Barone de Villagrande, Etna Rosso
Barone de Villagrande, Etna Rosso

Barone de Villagrande, Etna Rosso

Sicily, Italy 2020 (750mL)
Regular price$37.00

Barone de Villagrande, Etna Rosso

You don’t see many inexpensive wines with as much backstory as today’s silky Sicilian red. The first Baron of Villagrande, Don Carmelo Nicolosi, was named in 1727 by Charles VI, an Austrian who ruled what was then the “Kingdom of the Two Sicilies”—Sicily along with the chunk of the Italian peninsula south of Naples. Ten generations—ten generations—later, the Nicolosi family is still at it, making wines in the village of Milo, on the eastern slopes of the Mount Etna volcano. This is the ultimate “heritage” producer in a region that has witnessed a tidal wave of international interest in its wines, and yet Baron di Villagrande’s modest prices don’t at all square with the quality of the wines or the legacy behind them. And now that we’ve given them their just due, let’s get to their 202o Etna Rosso: delicious, fragrant, balanced, mineral, evocative, silky, energetic…all in all a great example of why Etna reds are being touted as the new “Burgundies of Italy.” Backstory notwithstanding, the value-for-dollar here is truly unbeatable. 

On Mount Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano at about 11,000 feet, vineyards wrap around its lower slopes on the north, east, and southern flanks. The Barone di Villagrande vineyards are situated on slopes above Milo, which, along with other key “east side” villages like Zafferana Etnea, is within the Valle del Bove—a large, concave valley thought to have been formed by the collapse of an ancient crater-lake. Along with the black volcanic lava that is the key component of Etnean soil, vineyards in the eastern region also contain higher percentages of sand, especially in comparison to the heavier, more rocky soils of the northern sector. Barone di Villagrande’s winemaker and 10th-generation proprietor, Marco Nicolosi, believes his area’s soil composition results in more fine-tuned, finessed wines. As elsewhere, altitudes in the Villagrande sites are high—700 meters and up—creating dramatic day-night temperature swings that help preserve acidity in grapes. They develop flavor, not just sugar. 

When “Etna” became an official Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) in 1968, it was a Nicolosi—Carlo Nicolosi Asmundo, a professor at the University of Catania—who helped write the production “discipline,” which is to say: These folks have been here longer than most. It bears repeating, and Marco Nicolosi’s are good hands to be in. Today’s wine was sourced from Certified Organic vineyards in Milo as well as some holdings further north in Castiglione di Sicilia, and is comprised of 80% Nerello Mascalese and 20% Nerello Cappuccio/Nerello Mantellato. It was fermented in stainless steel tanks then transferred to used 500-liter chestnut barrels for a year of aging, with further refinement in bottle before release.

The 2020 is a lush, joyful, ready-to-drink Etna red with all the hallmarks of this buzzed-about region: bright aromas, ripe wild berry fruit, soft tannins, and deep, smoky minerality. In the glass, it’s a luminous ruby flecked with garnet and pink, releasing a wave of juicy wild strawberry, black cherry, and blood orange aromas followed by a savory mix of dried herbs, crushed rocks, baking spices, and flint. It is medium-bodied, headed toward medium-plus, with velvety tannins and great freshness to the acidity. The latter will preserve it nicely over the next 3-5 years, but it’s ready to go now, so don’t wait: Pull the cork, decant it for 30 minutes or so, and serve it at a cool 60 degrees in Burgundy stems. Serve it with some seared tuna steaks with chopped tomatoes and olives. Very Sicilian, and very, very good. Cheers!

Barone de Villagrande, Etna Rosso

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