On Saturday morning I arrived at my second hotel, Zash Country Boutique Hotel late for my scheduled wine tour and already desperately needing a glass of wine. My GPS hadn’t recognized the address and I’d spent the last 30 minutes lost in the town of of Riposto. But the owners and Valeria, my guide, gave me a warm welcome and encouraged me to catch my breath before we headed out.
Especially since I was driving! Valerie had proposed taking my car to save money on a driver which I greatly appreciated and was hoping she wouldn’t regret since I was still getting used to Sicily driving.
As we started offer she asked how I wanted the tour experience to be – did I want it to be technical and professional or “fun”. I explained I had picked the Etna Wine School because I wanted to experience Etna wines I couldn’t buy in the US and get a feel for the wineries. Something the mass tours that all stop at the same wineries didn’t really offer.
Our first stop was Barone di Villagrande having taken the scenic route up Mt Etna so I could see the traditional terraces (and terrify myself on narrow rock walled roads).
Barone di Villagrande had been producing wine since 1727. The winery set on the top of a hill with an amphitheater of vines streatching out below and beautiful view of the sea.
The grounds were strewn with leaves and branches from the monsoon that had swept through the last several days but I still thought it was beautiful.
We were given a tour by Marco, the current winemaker carrying on the family’s nearly 300 year tradition. And afterwards taken to the wine tasting room where we would sample the current vintages and snack on an “appetizer” of local products. Wow.
Sundried tomatoes, local fresh cheese with chestnut honey, cured cheese with onion, fresh salami and olives.
The wines were quite enjoyable and all a bargain, 8-14.50 euros. If you can find them somewhere, BUY THEM! They are quite different than most wines you’re used to, the chestnut barrels adding a different nutty, pleasantly funky flavor. I will be posting a separate review since this post is already running long!
From there we headed north my nerves fraying as I drove the beautiful, but winding roads along the slopes of Etna. We finally arrived at our next stop — Feudo Vagliasindi so I could get a better sense of the ancient wine making methods.
And this was the perfect place to do it as the brothers, Paolo and Corroado Vagliasindi who owned winery had painstakingly restored the original palmento (I kept wanting to call it pimento) or wine making rooms. And it was impressive!
I not only learned about the original winemaking process but I also got insight into all those elegant tall buildings I saw across the countryside. Behind the polished ground floor exteriors many of them still probably contained the rough stone wine making facilities.
Grapes were fed through the windows, stomped (by foot) where it ran into a lower vat and was pressed (when it was time) by the enormous press made of a single chestnut plank. From there it was drained through corridors in the floor into the cellar and the giant chestnut barrels.
In addition to the impressive
pimento palmento Fuedo Vagliasindi has an amazing restaurant and hotel rooms with fantastic views, so if you’re looking for a scenic place to stay in north Mt Etna, definitely consider it.
Our last stop was Tornatore, a small winery that had been around for a decade, but ony started producing wines for public purchase in the last few years. Because the winery only produced two wines, the managers, husband and wife team Rocco and Rita, had generously agreed to host tastings of other local wineries as well, to enjoy over a “light lunch.”
I’m not sure I want to know what a large lunch looks like.
There was fresh mozzarella, baked ricotta, local cheeses and cured meats, grilled zucchini brushed with olive oil made from trees onsite, fresh sundried tomatoes, arugala with mushrooms sprinkled with fresh Parmesan and olive oil. And Rita had made a chickpea soup to start that blew my mind.
Rocco, Rita, and their daughter spoke no English and I know almost no Italian. And yet sitting there listening to Valerie and Rita passionately discussing (in Italian) where to find the freshest chickpeas, munching the delicious foods, and sipping very local wines was the highlight of my trip.
It didn’t feel like a tour, it felt like I’d been invited to their home for a meal. It felt like a “real” Sicilian experience, which only increased when other visitors came in to taste wine and were invited to sit at the table and join us.
After lunch and tasting 8 wines, which took about 2 ½ hours, we toured the brand new wine making equipment in the setting sun.
And went for a crazy tour of the vineyards. It was too wet to walk, so we took their Jeep. Bouncing down black dirt roads in the dusk and navigating around volcanic rock to see the extent of the vineyard, was completely surreal and truly amazing.
This day was unlike any wine tour I’d ever had and far exceeded my expectations.
If you like wine, I encourage you to visit Sicily and take a tour through the Etna Wine School. If you like beautiful scenery and amazing authentic experiences, you should take a tour with them. And if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll get to visit Tornatore and meet Rita and Rocco. 🙂
Stay tuned for reviews of individual wineries.
More from this trip:
American Airlines Flagship Lounge in JFK
American Airlines Economy JFK-MXP
Day Room Upgraded to the Diplomatic Suite
Getting from Malpensa Airport to Linate Airport
Linate Airport Lounge and Alitalia Economy LIN-CTA
You Get What You Pay for at the Sheraton Catania
It Was Worth the Trip Just for This Hotel