OK, bad pun, especially when you consider there is an actual volcano spewing actual super hot lava on the island. But still, I mean come on, wines from Sicily are freakin’ smokin’. They’re driven by lush but bright fruit and tons of minerality from all that volcanic soil and the high altitudes. So in my pursuit of increasing our Italian book, my sights were set on Sicily from Day 1.
So this is where Azienda Al-Cantàra comes in. They were in NYC for a trade show, looking for a home in the US, and luckily our man David tasted them and got all excited. He was so excited that he kept pestering me about them, and boy was he right.
Azienda Al-Cantàra was founded in 2005 when the owner, Pucci Giuffrida, who worked in Catania, fell in love with the property. Located high up (650 to 1200 meters) on the northwest slope of the volcano, they farm 20 hectares of land near the Cantara river. The choice of the name “Al- Cantàra”, which in Arabic means “bridge”, aims to emphasize the link between the Sicilian terroir, art and poetry. For these reasons, all the names of the different wines are inspired by the poems of Sicilian authors interpreted, artistically, in their labels.
In the fields, the mostly old vines are densely-planted to volcanic soils, rich in pumice on the northern edges, and full of fluvial deposits on the southern side (near the river). Aside from some experimental Pinot Noir vines, everything is focused on indigenous varieties: Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Capuccio, Carricante, Grecanico. The vines are trained on the espalier method, and everything is done by hand. They are practicing Organic as keeping the land healthy is a prime imperative. Grapes are hand-harvested, and wild yeasts are allowed to go, well, wild, fermenting in primarily stainless steel, with only some wines seeing (old) oak.
The wines that come from this are absolutely magnificent. Bright, beautiful fruit is accentuated by strong notes of minerality and bracing acidity to cleanse the palate. Despite the warm region, the high altitude and care taken in the vineyards keeps them light on their feet. And, to be honest, I love their labels, all hand-made by a local artisan to reflect the character of each wine.
The Occhi di Ciumi is a blend of Grecanico and Carricante. It’s a crisp, medium bodied laser beam of white flowers, citrus, green apples and pears, with noticeable minerality and a long, cleansing finish. This is the first wine I tasted of theirs, and I was hooked.
Amuri di Fimmina e Amuri di Matri is their Rosé. But unlike the more traditional 100% Nerello Mascalese wines, this is a blend of that and Nerello Capuccio. It’s a gorgeous, minerally medium-bodied wine with stunning fruit and a long finish.
The La Fata Galanti is full on Nerello Capuccio, with bright red fruit and berry notes backed up by chalky minerals and lovely acidity.
Their Lu Veru Piaciri is usually a blend of both Nerello Capuccio and Mascalese, though in some years it can be just be one or the other. It’s also an Etna Rosso, and man is it amazing, offering gorgeous dark berries with meat undertones and a bright, high acid finish.
There are a few other wines, as you can imagine, but we’re starting off with these as we felt they were the best introductions to their work. I am super excited and proud to be importing them, and want to thank David for his hard work in pushing for them.
Luckily for all of us, they arrive soon.