The Bibbers of Bibemus

6 Dec


In Italy We Trust

Mount Etna is alive, will it erupt once more?

The air to be dust-laden and scorched

Hell could break loose within its core

Bringing havoc to everything it torched

The lava may flow over the mountain side

Destroying flora, fauna by its flood

Countless beasts may have bellowed and died

In forest-fires and the blazing mud

Beneath these dragon-like fires are sprung

New buds bursting for light

Vines all twisted in the baking sun

Crafting the vino we drink tonight

Interwoven by La Donna del Vino

Last week saw the inaugural tasting for an adoring Italian wine club called Bibemus. That’s Bibemus as in Latin for ‘we drink‘ and pronounced like an ol’ Scottish man saying ‘baby moose‘.

Initiated by Italophiles Matt Paul, Jane Faulkner, Anthony D’Anna and Krystina Menegazzo, the purpose of creating Bibemus was to act as an excuse to gather a group of Italian wine-adoring friends for an evening of entertainment via imbibing and dining.

That being our mission, the first evening held at Merchant in the Rialto…was a success. And the theme?


(Insert Tchaikovsky’s climactic ‘1812 Overture‘ music here)

Mount Etna eruption in 1989 - Photograph by Boris Behncke


I once read esteemed Mount Etna winemaker Salvo Foti confront an ongoing issue with, “There is a big difference between making Etna wines, and simply making wine on Etna.”

The potential for success on Sicily’s Mount Etna is huge with the last 10-15 years seeing a flock of producers from Sicily and around Italy invest heavily into the volcanic soil. With experience, new technology and time, they have been able to pick up their act and well-respected wineries are furthering their reputation internationally. On the viticultural front, white wines crafted from the carricante grape have demonstrated the strength that lies in dedicating yourself to an autochthonous vine, despite the constant battle that producers face with marketing pressure to plant more chardonnay or the more abundant catarratto. The issue will undoubtedly continue with further marketplace competition pressures.

After that brief introduction, this is how the night transpired…

Seared tuna carpaccio, fried calamari with spiced mayonnaise and marinated octopus…

and Carricante.

Guests in attendance: Franco D’Anna, Dan Sims, Marcus Ellis, Nazareno Fazio, Stefano D’Anna, Martin Schafer and Adam Foster.


PLANETA Carricante 2010

Steely, waxy apple, tight and lingering acidity, mandarin peel, more fruit forward and rounded lusciousness. Ranking no. 3/3.

GRACI Bianco 2010 (70% Carricante, 30% Catarratto)

More malo-y, dirty socks, lemon curd acidity, water pebble notes. Both these styles accentuate a modern, more understandable side of Carricante. Ranked no. 1/3.

BENANTI Pietramarine Superiore Carricante 2007

Oxidised, nutted, lacking fresh, characteristic mandarin peel element I normally find in this wine. Acidity dulled. This wine, when not muddled over by a piece of bark in its neck, demonstrates a more traditional approach to the Carricante grape that when the bottle is right, is truly beautiful. Ranked no. 2/3 for known potential.

Cured meats and salami for bracket two


FIRRIATO 2008: 80% Nerello Mascalese and 20% Nerello Cappuccio

This is a real cheapy. I think it retails for only $14.00 and is made more in the style of a Nero d’Avola but more Bordeaux-like, however confusing that is. If you dig the taste of deep burnt fig and vanilla with a touch of tartness and I thought con un gusto di muffa, then it is right up your alley. Ranked no. 2/3

COTTANERA Barbazzale 2010

Reductive, ashen with black fruits and akin to licking an ashtray. Ranked 1/3 in a class that was less than impressive.

CORNELISSEN Rosso del Contadino

First taste of Belgian Frank Cornelissen’s vino made in fibreglass tanks. One of the more famous natural winemaking advocates on the volcano, his wines tend to be made in terracotta amphorae outdoors that do not get any additions due to the high volcanic sulfur levels already present in the air. Spicy and peppered, hot and prickly, dark and cloudy. What can I say, it worked with the salami but the overriding vinegar fly notes and chalky phenolics detracted from what would most likely have tasted better coming fresh straight from the amphorae.

The start of the Cornelissen wines led conversation into a short general debate on natural wine making and the conflicts it poses in less than desirable grape growing conditions as seen in vintage 2011. People who strictly apply biodynamic practices were left to either watch their crop be destroyed with the weather, or stray from their principles and spray; the latter ruining the philosophy of biodynamics but at least protecting your livelihood. I would think that most farmers who decide to commit wholly to biodynamics are themselves risk takers and prepared to face the circumstances should their work in the vineyard and natural applications not be suffice to save the crop in the case where Mother Nature becomes a little less than forgiving. Practice what you preach? Or be a temporary hypocrite but provide food for the table?

This is what was brought to our table:

Pumpkin tortellini and chargrilled pork sausages


CORNELISSEN Munjebel 5 2007

Fresher than his previous wine with still lots of peppery spice. Alive with aromas of vinegar flies, rubber and chlorine. Ranked 3/3.

PASSOPISCIARO Passopisciaro 2008

Attractive bright lifted red fruits, significantly more palatable than the previous and great acidity. Short 10 day maceration since Andrea Frachetti of the estate says the ‘pulp gives you the flavour, not the skins’. Ranked 1/3.



GRACI Quota 600 2008

Made in Arcuria using large botti at 600 msl, hence the name. Filled with violets, black currants and an undeniable jooby-ness. Great evocative nose, but needing direction and line on the palate. Not as great as Jane remembered having it over there. Ranked 2/3.

By this stage we were left pondering the awesome potential we had boasted of Mount Etna. Most of the wines so far had been seemingly well-made, they had undeniably great acidity, yet they had not reached that level of greatness we were seeking. Ultimately, there was still a great level of variability, but we had our fingers crossed for the crus in the last bracket.

The last course did not disappoint either:

Braised rabbit, pine nuts and sultanas


BENANTI Serra della Contessa 2004

2004 was a warm year, but you would not question the heat with this wine from 100 year old vines on the eastern side of Mount Etna on Monte Serra. It has a lot of depth with blackberries and an ongoing ashen core, a long aniseed finish and the most Baroloesque wine of the evening. Ranked 1/4.


Sweeter red fruits intertwined with black liquorice, fennel seeds and a delectable charcuterie character. Lots of tartness, long tannins and supply smooth.

TENUTA DELLE TERRE NERE La Vigna di Don Peppino 2007

Chunky oak, riper extracted fruit, lacking perfume and smoked. Overriding oak. More oak. Did I mention oak?


Matt threw in a doozy from a tiny DOC in the north-eastern corner of Sicily at Messina. Faro DOC is one of Sicily’s better red wines, made from Nerello Cappuccio, Nerello Mascalese, Nocera and other local grapes such as Acitana.

This was A.A Palari 2007 Faro Rosso DOC. Full of coffee, ripe blackberry, jooby, chocolate perfume, it was pleasurably mid-weighted with a twist of bitterness at the finish like it had some amaro bitter herbs thrown in for good measure.

Cyril Ray wrote in his 1966 ‘The Wines of Italy‘ publication on Mount Etna:

Generally speaking, the whites are made from Carricante, Catarratto Comune, Catarratto Lucido, Minnella and Insolia grapes, and are dry and a little frizzante. They are much more plentiful than the reds. The reds are made from Nerello Mascalese and Nocera grapes, and are rather astringent and light-bodied. In general the reds are for export as mixing wines, or even as “industrial wines”, in which latter case they go abroad (notably to Germany) to be made into brandies and vermouths, and it is permitted, as they will not bear Italian names of origin, to add neutral alcohol to them.”

We’ve come a long way baby. Just considering the fact that the first selected theme for an Italian wine group happened to be Mount Etna, demonstrated how far the zone has come to have such an extensive line-up of producers available for tasting in this country. Or perhaps it relates more aptly to how pazzi (crazy) we all are. Either way, the vignerons and winemakers of Mount Etna deserve praise for their efforts conducted thus far, even though the variability over the night highlighted that they still have an exciting, developing journey ahead of them. For now, I am one of many looking forward to the evolution to greatness.

2 Responses to “The Bibbers of Bibemus”

  1. matt paul December 6, 2011 at 10:16 PM #

    Well we are a little pazzi at Bibemus. Great summary KM, nothing to add really. Except to say that despite the wines not living up to the hype, I think we did get an early glimpse of the quality potential of Etna Rosso. I’m looking forward to keeping track of some of these wines over the next few years. They have all the elements there; vine age, terroir, great story with the backdrop of Etna and the winemaking will come along in leaps and bounds over the next 2-3 years. Hope the prices don’t leap and bound any more though!


  1. Bibemus boards the Brunello train. With surprise guest, Jean Claude Van Damme « La Donna del Vino - July 10, 2012

    […] June’s waxing crescent moon and under the watchful eye of team Bibemus, fourteen Italophiles converged in the darkness outside the Carlton Wine Room and craned their […]

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