After getting cooked on the boat in Positano, we flew to Catania and got a rental car that we drove all the way around Sicily. As I have already told many people, Sicily is one of the most underrated travel destinations in the world. The problem is that people just go to Palermo and try to get the Godfather tour. You need at least one week to get a decent sense of the country. Two weeks to do it all, and that’s rushing. Try not to go in the summer if can as I forgot how close to Africa it is on the map, and it is freaking hot.
This was a little shop in Taormina, which is a mountainous town overlooking the ocean, where they have the most amazing Greek amphitheater overlooking the sea. We stayed at an Airbnb here and drove into Benanti the day after I recovered from my blistering sunburn.
From the town of Taormina, you can walk to this funicular station that takes you from the top of the hill down to the beach at Isola Bella. I was wearing my “Mambo Italiano” D and G shirt for the occasion, which will become the basis of many jokes on the final Italy post once we get to Palermo.
Meanwhile at the bottom 15 minutes later…
Great place to start your day and have a coffee.
Again, I just kept thinking of the Talented Mr. Ripley, wherein my college days I would daydream about actually going and imagined what Italy looked like in my wildest dreams. This, was basically the scene I had in my head, exactly as I pictured in my imagination. There is something magical about delayed gratification.
Now, off to Benanti and Mt. Etna.
As we approached the family house/winery.
Here is a much better view of the front.
As we sat down we were given a plate of appetizers that seriously rivaled some of the food at the restaurants. I had a cheese that rocked my world here. I never knew that there was such a thing as ‘baked ricotta’, OMFG, I ate the whole damn plate. You can see it sliced up into little slices in the photo, with the browned skin outside. This requires a mini-lecture to highlight how special this experience was, see link below. I hate to come off as ignorant, but the US has such a strict poilcy on cheese imports that I rarely see them, and some of these basic cheeses were so exotic to me.
Then some typical soft ricotta smeared on a crostini with pistachio, which was amazing.
The same thing but with variegated wild sesame seeds on top.
I was wrapping the capicola around the sesame sticks and making meat flags that I devoured one after another.
What a rustic ambiance in here. Such an amazing selection of art.
Apparently, some of these paintings inspired the different label art they have on their bottles.
The one below of Mt. Vesuvius was the one that was on the bottle we bought of the1996 of the Rovitello Etna Rosso.
They even had a room where they showed how wine was made in the earliest days of Sicily’s local production of wine.
Now the wine tasting. There are basically three major things about Mt. Etna wine that make it special.
- The fact that you have an Alpine climate in a Mediterranean land, leading to huge day-night temperature drops that give great aromatics to the wines
- The volcanic soils, featuring strata of different geologic origins, with no fewer than 46 different lava types
- The predominance of ungrafted, pre-phylloxera vines
So we had the 2004 and 1996. The ’04 is great, but you can’t even tell it is 14 years old. The ’96 is great, kick ass, and still has a lot of fruit left. You really get that dusty cinnamony flavor with this wine, but yet it is surprisingly acidic due to strong black fruit, but also quite tannic given the age, and the finish is super long. This wine is almost at its peak and I am saving a few bottles to see how it tastes in 2 years., but it can easily go for another 5-10 years. We brought a case back, 6 of each vintage.
The wine here is very dirty, with old pre-phylloxera wines, volcanic soil, and they have been getting experienced enough now that Gaja has even bought a significant plot of land on Mt. Etna to make a new label. If you do not know who Gaja is, he is a pre-eminent Piedmont wine maven whose older bottles easily run in the thousands.
Do not make the mistake of overlooking the wineries here. I wish we could have gone to several more but the clock was ticking. There is one called Cos, where they store the wine in amphora clay pots and I wish I could have tried some straight from the pot. The Mt. Etna wines are something of a cult status now and are really being recognized by the biological wine aficionados.
Here is a helpful list of places to contemplate in your planning.
Here is the son of Mr. Benanti, Antonio. This guy was a smooth operator. He went from chatting up a guy in French, then Italian, came to me, starting speaking English, then to Erika in perfect Spanish. He basically put me to shame in front of Erika, who told me he speaks more like a ‘chilango’ than I do. Of course, she tried setting him up with her sister Elena.
We were very happy to have stopped by and were very happy with the gracious host Antonio Benanti. We look to the actual volcano to remind us of the label of the wine we just bought for our future enjoyment.