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.
Nerello Mascalese can suffer from a lack of “stuffing”, particularly as it ages. Cottanera have created a blend with 15% of international varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot), which definitely adds fruit and richness to this easy-going cuvee. The fruit is leathery, backed up by taut tannins, and there’s an enticing spicy, vegetal note to the nose. Barrique aging has been well judged to round out the palate, without dominating it.
Etna Rosso DOC wines are never particularly cheap – the DOC regulations require hand harvesting, no irrigation, high altitude vineyards. That this Cottanera retails for only around a tenner is therefore miraculous. It is seriously structured, smoky, with a tiny hint of mocha and a bit of liquorice on the finish. A great introduction to Etna Rosso.
Alberto Graci has some very old plots of Nerello Mascalese growing between 600-1000m. This is his “basic” cuvee, made from younger fruit, although there’s nothing basic about the wine. The fruit is superbly fresh and vivid, with a slightly feral, herbaceous aroma. Etna Rosso often has a small percentage of Nerello Capuccio added, but this is unadorned Nerello Mascalese, and seems very focused for it, with black cherries, blueberries and redcurrants. Quite a “hot” finish, freshened up by the tannins.
It’s rare to see a completely unoaked Nerello Mascalese (Although most producers are using large, old oak vessels these days). This shows just how charming Mascalese’s fruit can be. Red cherries and redcurrants are balanced with a floral and slightly herbaceous note, in a style that’s not a million miles away from younthful village Burgundies. Erse is the goddess of dew, which seems appropriate for this fresh, youthful yet intense wine.
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.
I loved the concentrated and slightly dusty fruit in this Etna Rosso. This is a very approachable style, with fine tannins and an iodine tang at the end. Further proof that Nerello Mascalese can produce wines of considerable complexity without the need for any oak aging.
Passopischiaro make no less than four single vineyard Nerello Mascaleses, and the range of flavour and character just goes to show how sensitive this variety is to the varying terroir in different parts of the Etna region. Porcaria is a vineyard at 650m, with a thin layer of lava on the topsoil. This is a monolithic, smoky and tannic wine, which nonetheless remains fresh and herbaceous – there’s a pronounced note of sage.