Sicily, Italy
At a Glance
  • Distinct among Etna producers in that he releases his wines only after long aging in botte grande and in the bottle – his releases often six to eight years behind other Etna producers
  • He has incredibly old 80+ year old vines throughout many of Etna’s top subzones – many on original rootstocks
  • Known for his Nerello Mascalese VV bottling (previously labelled as Etna Rosso) as well as his multi vintage Cala Cala Rosso which is largely declassified fruit and barrels from his VV bottling

The Calabretta wines hail from the DOC of Etna Rosso in northeastern Sicily. The grapes here are primarily the indigenous Nerello Mascalese, with a bit Nerello Cappuccio interplanted. Massimiliano also has a small vineyard of Pinot Noir, a grape that has been planted on Etna since the 1800's. The vineyards are planted between 300 and 900 meters on the slopes of Mount Etna, an active volcano that looms in the distance for much of eastern Sicily. The soils are a combination of black volcanic ash and sand which are fine and almost silty, with lots of lava rocks and good drainage.

When Doug first met Massimiliano Calabretta, a part-time college professor at the University of Genova, his first words were: “I make my wine like Bartolo Mascarello!”. Given that most Sicilian wine is made very much in the modern style, Doug was excited to see what a traditional-style wine from this region and varietal would be like! Sure enough, most of the vines are 70-80 years old, with a good portion ungrafted. They are organically farmed. The Etna Rosso (now called Nerello Mascalese VV is aged for 6-7 years in large Botti before being bottled.

There is an old Nebbiolo-like profile to the wines. The aromas are steeped in dried cherries, tar, licorice, and hints of ashy/volcanic soil tones. Given the high elevation and big diurnal temperature shifts (they have ski slopes on Etna as well!), the wines retain a freshness and delineation that recalls a mature Barolo, northern Rhone or even a sturdier, earthier red Burg. With the provenance and age of the wines, they represent a terrific relative value.

Calabretta also makes about 2,000 bottles a year of a rare white wine made from (mostly) old vine Carricante, interplanted with Minella Bianca (for acidity). It is aged in a combo of tank and neutral wood. This intriguing white is somewhat reminiscent of Pepe’s Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, with melony fruit and hints of straw, hay and almonds. According to Massimiliano, Carricante is somewhat tight in its youth and requires a couple of years to express itself, so he holds it back before release. There is ample weight and texture, lovely acidity and a real sense of “grip” (almost tannic) on the palate. As such, it is a perfect wine to pair with all kinds of food!

These are truly unique wines, and worth the introduction to your customers who like pure, soulful, expressive wines from a truly unique terroir!