especially in the US. Two sources are Chambers Street Wines and K and L Wines, or you can try Wine Searcher.

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