Etna Flexes Its Premium Muscles (Palmento Costanzo Recent Releases)

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Palmento Costanzo virtual tasting invite

Etna has spent the better part of a decade becoming the wine media’s darling, with many of us waxing poetic about the quality of “volcanic wines” (guilty!). And Etna is finally capitalizing on it.

The Consorzio Tutela Vini Etna DOC has (as of early November 2023) voted unanimously to pursue “DOCG recognition for the entire Etna denomination.” And prices for some of its best wines are starting to reach head-turning levels, catching up to the world-class quality in the bottle.

A case in point—both as ammunition for Etna deserving a DOCG status, and as an example of higher priced premium wines coming from the region—is Palmento Costanzo, whose wines I was invited to sample at a virtual tasting earlier this year. As owner of Palmento Costanzo Valeria Agosta told us during the tasting, “we are in a very lucky area.” That’s both figuratively (in the market, as described above), and literally (geographically speaking).

Situated in the small Passopisciaro area, Palmento Costanzo has vines reaching up to 130 years old (many still on their original rootstocks), planted nearly 1,000 meters above sea level. “We are on the northern slopes, we own in total 18 ha” according to Agosta , 12 of which are in Contrada Santo Spirito, for which they are basically an unofficial vinous ambassador (they also have a couple of much smaller holdings).

Agosta describes the benefits of making wine in Etna’s UNESCO heritage area like this: “Etna is lucky, it has four [top quality] autochthonous varietals [sic]. The main characteristic of Etna, is the big [temperature] difference between day and night. The roots go very deep in the soil, because we cannot irrigate the vineyards. They can catch all of the substances that are essential to the vines. The soils allow the vines to survive the hot temperatures [in the Summer].”

Combining high elevation, volcanic soils, and ancient vines… it’s a formula that most wine brands would kill to have for its premium lineup, and Palmento Costanzo roughly divides their production lines along the age of the vines to capitalize on their good fortune. Speaking of which, “good fortune” is a great way to describe being lucky enough to drink these wines one the regular…

crowd pleaser

2021 Palmento Costanzo Bianco di Sei Etna, Sicily, $42

Santo Spirito has plantings of 100 year-old, bush-trained vines of Carricante, and fore this release the results are aged 10 months on the lees in tank, then 8 months in bottle (about 10% Cataratto also makes it into the final blend). 2021 at their site saw a mild Spring, with slightly lower yields and very good quality. Fresh, floral, sapid, citric, and mineral, this bianco is immediately appealing. The freshness and citric depth hits right away on the palate in a delicious fervor. Hints of dried herbs and even toasted nut show up on a lengthy finish. Hot damn, this is exciting and shows fantastic depth. Love it.

kick-ass

2019 Palmento Costanzo Nero di Sei Etna, Sicily, $50

A blend of mostly Nerello Mascalese with a bit of Nerello Cappuccio (due to the field blend) from Santo Spirito, some of the source vines of this red also reach about 100 years old. It spends 24 months in big oak, then 12 months in bottle, and what you get is a spicy meatball, with dried herb notes and hints of wild mint. There’s a dusty quality to the red fruit here, with plenty of dried violet to keep things interesting. While it’s meant to be an affable entry in their lineup, there’s no disguising this red’s structure and depth, with both the tannins and acids showing focus and seriousness in the mouth.

sexy

2021 Palmento Costanzo Contrada Cavaliere Etna Bianco, Sicily, $68

Manually harvested, bush-trained, 100 year old Carricante vines grown in Contrada Cavaliere, near Santa Maria di Licodia (in a south-facing vineyard at 950 meters above sea level) source this white, which spends almost one year aging (in steel and oak) with lees contact, then 8 months in bottle. And whoa – this is much flashier, more tropical, more exotic, headier, and just more assertive in general than its Santo Spirito sister release. This site gets less rain and is “kissed by the sun all day” according to Agosta. It’s rounder and sexier, showing off the warmth of the site, but it’s also balanced, and still mineral. Fleshier, but just as high quality, and just as delicious.

elegant

2021 Palmento Costanzo Contrada Santo Spirito Etna Bianco, Sicily, $NA

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before… Carricante, bush-trained, up to 100 year old vines in Contrada Santo Spirito, grown 770+ meters above sea level on volcanic sand and rocky soil, manually harvested… but here it spends 12 months in tank and tonneau on the lees, then 12 months in bottle. Some Cataratto snuck in there due to the field-blend nature of the old plantings. Herbal and tight at the moment, this is quite a young white. There’s great balance, acidity, depth, and minerality on the palate, with just-ripe citrus and tropical fruit flavors, salinity, and a lovely freshness throughout. Elegant and serious, and just has fantastic potential.

elegant

2019 Palmento Costanzo Contrada Santo Spirito Etna Rosso, Sicily, $75

Bush-trained, up to 100 year-old vines in contrada Santo Spirito, this Nerello Mascalese (with some Nerello Cappuccio field-blended in), is hand-harvested, hand-selected, and aged in ovum-shaped, 20 hl French oak barrels. It’s another spicy meatball, too. Dried herbs, dried flowers, tobacco, earth, funk… there’s much to appreciate on the nose here. The red fruits are dark and focused. On the palate, the freshness is at first almost overwhelming. The depth and linear nature of the texture are really something to behold, almost overpowering the fruit at this young stage. This one needs a lot of time for its tangy red fruit flavor to unfurl—and it’ll be glorious when it does.

kick-ass

2019 Palmento Costanzo Prefillossera Etna Rosso, Sicily, $200

Nerello Mascalese from Santo Spirito, with all of old-vine magic you’d expect based on the tasting notes above, but spending 24 months in 500L tonneau, and then 12 months in bottle. This is Palmento Costanzo’s flagship, icon red and it’s priced that way. And holy sh@t, this smells amazing: dried tobacco leaf, dried rose petal, dried herbs, dark cherry fruit, and earthy elements. The palate is already settling in, showing off just how canyon-deep the red fruit flavors are, while also hinting at the depth of the minerality and structure. The finish is epic, though also tight at this early stage, in what will undoubtedly be a very long life. F*CK, this is good. I could bathe in this.

Cheers!

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