I still have in mind the passion that was expressing the first Sicilian I met to describe his land. The emotions looked so intense, that I told myself I had to go and check. A couple of months later, I was landing to Palermo for the first time. I fell in love at the first sight. 6 years later, this island keeps captivating me and each time I go there, I know that I will go back.
The objective of my last trip to Sicily was to discover the part at the north of Catania. A few weeks ago, during a meeting with a customer, I heard about "Tenuta di Fessina". An old vineyard of Nerello Mascalese (local grapes), dating back to the last century. Passionate about wine, I decide to check and finally manage to book a visit at the Tenuta.
The D Day, I receive the information that the Giro d’Italia (Italian bicycle tour) was blocking the roads... Disappointed, I consider the path I should follow to arrive there, and think about cancelling the visit. But after a second, I told myself: “let’s be slow”. Why always looking for schedule optimization and time reduction? And I decide to head to the Tenuta via the other side of the Etna.
Alone on the roads, I can admire the landscape and feel surrounded by beauty: expression of a contrast between dark soils sand, yellow blooms (ginestra) and blue sky. I almost feel like in a road trip in the USA: the car, the curves, and me. I do a quick pitstop to Bronte, where I buy a calzone stuffed with pistachio cream (OMG !), and after a couple of hours, I arrive to Rovittello. While looking for the Tenuta, I lose signal of my cell phone and GPS and get the old and almost forgot necessity to activate my brain to think where could be the location. I feel surprisingly alive.
When I arrive at Tenuta di Fessina, I know immediately I will love the place, the architectural details have been cured with care. I love the façade of the building that reminds me Arabic clay style finishing, the rusted metal slabs and the original ceramics.
I get welcome by a nice and warm person, which shows me the way to the vineyards.
Can you imagine, walking in a vineyard at almost 700 meters above the sea, with the Etna mount in the back and old tendrils, alberello style (gobelet system), springing on a black sand ? BEAUTIFUL.
While gallivanting in the middle of the vines, I get strike by the respect of the vegetation; no pesticide is used to get rid off non-desired grass. Some vines are almost 100 years old, which is pretty unusual for Italy. And last, all of them are ungrafted vine (piede franco) as the phylloxera can’t attack the vines on sandy soils. You feel this vineyard has a soul.
But the surprise does not stop there… When we head to the wine cellar, I see for the first time of my life, a genuine wine press, a behemoth. The original elements have been incorporated in the renovation work, ending in a perfect symbiosis between past and present. Besides the respect of the land, you can feel as well the respect of tradition and handcrafts. And even if the renovation of the place is breathtaking, a sort of humility is still present.
After the visit of the cellar, we head to the wine tasting room. Again a place that has been designed perfectly to revisit the old. I fall in love with the wine tasting table, made of a steel structure, a top covered with ceramic tiles and some copper water pipe as tap. Love the light design details too...
To realize the tasting, I get supported by an agronomist from the region, I get excited just by listening to her talking about the complexity of Etna and see how much she loves her land.
I start with an Etna bianco, a wine which is getting reconsidered recently, a white wine made mainly of carricante. In such a wine, you taste the expression of the territory, the minerality of the wine coming from the complexity of the black soil composition. But not only, the altitude and its temperature swing between night&day (which can reach sometimes up to 30 degrees), contributes to the character of this wine.
Tasting the wines from Fessina is a great way to understand the richness coming from the same type of grape, just because handled in a different way, or coming from a different lot. And this perception is made possible, as most of their wines do not age in small oak barrels. I often feel in Italy, they use the oak to please the export market but unfortunately prevent you from knowing the primary and secondary aromas of their grapes. Being French, I consider wine as a complex thing, and going to “easiness” to please the trend initiated by people like Parker is not educating people but enduring the consumerism trend of our society. A wine should not always be understandable at the first sip. Wine has a soul and is made to surprise you, just when you think you understood it already. Indeed, after 15 minutes, I got the nice surprise to see how the nose of the wines completely changed. With wine, we need to be patient.
After the tasting of the wines, I got the opportunity to pair them with local ingredients, selected with care. It’s in those moments, that you understand the quality of the food from this island and how they have gold in their hands without knowing about it probably. I got witness of an aromas explosion between the dried tomatoes, olive, cheese, anchovies, bread and cured meat. Tenuta started as well to have its own aromatic herbs garden; have you ever tasted fresh origano? I believe if you do, you remember about it for your entire life.
Saying that, I know that I will engrave this special afternoon in my head…