Benanti, Etna DOC Rosso 2016 (about $25)

Italian Wine for september, 2020

The future is looking bright for Nerello Mascalese, a little-known indigenous variety grown primarily on the slopes of the volcanic Mount Etna in eastern Sicily. Although occasionally bottled as a pure varietal wine its major claim to fame is that it is the primary variety used to produce the distinctive, fragrant and terroir-specific Etna Rosso (Etna Red) wines. The newly-fashionable Etna Rosso wines have received high praise from wine cognoscenti in recent years and if not already, should be on every wine-lover’s purchase list.

Etna Rosso is a blended wine that by regulation must have a minimum of 80 percent Nerello Mascalese grapes. The deeply colored, thick-skinned Nerello Mascalese contributes gritty tannins and vibrant acidity to the Etna Rosso blend.

The junior partner in the blend is another indigenous red variety, Nerello Cappuccio, that must comprise from 10 to 20 percent of the blend with other local varieties making up the difference, if any. The Nerello Cappuccio grapes contribute spicy aromas, red berry flavors and perhaps a touch of elegance to the Etna Rosso blend.

Etna Rosso wines come in a variety of styles that can vary from traditional to modern to, well, free-spirited. They can vary markedly from one producer to another depending on the individual producer’s style as well as from differing micro-climates on different areas of the volcano’s slopes. In a previous posting I explored some of the different styles of both red and white wines from the Etna DOC which you can read HERE.

The Benanti winery is one of Mount Etna’s premier producers and their wines are frequent recipients of Gambero Rosso’s prized Tre Bicchieri award. Benanti wines can always be purchased with confidence.

The winery has 30-some acres of vineyards scattered across different slopes of the Etna DOC area. The Benanti winery follows organic farming practices in the cultivation of traditional Etna varieties such as Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio for their reds and Catarratto for their whites. They have a sizeable portfolio of primarily Etna DOC Rosso wines that includes several highly regarded vineyard-specific labels (called contrade by the locals).

The grapes for Benanti’s 2016 Etna Doc Rosso come from several selected vineyards with volcanic soils in various areas of Mount Etna that vary in elevation from 1,500 to just short of 3,000 feet above sea level.

The Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio are 2016 Etna DOC Rosso from the Benanti winery in Sicilyharvested in October and separately fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel vats. The Nerello Cappuccio is then aged in stainless steel as is 80 percent of the Nerello Mascalese with the remaining 20 percent maturing in French oak barriques for roughly 9 months. The wines are then combined, bottled and aged for 3 additional months prior to release for sale.

Benanti’s 2016 Etna DOC Rosso is the estate’s most approachable Etna Rosso and a perfect introduction for those new to Etna wines. It is a really impressive “entry-level” wine.

The wine is light red in color and has fruity blackberry and red current aromas backed up by subtle and nuanced red fruit flavors evocative of an upscale Burgundy. It’s not big or flashy but is impeccably polished with fine tannins, good texture and balance. The acidity is impressive with an energy that inspires one sip after another. And, at $25 a bottle it’s in the sweet spot of the value-oriented consumer’s $20 to $30 price range.



©Richard Marcis
September 1, 2020

To see reviews of other selected wines of the month, see Wines of the Month.

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