The wines of Mount Etna in Sicily

Volcano vineyards

Few wine terroirs are as fascinating as Mount Etna on the southern Italian island of Sicily.

To start with, at 3,350m Etna is the highest volcano in Europe, and one of the most active ones worldwide. It has several eruption centres, and intense seismic activity as well as frequent lava flows. These have been threatening human settlements on its slopes for thousands of years, but have also contributed to an exceptionally variegated soil.

Rock, water, air and fire have created a unique environment on Etna, which has inspired awe in visitors for millennia, and which has been awarded UNESCO listed World Heritage Site status in 2013.

Wine has been made on Etna for over 3,000 years, but in the 20thcentury, in the wake of Italy’s industrialization, most of its old terraced vineyards, with their high production costs, low yields and limited mechanization opportunities, were abandoned.

Etna thus holds an unusually high number of old  vines. Many of them are well over hundred years old and survived the worldwide vineyard devastations caused by the phylloxera bug in the 19th century. Because of its sandy, well-drained soils of volcanic rock and ashes, Etna is one of the few places in Europe where phylloxera did not take hold. Pre-phylloxera wines are of great historical significance and offer a glimpse into an otherwise long-gone past. Palmento Costanzo’s Nero di Sei (which we offer below at a special price) is a precious opportunity to taste one of them.

It is only in the 1990s that a new generation of visionaries took over these old abandoned vineyards and revitalized the region through a meticulous study of vines, terroirs and traditional winemaking. Within just a few years, Etna wines became one of the wine world’s hottest trends. Development in the region continues, as soils, microclimates and their effects on vine growth are increasingly better understood.

Vineyards grow on all sides of the volcano, except on the west flank, between 350 and 1,000m, with the best generally considered to be between 600 and 800m of altitude. Etna’s is a pronounced mountain climate, with lower temperatures than in the surrounding plains, higher rainfall and even snow melt, as well as strong vintage variations. Volcanic detritus accumulated over the centuries, combined with the effects of sun, wind and altitude, have created an extraordinary terroir. Because of this geological diversity and clearly identifiable microclimates, the land2 is subdivided in sectors, called Contrade, often making very different wines.

Etna’s wines

The white variety Carricante, with its surprisingly vibrant acidity for such a southern variety, and its pronounced minerality, is the main constituent of Etna Bianco DOC.

The most interesting indigenous variety to be found on Etna, however, is undoubtedly the Nerello Mascalese. Pale crimson-purple in color, it reminds us of Pinot Noir, as does its strong reactivity to terroir variation (something it also shares with northern Nebbiolo). The Etna Rosso DOC requires a minimum of 80% Nerello Mascalese, with the possible addition of Nerello Cappuccio, which is darker in color and lower in tannin. The wine is aged for a minimum of four years before release, of which at least one in wood. Nerello wines are intense, with vibrant acidity, muscular yet velvety tannins and a distinctive minerality; they are very perfumed, with aromas of sour cherries, wild strawberries, and notes of dried herbs, tobacco, as well as mushrooms with age.

How to best pair these wines with food? They are elegant, but also quite intense, and require rather strongly flavoured food, ideally with some umami component to match their ‘rockiness’. Sicilian cuisine, with its focus on the fresh, unadulterated flavors of the sea surrounding the island and of the mountains at its centre, is a perfect and natural match. But more generally Mediterranean vegetable, mushroom or fish dishes, pastas and hard cheeses all also work very well. For Asian cuisine, think of more flavoursome dishes you would otherwise pair with Pinot Noir, like roasted duck, mutton pot or char siew.

Palmento Costanzo

Palmento Costanzo is one of Etna’s up-and-coming, most representative producers.

Their ten hectares of vineyards are near the village of Passopisciaro, Contrada Santo Spirito, on the north flank of Etna, at an altitude between 650 and 780m – an excellent location at what is considered the optimal altitude bracket. Vines are planted on centuries-old terraces supported by small supporting walls (muretti a secco) built with lava rocks and are farmed organically. There are still pre-phylloxera vines in the typical free-standing alberello shape.

The old mid-19thcentury winery and cellar (known as palmento) have been carefully restored to recover old artisanal winemaking traditions of Etna. Space in the palmento is organized to allow a ‘free fall’ winemaking process, the highest level (upper on the mountain’s slope) is where the grapes are collected, pressed and destemmed, the juice then flows into the fermentation vats, and the young wine yet one level lower into the barrel, where it will be aged. This minimizes the need for mechanical pumps and allows a gentle handling of the wine.

Quality and tradition are the leading principles of Palmento Costanzo, and their artisanal wines are expression of the unique terroir and history of Mount Etna.

The wines

Two lines of wines are produced by Palmento Costanzo, the classic Mofete and the fabulous Sei, both typical Nerello Mascalese (80%) and Nerello Cappuccio (20%) blends, expressing in their depth and elegance all the unique character of Etna wines.

With the typically rather light ruby colour of the Nerello grape, the Mofete Rosso Etna DOC 2015 is made from younger vines on the slopes of Mount Etna. It is distinctly spicy, with aromas of fresh wild herbs and rose flowers. There is a hint of volcanic ash. Juicy, balanced and very elegant. This wine is great to drink now and up to 2025.

A fantastic volcanic wine, Nero di Sei Etna DOC 2015 is made from alberello, partially pre-phylloxera, vines between 80 and 120 years old on Mount Etna. The characteristically light, brilliant ruby colour belies the concentration and persistence of this wine’s aromas of cherry and red berries, with its distinct hints of rock and smoke, intricately fine tannins and luminous acidity. The finish is long, with a pleasant nutty-bitter note of almonds. Note (or better: smell) the label, which incorporates actual volcanic ash from Etna in its design. This is also perfectly mature and ready for drinking now, but will still evolve over the next few years

 

 

The wines of Palmento Costanzo are directly imported and exclusively distributed in Singapore by Wine & Philosophy. Prices are net and in Singapore Dollars. Terms & Conditions apply. You can order them online or by sending an email to andreas.balemi@wine-philosophy.com.

Recent arrivals: The wines of Domaine Malmont

Happy New Year!

Our first blog entry of 2019 is dedicated to a small selection of fine wines from Domaine Malmont in the Séguret commune of the Southern Rhône: powerful yet elegant wines demonstrating the enormous quality to be found in this incomparable region.

Domaine Malmont: attention to detail

Nicolas Haeni, the young Swiss winemaker of Domaine Malmont devotes particular attention to detail in his methodical approach to vineyard management and wine-making, privileging freshness and expression over power. Until 13 years ago the Malmont site – the ‘bad mountain’ so called since the Middle Ages because it seemed to be of no use for agriculture – was covered with forest trees. Today, terraces (pictured below) built with the help of experts from the (equally steep) Priorat wine region in Spain, are perfectly inclined at 3% to allow ideal water flow. While not certified organic, environmental sustainability is a key theme at Domaine Malmont, especially with regard to maintaining a natural, living soil in the vineyard.

The wines

While predominantly a producer of reds, Malmont also bottles a remarkable white wine, a varietal Roussanne, the quintessential white Rhône variety: the Séguret Côtes du Rhône AOC Blanc 2017 combines beautifully aromatic complexity and freshness. There is balance and tension in this round, supple wine, with delicate white flower, pear and citrus aromas underpinned by intriguing minerality. This is a fantastic pairing with creamy seafood dishes, vegetable risotto, as well as red or green Thai curries, Hong Kong-style roasted chicken and … Singapore chilli crab.

Moving to the reds, the Côtes du Rhône AOC Rouge 2016 is a peppery blend of Syrah (65%) and Grenache, the first variety providing black cherry aromas, the second the soft warmth of its sweet fruit and heady dried Mediterranean brush herbs (garrigue) notes. Powerful and concentrated, it manages to keep a refreshing edge thanks to well-managed ripeness and finely grained tannins. A great match with a vegetable couscous, stuffed peppers or eggplants, it is equally delightful with all kinds of Singaporean and Indian dishes.

More concentrated and muscular, the Séguret Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC Rouge 2016 allies power with elegance. Also a blend of Syrah (60%) and Grenache, its dark cherry fruit mingles with haunting violet and seductive pepper notes; very silky tannins and a long, lingering finale. A mushroom risotto, roasted meats, Cantonese roast duck are all well served by this wine, as are generally flavourful dishes, whether European or Asian.

Finally, Malmont’s ‘Beauxgrains’ (‘beautiful berries’) Séguret Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC Rouge is a selection of the best Syrah and Grenache grapes of the year and production is limited to 500 bottles. The 2015 vintage has aromas of blackberries, dried blueberries, peppery spices and dark chocolate, their intensity kept in check by refreshing acidity and pronounced yet very finely structured tannins, resulting in overall balance and elegance. Try it with roasted or stewed beef, roasted lamb of leg, or hard cheese; baked pasta dishes (vegetarian or non-) are also good choices, as is Cantonese or northern Chinese (duck) cuisine.

The Wines of Domaine Malmont

Séguret Côtes du Rhône AOC Blanc 2017

Côtes du Rhône AOC Rouge 2016 

Séguret Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC Rouge 2016

‘Beauxgrains’ Séguret Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC Rouge 2015

The wines of Domaine Malmont are directly imported and exclusively distributed in Singapore by Wine & Philosophy. Prices are net and in Singapore Dollars. Terms & Conditions apply. You can order online or by sending an email to andreas.balemi@wine-philosophy.com.

New Arrivals (2): Fine Grower Champagnes

After crossing the ocean, new wines have arrived in Singapore to be added to the Wine & Philosophy wine list. They are now safely stored in a temperature-controlled environment in Jurong and available for immediate order and delivery, just in time for the festive season.

In our previous newsletter,  we introduced an artisanal producer from Pic-Saint-Loup in the Languedoc. Today we are moving north, and will introduce the sparkling wines of small growers and producers from Champagne.

A few weeks before Christmas and the New Year seems a good time to talk about this most festive of wines: champagne has long been associated with celebration, something to enjoy in special moments. In reality, champagne is a very versatile wine for many occasions. So why not enjoy champagne with food, for example? Elegance, aromatic complexity and refreshing acidity make it a great match for a surprisingly wide range of Asian dishes.

new champagnes

La Maison Penet

We first tasted the wines of La Maison Penet during a leisurely (and delicious) lunch at their home in Verzy, on the Montagne de Reims, and we decided they were too good not to be shared with our friends and fellow wine lovers in Singapore.

The Alexandre Penet range is a great introduction to the maison’s style of artisanal, refined champagne focusing on freshness and purity, as well as expression of terroir (all their wines see low dosage – sugar addition – to preserve that purity).

Their Extra Brut is fresh, with elegant floral aromas and hints of citrus fruit and hazelnut. Notes of brioche and fresh bread balance an uplifting minerality. Perfect as an aperitif wine, it goes well with shellfish and most Southeast Asian food as long as not too spicy.

The Extra Brut is also made in a Rosé version displaying a captivating dark salmon pink color. Aromas of ripe red cherries and redcurrant with a subtle, spicy touch are tempered by underlying freshness, providing lift and balance. Generally versatile, it is great on its own, but also rarely a mismatch with any kind of food.

A full bodied and rich champagne, the Grand Cru Brut Nature is very expressive of its Verzy and Verzenay terroirs, combining the purity of zero dosage with textural richness. The nose is fresh, with intense aromas of red fruits, grilled toast and a slight touch of ginger and other spices. Food goes generally well with this champagne, from crustaceans to cheese soufflé, or Cantonese cuisine.

With six hectares of Grand Cru vines in Verzy and Verzenay, the prestige label of La Maison Penet, Penet-Chardonnet, has received important critical acclaim. For optimal ageing follow up and traceability, the disgorgement date is mentioned on the back label and the bottles are individually numbered.

The Grand Cru ‘TerroirEscence’ is made from a special selection of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay Grand Cru parcels. The nose melds concentrated, candied citrus with a toasty character. On the palate, the attack is round and full, with ripe grapefruit and melon aromas, then softens mid-way with notes of vanilla and toasted nuts. A tight vein of acidity gives the wine great vivacity and drinkability. This is a gastronomic champagne, ideal with vegetable souffles or poultry.

Made from La Maison Penet’s best Grand Cru parcels of Verzy in an exceptional vintage, the Prestige Grande Réserve Grand Cru Extra Brut 2008 is a complex and powerful champagne with a lively nose displaying interlaced aromas of citrus, flowers and honey. On the palate the wine is very precise and clean, full-bodied yet silky, and leaves a gorgeous hint of green apples and an very long mineral finish, perfectly expressing the terroir of Verzy. Definitely for special occasions and celebrations.

Champagne Pierre Boever & Fils

We have partnered with Langrée & Stahel, a specialist in fine grower champagnes based in Switzerland and Singapore, to add a few more excellent small producers to our range of wines.

One is Pierre Boever, located on the Montagne de Reims, where they devote 2ha of vines to their Grand Cru champagnes. Viticulture is environmentally conscious, while winemaking is artisanal and respectful of tradition.

Their Carte Blanche Brut Grand Cru is arefreshingblend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with fine bubbles and fragrant scents of citrus fruit, apple and pear, a perfect champagne for every occasion, including lighter seasoned food.

Their top cuvée, the Millésime 2010 Brut Grand Cru instead is made only in exceptional vintages and from their best parcels. The bouquet evolves from white flowers and lime to a complex interplay of candied fruits and spices, apple and brioche flavors. Its richness and subtility make it a great companion to food.

Champagne Bression-Lourdeaux

Bression-Lourdeaux grows  5 hectares of vines in the Marne Valley area. Highest viticultural, environmental and winemaking standards ensure their characterful wines express an exceptional terroir. Interestingly, their wines are mainly based on Pinot Meunier, with some Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

In fact the Tradition Brut is a Blanc de Noirs, with 95% of Pinot Meunier and only 5% of Pinot Noir. It is a fresh and lively wine, with suggestions of red fruits and brioche on the nose. An ideal champagne for aperitifs, or lightly seasoned food.

A blend of one third each of Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the TryAgain Brut Millésime 2013 is a fresh and vivid champagne: as the name seems to suggest, one sip invites the next. It reveals notes of white flowers and grapefruit, followed by aromas of orange plums and apricot. A wine for festive aperitifs or lightly seasoned dishes.

Our champagnes

Alexandre Penet

Extra Brut

Rosé Extra Brut 

Grand Cru Brut Nature 

Penet-Chardonnet

Grand Cru ‘TerroirEscence’ 

Prestige Grande Réserve Grand Cru Extra Brut 2008 

Pierre Boever & Fils

Carte Blanche Brut Grand Cru 

Millésime 2010 Brut Grand Cru 

Bression-Lourdeaux

Tradition Brut 

TryAgain Brut Millésime 2013 

The wines of La Maison Penet are directly imported and exclusively distributed in Singapore by Wine & Philosophy, while those of Pierre Boever & Fils and Bression-Lourdeaux are directly and exclusively imported by our partner Langrée & Stahel.

Prices are net and in Singapore Dollars. Terms & Conditions apply. The wines can be ordered online or by completing an order form.

New Arrivals (1): Wines from Pic-Saint-Loup in the Languedoc

After crossing the ocean, new wines have arrived in Singapore to be added to the Wine & Philosophy wine list. They are now safely stored in a temperature-controlled environment in Jurong and will be ready for delivery next week.

All of them come from France. We expand our Rhône selection with excellent wines from a small producer in the village of Séguret and expand to the neighbouring Languedoc with delightful wines from the Pic-Saint-Loup appellation.  Moving north, we are excited about filling a vacuum in our wine list so far with the introduction of a few small artisanal producers from the world-famous appellation of Champagne.

on the road pic st l
On the road … looking for wines in Pic-Saint-Loup, Languedoc

But let’s start with the Languedoc and review some wines from Mas de Figuier in the Pic-Saint-Loup appellation. Here the weather is cooler and wetter than in most of the Languedoc, with large temperature variations from day to night, and the wines made here combine ripe, sun-filled fruit with freshness and elegance. Mas de Figuier has been managed by the Pagès family for four generations, and their 22 hectares of vineyards are all organically farmed. The aim of their artisanal winemaking approach is to express their unique terroir through straightforward, highly drinkable wines.

Their ‘Seigneur de Leuze’ Languedoc AOP 2017 ($37) represents a typical blend of the southern French varieties Roussanne (best known for Rhône blends with Marsanne) and Grenache (in its light-coloured variant). Luminous pale gold in colour, on the nose it displays white flower and white peach aromas with citrus notes – a lively wine balancing very effectively fruitiness and freshness. It can be drunk over the next few years and is a great aperitif wine, but works equally well with seafood and fish or white meats. As it ticks both the boxes of sweet fruit aromatics and refreshing acidity, it is also a savvy match with most Asian food.

Few wine regions can boast such a diversity of varieties and styles as the Languedoc. Alongside its “native” grapes, “international” varieties play an important role too, and are the source of some of region’s most distinguished wines (as for example Mas de Daumas Gassac). Mas de Figuier’s Cabernet Pays d’Oc IGP 2017 ($35) is a beautifully uncomplicated and joyful “pure” Cabernet Sauvignon, and you will recognize the ripe black berries, leather and spice perfumes, as well as its round and elegant character, with fine tannins. The cooling influence of the hills in the north and the elevated day-night temperature differences make sure bright freshness is maintained. Another fantastic everyday wine to drink now or over the next few years, when it will show some further flavour development. To be enjoyed on its own or with a wide range of nourishing and flavourful dishes: cold cuts and grilled meats, lasagne, grilled vegetables. 

The ‘Roman’ Languedoc AOP 2017 ($36) instead can be called an emblematic blend of one of the quintessential southern French grape varieties, Cinsaut (40% of the total) and the ‘GSM’ trio of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, found all over the Languedoc and the nearby Rhône.

The wine has a beautiful dark ruby color, with some purple glints.  It shows a generous fruity attack on the nose, very expressive of the varietal mix, followed by the emergence of subtle red berry, plum and spice notes. Balanced on the palate, with a nice interplay of ripe, juicy fruit and fine, evolved tannins. Great for drinking now, it will keep for the next five or six years. As a very versatile everyday wine, you can sip this on its own (even slightly chilled for additional refreshment). It will equally go well with all Mediterranean-influenced or generously flavoured cuisine, including grilled meats and cheese. North Indian and northern Chinese dishes offer interesting pairing opportunities.

Finally, Mas de Figuier’s ‘Jean’ Pic Saint Loup AOP 2017 ($49) is one of the two cuvees of Pic-Saint-Loup bottled by the domaine, and very representative of the appellation. It is a GSM blend of brilliant ruby color. A generous, complex nose of red fruit and black berries is framed by enticing spicy notes. We find the same aromatic breadth on the palate,  its ripe and voluptuous fruit framed by notes of pepper and dried herbs, with the Syrah contributing round and silky tannins. Excellent to drink now, it will keep for several more years. As a very Mediterranean wine, this Pic-Saint-Loup is a great companion to a broad range of flavours and textures, from ratatouilles and paellas to grilled lamb chops or skewers with cumin and ripe cheeses. But you can also venture further east: why not try Chinese roast duck, satay skewers or Singapore-style grilled chicken wings?

The wines of Mas de Figuier

Seigneur de Leuze’ Languedoc AOP 2017  

‘Roman’ Languedoc AOP 2017 

Cabernet Pays d’Oc IGP 2017

‘Jean’ Pic Saint Loup AOP 2017 

All wines are directly imported and exclusively distributed in Singapore by Wine & Philosophy. Prices are net and in Singapore Dollars. Terms & Conditions apply. The wines can be ordered online or by completing an order form.

Strong increase in world wine production in 2018

 

world wine prod 2

 

World wine production is expected to increase 12% to 282 million hectoliters (mhl) according to the OIV, the International Organisation for Vine & Wine, after a historic low in 2017 due to adverse weather conditions. This is one of the highest outputs in recent decades and will correspond to around 376 million standard bottles of wine. Falling prices for bulk wine are already reflecting this abundance in supply.

The three biggest wine producing countries saw very large grape harvests: Italy (48.5 mhl, +14%), France (46.4 mhl, +27%) and Spain (40.9 mhl, +26%). Other than Greece and Portugal, all European wine-producing countries recorded high, often above-average harvests. It has been also one of the earliest harvest seasons on record (and the earliest ever in Germany).

Production levels in the United States (23.9 mhl) have remained stable for the last three years, while South America registered significant increases (+23% in Argentina and 36% in Chile). New Zealand had another strong harvest, but both Australian and South African wine production declined compared to 2017.

Significant harvest variation has been a reality of agricultural life for millennia, but there is increasing consensus that the large fluctuations and increasingly earlier harvest dates observed in the last years are linked to weather patterns affected by climate change.

(Source: OIV)