The wines of Mt Etna in Sicily – Nerello Mascalese

A boot-full of wine – Tasting notes from Italy

The wines of Mt Etna in Sicily – Nerello Mascalese

One of the joys of the last few months here in Italy has been to try new grape varieties from local areas, hitherto not known to me. A case in point has been the discovery of the wines from Etna in Sicily, made predominantly from the Nerello Mascalese grape. Nerello Cappuccio is a close relative and is sometimes blended in smaller quantities, but Nerello Mascalese is the varietal with real class.

An authoctonous grape variety, and almost forgotten till found and nurtured by a group of dedicated individuals, most vines are pre phylloxera entities on their own rootstocks, some over 100 years old. Grown mainly as bush-vines, each plant yields only a small amount of grapes (yields about 30hl/ha). Though named after the nearby town of Mascali, it was most likely through its port that it was imported rather than having originated there.

The northern slopes are where most of the wines of quality originate, and the area is designated as a DOC zone. The combination of jet black volcanic soils and altitude (most vines are between 500 and 1000m up) produce wines of incredible depth and complexity. Usually no new oak is used, and only occasionally are small barriques used.

Others have described the red wines produced from Nerello Mascalese as having the structure of a Barolo and the elegance of a Burgundy. I can see that the comparisons are apt. The wines I have tasted have been medium bodied, quite tannic, but silkily so, with flavours of dried/black cherry and blackcurrant. Tobacco and spice are evident, but most impressive is an earthiness matched with a silkiness – quite a combination! It can have an ethereal quality like the best pinot noir, especially when allowed to breathe. The wines have an impressive backbone of acidity and age well. They can have high-ish alcohol levels of 13.5 – 14% but there is no impression of hotness whatsoever.

Below are the ones I have tried. I recommend you seek out a Nerello Mascalese, and if you find one, I think it is well worth a try!

Pietro Caciorgna
Etna Rosso DOC
“N’Anticchia” 2006

Tenuta Delle Terre Nere
Etna Rosso DOC
‘Guardiola’ Sicily 2005

Passopisciaro IGT Sicilia 2006

Vini Biondi
Etna Rosso DOC
“Outis” 2006

Until next time, ciao!

Brendan Jansen

One Response to “The wines of Mt Etna in Sicily – Nerello Mascalese”

  1. Enoteca La Storia: The Wines of Tenuta Terre Nere | Flights of Fancy Says:

    […] took them under their wing.  To read more on the grape, please see the following links.  and […]

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