Winemaking can be a struggle when the elements are against you as they are here on Etna, and finding a market for the wines can be equally challenging. Despite producing reasonably modest quantities from an area which has recently been under the media microscope, we are still not guaranteed a regular, comforting clink of bottles leaving the winery on a daily basis. Our allies in this wine war are the sommeliers, who are in the front of the line, guiding the consumers in making their choices, whilst protecting them from any unsuspecting corked and oxidized bottles. Ciro and I had the fortune to meet some of these talented youngsters during a recent visit from our Californian importer, Oliver McCrum. www.omwines.com
One of the group included the very articulate and extremely amusing Jeff Porter, the wine director at Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles, who had chosen to study Bio-Chemistry before turning to the world of wine. There was also the gentle, quietly spoken Alejandro Gutierrez, wine buyer for a Whole Foods Market in San Francisco, and not to mention the passionate salesman, Ted Vance, with blonde pony tail and piercing blue eyes, appearing every bit the Californian. Ted runs a wine brokerage in Southern California called Vance Erickson, which sells Oliver’s italian portfolio among other wines; he impressed us with his educated palate and the bold adjectives he used whilst describing our wines.
After dinner ‘chez-nous’ on the evening of their arrival, composed predominantly of comfort-food including pasta in a rich ragu sauce followed by oven baked Sicilian sausages, the following evening we took Oliver, Michele (GM of omwines), and the boys to the ‘Antica Marina’ in Catania, where we had a sumptuous fish supper. It kicked off with such an alarming quantity of anti-pasti that it culminated in a rather Monty Pythonesque scene as the small dishes were mercilessly delivered to our table with more speed than we were able to fill our plates. This was followed by a couple of ‘assagini’ of pasta, one of which was subliminal: a cluster of mussels nestling in a plate of spaghetti adorned with green clumps of ‘mauro’ (locally collected algae); this coupled exquisitely with the Outis Bianco ’09. The meal reached its climax with the arrival of a beautifully cooked, gargantuan ‘dentice’ of which the Outis’ Rosso ’07 and Monte Ilice ’08 were a perfect accompaniment. We were joined for dinner by Alberto Aiello, an effervescent young Etna producer and close friend, who had brought his Graci wines for us to taste.
Oliver’s trip happened to coincide with a visit from Geoff Kruth, MS, the Wine Director at the Farm House Inn in Sonoma, who happens to bear an uncanny resemblance to Kenneth Branagh! Geoff graduated from Sonoma State University with a BS in Computer Science, but he too changed direction when he decided to enroll at The French Culinary Institute’s Classic Culinary Arts program in New York where he was able to pursue his passion for wine. Each of these dedicated wine professionals displayed such passion, skill, and knowledge about wine that it was inspiring. Ciro and I remain both grateful and unequivocally confident that ‘our babies’ rest in such capable hands.
The McCrum crew’s trip to Mt Etna, although brief, was concluded rather appropriately by a magnificent eruption the night before they left the island, heralding their departure.