Girolamo Russo “’a Rina” 

Etna Rosso 2014

Sicilia, previously known as a wine lake (remember when marsala was synonymous with “cooking wine”?!…not anymore!), is now Italy’s most vital and improved wine region. The island’s strategic and cultural importance is still on display, from the Greek temples to the Roman mosaics and Moorish mosques. These cultures left an indelible mark on what are today some of Italy’s most diverse vineyards.


Leading the revival on the island is the Mt. Etna region, located in the northeastern part of Sicilia. Hidden in the shadows of the fearsome volcano, the area is producing some of the hottest wines to come out of Italy since Barolo and Brunello became fashionable. Besides the intimidating backdrop of Mt. Etna, vintners also must deal with the incredibly harsh terrain. From some of the highest vineyards in the world to the extreme weather, wines from Etna are a true labor of love.


The red wines of Etna tend to be blended wines. By regulation they must have a minimum of 80 percent Nerello Mascalese, an indigenous variety that reaches its greatest heights on the slopes of Mt. Etna. It is a thick-skinned variety that contributes color, tannins and acidity to the wine. Mascalese’s little brother, another important indigenous component in the wines, is Nerello Cappuccio.  It provides spicy aromas, red berry flavors and perhaps a touch of femininity to the Etna Rosso blend.


Supreme examples of these complex red blends are being perfected by Girolamo Russo. The winery, situated on the north slope of Mount Etna at Passopisciaro, was founded in 2005 by Giuseppe Russo, and named in memory of his late father. Passopisciaro is one of the key villages at the heart of the rebirth of Etna’s wine industry.  The Russo’s have 26 hectares of land in and around Passopisciaro, with 15 hectares of vineyards surrounded by olive and hazelnut groves. The vineyards are high in elevation, between 650 and 780 meters above sea level! Many of the vines are still on original rootstock, un-grafted, having never been affected by phylloxera. This is generally due to the unique volcanic soils, and lets us imagine what wine may have tasted like in previous generations.


The “‘a Rina” from Girolamo Russo is made from the special blend of local native varietals inspired by a century-old blend. The wine contains 98% Nerello Mascalese, along with 2% Nerello Cappuccio. 50% of the wine is matured for 14 months in small used French barriques and 50% in cement tanks. The grapes are sourced from selected parcels that Giuseppe has held back from his single Cru wines.  It is a richer, deeper and more complex wine than most entry level wines from Mt. Etna, and drinks like a Cru Etna for sure. Part of this quality is due to the nature of the vineyards, but it doesn’t hurt that a goodly portion of the fruit comes from vines that were planted as far back as 1908!  


Come join us at Babbo in the month of December to enjoy a glass of the 2014 ‘a Rina Girolamo Russo. It’s a fantastic glass of wine in its own right, but will shine brightest when paired with our rich winter cuisine. The wine’s flavors of cherry, flint, tobacco, leather, and spice also make it an ideal pairing with the luxurious Alba white truffle.