The mighty impressive doors of the GRACI winery opened for the first time in 2004 when Alberto Graci was lured back to his Sicilian roots. A student of Economics and already on a successful path working in Milan’s financial hub, a young Alberto made the decision of a lifetime…to drop all and become a Winemaker.

Located in Passopisciaro, GRACI is on the opposite side of the narrow gauge railway line to Giuseppe Russo’s cellar.

And interestingly, Alberto’s story does ring some similar sounding bells to that of his friendly neighbour. Without any official background in wine-making himself, his reliance on gut instinct played a major part in his early decision making. Acquiring the magnificent old palmento, which is now home to the GRACI cellar, was an inspired choice.
In times past, this Palmento was where local growers would have brought their grape crop for pressing before the bulk ‘mosto’ was shipped out to cellars on the mainland, for cutting more insipid and less colourful jus.

Be that as it may, today it’s a totally different story. Etna’s producers are keenly aware of the unique high quality raw material they have in hand.

Indeed, as the youthful vice-president of the ETNA DOC consorzio, who better than Alberto to understand the economic importance of maintaining Quality standards.

We sound the buzzer at the winery gate and it’s Alberto himself who comes out to welcome us. An upbeat, genial kinda guy, Alberto leads the way inside. GRACI, with its elevated thick stone walls climbing toward the Palmento’s high vaulted ceiling is a seriously impressive piece of architecture.

From top to toe, it’s what we’d consider the epitome of TRAD-MOD Cellar Cool. Original arched windows & doorways frame the atmosphere perfectly. The contrast is equally pointed with a team of square Cement tanks facing off against a row of 42hl Conical Oak Vats, reserved for vinifying Graci’s ‘single cru’ Etna Rosso Contrade selection – Arcuria, Feudo di Mezzo & Barbabecchi. In the sunlight, chrome parts sparkle and every vessel is meticulously labelled in ornate handwritten script.
The visual sum speaks volumes about GRACI’s cellar ethos. Yes, this is a place of work with outstanding precision and attention to detail. It’s also a place of natural calm.

Where better to taste than in the midst of it all.

Large oak table centre stage, Alberto graciously sets out the Flight Path:

Etna Bianco 2015 – a blend of 70% Carricante & 30% Cataratto

Straw coloured, citrus nose with a pleasant fresh palate, rounded ripe fruit notes.
Highly recommend for daily consumption.

Etna Bianco ‘Contrada Arcuria’ 2014 – 100% Carricante

Sourced from the winery’s Arcuria Contrada, which is directly facing the main Cellar door, this vineyard is 600-670mts above sea level (a.s.l). Vinified in cement and then aged on its lees in both cement & oak tonneaux for 12 months, followed by a further 12 months bottle ageing before release.
Richer, deeper, straw yellow tones, think mimosa and tropical fruit with evident complexity. The harmonious palate is fresh with appealing mineral support, soft melon and a delicate creamy, buttered vibe. Youth with Experience. A very fine result.

Etna Rosso 2014 – 100% Nerello Mascalese

Grapes sourced from the winery’s Arcuria Contrada are vinified and aged in cement for 18 months.
Bright ruby, red fruit berries, in particular strawberry, on the palate it’s fresh, structured with welcome tannic grip and signature mineral support. The fruit is perhaps just running a little short on persistence, but the structure and balance is very enjoyable. Thumbs up.

Etna Rosso ‘Contrada Feudo di Mezzo’ 2014 (1st Vintage) – 95% Nerello Mascalese 5% Nerello Cappuccio

Feudo di Mezzo Contrada is a short distance from the winery and sits at 580mts a.s.l.
As with all GRACI wines, this Etna Rosso is vinified with indigenous yeasts. No temperature controls, maceration in 42hl oak vats for 30-90 days. Spontaneous MLF (malolactic fermetation) with 24 months ageing in large oak tanks & barrels. 6 months bottle ageing before release.
Deeper more intense ruby reflecting the presence of Nerello Cappuccio. A really quite distinctive bouquet, floral white blossoms, red fruits, citrus / mandarin zest. Well tasty active palate, tannic grip, well structured mineral persistence. Good length. Really like it.

Etna Rosso Contrada ‘Arcuria’ 2014 – 100% Nerello Mascalese

Grapes sourced from the Arcuria Contrada that sits between 600 to 670mts a.s.l. Vinified with indigenous yeasts, there are no temperature controls during maceration, which takes place in 42hl oak vats for 30-90 days. Spontaneous MLF (malolactic fermetation) with 24 months ageing in large oak . Minimum 6 months bottle ageing before release. First whiff and this already shines as a fine wine indeed.
Ruby highlights and a charming floral nose, almond blossom, strawberry & melon. On the palate it is super structured, loving the fresh acid & tannic balance, small red fruits and light spice. So persistent, so fine. It’s a Yes.

Etna Rosso ‘Contrada Barbabecchi’ 2013 – 97% Nerello Mascalese 3% Nerello Cappuccio.

This is GRACI’s highest contrada sitting at between 900 to 1100 mts a.s.l. At this altitude, the uniqu environment means that there’s no need for vineyard treatments. Two hectares of +100 year old pre-phylloxera vines, this is the top selection, as high as one goes for the best Nerello Mascalese. Indigenous yeasts, again with no temperature controls. Maceration in 42hl oak vats for circa 25 days. Spontaneous MLF with 24 months ageing in large oak tini. 12 months bottle ageing before release.
Garnet gem that exudes finesse, delicate floral perfumed with butterfly effect, crisp palate, oh so smooth tannins, red berries, cherries, tangy blood orange juice & zest. Light on it’s feet. Elegant spice unveiling. Complex yet such an approachable soul. Absolutely love it.

Etna Rosso Contrada ‘Arcuria’ 2015 – VAT sample to be bottled in June 2017.

Fruit sourced from the winery’s Arcuria Contrada directly facing the Cellar.
Vinified with indigenous yeasts, there are no temperature controls during maceration, which takes place in 42hl oak vats for 30-90 days. Spontaneous MLF (malolactic fermetation) with 24 months ageing in large oak . Minimum 6 months bottle ageing before release.
Ruby with once again that beautifully fresh strawberry and melon puree. On the palate, fresh, compact tannins and red fruits prevail. No doubt the V15 will follow the path to ‘finezza’ that the 2014 has already paved.

Etna Rosato 2016 – 100% Nerello Mascalese.

Fruit selected from the Arcuria contrada. No maceration, just destemmed and gently pressed. Freshly bottled sample.
Bright copper & salmon tones, floral & fruit filled nose, good fresh bodywork, red berries, perfect tannic balance, all in harmony. Elegance and Simplicity personified. What’s not to Love.

GRACI wines are an expression of True Identity.

Why? Well because they identify ETNA’s natural organic wealth and the essence of it’s Native Grapes. In the vineyard, as it is in their cellar, the winery’s approach is a logical one, infact a bio-logical one.

Together with the help of oenologist, Emiliano Falsini, Alberto’s ethos ranges from Low intervention to No intervention. Afterall nature has blessed this place. It is therefore the responsibility of the growers to care for and protect it for all generations to come.

With the tasting wrapped, Alberto took us on a quick tour of the palmento where the integrity of the building has been maintained beautifully. The structure breathes history with its giant press and enormous old barrels acting as both guardians and storytellers. And we’re not just talking bygone days either. History is actively being recorded here.

No doubt about it, GRACI stands for Elegant Style and Substance. Forward thinking is an eternal quality. Since our visit we’ve learned of Alberto’s new joint venture with Angelo Gaja from Piemonte. On the southern face of Etna, near Biancavilla, together they’ve purchased 21 hectares, of which we understand 15 are already planted with Nerello Mascalese. Interestingly, Alberto had explained to us how rainfall differs on a’ Muntagna. On the eastern face, above the city of Catania, you’ll find the wettest zone with circa +1300mm annually, while on the south side, it’s less than half that at 590mm rainfall per annum, indeed less than the 620mm on the northern face where Graci is based. The south side will be warmer too. Learning curve coming up? Either way it gets us thinking we’ll soon find a new style of Etna Rosso on the tasting table. On your behalf, we’re watching that space.

Before leaving, Alberto took us for a stroll through the nearby ‘Feudo di Mezzo’ contrada.

That’s one heck of a special plot. There, amidst the densely planted 70-80-90 year old alberello vines, dynamic and grounded as he is, it’s clear to see that Alberto Graci is definitely ‘where he should be’.

In a way, a bit like Mr. Weller :)

Where I should be – PAUL WELLER

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