When asked if I would be interested in attending a ten-year retrospective of Terre Nere, my response was a resounding YES! For me, Terre Nere represents something more than just the sum of its already-impressive parts. Those parts being the location, winemaker, and pioneering methodologies. What Terre Nere represents to me is coming full circle with Sicilian wine and the impetus behind Mount Etna’s rise to the world’s stage.
When i think back to over ten years ago, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone willing to put an Etna wine against the world’s top regions. In fact, the general consensus about Sicily as a whole was that they were trying hard–but failing. That all changed because of Terre Nere. Yes, there were many great wineries before them, and a number of pioneers placed stakes and made moves on Etna. However, Terre Nere was the property that broke out of the Sicilian wine category and put Mount Etna on the map.
Much of this is the result of its owner, Marco di Grazia, whose unrelenting passion for Italian wine guided him to become one of the most famous exporters and innovators in the world. You see, Marco didn’t just discover producers to propel to international fame; he literally guided them to create a product that the world’s wine consumers wanted at the time. The list of Italian properties whose names are staples in the industry today may never have arrived if it wasn’t for this man.
So you can imagine that, when the time came that he wanted to buy vineyards and start his own winery, the entire industry waited with bated breath to hear where Marco di Grazia’s new project would be started. When the news came that it was on Mount Etna, an unproven and volatile region of Sicily, many people scratched the heads in wonder. What did he see in this region? Why would someone want to make wine on the side of an active volcano? Little did they know the level of success that would follow.
In truth, what Marco had done in creating Terre Nere was use the same skill set that helped him succeed as an exporter; he literally saw the potential in something that others missed. On Mount Etna, he found vineyards filled with ancient vines, complex soils, diverse climates and a myriad of possible expressions from a native variety that had the potential to make great wine: Nerello Macalase.
Instead of creating one wine, the choice was made to separate each vineyard parcel to express the diverse terroir of the region. With the majority of his holdings on the Northern side of Mount Etna, Terre Nere began its production with the 2002 vintage. In the grand scheme of things, success came quickly, as my first introduction to the brand was with the 2005 vintage, and already the industry was buzzing about the amazing wines then coming from Mount Etna.
So here I was, over ten years later, and in front me stood a ten-year retrospective, which was followed by a focused tasting of the ‘12 and ‘13 vintages. What was even more amazing was when Marco explained that he had never had the opportunity to taste so many vintages back-to-back, hence it would be an exploration for all of us.
A few of my general impressions:
Two of the questions I had always had regarding Terre Nere was how well they would age and what the drinking window would be on the average bottle. One of the best descriptions I can give to explain these wines and the variety to a newcomer is that they fall somewhere between the expressions and structures of Barolo and Burgundy. Each time I’ve tasted them through the years, I would wonder how the tannin would resolve and what would be waiting on the other side of the aging curve.
Vintage variations aside, I would say that a general guideline would be to wait between 6 – 8 years before they enter their early maturity. This was seen with the ‘08, ‘07 and ‘05 vintages (with 2006 still needing some time to soften).
As for the different vineyard designations, three now stand out to me the most. First is the Santo Spirito, for its early appeal, allure and elegance. Then there’s Calderara Sottana, with its layers of dark fruit, earth and classic structure. Lastly, the Prephylloxera, as it is a wine of such balance and elegance while remaining wild and savage. These three designations have formed my holy trinity of Terre Nere, but don’t sleep of the rest of the lineup. Guardiola, a vineyard at a steep, 30-degree incline, which sits adjacent to Santo Spirito but at higher elevation, is something of a perfect marriage between elegance and structure, while Feudo di Mezzo seems to be the most balanced and consistent wine of the group.
My thoughts on vintages after hearing Marco’s commentary:
- 2014 was an unusual vintage of ups and down, yet with excellent results and producing alluring yet perfectly balanced and structured wines.
- 2013 was difficult as it was wet and unusually cool through the fall. The wines are enjoyable today, but they lack the stamina found in better vintages.
- 2012 was a dry, warm vintage that produced tiny grapes with thick skins. However, these wines showed enough structure to hold their ripe fruit firmly. They show beautifully with plenty of cellar potential.
- 2011 was considered a classic, near-perfect vintage. Dry winter, mild spring, warm summer and perfectly timed rain in September led to an ideal harvest. Classic is the word here, as the wines I’ve tasted are of excellent quality with cellar potential.
- 2010 was off to a good start with an equally beneficial summer, but ups and downs into the fall disturbed ripening. My only example to go by was the Prepylloxera, which show ethereal weightlessness. The jury is still out.
- 2009 was a difficult vintage defined by a harsh winter, short summer and rainy harvest. The Guardiola was a prime example, being my least favorite of the flight with lean fruit and over-accentuated tannin.
- 2008 had some irregular weather, including hail, yet resulted in a late ripening and ultimately beautiful vintage. Warm weather into the fall pushed ripeness to the limits, yet the Santo Spirito still showed very balanced. Past experiences have also been very positive, and I’d keep my eyes out for well-stored bottles to snatch up.
- 2007 (Limited comments from Marco)–I would say this was a riper vintage, and the wine is ready now. I admit to checking wine-searcher for more 2007s immediately after this tasting.
- 2006 (Limited comments from Marco)–Still structured but with the fruit to carry it for many more years.
- 2005 (Limited comments from Marco)–Balanced, pretty, elegant and ready to drink today. Keep an eye out for well-stored ‘05s.
On to the tasting notes (by vintage):
2014 Terre Nere Calderara Sottana Bianco – This had a rich and robust nose, with ripe apple, peach, smoke, hints of tropical fruits, even banana. It was then freshened by minerals and florals with a hint of lemon zest. On the palate, a silky veil of ripe stone fruit covered the senses, providing a pleasing feel, as hints of minerals and inner floral tones set in. This finish displayed a buzz of vibrant acidity with hints of lime and stone lingering long. (93 points) at Morrell
2014 Terre Nere Prephylloxera Vigna di Don Peppino – This showed an intense, exotic and deeply-layered nose, as savory cherry gave way to notes of charred meat and Indian spice before it turned fresh and invigorating with spiced citrus and wild herbs. On the palate, I found rich, intense yet silky textures, with savory cherry and spice giving way to sweet herbs and a hint of citrus. Is it grapefruit and brown spices or dried orange? It’s hard to tell, but the results are stunning. The finish was lifted and long with sweet tannin coating the senses, as notes of sour cherry and orange peel lingered long. This is drop-dead gorgeous–a truly wild yet elegant wine. (97 points) at Morrell
2013 Terre Nere Prephylloxera Vigna di Don Peppino – This was a wine of beautiful contrasts, as intense spiced cherry was offset by soaring floral aromatics, smoke and black earth, in an exotic yet nuanced expression. On the palate, it was lifted and ethereal while saturating the senses with sweet tannin-wrapped black cherry, sweet tobacco and herbs. The finish was floral with fresh red fruit and minerals, yet its tannic clout lingered on. The ’14 may be a step up, but the ’13 is pure class. (94 points)
2013 Terre Nere Santo Spirito – The nose displayed dusty cherry and spice, with smoke-tinged minerality giving way to sweet tea and floral tones. On the palate, vibrant acidity mixed with silky tannin, providing a grippy sensation, as notes of cherry and sweet tea permeated the senses. It finished with dried red fruits and inner floral tones. The 2013 is remarkably youthful, feminine and perfumed. (91 points) at Morrell
2013 Terre Nere Calderara Sottana – What a tremendous bouquet, showing olive and earth up front, followed by rich and massive wave of black cherry, currant and spice with hints of undergrowth. On the palate, it was soft and caressing, displaying ripe cherry and strawberry in a pliant and positively satiating experience. It finished with medium length, as its fruit tapered off and left the mouth watering. This wine was a gentle giant. (92 points)
2013 Terre Nere Feudo di Mezzo – The nose was rich, showing black cherry and herbs with crushed stone minerality. On the palate, I found a mix of tart cherry and strawberry, which seemed to morph into an intense and saturating note of pomegranate, yet through it all a wave of brisk acidity provided a liveliness and mouthwatering experience. It finished with medium-length, displaying hints of wild berry and a twang of lively acidity. (92 points)
2012 Terre Nere Feudo di Mezzo – What a gorgeous wine. The nose was dark and brooding with crushed stone and black earth up front. Dried raspberry came forward with time in the glass, along with dry cocoa and flowers. On the palate, it was silky with acid-driven vibrancy to its tart cherry and spice. It turned floral and mineral-like through the finish with a long and lingering note of sweet tea and smoke. This is so enjoyable today for its pliancy and richness on the palate, yet there’s a lurking structure beneath that is sure to carry it for many years (like Volnay). (93 points)
2012 Terre Nere Calderara Sottana – If I had to pick one wine from these recent tastings to put in my cellar today, this would be it. The 2012 Calderara Sottana was deep, rich, and vibrant. On the nose, I found dark earth, ripe black cherry, crushed raspberry, sweet herbs, dusty spice and minerals. On the palate, silky textures were contrasted by sweet tannin-laced black cherry, spice, cocoa and saline-minerality. It coated the senses throughout the finish with concentrated cherry and pomegranate, while hints of tannin lingered on. Wow! (95 points)
2012 Terre Nere Santo Spirito – The nose was intense and alluring, displaying crushed stone up front, then opening to reveal spiced cherry, dusty floral tones, a hint of herbs and green olive. On the palate, I found soft textures, which were contrasted by a core of spice and tannin-wrapped cherry fruit. Like a freight train speeding along a track, the fruit component seemed unstoppable and center-focused, saturating the senses. It finished on lingering spice, sweet tannin and a coating of concentrated dried cherry. I can only imagine that the future is very bright for the 2012 Santo Spirito. (94 points) at Morrell
2011 Terre Nere Calderara Sottana – The nose was tense and deeply pitched, showing red currant and brown spice, contrasted by pretty floral tones and crushed stone. On the palate, silky textures were contrasted by a mix of minerals, spice, and tart cherry, then seemingly turning to ripe strawberry. It finished remarkably long on sweat tea leaves, spice and a hint of citrus. The ‘11 Calderara Sottana is a pleasure on the palate for its remarkably silky yet refined and elegant expression (all stone and rock soil mixed with black pumice). (95 points)
2010 Terre Nere Prephylloxera Vigna di Don Peppino – The nose was intense, giving and remarkably pretty, displaying sweet herbs and spice up front, giving way to rosy floral tones, a hint of red pepper, and bright cherry. On the palate, it was finessed and pretty with light cherry and inner floral tones This relies on beauty over power and comes across as quite classic. The mouth watered throughout the finish, as a coating of sweet tannin lingered along with citrus-tinged spice. (93 points)
2009 Terre Nere Guardiola – The nose showed dark fruits with hints of dried cherry and crushed raspberry, giving way to saline minerality and savory herbs. It was tense on the palate, as vibrant acid provided a buzz on the palate that resolved into saturating cherry fruit and herbal tones. Savory cherry remained through the finish, along with a coating of gruff tannin. (90 points)
2008 Terre Nere Santo Spirito – The nose started restrained, showing dried cherry and minerals, yet it opened dramatically in the glass, as hints of potpourri and exotic spice filled the glass. On the palate, I found silky textures with intense, densely-concentrated red fruit, which seemed to be wrapped in a mix of spice and sweet tannin. It finished on finesse and was quite pretty with dried red fruits and inner floral tones. (94 points)
2007 Terre Nere Calderara Sottana – The nose showed dark, brooding fruit with savory herbs and brown autumn spice, ultimately very pretty and finessed while adding a note of dried flowers. On the palate, I found silky, alluring textures with black cherry, strawberry fruit and sweet spice that seemed to coat the senses. It finished long, long, long on fresh cherry pits and minerality. This is so beautiful today, both focused and intense, yet ready to enjoy. There may be the slightest hint of heat on the finish, but it is an undeniably beautiful wine. (95 points)
2006 Terre Nere Guardiola – The nose was dark yet quite closed, showing plums, dark spice, crushed stone, black earth, and wax. It was angular on the palate yet still fresh, with notes of bright cherry and softening textures over time. It finished long on candied cherry, inner floral tones, and minerals. This still needs a few more years to truly come together, but it is already enjoyable. (92 points)
2005 Terre Nere Feudo di Mezzo – The nose was pretty and finessed, showing spice-tinged cherry and minerals, along with dusty dried flowers. On the palate, I found a finessed and lifted wine with notes of dried cherry and inner floral tones. It was very pretty on the finish with a mix of tart cherry and minerals. This is ready to enjoy today. It’s vibrant through balanced acidity with perfectly resolved tannin and beautifully pure fruit. (93 points)
Article, Photos and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido