If you love Pinot Noir, then the chances are that you’ll appreciate its slightly more rustic Sicilian cousin, Nerello Mascalese. This comes from volcanic soils at 800 metres on the northern slopes of Mount Etna and is appealingly floral and intense, with rose petal and a hint of earth on the nose, lots of tangy focus and grip, very subtle integration and a lovely combination of sinewy tannins, wild strawberry and red cherry fruit and a dusting of Mediterranean herbs.
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.
Salvatore Scilio has one of the few organically certified estates on Mount Etna, and Alta Quota is his premium expression of Nerello Mascalese. The balance between acidity and structure is impressive, and the muscular, ripe fruit has a herby, rosemary scent running through it. Superbly elegant, and feels like one for the long haul.
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.
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.
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
This Nerello Mascalese won a gold medal in the Decanter 2012 awards, and it’s not hard to see why. The fruit is lithe and ripe, with an attractive smoky hint. There’s an overwhelming sense of freshness, vitality and elegance in this wine – and the Etna trademark minerality is present and correct, together with a lemon-candy note on the finish. At £8.50 this is one of Etna’s few bargains – It’s no surprise therefore that the Wine Society has sold out. Let’s hope they can secure some more soon.
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.