Grape Expectations: Nerello Mascalese

I have now completed three years’ worth of this column, and as many of you will have noted, my choice of grape varieties is becoming more esoteric each month. You may also have observed that Italy is beginning to feature rather heavily. This is no coincidence. Italy is one of the world’s richest sources of unique, indigenous grape varieties – and thanks to the enormous popularity of Italian food and drink in the UK these are often readily available in one’s local supermarket  independent wine merchant.

So, this month’s column is on the subject of Nerello Mascalese. This Sicilian red grape variety thrives on the volcanic soils of Mount Etna, where it produces tannic yet elegant wines. Imagine a cross between Barolo and Pinot Noir and you’re somewhere close. Prices for Etna Rosso (as you know, European wines tend to be named for their origin rather than their grape variety) used to be scandalously low, but as with all previously ‘undiscovered’ wines, they have crept up as awareness and critical acclaim increases.

Recommendation: Pietradolce ‘Rampante’ Etna Rosso – a light-bodied, elegant red which shows immensely complex red fruit and spice notes. Made from 80-90 year old grape vines at 850m above sea level. 

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