Simon has written before of his interest in the grape variety Nerello Mascalese, a grape principally found on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily. His interest led us to the wines of Benanti, an estate founded in the late 1980s by Giuseppe Benanti, and now run by his two sons, Antonio and Salvino. Last year, we tasted and subsequently offered their 2017 Etna Rosso, 'Contrada Cavaliere', a Nerello Mascalese-dominant blend which really impressed us for its purity and elegance.
The Benanti family have focused on celebrating and demonstrating the distinctive characteristics of Etna’s unique terroir. Their 14-hectare estate covers four different zones, or ‘contrada’: Dafara Galluzzo in Rovittello; Monte Serra in Viagrande; Rinazzo in Milo and Cavaliere in Santa Maria di Licodìa. After a recent tasting of two 100% Nerello Mascalese from the 2019 vintage side by side, namely the 'Contrada Dafara Galluzo', and the 'Contrada Monte Serra', we are pleased to offer the latter here at £160 per 6 bottle case in bond.
I have had some great examples of Nerello Mascalese, which for me shares characteristics with a lighter-styled Nebbiolo, with its vibrant red berry fruit aromas and complex floral notes. What fascinated me with these wines was to hear how the differences in altitude and aspect made for two completely different styles of wine. It could be easy to think of Sicily as one homogenous hot, dry region, but in reality the mountainous nature of the island can offer so much diversity thanks to the complex patchwork of vineyards of differing altitudes and aspects, which is what was so striking in tasting these two wines side by side – the individual nature of the sites was so evident. The cooler Dafara Galluzo contrada is situated at 750m on the north slopes of Etna and produces a more savoury, structured style of wine, whereas the Monte Serra contrada is found on the south-eastern side of Etna at around 450m and tends to produce a richer, more full-bodied style. In fact, the lower altitude and southerly aspect mean that, in very hot years, the Monte Serra contrada can face challenges like water stress and over-ripeness. However, the 2019 vintage was relatively cool, with a long and even growing season, leading to a brighter, more elegant expression of Monte Serra, which Simon felt was the more impressive of the two wines in this vintage.
Please see below for Simon’s tasting note alongside that of James Suckling. Although Suckling’s scores are notoriously generous, I think it is interesting to see his note tallies with what Simon and I discussed; the characteristic richness of the Monte Serra contrada is balanced, in the 2019 vintage, by a notable and hugely appealing freshness and elegance.