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Discovering the wonder of Northern Etna - Nerello Mascalese

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Had the pleasure of trying out Qvevri from Vino di Anna, Etna, Sicily. The grapes are mainly Nerello Mascalese but also some Nerello Cappucio and Alicante (Cannonau/Grenache).

The winery is a small family-owned business where one of the owners is unsurprisingly named Anna. The vineyard is situated on the north slopes of Mount Etna with an elevation of up to 1000 meters. Naturally the wine has adopted the well-known minerality of the volcano. The winery uses natural wine making techniques, and the wine is thus unfiltered, not fined and truly organic (some of their wines are even biodynamic).

Nerello Mascalese is the queen of grapes in this area of Sicily, whereas Nero d’Avola rules pretty much the rest of the island. You will also find Nerello Mascalase in Calabria, but not much anywhere else. Blended with Nerello Cappucio it gets a deeper colour and softer tannins – a very common combination as otherwise Mascalese remains very light in colour but with harsher tannins. Mascalese is also used to make rosato (rosé) in the Etna region, but not to a bigger extent.

This grape hasn’t been very popular until recently (after the millennium) and is actually a crossing between Sangiovese and Mantonico Bianco (who ever heard of that one before, I don’t know?). Gaglioppo which you typically find in Calabria across the ocean from Sicily also descends from Sangiovese. Nerello Mascalese is hard to identify in a blind test due to its way of changing in characteristics depending on training method, density of planting and in general, production technique. Etna Rosso DOC generally constitutes of Mascalese (and a blend with Cappucio) and dominant flavours are sour red cherry, tobacco, aromatic herbs and minerals. They tend to say that people who like Pinot Nero (Noir) usually enjoy Nerello Mascalese – and who doesn’t like Pinot Nero?! The reason for that is that both grapes will differ massively based on where it’s grown and what winemaking technique has been used.

Qvevri from 2016 is a tart delight! I’m getting sour cherries, strawberry popsicle and dried herbs. There’s also some tobacco and an abundance of minerality. Really refreshing on the palate, almost like a shock with acidity when it hits the back of the tongue. After opening up a bit I’m getting more earthiness sort of like carrots just picked from the soil (strange comparison but that’s what I’m thinking of, reminding me of my childhood in my grandmother’s garden). A little bit later some of the natural winemaking style in this wine pops out – yeasty but not overpowering. It’s fun and cheery and I’m so happy I opened this on a Friday night as it without doubt gets me in the party mood. I could easily drink this on its own but will be serving a cheese platter with it tonight. I’m also thinking a seafood tomato pasta could do really well in terms of pairing. Enjoy!

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Blog posted by Sofia - Follow her on Instagram

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