Azienda Agricola Biondi
Azienda Agricola Biondi
The Biondi family has owned vineyards on the southern slopes of Mount Etna since the 17th century but much has changed over the years. The winery was established at the end of the 19th century and under the stewardship of Cirino and his brother, Salvatore, saw considerable success, particularly in the period between the First and Second World Wars, when they were exporting their wine to the United States. However, after the war, with the death of Salvatore and a failure to adapt to changing conditions, the business went into decline. Since 1999 Cirino’s grandson, Ciro, and his English wife, Stephanie, have taken charge and have been rebuilding the business. From three small terraced vineyards, totalling just over six hectares, they produce around 22,000 bottles of wine per year. At over 600 metres above sea level the southwest-facing vineyards experience strong temperature changes between day and night. Technically, this is called diurnal variation and is good for the vines. The hot daytime temperatures this far south help to promote sugar development, whilst the cool nights at this height can help to preserve perfume and acidity.
The estate is on Via Ronzini, just north of the charming village of Trecastagni, and here the couple produce three versions of the DOC wine, Etna Rosso. They are all blends of two local vines, 80% Nerello Mascalese, and 20% Nerello Cappuccio – and the obvious question is, why? The answer is in the ‘terroir’ or the soil. Here the vines grow in a sandy mixture of volcanic ash that can change composition in the space of a few metres. The ash and rocky lava that constitutes the soil on the mountain is very free-draining and high in minerals but to look at it you could not imagine anything growing in it. This is extreme viticulture but it is these qualities that make the wine so desirable.
The entry level wine is called Outis and this spends 11 days on the skins before fermenting in steel and maturing in 500l oak tonneaux and 225l barrique for 10 months. The colour is ruby red and a floral bouquet with cherries and blackberries on the palate. The volcanic soil lends the wine some minerality that balances with an acidity. Try it with a hearty pasta dish like a Pasta alla Norma.
On one side of the Via Ronzini there are two vineyards lying on the sides of a volcanic crater that dates from around 125BC; from the Cisterna Fuori vineyard planted with 40-year-old vines comes the wine of the same name. This wine again spends 11 days on the skins before being matured for 18 months in tonneaux and barrique. This wine is again a ruby colour with a more intense floral bouquet. In the mouth there is the flavour of wild berries with an almost saline minerality and good acidity. Try pairing it with the strong flavours of caponata.
On the other side of the road, the smallest of the three vineyards – at just half a hectare in size – is called San Nicolo and it sits on the side of a crater estimated at 12,000 years old. Here Ciro and Steph have planted Nerello Mascalese and Cappuccio and produce around 1,000 bottles annually. As with the Cisterna Fuori, there is a maceration for around 11 days followed by 18 months in oak. Again, the bouquet is of red flowers with berries and on the palate the minerality that is associated with volcanic soil, together with good acidity. Pair this delight with grilled steak or roast red meat.
These are great wines and as well as red Ciro and Stephanie also include two white wines in their range, made with local grape varieties Carricante, Cataratto and Minnella but I will save that story for another visit.