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2016 Etna Rosso Riserva 'Rovitello Particella No. 341', Benanti - a grand wine by any measure

February 2022

2016 Etna Rosso Riserva
'Rovitello Particella No. 341', Benanti
£330 per 6 bottle case in bond

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etna


I am becoming more and more taken with the wines of Sicily and particularly one stand-out producer, Benanti.
 
I struggle to find the same value for money in more popular regions of Italy – Tuscany and, increasingly, Piemonte receive plenty of attention and prices for the wines of leading estates have increased. Sicily is not yet fully understood by the broader wine buying public, nor are the evident qualities of the indigenous Nerello Mascalese widely acknowledged, but Sicily has a lot in its favour. The climate shows less dramatic variation than we find on the mainland and, in vintages that have proven a struggle further north, Sicilian wines have excelled. Think 2014 for example; it is regarded as one of the finer recent vintages for Sicily but was challenging in Tuscany and Piemonte to some extent. Sicilian vintages often benefit from warm late season conditions that can save a cooler year. Waiting for full phenolic maturity (ripeness of tannins in the skins and pips) in late September and into October can be a fraught period for many European growers, but rainy autumn periods are not particularly common to Sicily. In 2016, which proved to be a cool and late vintage on the island, the late season conditions were pivotal in delivering an admirably ripe crop. As a consequence, it may just pip the impressive 2014 vintage to the post as the greatest recent Sicilian vintage. Just now we are starting to see a handful of high-class, low volume Riservas come to the market, and the 2016 'Rovitello Particella No. 341' from Benanti offered here is one such wine.
 
Some background
 
Back in 2018, I wrote about my interest in a grape variety called Nerello Mascalese, which is principally grown in Sicily on the slopes of Mount Etna. I suggested at the time that you would most likely hear more about it in the coming years as several high profile wine producers across Italy, including Angelo Gaja, had recognised the quality, and how reasonable vineyard prices were, and had bought vineyard land on Etna.
 
Certainly, the profile of many Etna-based estates has risen – these wines are reaching a far broader audience than before, buoyed by some very good vintages. Nerello Mascalese, pronounced ‘nair-rello mask-ah-lay-zay’, is said to have a close genetic relationship with Tuscany’s Sangiovese and possibly originates from a crossing of Sangiovese and another variety. Irrespective of its origins, it produces compelling wines that range from comparatively light ruby to deeper hues. The wines offer vibrant red berry fruit aromas, with complex floral notes and tell-tale earthy mineral notes that seem so typical of Etna. What I personally like is there is a juicy quality to the fruit, a brightness in general, fine supporting tannins allied to a bright acidity make for a finish that often reminds me of Sangiovese. In general, these are remarkably elegant wines...some suggest stylistic similarities with lighter Nebbiolo, and others see a reference to Pinot Noir. Some say that is has the elegance of Burgundy but some of the tannins of Barolo, but by no means is it as assertive. The wine I am offering here, the 2016 'Rovitello Particella No. 341' is a blend of 90% Nerello Mascalese and 10% Nerello Capuccio – Capuccio often plays a supporting role and is seldom seen as a 100% varietal; though Benanti are producing one – this supporting variety lends a deeper colour, a certain softness and dark cherry fruit to the more assertive Mascalese.
 
This is one of the top wines from Benanti and is an outstanding example of Etna Rosso – I am not sure I have yet tasted a wine from Etna that I have found as exciting. Since they took the reins in 2012, brothers Salvino and Antonio Benanti have followed the direction that their family estate laid out in the 1990s, namely to focus on producing wines from single vineyards and individual parcels. They aim to have six different ‘contrada’ or Cru wines in their range. The Benanti family have been making wines from the Rovitello vineyard in the Contrada Dafara Galluzo on the prized northern slopes of Etna for approaching thirty years. In 2015, the brothers decided that the quality coming from a small pre-phylloxera parcel in the upper section of the vineyard deserved different treatment as they believed these old vines could produce something special. They extended the duration of vinification and maturation to produce this Riserva, which was aged for 60 months prior to release. As mentioned, the Rovitello Riserva is comprised of approximately 90% Nerello Mascalese and 10% Nerello Capuccia – the exact percentages are difficult to ascertain as the varieties are co-planted, i.e. interspersed throughout the vineyard. These vines are on their own original roots, having survived the ravages of phylloxera, an insect that attacks the roots of vines and which plagued Europe in the late 1800s. European vines were saved by the process of grafting the indigenous vine onto American rootstocks that had proven resistant. These are bush vines that are grown in sandy, volcanic soil which is rich in minerals as you might expect from the slopes of a volcano.
 
The 2016 vintage was hand harvested in late October and aged in large French oak barrels, then in bottle for 12 months prior to release. We are delighted to have secured a good allocation of this small production Riserva in such a great year.
 
I have included my note below as well as Ian d’Agata’s tasting note on Terroir Sense from his list of the Best Italian Wines of 2021.  I have always rated Ian’s palate when it comes to Italian wines, and it is good to still be able to access his insight after his departure from vinous.com
 


2016 Etna Rosso Riserva 'Rovitello Particella No. 341', Benanti
£330 per 6 bottle case in bond


My note : 
Brick red, translucent garnet hue reminiscent of Nebbiolo. Wow – the aromas show great complexity; dried red fruits, spice, something orange like, notes of cinnamon and an earthy, mineral note. The palate doesn’t disappoint – refined, elegant, flowing, not insubstantial but nor is it hefty. More a sense of intensity as opposed to weight. The finely expressed tannins, a testament to old vines, create a silky mouthfeel and are easily veiled by a copious fruit that captures notes of fresh and dried cherry, damson as well as cranberry and pomegranate. The extended ageing has brought out a mellow, autumnal character with savoury notes that simply adds to the complexity. This 2016 finishes vibrant and sappy with mineral-nuanced tannins leading long into the finish. This is outstanding – a grand wine by any measure and in any company. Absolutely riveting. (SL) Drink 2024-2040. 


97 points, Ian d’Agata
Nothing to say when a wine is this good, all you can do is take your hat off. Tasted blind, I really thought it was a Barbaresco from Treiso, and I don’t often make mistakes like that, so there you have it. Pure, precise, chiseled, seamless with an Etna-typical nervy minerality and seamless texture, this is just a mindbogglingly good wine, if you pass me the term.
 

RovittelloParticellaNo.341EtnaRossoRiserva

And in case you think this is a one-off, here is Ian’s note on the 2015, which he also scored 97 points. It is worth stressing the 2015 was the very first release!
 
A work of art, really one of the best red wines I have tasted all 2021. Made with grapes grown on the volcano’s northern slope (by far the best for Nerello Mascalese) in the Contrada Dafara Galluzzo, this is a magically balanced and refined Etna Rosso made from a small plot of centenary pre-phylloxerc vines. It boasts a translucent pale red colour that is in keeping with the lack of pigment strength that Nerello Mascalese is known for (remember, if someone serves you an inky or impenetrably dark ruby wine said to be made all or close to with Nerello Mascalese, either refuse to pay for it or take it to a lab and have fun). It is also magically perfumed, offering sour red cherry, redcurrant, strawberry and mineral aromas that go on and on, as do the very similar flavours of red berries, minerals and fine herbs. Silky and extremely long, this is macerated for a very long time on the skins, and aged in 15 Hl French oak barrels for roughly 24 months and another twelve months in bottle prior to going on sale.
 
There is something special about this wine and any fan of classic Italian wines will be delighted when this hits maturity, there is so much promise.
 
Please let us know of your interest.
 
All the best,
 
Simon

 

To request a wine, please do not hesitate to contact any member of the Atlas team. We can be reached on +44 (0) 20 3017 2299, info@atlasfinewines.com or by submitting the form below. Please note that stock may be limited and is always sold on a 'first come, first serve' basis. 

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