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Gaetano Arrigo winery is perched on the north hillside of Mt. Etna, the tallest active volcano in Europe, at 600 meters above sea level. It is close to a little town called Castiglione di Sicilia, in the Catania province. Nominated among the most beautiful villages of Italy, Castiglione has ancient origins and a strong medieval soul, attested by its narrow, old streets, the many monuments, churches and, of course, the castle that stands firmly on the hill. The area is extremely well known for its outstanding and truly unique natural environment. Castiglione di Sicilia is located on a hill between the Alcantara Valley and the Etna Mountain State Park.
This unique microclimate is influenced by the presence of the Alcantara river, which runs harmoniously down the valley, passing by old lava flows and beautiful hills. In the Alcantara park, the famous Alcantara Gorge can be found - a spectacular lava canyon formed by walls of cooled magma, inside which the most important river of the island flows undisturbed.
The Etna Park, on the other side, is a protected natural area, founded with the purpose of protecting and preserving Mount Etna, a World Heritage Site. The hillsides are home to many animal species such as porcupines, foxes and wild cats, while the flora is rich and varied, with chestnuts, olive trees, birches and the local broom, an endemic plant of Etna whose little yellow flowers create a striking contrast with the black lava stone.
The top of the Volcano is at 10K feet, and therefore a lot of snow can be seen in the winter. It is truly a fascinating and unique place that combines the beauty of the alpine landscape with amazing views of the Mediterranean Sea.
There is one thing that Gaetano Arrigo would say when talking about making wine: if you are on the right piece of land, it is the easiest thing to do. He is talking about a brilliant, unique wine, such as his Nerello Mascalese.
Since the beginning, the approach that leads the company is to intervene as little as possible with the vines, only with specific operations aimed at keeping them healthy and tidy. Herbicides and other chemicals have never been used. The reason is simple: they are not needed. Producing organic wine here isn’t an ethical choice, it is common sense. Nature and the wise work of men are enough. The climate is kind, the land is rich and lavish, the soil is exceptional. Especially in ‘Contrada Pietramarina’ - the exact spot on the Etna hillside where the winery is located. It is made of three different elements: Etna lava rock, sandstone and alluvial deposits, coming from the close Alcantara river. This rare composition gives grapes a distinctive and unique taste and character…the same that will then be found in the wine.
To trust nature also means to make decisions that to many may seem foolish. For example, having less land devoted to vines, letting other spontaneous local trees grow as well. The fruit trees that are scattered around the vineyard - wild blackberry bushes, persimmon and cherry trees, pomegranates and olive trees - are actually responsible for the distinguishing aromas of Arrigo’s Nerello Mascalese. In the estate, there is also a little chestnut forest; back in the days, its food would be used for the barrels and to support the vines. Even if today it no longer serves this goal, it wasn’t cut but rather considered a richness, as it adds variety to the natural environment.
The minimum intervention approach is also applied in the winery. After a strictly manual harvest, the grapes are softly pressed and left to ferment with the skins, while the maceration process is carried out in steel tanks. This might sound like a paradox for a winery that insists so much on nature. As a matter of fact, this choice actually corresponds to the desire of not altering the wine at all, a thing that any wooden barrel would do. In the past, the solution adopted was to use huge, 10,000 liter local chestnut barrels - their impressive size would protect the wine from any added wood flavors. Today, the answer comes from steel.
Gaetano Arrigo’s Nerello Mascalese is a refined and interesting wine that expresses and honors its incredible motherland, made with passion and humble simplicity. And love, of course.
In the story of Gaetano Arrigo and his little winery, nested on Etna’s hillsides - the word that comes up the most is “love”.
The Arrigo estate – located in Castiglione di Sicilia, Contrada Pietramarina, composed by the manor house, the farmhouse, few hectares of vineyards, the millstone and the winery dating back to 1858 – used to be property of the Lanza Palermo Barons, a noble Sicilian family. Despite being quite a rustic estate, the Barons were particularly fond of it, as they would consider it their special ‘love place’.
In 1968, Gaetano Arrigo’s mother was fleeing from the heavy Sicilian summer heat, looking for some refreshment around the hillsides of Etna, when she stumbled upon the Lanza Palermo property and fell in love with it. Her husband, Gaetano’s father, out of love, agreed to acquire it. The buildings back then were rather crumbling, needing to be restored. The area, as well, was still very rural, still to be discovered by the fancy wine world. Yet, it had an incomparable and ancient charm, with the volcano and its dark stones standing solemn. From the acquisition, it began the long and challenging process of restoration: a commitment carried on by the Arrigo family bit by bit, with patience, respect and, certainly, love.
Today, that same love is more alive than ever, bottled up in the outstanding and unique wine produced by Gaetano: the Nerello Mascalese. Despite the ‘Etna wines craze’ that started in the 80’s, the Arrigo family – whose vineyard is not only in the Etna DOC area but also on its top quality soil – chose to continue to work in the winery guided by one criteria only: love. For this incredible land that, generous, offers everything you need and more; for the people who live here, who are the keepers of an amazing wine related knowledge; and, lastly, for an over one century long heritage that asks to be honored.
A native vine of Etna, it typically grows between 600 and 800 meters above sea level in volcanic soil. Its main features are balance, great elegance and length. As for minerality, it is one of the rulers worldwide. The color is never excessive, it actually shows transparencies that, somehow, could recall the great Burgundy wines. A personal favorite.
Nerello Mascalese, as described by Carlo Ferrini