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It’s an oft-heard story. Sons of the winery founder take over, as the oldens retire, with grand thoughts of revival and reinvention. At Cottanera, founded by Francesco Cambira in the mid 1960’s, brothers Enzo and Guglielmo (who died in 2008) took on the Etna based estate in 1990 but the story continues with the newest generation taking a role in the estates development and continuation. At the Circle of Wine Writers tasting, held at the pink-plastered winery, sons and daughters from across the generations chatted, poured the wines and answered our questions with Italian verve and panache.

It is always tricky – for hosts and tasters – to engage thoughts and taste buds post-lunch. A particularly sapid meal and morning tasting at Firriato, left me at least, rather dozy and disengaged. A vote then for the wines as they certainly focused ones thoughts, inspired and re-engaged the palate.

The red Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio and Nero d’Avola and the white Inzolia and Carricante are the local Sicilian grapes grown on the estates 55 hectares. These are joined by the more familiar Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. To be offered a Mondeuse (Cottanera L’Ardenza 2006) amongst these varieties came as a surprise.

“We didn’t plan to plant Mondeuse… it just happened” “something different is an attraction to some people”

“We try to get a style, have the wines not relying on the muscles but on the flavours with complexity, always pursuing the freshness of fruit and acidity. With our new oenologist, from the 2004 vintage, our style changed from big and impressive to what we have now… we try to get easy, drinkable wines always fresh, try to produce wines with a longer life”

Wine bottles, Cottanera Winery, Etna, Sicily

And that ‘style’ relying on a natural balance and freshness comes in to play with the “wine bar style wines” of Barbazzale Bianco and Barbazzale Rosso. “Young vines, freshness of the fruit, rounded, fruity, low soft tannins, impact, not cooked fruit” as Enzo explained the Rosso version.

The red is a 80/20% split of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio. Being under the delusion these two forms of Nerello were practically one and the same, Enzo explained they were two completely different varieties, easy to tell apart from the shape of the leaves. Cappuccio gives great colour, low tannins and “specific” aromas, but above all it’s used for the colour. Mascalese has lighter colour but greater structure and good tannins. The lemon and grapefruit flavoured white is a mix of Inzolia and Viogner. Fresh, young and lively.

Barbazzale, incidentally, translates as Goats Beard.

At the other end of the quality/price scale is the estates flagship wine – Etnarosso. Of the different vintages tasted (2005/2007/2009/2010) the blend remained consistent with 90% Nerello Mascalese and 10% Nerello Cappuccio.

There is no clonal selection of Nerello Mascalese in the vineyard. “So nearing harvest you can taste the difference between neighbouring vines – some watery, next plant along perfectly ripe.” So to reach ever higher levels of quality Cottanera is engaged in making their own clonal selections.

Cuttings are made from the best vines to make our own, unique, selections. “But it is a 20 year plus project”

If you can locate a bottle of the Etnarosso 2007 you are in for a treat as this offers a superb combination of structure and balance and, now, a little age, from one of the better vintages. But even the latest release the 2010 offers a lovely mouthful with lovely textured tannins.

I managed to extract a ‘drinking’ sample from Mariangla of the 2010, just to ensure a fully revived palate you understand, before we were rounded up, shown the ‘under renovation’ winemaking facilities and piled back on the coach…

Photo Gallery: A visit and tasting at Cottanera Winery, Sicily

Tours of Cottanera including visit to the vineyard and through winery, including tastings, often in the company of the owners themselves are held from Monday to Saturday, from 9.00am to 3.00pm. Booking required.


  1. Angela Lloyd says:

    Ah ha, I spy ‘sapid’ – well done, Andrew. I dare say not the last time this’ll be used in the Sicilian CWW blogs!

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