Screen shot 2010-05-11 at 10.43.17 AM

The Biondi family has owned vineyards on the rugged hillsides of Mt. Etna on the eastern side of Sicily since 1635. I imagine the volcano then, just as it is most days today, shrouded in clouds, smoking and erupting erratically.

The passage of time has really not changed winemaking here. Impossibly steep hills and sandy volcanic soil make agriculture a manual affair and viniculture difficult and hostile to modern methods and machinery. But out of this ageless ruggedness, in the hands of the Biondi family, comes indigenous wine that is rich, complex and stamped with a permeating sense of terroir.

Screen shot 2010-05-11 at 10.42.05 AMCiro Biondi is the current owner of Vin Biondi. Wine has been marketed under the family name since the late 1880s but fell into deep disrepair until Ciro took the leadership role in 1999, started the restoration and hired winemaker Slavo Foti to create wine for the family from only native Sicilian varietals.

Everything is done by hand here, with pulleys and lifts to move grapes and materials up and down the mountain. Organic farming and manual harvesting are as much the nature of the landscape as of philosophy. Small sections of high elevation hillside plantings can take a team of 4-5 workers, 10 days to select and harvest.

The Outis (nessuno in Italian, nobody in English) is the name that Ulysses gave to Polyfemous the Cyclops on the foothills of Mount Etna. This bottle, the Biondi ’06 Etna Rosso Outis Nessuno, is a blend of the native Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Capuccio grapes from ancient 100 year-old vines on ungrafted root stocks. The real thing from another era for certain. They grow like bushes, clinging to the volcanic soil with very small yields but producing wines of depth and complexity.

This place is obscure and romantic to the imagination but the wine is really something delicious to relish as a daily red. Locals and wine aficionados claim that the Outis has the structure of a Barolo and the elegance of a Burgundy. A tall order but it describes the wine well.

The Biondi ’06 Etna Rosso Outis Nessuno is earthy, rich and layered. It pours light, like a Pinot Noir, but opens deeper as it breathes and is medium bodied to taste with quite amazing and lingering vanilla finishes.

At $28 a bottle, this is a real value. Lots of class, unique to its sense of terroir and a perfect package to transport you to the smoky heights of this volcanic vineyard.

Available from Chambers Street Wines and many online sites carrying organic and Sicilian wines.