Rosa D’agostino is like my personal Etna Google search engine – if Google was a 5’2”, high energy, beautiful Sicilian woman. I’m not sure how she files away so many details about wines, vineyards, history, ecology, foods, and local producers in her mind; let alone how quickly and unassumingly she can rattle them off for you. She smiles knowingly when she sees me come in the door…”una domanda?” (a question?). Rosa teases that I can only ask her one question per day, but our conversations are never that short. This is one of the wonderful things about visiting Rosa’s enoteca in Linguaglossa – you will leave her shop with so much more than just a delicious bottle of Sicilian wine.
With a history of selling bulk wine to fortify French wines, Etna (and Sicily as a whole) was not known for high quality wines in the past. Now with an influx of new producers, and a greater interest in it’s distinctive flavors infused by volcanic, mineral rich soils, Mount Etna is quickly becoming one of the world’s most exciting wine regions. But back in 2002 when Rosa first decided to feature local wines, she was way ahead of the curve.
“When I first opened my enoteca some people in the village thought, ‘This lady is a little crazy’. Everyone here has local wine in their homes already so why would the town need a wine store like this? But I knew that many people visiting the area were interested in Sicilian wines and typical Sicilian foods. It was a different situation for Sicilian wines then, especially for Etna. At that time Nero d’Avola was the most famous Sicilian wine so I had mostly wines from Palermo, and just a few from Etna. There were just four well-known Sicilian producers – three from Palermo and one from Etna. Now there are over seventy five quality producers and the culture and interest in the region has grown so much.”
Having grown up in the area, many of the best producers are Rosa’s good friends. She has spent countless hours on their farms, witnessing the inside processes of winemaking from vineyard, to harvest, to bottling. She can give you a breakdown of the technical aspects of any given wine on her shelf – the grapes, the vintage, what it’s aged in, what to pair it with – but what she also shares is the story of each wine and the people who produce it.
“I believe every wine has in it the personality of the individual who created that wine. For example if the producer is a sophisticated person, then they will produce a sophisticated wine. It’s very important to know the producers because their wines are a kind of self-expression. If someone asks me about a wine, I tell them the story of the farm and the people who produce that wine. It’s important that people know where the wine comes from and even visit the farm if they can. They will enjoy the wine even more this way.”
Rosa knows the stories not only of the local winemakers, but of the producers of all the other Etna specialties she sells. From honeys to olive oils, chocolates to pistachios – Rosa carefully chooses every product and can tell you about it’s history and how it’s made today.
“Zafferana is famous for their honeys. I work with a producer who moves his bees to all different areas where there are special flowers – like the wild Sulla flowers that bloom in spring in the Nebrodi Mountains. People also love the special liquors that are made on local farms from very old, traditional recipes. There is the limoncello from near Catania and three different kinds of prickly pear liquor from near Enna. Bronte is famous for pistachios. I buy the pistachio pesto and cream so people can prepare recipes to enjoy it with pasta and meats. In Ragalna there is a little farm that produces a delicious mandorlino (almond) cake – not too sweet and very soft. It’s perfect to pair with a sweet wine. In Modica they produce special chocolate made with raw sugar from an ancient recipe. Sometimes the chocolate is made with chili peppers, almonds, vanilla or cinnamon. You enjoy just the strong taste of the chocolate, no heavy sugar or milk.”
It is this deep connection with story, people and place that I love about visiting with Rosa. Personally, I don’t really care how expensive or important a wine is; whether someone can accurately describe it’s nose, tannins or fermentation process. Ultimately none of these things will necessarily predict whether I enjoy a wine or not. Breaking a food or wine down into all it’s technical parts might be interesting, but that’s not what makes it a memorable experience. This is something Rosa understands and has a unique ability to communicate.
“Every wine rests inside your heart. How you feel about it depends on many things – the kind of day you are having, the person you share it with. Maybe if it’s a special day or a special person, then you will always remember this wine.
Sometimes I think I could go live somewhere else, but then I think about how free I feel and how deeply I know the place where I was born. I could go somewhere else, but I could never have the same feeling and connection as I do living here.”
Il Vino della Rosa Enoteca • Via Roma, 116, 95015 Linguaglossa CT • 095 643134