The label is simple: a white background with a pencil sketch of billowing clouds tumbling out of the mouth of an active volcano. We met our guide in Passopisciaro. After the necessary caffè at the local bar and a winding 15-minute drive, we turned off the paved road onto one lined with gravel and marked Tascante. “Tascante” is written below the sketch, a marriage of the winemaker’s name, Tasca, and the Sicilian volcano on which the vines are located, Etna. The intense greens of the surrounding chestnut forest are laced with vines twisting out of the black earth, dotted in precious clusters ripe with juicy fruit for the harvest. The wine, a brilliant ruby red when poured, seems to channel the glow of the volcano’s frequent lava streams. We leave the vines and enter a relatively unassuming restaurant and tuck ourselves away at a corner table. We are not given menus. The nose recalls the slight chill of the mountain air and expresses a seriousness in aromas of ash over fresh, red fruit and violets. A bottle of Tascante Seconda Vendemmia is presented, opened, swirled, and welcomed before a fresh porcini carpaccio, sprinkled with local ricotta salata and fresh parsley, lands on the table. The minerality nods to the sulfurous earth of the vines, but this wine is not heavy or weighted – instead, it is austere and elegant, noble, like the counts that produce it. Stories flow and ideas are exchanged as the courses continue on the cool autumn afternoon. With the arrival of each new dish celebrating the volcano’s precious porcini, the Seconda Vendemmia rejoices in the glass at its perfect pairings. The wine goes down easy, and as we pour our second glass on this cold Chicago evening, dinnertime extends later into the evening, over an ocean divide, and back to the slopes of the great volcano.
The ability of an Italian wine to portray a distinct sense of place is fascinating (read here why we claim that Italian wine has two times the amount of terroir), enticing, and magnetic. It is what drives Italian wine lovers to make a life’s quest of exploring the expansive chart of varietals, DOC(G)’s, and winemakers whose work in wine tells their story. I count myself among those committed to that quest and have returned time and time again to one place whose story rings true and clear. And – perhaps partially due to my experience of being married to a siciliano or perhaps its because the hospitality on Italy’s Island of the Sun is unlike any other I have ever experienced – I am particularly drawn to Sicilian wines and their ability to recreate their place of origin.
Tascante wines are a quintessential example of Italian wines fully conveying a sense of place. The brand is relatively ‘new’ on Etna, its vines and land bought in a business venture of the noble wine-making family Tasca d’Almerita, whose principle property Regaleali is located an hour from Palermo. The heightened creativity in the name (it is a combination of Tasca and Etna spelled backwards) matches the heightened elegance and quality of the wines. Grapes are harvested from two properties, one sporting vines with 50+ years of age and the other with relatively new vines (7-10 years).
The estate’s flagship wine, il Tascante is made of 100% Nerello Mascalese aged for 18 months in Slovenian oak. The wine shows rich tannins, forward red fruits, Mediterranean herbs, and, most notable, a refreshing acidity and color that brings to mind standing on the slopes of the volcano on an autumn day. This wine is stellar, and has been acclaimed as one of the best new Etna wines by critics and everyday wine drinkers alike.
While il Tascante runs at a price point of $50 a bottle (very reasonable, considering wines of a similar quality), the estate also produces two everyday wines from its newer vines. Ghiaia Nera, aged 12 months in oak, is another pure expression of Nerello Mascalese, light in color with less abrasive tannins, and is an absolute delight for the taste buds – and the pocket at under $20 a bottle!
Tascante’s only white, Buonora, is 100% Carricante grapes, and consistently scores over 90/100 points. Grapes are grown on 15-year-old vines and the wine itself tastes of Sicilian citrus has a distinct minerality reminiscent of the lava-rich soils from which it comes and the sea to which it is near. Also a fantastic deal at under $20 a bottle.
The Tasca d’Almerita family has multiple estates in Sicily which tourists can visit, including Tascante and Sallier de la Tour, and which offer lodging, including Regaleali and Capofaro. For more information, check out the links or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.