For those of you new here or in case you missed it, we went to Sicily earlier this year to indulge in some Sicilian cuisine and culture. We had an amazing time while staying at Villa Carlotta in the sunny (sometimes rainy) hilltop town of Taormina. On our trip we went on various excursions, on one particular day we found ourselves in the clouds half way up Mt Etna. After getting thoroughly lost we asked a group of hikers for advice. Everyone seemed to be in their 60’s and when I asked where the vineyard was they simply replied, ‘no idea we’re just here to look at the birds.’ This puzzled me as there was a dense dense fog…. with no hope of seeing any birds. One chap was sitting under a tree staring aimlessly into the sky with a glass of wine in his hand. Maybe they were bird watching under the influence of lucid substances, for that, we will never know.
After traversing the mountain we finally found the Gambino vineyard. A small track leads up and up on a very steep gradient, on your right there are a series of meticulously landscaped terraces with vines at the time cut back in preparation for the summer growth. After a few hundred meters you take a sharp right and head towards the new visitor centre which has a commanding view of the valley below.
The day we visited it was rather cloudy, the cloud base was only a few hundred feet above us but when the cloud cleared you appreciate the amazing view of the valley below. Vini Gambino sits at around 800m above sea level and is one the highest vineyards in Sicily.
We soon realised the weather has absolutely no effect on wine tasting so we hustled inside eager to indulge. Now I have a confession to make on both Emily and my behalf, we’d never been on a real wine tasting visit. We were complete novices and had no idea what to expect. When I was in South Africa numerous years ago we had an ad-hoc wine tasting experience at a local vineyard but it was by no means on the same level as Vini Gambino. We were seated and then taken through the history of the vineyard and all the different variety of grapes, and the wines they produce from them. Many grapes were mentioned but only two I can recall clearly. Nerello mascalse and Nerello cappuccio, two grapes native to the region that play a key ingredient in each of the wines.
We were then given our first wine, a fresh white, Feu d’O which was fantastic. There were hints of melon and pineapple, the wine is aged for 5 months and good in storage for up to 5 years. Then came the red’s and at the same time as a selection of sicilian meats and cheeses. They had a lot to live up to and I’m not normally a white wine fan! It’s safe to say they did.
The next wine was arguably our favourite because it was so easy to drink (drink responsibly kids). It was called Cantari, made exclusively from the from the Nero d’Avola grape. The scent that I can still remember 4 months on is that of sweet plums. It’s aged for 9 months in oak barrels and is good for up to 8 years in storage. I can only imagine how amazing this wine must taste aged.
At this point I was seriously regretting being the designated driver. You’re not supposed to get drunk at wine tastings but the wine is just so delectable it’s almost rude not to! We were then taken through the remaining wines they offer, all of which can be found here.
The Atmosphere and Facilities
Vini Gambino is truly state of the art but done in a tasteful modern Sicilian manner. There are spectacular views of the valley and vineyard as well as down into Etna herself through glass panels to witness an interactive wine making experience. The big oak tables are big enough to seat 6-8 people and the Sicilian music in the background ensures all your senses are entertained.
Once we had filled ourselves with wine, cheese and sausage it was time for a tour of the grounds to see where the magic really happens. Being 800m up, the air was quite brisk, even for the middle of May. The terraces on the mountain ensure that water is evenly distributed to each vine to ensure the grapes absorb the same nutrients and have the same sugar content, key for the winemaking procedure. The grapes are staggered and their sunlight exposure monitored so that they can be used for the appropriate wines.
We strolled up the mountain to the wine cellar and along the way felt the rustic feel of this once small scale Sicilian producer.
We came up the oenologists laboratory which had more equipment than Walter White’s laboratory in Breaking Bad. The quality of the wine in Vini Gambino is exceptionally important and it’s nice to know for years to come their wines will not differ in taste. We were then halted by two huge iron doors, behind which the magic happens.
We toured their cellar and their huge wine tanks and were told in exceptional detail on how the wine was made. Much of it was over my head but the true enthusiasts I’m sure will be awed. Watching the winemakers work really gave me the appreciation about how much effort goes behind every bottle. Everything is cleaned meticulously, nothing left to chance in this very precise business.
We then meandered back on down the mountain to make our way home. Within the grounds the end of the lava flow from Mt Etna’s most violent eruption are found, now that’s a close call. Vini Gambino is a very special place and if you’re planning on going to Sicily be sure to check them out. You can find them on their website or at the address and phone number below.