If you have not already tasted wines from the Sicilian grape, Nerello Mascalese, you may well have heard of it; after all, we have been banging the drum about it for some time. Of all the examples we have tasted, there seems to be one standout producer, namely Benanti.
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 can produce 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. There is a juicy quality to the fruit, a vibrancy and fine supporting tannins allied to a bright acidity. In general, these are remarkably elegant wines. For me, personally, their vibrant red berry fruit and complex floral notes remind me of lighter-style Nebbiolo, while for others, the earthy characteristics bring to mind Pinot Noir. Some say that is has the elegance of Burgundy but some of the tannins of Barolo, though it is by no means as assertive. The wine I am offering here is the 2019 'Contrada Cavaliere’, Benanti – a stunning 100% Nerello Mascalese, offered at £160 per 6 bottle case in bond.
Simon recently had the chance to taste the 2019 Cavaliere and was seriously impressed; it punches well above its weight given its remarkably reasonable price. This is only the third vintage of this particular wine. 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 and the most recent addition is the Contrada Cavaliere, which hails from the southwestern side of Mount Etna and is at an altitude of 900 metres.