Aldo Viola

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Aldo Viola cuts a memorable figure: tall and wiry, with long low-intervention locks, scruffy facial hair, and skin that clearly sees plenty of strong Sicilan sunshine. Aldo is a man in motion, literally and figuratively—constantly moving, gesturing, smiling, and exclaiming, and always searching for ways to coax greater expressiveness from his inspiringly personal wines. Born in the late 1960s into a winemaking family in Alcamo, in the northwest corner of Sicily, Aldo helped his father around the winery as a boy (as children of vignaioli are wont to do), but his path to becoming an iconoclastic producer in his own right was far from straight and narrow. He was a professional footballer for several years, and he still carries that boundless energy around with him. He spent significant time in Denmark, in India, and in the Amazon. In 1996, he returned to work with his father, later studying enology in Marsala, 70 kilometers west of his home village, and becoming the first enologist of the Centopassi cooperative—an entity that utilized land confiscated from the Corleonesi mafia following the arrest of the notorious Salvatore “Totò” Riina in the early 1990s. Given the mafia’s longstanding punishment of those who make use of their formerly held turf, Aldo’s position here required steel nerves—the kind of bravery that makes the courage to ferment spontaneously and use little-to-no sulfur look tame in comparison (talk about “risk-embracing winemaking”!). Aldo’s brother Alessandro is a skilled winegrower in his own right, but instead of joining his brother to continue the family vocation, Aldo—a resolutely and stubbornly independent-minded person—has forged his own path over the years.

Today, he farms seven hectares of Catarratto, Grillo, and Grecanico near his home village of Alcamo, planted on the area’s steep Timpi Rossi (“Red Hills”), named so because of the sandy-clayey soil’s high iron content. He also owns a plot of land 30 kilometers outside of town, closer to the sea, planted to Perricone, Nerello Mascalese, and Syrah, all of which thrive in the dry and scorching-hot microclimate of the area. Aldo works without synthetic chemicals in the vineyards, harvesting everything by hand and conducting almost all vineyard work entirely manually as well. He has long embraced skin maceration in the production of his white wines, not as a trendy affectation for certain cuvees but wholeheartedly; all his white wines are macerated for periods up to eight or nine months. Aldo does this because he finds that long, slow extractions produce the truest expressions of variety-plus-soil as well as the most satisfying textures—and his wines are textural masterpieces bar-none. These are not “funky orange wines” that dazzle with their exuberance despite their lack of balance or restraint; they probe they outer limits of aroma and flavor, but they do so with rigor, clarity, and harmony. His reds are produced with a similar appreciation for balance, and though they viscerally evoke their wild sun-baked hills of origin, they remain lifted, digestible, and refreshing. As with his career path, Aldo’s approach in the cellar has changed over the years: he used to employ no sulfur whatsoever, but has begun adding miniscule amounts—never more than 20 milligrams per liter total, and only in certain cases—to maintain purity of expression and to keep potentially overwhelming flaws at bay. He also experimented with terracotta jars some years back, but ceased working with them because trace amounts of heavy metals found their way into his wines, and because they weren’t large enough to adequately allow for his favored method of extraction: allowing the weight of the bunches to do the work rather than employing excessive punch-downs and pump-overs.

“Biancoviola” Terre Siciliane Bianco: Aldo’s namesake wine blends three white varieties, each with varying durations of skin contact: 45% of the wine is Catarratto pulled from the “Krimiso” (see below) fermentation tank after three days of maceration; another 45% is Grillo removed from the “Egesta” (see below) tank after four weeks of skin contact; and the final 10% is Grecanico pressed immediately after harvest. The vines grow on Alcamo’s Timpi Rossi (“Red Hills”), in soils of iron-rich sandy clay at altitudes up to 1000 meters above sea level, and Aldo bottles the wine with a trace of added sulfur after 18 months in stainless steel. “Biancoviola” displays its macerated nature delicately, with the skin contact expressing itself in an amplification and elongation of texture rather than any sort of overtly tannic presence.

“Krimiso” Terre Siciliane Bianco : Like the “Egesta” below, “Krimiso” refers to both a river in western Sicily and to its corresponding river deity; Krimiso and Egesta were believed to guard wisdom in ancient Greek times, and Aldo employs their names both to honor the Hellenic settlers who brought the vine to Sicily and to acknowledge these two important local water sources which nourish the area’s vineyards. Made entirely from Catarratto, Krimiso is harvested and immediately placed whole-cluster into stainless steel, where it spends eight months macerating. Pump-overs are performed every so often, but it is never pressed; the wine is bottled directly from tank, and with no added sulfur. More structured than Biancoviola but not intrusively so, the extraordinarily fine tannins here speak to Aldo’s lack of manipulation during the long and gentle maceration.

“Egesta” Terre Siciliane Bianco : “Egesta” is the old Hellenic name for Segesta, an area of western Sicily in close proximity to Aldo’s vineyards, as well as the name of a local stream and its corresponding ancient water deity. Made from pure Grillo, this wine—like the Krimiso above—spends eight months macerating on its skins in stainless steel without pressing and with occasional pump-overs, and it is bottled straight from tank without any added sulfur whatsoever. Compared to Krimiso, Egesta is less boisterous, more refined, and less driven by fruit. It offers stunning clarity and depth, particularly given the extreme length of its maceration.

“Shiva” Terre Siciliane : Aldo spent time traveling through India during his younger years, and “Shiva” is named in homage to Hinduism’s “Great God” and supreme being—the deity of destruction and rebirth. He only makes it when the vintage inspires him to do so, and there is no rule as to what variety it will comprise or how it will be made. Aldo produces a Shiva when he has extraordinary raw materials, and he lets those materials guide the process; thus, just as the god can assume multiple forms, so can the wine.

“Saignée” Terre Siciliane Rosso : The vines for Aldo’s red wines grow 30 kilometers from his home village of Alcamo, in a dry, hot microclimate not dissimilar to that of northern Africa, and buffeted by the same scorching sirocco winds. “Saignee” blends roughly equal parts Nerello Mascalese, Perricone, and Syrah—which thrives in this zone’s parched heat as it does in Morocco’s. Aldo ferments it in steel with a six-or-seven-day maceration, then ages it for a year in large Slavonian oak casks, bottling it with a miniscule dose of sulfur. Saignee is ripe but controlled, with tenderly rendered bright red fruits complicated by a fascinating umami note not unlike that of high-quality tomato paste. Appropriately southerly in its sun-drenched persona, this wine nonetheless errs on the side of the sprightly and highly drinkable.

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