A great example of Etna Bianco, with 70% Carricante and 30% Catarratto. Bone dry, flinty and herby, with green melon and capsicum on the nose. Rampante is one of 60 or so “Contrada”, or vineyard sites particularly known for high quality production in Etna. The fruit is ripe, manifesting a baked apple character as it develops in the mouth.
A single vineyard Carricante, with minute amounts of Catarratto, Minnella and Muscatello in the blend. There’s an enticing hint of vanilla pods on the nose, a very subtle reminder that this wine spent 9 months in French oak. There’s nothing heavy handed about it though – the fruit is predominantly grilled peaches, with a splash of woodspice and terrific freshness.
Nerello Mascalese is versatile enough to make terrific sparklers – like this bready, toasty rosé spumante. The fruit is spicy, and rather savoury, with an intriguing nose that reminded me of red onions (it wasn’t oxidised, I should hasten to add). The mousse is soft but persistent. Bone dry, refined and complex – a serious Rosé, Bravo!
Carricante sometimes has a nutty, savoury feel to it – and this is a good example in that style. Quite weighty, with a typically mineral, bitter finish that works brilliantly to refresh the palate.
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.
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.