At my tailgate party yesterday (Go Bears!), I got to try Nerello Mascalese, a Sicilian grape. I had never heard of it, and I loved it. So, I decided to do some research and share my discoveries with you.
About Nerello Mascalese
According to Wine Folly, “Nerello Mascalese “nair-rello mask-ah-lay-zay” is a light-bodied red wine that primarily grows on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily. Despite its rarity, the wine offers amazing value and a taste profile that’s often likened to fine Pinot Noir.”
Interestingly, we didn’t find it to be light-bodied. Wine Folly goes on to say that “Nerello Mascalese hits your mouth with an explosion of red fruit flavors that leads into spice notes of cinnamon and floral dried desert herbs. Finer examples of Nerello Mascalese from Etna in Sicily finish long with tingly acidity, a rustic black volcanic earthy note, and medium weight fine-grained tannins. With the elegance of Pinot Noir and the explosive exuberance of Zinfandel, Nerello Mascalese is delightfully easy to drink.”
That sounds more like what we experienced. We tasted the explosion of red fruit, earthiness and tannins. Her description of elegance coupled with exuberance works for me, although I would lean much more to exuberance.
About the Wine We Tried
According to Passopisciaro’s website, Passorosso is from ancient vines between 80-110 years old and from different terroirs on different lava flows and altitudes. The Nerello Mascalese wines of 2017 are strong in body, powerful in structure, with notes of ripe red fruits, blood orange, pomegranate, and camphor.
Kerin O’Keefe of Wine Enthusiast gave the wine 93 points and said: “Aromas of ripe wild berry and Mediterranean scrub alongside a whiff of eucalyptus take shape in the glass. Juicy and smooth, the palate offers crushed raspberry, strawberry compote, licorice and notes of exotic incense framed in taut, fine-grained tannins. A tangy mineral note gives the finish tension. Drink through 2027.”
O’Keefe’s description nails what we experienced.
Where Does This Grape Fit into Sicilian Red Wines
Larosa Works is a good site to get information on the red grapes of Sicily.
Nerello Cappuccio is a native grape to the Etna region of Sicily that produces a soft, spicy, medium-bodied wine on its own, but is more often used to blend with Nerello Mascalese to make Etna Rosso DOC wine.
Nerello Mascalese is made in pure form, but mostly it contributes 80% to the Etna Rosso DOC wine. Complex and powerfully elegant with earthy, herbaceous qualities, and notable minerality, it has hints of spice, tobacco and good tannin levels.
Nero d’Avola is a hearty red that has grown in Sicily since ancient times. This wine is also known as Calabrese.
Frappato is a light, easy-drinking fresh wine, with minimal tannins and pronounced cherry fruit notes. This grape is often blended with Nero d’Avola.
Perricone, also known as Pignatello, is quite old, yet less cultivated than the other red grapes, in part because of its difficulty to grow. The wines feature red and dark berry fruits with some spices and can be tannic, but also has some coffee and chocolate notes to lend depth to the flavor and roundness. This grape is likewise blended with Nero d’Avola.
Nocera is is a fairly tannic and acidic red with good aromatics. It is typically blended with Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio to make a wine called Faro.
I’ve only tried Nero d’Avola and Frappato. I have a lot more Silicilan red wine tasting to do! How about you?