This is part of an ongoing series about wine-in-context, stemming from the belief that not only does every bottle have a story to tell, but every winery and wine merchant.
For Earth Day this year, I headed back to my old stomping ground, Swirl on Castro, to lead a wine tasting of earth-friendly rosés with, of course, an Italian twist. The line-up was a trio of wines coming from powerhouse winemakers: Mathilde Poggi’s Bardolino Chiaretto 2017 (Le Fraghe, Veneto, Italy), Sam Bilbro’s The Flower Rosé 2018 (Idlewild, Mendocino, CA) and Chiara Vigo’s Vigorosa Etna Rosato 2017 (Fattorie Romeo del Castello, Sicily, Italy). Each one was applauded and appreciated by the crowd, but the rosé that won the vote at the end of the tasting was…
Fattorie Romeo del Castello
Etna Rosato 2017
THE WINE | Vigorosa, Etna Rosato 2017 | Retail price $28.50
You can’t always judge a rosé by its color! The Vigorosa 2017, with its vibrant pink hue, shocked everyone with how dry and savory it was. Thanks, Mount Etna! Yes, this Sicilian wine is grown on the northwest slopes of Mount Etna, Europe’s highest active volcano, which provides a strong mineral backbone to Vigorosa. In addition, the old vine field blend that goes into this wine features mostly Nerello Mascalese and a touch of Nerello Cappuccio, which offer earthy and colorful elements respectively. You can expect tart cranberry notes, with the addition of blood orange and sage in the mouth. A bright acidity and the aforementioned minerality will have you palette tingling for days. Enjoy with salumi and hard cheeses, or save for Thanksgiving dinner!
THE WINERY | Fattorie Romeo del Castello
Fattorie Romeo del Castello is one of the most special wineries I have ever visited, and is always a highlight of my Sicily Wine + Culture Tour clients. The photo below do it some justice, but you have to imagine looking around at old, gnarled, head-trained Nerello Mascalese vines extended before you with Mount Etna spewing smoke in the background and tracks of vast, black blobs of a hardened lava from a 1981 eruption that almost destroyed the oldest vineyards before inexplicably making a hard 90-degree turn and moving on. If that doesn’t give you goosebumps, I don’t know what will.
Chiara Vigo (see photo) and her mother Rosanna are the two women running the show at Fattorie Romeo del Castello. They opt to work organically in the vineyards and in the winery, using only the bare minimum of sulfur dioxide to preserve their limited line of wines. Most bottles feature an image of vintage wallpaper from the family house where they graciously host visiting guests on the label. Fattorie Romeo del Castello is a class act and a respected producer of Etna wines.
THE WINE MERCHANT | Swirl on Castro
Swirl, a wine shop and wine bar in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, will always have a special place in my heart. When I moved to the Bay Area five years ago, I sought out a part-time job while I got La Dolce Vigna up and running. The original owner, Jerry Cooper, hired me on the spot and during my years there, I did wine tours and guided tastings for customers, upgraded the shop’s Italian wine selection, bonded with my talented and geeky colleagues and learned a ton! Not only is Swirl and its community like family to me, but where else in the Bay Area can you still get a glass of quality wine for less than $10? (Now, I got your attention!)
Sabeen Minns and long-time Swirl employee Casey Bowers are leading Swirl on Castro now, along with a knowledgeable and sassy staff behind the bar. The shop has hundreds of bottles and an impressive collection of spirits, while the wine bar always has twenty wines available by glass and offers tasting flights. If you live in the Bay, I recommend signing up to their email list for word on future tasting events—and don’t be surprised if your tasting host is a drag queen!