The beautiful bastard offspring of Sangiovese and an unknown deadbeat Dad (rumour has it that it may be the Calabrian Mantonico Bianco), Nerello Mascalese is grape that is most often found upon the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. This wily grape really comes into its own when planted on the higher altitude volcanic slopes of Mount Etna, the world’s most active volcano and the epicentre of quality wine in Sicily. There it is usually blended with the lesser Nerello Cappuccio in the region’s Etna DOC wines where they share a kind-of Cabernet/Merlot symbiotic relationship in the bottle. Named for the plain of Mascali at the base of Mt. Etna, Nerello Mascalese may not have the name recognition nor the enormous plantings of Sicily’s Nero d’Avola, but it arguably produces the island’s very best wines.
To describe the grape’s defining characteristics is much easier said than done, as much like Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo,Nerello Mascalese tens to take on the personality of its surroundings and soils. Saying that, in better examples one can expect to find a exquisitely perfumed nose of red cherries, herbs and earth, with a taut palate that often mirrors the earthy and minerally nuances in the bouquet… much like a fine Burgundy or Barolo actually.
Seek it out… you’ll be glad you did.
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And he wonders if he’ll ever meet Mick Hucknall, who has a vineyard on Etna.