Nerello Mascalese 2018 Pietradolce Etna Rosso Sicily, Italy
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There are few wine regions that I have followed with some much interest over the last decade. Mount Etna is a secret gem in the world of wine.
Sebastian Crowther, Master Sommelier
Nerello Mascalese (nair-rello mask-ah-lay-zay), a grape born on Mount Etna and rarely seen off the Island. A late ripening grape, sometimes even into early November for vines at higher altitudes – up to 1,200m. DNA profiling has shown the parentage to be a natural cross between Sangiovese and Mantonico Bianco. Regardless of all of this, it is certainly producing some intriguing wines.
Mount Etna, Europe’s highest volcano and one of the worlds most active. One of the great influences on the wine styles is the altitude at which the vines grow on the volcano. It ranges from 450m up to around 1200m. This rise in elevation brings about a ‘cool’ feel to the wines even though it sits at quite a southerly latitude. Moreover, it is hard to draw comparison between these wines and those from elsewhere in Sicily as the conditions differ so greatly. After World War II many of the vineyards were abandoned until the early 1990’s when some young farmers returned and started restoring some gnarly 100 year old plots.
Pietradolce, meaning ‘sweet stone’, was founded in 2005 by Michele Faro and his family and their Nerello vineyards are located on the prime northern slopes at Solicchiata, two within the Rampante Contrada and another at Zottorinoto.
The fruit for this particular wine, Etna Rosso, come from the northern slopes of Etna in the region of Solicchiata sitting at around 600m above sea level. The soil here is quite stony with a light sandy loam base. Here they hand harvest the grapes that grow on bush vines or ‘Alberello’ as they are called locally. They are 100% destemmed before fermenting on skins for around 18 days. After fermentation the wine is immediately moved to French oak for 18 months of aging. A small percentage of this oak is new (20%).
Pale in appearance, light cherry through the core fading to a soft pink rim. The nose is subtle and restrained, shooting aromas of freshly picked strawberry and raspberry, not ripe, even slightly sour fruits come to mind when inhaling this wine. These wines always conjure up adjectives like ash and smoke, maybe it’s the knowledge of where it has come from or it’s the terroir singing its song. I like to believe the latter. The palate is soft and delicate, showing a real Pinot Noir like elegance. Fine, graceful tannin mingle along without ever becoming firm and there is a lovely crisp acid which keeps it all very vibrant.
With regards to food, you have plenty of options. For me, a winning combination would be with duck. Those fine tannins and fresh acidity will help clean up any richness a dish has, while the body of the wine is adequate to match the intensity of the dish. Again, serving temperature is all important. 16ºC – 18ºC range would be perfect. I don’t think it needs to be decanted, but if you have the fancy Pinot Noir glasses, use them. This will ensure you get everything you paid for!