The wines of Etna are some of Sicily’s – and Italy’s – most distinctive reds. Produced from two grapes – Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio – that are almost Pinot Noir like in colour and texture, this lightly wooded example is a fantastic introduction to a volcanic classic. Floral, ethereal and light with juicy redcurrant and raspberry fruit and some underlying stony grip. On offer at £10.99 from November 13 to December 3.
Ciro Biondi’s new single vineyard Etna Rosso, bottled as an IGT due to a mix-up with this year’s paperwork, is still a baby – but already the attractive, lifted red fruit is approachable, and the tannins are muscular but refined. There’s a gorgeous lemon-candy/salty finish, along with slightly nervy acidity that should ensure a bright future. One to cellar for a couple of years, at least.
Chiara Vigo has markedly changed the style of her wines in the last two vintages. Whereas her 2008 was overtly oak-influenced, and rather hefty, the 2009 is much more feminine, and fruit-forward. Obviously youthful on the nose, the earthy red fruit is fresh and attractive, with great minerality. Salvo Foti has been the oenologist here, since Vigo’s first vintage in 2008, however from 2011, Vigo will be going it alone. Organically produced.
Vinicola Benanti is one of the most established quality producers in the Mount Etna region. Their Rovitello vineyards are on the Northern slopes, and the slightly cooler ripening conditions are reflected in this elegant, mineral and smoky Nerello Mascalese/Nerello Capuccio blend.
A smoky, slightly vegetal aroma sets the stage for this terrific Etna Rosso. The red fruit is sweet and focused, and there’s a note of bitter cocoa, or cocoa nibs, that for me seems utterly typical of Nerello Mascalese. The tannins are refined and nicely balanced with the mineral finish. Organically produced.
Nicosia are making some of the best value Etna Rosso available, and this is a terrific effort. Sweet, red fruit and herbal notes are underpinned by a seductive texture, fine-grained tannins and a fresh, saline finish. This is a steal at £10.95
Marco de Grazia has two prized single vineyard sites in the Etna region – Calderara is situated near the Northerly town of Randazzo. A seriously structured wine, with rather dusty fruit, and spicy, bitter cocoa flavours. Unsurprisingly for Nerello Mascalese grown on black, volcanic soil, this has terrific minerality and lemon fresh acidity. Organically certified.
The Santo Spirito vineyards are situated between 650-700m above sea level. This Nerello Mascalese is bursting with blueberry/black cherry fruit – so much so that the spicy, smoky oak influence takes a back seat. Santo Spirito is a big wine though, and still a baby at four years old. Some might say it’s an international style, yet there’s that typical Salty Etna tang on the finish. Organically certified.
Giuliemi’s Etna Rosso is scarcely less impressive than the Bianco. Raspberries, pepper and orange zest on the nose, driving acidity and soft yet structured tannins. Hint of brown sugar and lemon juice at the end. This is a super-fresh, pure expression of Nerellos Mascalese and Capuccio. Only 1,500 bottles a year produced. Organic/No sulphur.
This wine isn’t currently available in the UK – a great shame. But it’s so good that I had to include it. Made by Salvo Foti’s cooperative “I Vigneri”, using very low-intervention (wild yeasts, no sulphur, no filtering, organically grown fruit), this is a superbly focussed, elegant expression of Nerello Mascalese. Dominated by fresh red cranberry fruit, smoky minerality and piercing acidity, the wine is underpinned by extremely refined tannins and feels effortlessly balanced – no mean feat given the high alcohol.
Tenuta di Fessina’s winemaker Federico Curtaz is from Piedmont, and there’s definitely a nod to Nebbiolo in this wine. 15 months in French barriques has created a serious, age-worthy Etna Rosso, with smoky dark fruit, but plenty of freshness and the typical saline/mineral finish that defines good Etna Rosso. Above all, this is elegant and balanced, in the manner of a top-quality Barolo or a Nuits-San-Georges.