Nerello Mascalese—your summer wine!

Earlier this year, in the spring, right around the time I decided to turn a focus to southern Italian wines, my neighbor, Bruce, incidentally—and ecstatically—informed me that he and his girlfriend, Jan, were going to Sicily at the end of May!

“Oh my God! That’s so awesome!” I exclaimed, as I felt a surge of both excitement and jealousy. Jealousy, only because I haven’t been there myself—not yet, anyway. But that is only motivating me to get down there soon (… more on that later).

In my article about this year’s San Francisco Tre Bicchiere tasting, I recount my “rediscovery” (again) of some of the gorgeous wines of southern Italy and Sicily. Among my favorites were the wines from the Sicilian winery, Pietradolce. After the tasting, I made a promise to explore southern Italian wines more often.

A few days before Bruce had told me about his trip, I located the Pietradolce Archineri and Etna Rosso at Vintage Wine Merchants and I grabbed them both. Once Bruce told me he was going, I decided I’d share at least one of the bottles with him. But shortly thereafter I actually left for a trip to (northern) Italy and Germany. Then right after I returned, they left for theirs. And one night, while they were gone (envy took me over), I opened one of the bottles. Lucky for Bruce it was the simpler one, the Etna Rosso.

The warm evening begged for something to go on the grill and for my company al fresco. So I pulled out one of my favorite recipes for Lebanese Kefta (see below) and threw some veggies (eggplant, fennel, onions, and tomatoes) on the grill. I had bought some tzatziki and naan (it’s better than store-bought pita!) and all together, they made a delectable Mediterranean meal, perfect for an outdoor evening. Fortunately, the wine pairing also worked splendidly.

My review of the wine (from May 30, 2014)—

Pietradolce Etna Rosso

Pietradolce Etna Rosso 2012. Etna Rosso DOC. Nerello Mascalese 100%. Rose, ash, and wood smoke; on the palate, pronounced minerality and a dried strawberry character. On the second day, it reminded me of a Roero Nebbiolo: brilliant strawberry but with ash in place of citrus, plus rose and red licorice, tart and spicy, finishing with finesse.★☆

After their arrival home, Bruce told me he had shipped some red and white wines home from Benanti winery and was curious my opinion of the red. So could we do a little blind tasting?

Well given my blog motto, “Yes, I would like to try the Barolo,” one can extrapolate, that, “Yes, I am always up for trying   —insert random autochthonous Italian varietal wine here—  !” So I told Bruce I’d love to and I offered to bring my wine over to share, as well. We could do a little blind side-by-side.

Luckily we also see eye-to-eye that “you can not drink Italian wine without food.” But I guess we also both had the same basic pairing in mind too! I He had put together an insalata caprese and I brought over bruschetta and a baguette—two different dishes with the same basic ingredients (tomatoes, basil, garlic, olive oil, balsamic). Either way, they are both great accompaniments to Nerello Mascalese. And they are both super easy to prepare.


The wines (from July 25, 2014)—

Pietradolce Archineri 2010. Etna Rosso DOC. Nerello Mascalese 100%. Rose and cinnamon on the nose with a touch of volatile acidity, which blows off quickly. Concentrated but intensely floral and full of minerality, while at the same time being packed with bright and ripe red fruit. Spicy and fruity on the finish.★★

Pietradolce Archineri

Benanti Serra della Contessa 2004. Etna Rosso DOC. Nerello Mascalese 80%, Nerello Capuccio 20%. Pronounced minerality throughout with a dried red fruit character and rose. While very similar to the above wine, it shows much less fresh fruit. But even with muted fruit, the overall equilibrium in the wine is striking; the bottle could surely lie down for another year or two.★★

Benanti Serra della Contessa

Besides a six year age difference, and a slight grape percentage discrepancy, the production methods of these two wines can help explain the flavor distinctions. The grapes for the Archineri grow in stone and sandy loam at between 600 and 900 meters and the wine sees a fairly modern aging program with 14 months in lightly toasted fine grain French oak barrels (typical volume is about 228L). The grapes for the Serra della Contessa grow at 500 meters in sandy and volcanic soils, rich in minerals and spends about 12 months in second and third passge, lightly toasted 500L barrels. In the latter case, the minerals really come forth, and are allowed to do so by a fairly benign aging process. While the first wine is approachable now, I still think that given its structure, it will age for a few years as well.

While I’m definitely not going to to abandon my exploration of Sicilian wines any time soon, I will tell you that I’m actually headed off (for real!) to Campania this fall. There I will explore the Taurasi wines (i.e. those made from Aglianico), as well as those made fom Falanghina and Fiano.

Who is excited?

The Kefta recipe.

  • 2 lb of ground lamb or a mix of ground lamb & turkey or ground lamb & beef
  • 1/2 c grated onion
  • 1/2 c finely chopped flat-leaf parsley or mint
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground pepper
  • optional: 1-2 tsp of cumin, cinnamon, allspice, and/or rosemary

In a bowl combine all of the ingredients. Knead well with your hand and chill for one hour. Preheat grill and form the mixture into small round or oval-shaped balls. Oil the grill and grill on medium heat for a few minutes, turning at least once. Serve with tzatziki, hummus, or any other sauce you fancy.

PS – In April I had to chance to visit the 13Celsius wine bar in Houston, Texas, which is one I’d highly recommend if you find yourself unfortunate enough to be down in the armpit of the country. You will find shelter here! I promise! I enjoyed (once again) the COS Cersuolo di Vittoria (Nero d’Avola and Frappato nero) also from Sicily and the Librandi Cirò, coming from Calabria, made from Gaglioppo.

From 13 Celsius

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