The art of making house wines
Altrimenti, vino perpetuo from Inzolia grapes, is probably the only "house wine" that is still produced and bottled in Menfi.
Until a few decades ago, this traditional “house wine” produced in Menfi with the technique of perpetual aging in a single barrel was only made with Inzolia, which is the most representative grape of the area and the one that has been grown on our coasts for the longest time.
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Inzolia, the Mediterranean Queen
Inzolia was introduced into Western Sicily by the Greek colonists who founded Selinunte in 650 BC.
Adorned with monumental temples and magnificent sanctuaries, and extraordinarily beautiful, Selinunte soon became one of the richest and most powerful cities of Magna Graecia thanks to its commercial dynamism and flourishing agriculture. The Chora Selinuntina, the vast agricultural territory that surrounded the city, was dotted with farms and small settlements that stretched from the coast to upcountry, and was capable to easily feed a population of over 100,000 residents.
Excellent wines were produced here 25 centuries ago: numerous archaeological finds demonstrate that countless types of amphorae, cups, craters, oinochoai and ceramic vases were dedicated to serving wine and to the art of hospitality in ancient Selinunte. The Hellenistic palmento recently found in Sambuca di Sicilia also confirms the relevance of the wine-based economy in this area.
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The Sicilian wine culture
Inzolia has gold-colored grapes, with a modest sugar content: young Inzolia wines rarely reach 12.5% alcohol.
Things change when you let these wines age in barrels, very slowly and for many years.
What happens over time, is a progressive and constant evaporation of the aqueous part of the wine, which leads to an impressive concentration of aromas and acids. Time favors elegant and integrated oxidation, the formation of superior alcohols (glycerol in particular) and a natural stability that does not need to be supported by filtration, nor by fining or other oenological “corrections”.
Our ancestors understood all this a long time ago.
They certainly would not have been able to explain all chemical reactions and microbiological processes underlying their production choices, but they knew their vines and discerned the good vineyards from the ordinary ones; observation, analysis, experience, and patience were part of their traditional knowledge.
This knowledge that sedimented for centuries gave birth to what they called "house wine". This was simply how the best wine was called, and each family made its own: they were all different wines, which evolved differently from house to house while maintaining, over time, an extraordinary recognizability and coherence.
The best barrels were intended for the house wine, generously sized even if not as large as those used in Marsala: my grandfather's were "four-cart" barrels, and each of them could contain about 2 tons of grapes.
Inside the barrels, "the mother" was raised in perpetuum and cared for with great attention. The quality and character of the house’s signature wine depended on it: made up of the sediments (the fine lees we would say today) from many harvests, the mother was the very heart of the wine.
Wine was drawn from those barrels for many occasions: there were birthdays and baptisms, weddings and anniversaries, hunting and harvest festivals, patron saint’s days, Easters and Carnivals, and much more. Each barrel could contain enough wine for a year, but it never had to be emptied more than half, so as not to disturb the mother's work: at Christmas the new wine filled the barrel again, without ever disturbing the sediment.
The new wine was generally Inzolia, while Grecanico or Catarratto were added from time to time for a more intense color, or structure. Many vintages were blended together, always living with the mother, before the house wine was considered good: and it was what today we would call terroir.
Then, at some point, we stopped making these wines: we started chasing imported production models, bending to market demands and to fashion trends, and we almost lost our memory and knowledge.
Thinking of my grandfather and my father after him, I recently started making my house wine: Altrimenti, vino di casa, in 2012.
I only bottled this wine twice: in 2018 and in 2021, with a total production of under 300 bottles.
The next one, perhaps, in a few years.