Nerello Mascalese Grape

Responsible for the gritty tannins and vibrant acidity to the Etna Rosso blends, Mascalese clearly provides the grip in Etna Rosso.

Mascalese has much in common with Pinot Noir, especially in its delicate garnet color and gentle tannins, while it’s quieter compliment, Cappuccio offers simple cherry-jam fruit with light tannins and a deeper color. Although DOC regulations call for a minimum of 80% Mascalese and a maximum 20% Cappuccio, many Etna reds contain 10% or less of Mascalese and a few producers have abandoned it completely (3).
Wines containing Mascalese have had a rapid upsurge in popularity in the past decade. Wines containing Mascalese have a tendency to reflect their surroundings, giving taut, fresh red wines with fruity herbaceous flavors, excellent minerality and an earthy nuance. Nerello Mascalese wines often have a perfume reminiscent of those of the noble wines of Barolo and Burgundy.


Nerello Mascalese Vineyard

"The prefix “Nerello” refers to the black color of the grapes
a valuable characteristic for adding depth to any wine blend"

Nerello Mascalese Grape

This variety takes its name from the Mascali plain between Mount Etna and the coast where it is thought to have originated. The prefix “Nerello” refers to the black color of the grapes and is shared with Nerello Cappuccio, Nerello Mascalese’s most common blending partner. Both grapes are found in Etna DOC wines, with Nerello Mascalese making up the bulk of the blend and easily surpassing plantings of Nerello Cappuccio.
Mascalese has been planted around the slopes of Mount Etna for four centuries, and the best estates have vineyards dating back at least to World War I and some to the beginning of the 20th century. There are even a few precious plots that were planted in pre-Phylloxera days. These older blocks are all planted with Alberello vines - "small trees" that are basically bush-trained, reaching only a few feet off the ground. Each of the gnarly, twisted plants have three to four spurs extending from a central trunk, which is tied to a wooden stake. Vine density is relatively low, averaging around 3,000-3,200 vines per acre, as opposed to 6,000-8,000 under modern trellising systems. The Albarello vines, especially in the oldest vineyards, are always harvested late, with final picking in early or mid-November (3).
Nerello Mascalese is a late-ripening variety and most vines are trained in the traditional bush-wine method, which works well in the terroir. Nerello Mascalese vines also dominate the neighboring Faro DOC surrounding the port city of Messina. Set in the hills above the city, vineyards reach impressive altitudes here too, if not quite the dizzying heights of Etna.
Dominantly Nerello Mascalese wines express more herbs and tobacco than Nerello Cappuccio, which tend to be more floral. Many find a Pinot Noir-like quality in Nerello Mascalese wines, and both grapes have a remarkable ability to translate even minute differences in terroir; not by chance is the Etna referred to as Italy's Burgundy, with the many sectors of the volcano yielding remarkably different wines (1).

Outside of the two aforementioned DOCs, Nerello Mascalese is used in a variety of red blends under the Sicilia IGT banner, often alongside the island’s dominant Nero d’Avola grape variety. These wines are most often red, but rosé (rosato) is also made. Across the Strait of Messina in Calabria, the DOCs of Lamezia, Sant’Anna di Isola Capo Rizzuto, and Savuto permit the use of the variety in their respective lands.
Recent DNA testing has suggested that the variety is quite probably the offspring of Italy’s famous Sangiovese grape variety, and a connection to Carricante has also been suggested.

Nerello Mascalese Grape

Tasting Notes

“Nerello Mascalese hits your mouth with an explosion of red fruit flavors that leads into spice notes of cinnamon and floral dried desert herbs.”  
Nerello Mascalese that are finer have a long finish with tingly acidity, notes of rustic black volcanic earthiness, and medium weight fine-grained tannins.  Most Nerello Mascalese wines tend to be medium bodied, quite tannic, with flavors of dried cherry and blackcurrant.  Tobacco and spice are prominent, but the most powerful notes are the earthiness that is deliciously matched with silkiness.  

Etna Vineyard

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