At the Contrade dell’Etna 2017,
it was no surprise that tasters flocked in the direction of the Girolamo Russo winery.
As one of Etna’s most highly regarded cellars, an early preview of their #V16 Contrade (Feudo di Mezzo, Feudo and San Lorenzo) is naturally a MUST.
Structured and deftly balanced, the Girolamo Russo #V16’s are already exhibiting a potential that may well see them match the best of the exceptional 2014 vintage. In particular, the harmonic persistence of the San Lorenzo and Feudo wines already appear to be offering that extra gear. Time of course will tell if we are on the button. Either way, we can’t wait.
Needing to understand the true significance of a Girolamo Russo wine, we made an appointment to visit the winery itself. As we parked our trusty black Panda, Giuseppe Russo greeted us from the balcony above the cellar. It was the warmest of welcomes in which Giuseppe explained that an unforeseen appointment was calling him away for an hour but he was definitely coming back.
‘Will you still be here?’ he asked.
‘Reckon so,’ we replied, ‘but perhaps it depends on Dante?’.
To which Dante confidently responded ‘Don’t worry, we’ll be either here or in the vineyards.’ :-)
No worries then. By the way, Dante is Giuseppe’s right hand man. We’d already had a chance to meet him at the Contrade Event two days previously. As best friends going all the way back to their childhood days, the two make for a savvy, dynamic team.
First up was a tour of the compact cellar. Dante explained how the Girolamo Russo estate was infact founded in 2005 by Giuseppe. He named the business in honour of his late father Girolamo, who had passed away suddenly in 2003. At that time, Giuseppe’s family were faced with a critical dilemma, should they sell their vineyard holdings or not.
As a classically trained Pianist and Literary Arts Graduate, it’s fair to say that tending vineyards was not high on Giuseppe’s life plan. At least not at that time. However, circumstances were such that the possibility needed serious consideration. And the more he considered it, the more Giuseppe was captivated by ETNA’s viticultural lure. What’s more, he began to sense something was afoot on a’ Muntagna’s northern face. Marco De Grazia, Andrea Franchetti & Frank Cornelissen had arrived and were already coaxing many of Etna’s abandoned terraces back into action.
Enlisting the help of oenologist Emiliano Falsini, the learning began in earnest.
Now, whenever you will have the good fortune to meet Giuseppe, visit the vineyards and feel the energy of ETNA first hand, you won’t fail to understand the unique draw. Curiously, Giuseppe was very quick to learn natures rhythm and reason. A natural, his application to each task ‘was’ and ‘still is’ that of a studied and cultured mind with outstanding discipline. But not only that. His creative integrity and artistic spirit are integral parts of the winery’s structure that have helped pave the way for his wines deserved acclaim.
Giuseppe adheres to biologic and organic practices in the vineyard, where apart from recent plantings, most of the vines are between 70-100 years old. He does nothing to interfere with the essential ingredients of ETNA’s volcanic soil. Likewise in the cellar, he opts to use indigenous yeasts, promoting spontaneous fermentation, with no filtering or fining. Clearly an instinctive winemaker, he thrives on this environmental relationship.
As promised, Giuseppe did return and he joined us in the historic vineyards of the Feudo contrada. With ETNA’s summit in clear view for the first time in 4 days, he was delighted to impart news of a small parcel of land he’d just acquired for his ‘Nerina’ Etna Bianco project. This new addition will see 6,000 sqm of Carricante planted in the Feudo contrada . Evidently an important moment for Giuseppe, under the portico of their Feudo tasting room, in the middle of the vineyard, and with ETNA herself providing the spectacularly unique backdrop, what better moment to share a toast to all current and future vintages.
#V16 – Etna Rosato
100% Nerello Mascalese – so youthful, beautifully light, perfumed floral notes with red apple on the palate. Totally trippy, who wouldn’t fall for this Rosato?
#V15 – ‘A Rina – Etna Rosso
93% Nerello Mascalese 7% Nerello Cappuccio – the winery’s entry blend, it is fresh and appealing on the palate. The post-sip retro vapors offer clove-studded orange zest, oregano and literally all kinds of amazing local wild herbs. Well integrated tannins. Seriously tasty.
#V15 – Feudo Contrada – Etna Rosso
(Note: Tank sample only, not yet bottled) – Historic Single Vineyard wine which Giuseppe advised is almost totally Nerello Mascalese. Occasionally may have a tiny % of Nerello Cappuccio due to a small number of plants found interspersed in the Feudo Contrada (70-100 year old vines) – Think white blossom, wild herbs and red fruit in that order, the latter being a luscious strawberry. Remember it’s young and not yet bottled. On the palate, it’s fresh and structured with dusty tannins and mineral support. Everything already very finely balanced. Mark your dance card.
#V15 – San Lorenzo Contrada – Etna Rosso
(Note: Tank sample only, not yet bottled) – Historic Single Vineyard wine which Giuseppe advised is almost totally Nerello Mascalese. Occasionally may have a tiny % of Nerello Cappuccio due to a small number of plants found interspersed in the San Lorenzo Contrada (70-100 year old vines) – Youthful, soft juicy red fruits, delicate florals, good weight and balance, supple tannins. This contrada offers a recognisable hallmark of persistence. Mark your dance card for this one too!
#V14 – Feudo Contrada – Etna Rosso
Historic Single Vineyard wine, which Giuseppe advised is almost totally Nerello Mascalese. Occasionally may have a tiny % of Nerello Cappuccio due to a small number of plants found interspersed in the Feudo Contrada (70-100 year old vines) – Subtly perfumed, the palate presents impressive tannic structure encircled by outstandingly harmonious body work. From probably ETNA’s best vintage in recent years, Giuseppe explained overall 2014 was a dry, fresh vintage for his contrade. A perfect fruit harvest has aided the creation of this intense, structured beauty. Beautiful. It’s out there, go find it.
#V14 – San Lorenzo Contrada – Etna Rosso
Historic Single Vineyard wine, which Giuseppe advised is almost totally Nerello Mascalese. Occasionally may have a tiny % of Nerello Cappuccio due to a small number of plants found interspersed in the San Lorenzo Contrada (70-100 year old vines) – Really concentrated, hearty, similar in some ways to the #V15 ‘A Rina but here the body delivers a much more intense experience. Wonderfully saporous with Chinotto zest, rose petal, white blossom, wild fennel and herbal toned essential oils. Super *Note: Chinotto is the Common Myrtle, a small orange-like fruit that is an essential flavour in Italian bitters and the Campari aperitivo. Lovely. Already out there. Go find one.
“What are your plans tonight?” Giuseppe asked.
“No plans,” we answered.
“How about a simple plate of pasta then?”
There would be no stopping us now. And so with fading light, via the local greengrocer for a few special ingredients, it was back to the Cellar. What followed was a truly unforgettable ‘simple plate of pasta’! With Giuseppe on pasta duty and his inspirational Mum, Nerina, in charge of the Frittata, things went all ‘Sparagone’ (a super-charged, seasonal, locally wild, climbing asparagus… mighty!) Seasoned with an abundance of homely chat, there was no holding back Giuseppe’s creativity when to close proceedings he produced his parting masterpiece… N’duja Calabrese to match a rich Ricotta di Randazzo! Straight up… awesome match.
Word quickly spread. Patricia Toth, oenologist at Planeta, happened to be returning from a day long tasting with Decanter Man of the Year ‘Steven Spurrier’, when she heard and arrived to sample Russo’s latest culinary innovation. Close to midnight, with preparations still to manage for his departure to Vinitaly next morning, Giuseppe’s energy is endless. At this point it’s worth noting that, over our 5 day tour of the volcano, all ETNA winemakers demonstrated a refreshing bond of fellowship and camaraderie amongst each other. Open doors and no place for envy or ego make for a precious high altitude atmosphere. A native of Passopisciaro, clearly Giuseppe plays his part in orchestrating its ongoing vitality and integrity.
Yet, so much more besides.
Honestly, a more genuine and humble guy you will never meet.
‘Quality + Excellence + Rhythm + Rhyme + Reason x Giuseppe Russo’ = ‘Energy Flow’
….and that is what you will taste in each of his wines. An energy source sparking awesome thoughts for tomorrow.
Speaking of which…. Russo & Sakamoto…. now there is a thought !!!