Nerello Mascalese: The prince of Etna vines.


After Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese is the second most cultivated grape variety in Sicily. Nerello Mascalese, called “Niuriddu mascalisi” in Sicilian, is a grape variety that grows mainly around Etna, in the province of Catania. The name Mascalese refers to its place of origin, the Piana di Mascali, an agricultural area between the sea and Etna, on the eastern side of the volcano. Today, the cultivation of the vine is found throughout the Etna wine zones (Trecastagni, Biancavilla, Viagrande). The territory of excellence remains around the municipalities of Castiglione di Sicilia and Randazzo, between Rovittello, Solicchiata, Calderara, Passopisciaro, and Linguaglossa. In this area, the heroic vineyards of Nerello Mascalese have resisted the phylloxera epidemic. The composition of the soil (volcanic soils, with a basaltic texture and the presence of allophane clays with good thermal conduction), the high altitude (up to 1100 meters above sea level) and the practice of training the vines by offshoot (the so-called purpania) have distinguished this territory. 

The Nerello Mascalese in Sicily

The Nerello Mascalese grape is also present in Sicily on the hills and along the coasts that overlook the Strait of Messina. On the strip of land between the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Ionian Sea, it gives life to Faro DOC. The name may come from from Punta Faro, the extreme tip of the Strait of Messina, or from the Greek population of the Pharii, colonizers of most of the Messina hills. A spalier cultivation of the grape can also be found in the Palermo and Agrigento areas, where Nerello Mascalese has spread particularly over the past thirty years. The origins of Nerello Mascalese can be traced back to the seventh century BC. with the Greek colonization of the Messina and Calabrian coasts.  First, with the foundation of Naxos in 734, of Zancle in 730 and of Catania in 728, the Greeks spread the cult of Dionysus and began the cultivation of the vine. The production of wine subsequently extended in the Catania and Messina areas to the slopes of Etna. In this area, the famous Mamertines were produced, much appreciated by the Syracusan tyrants and later by the Romans, especially by Caesar. The latter, in fact, loved to celebrate his Gallic victories with the sought after Tauromenitanum and Mamertinum. Equally renowned were Catiniensis and the Adrumenitanum, always from the volcano areas.
At the fall of the Roman Empire, the cultivation of the vine and the production of wine had no particular impetus. The territory for Nerello Mascalese was not as well known as it is today.
In modern times, in 1543, Charles V granted the elevation of the Mascali plain to the county to Bishop Caracciolo. The lands of Mascali were therefore given in emphyteusis to the wine growers, who contributed to the selection of this variety. But it was only at the end of the 20th century that the interesting results known today were obtained. With important work carried out in the new millennium, the quality of the native grape variety has been enhanced and the denominations of origin introduced. Today the wines obtained from the vinification of Nerello Mascalese are among the most appreciated internationally.

Both Etna Rosso DOC and Faro DOC wines are produced with Nerello Mascalese as their base. The grape variety is used for winemaking as a monovarietal, or in a blend with other grapes. Since 1968, Nerello Mascalese has become the base for the DOC of Etna Rosso, made of at least 80%, while the remaining 20% is Nerello Cappuccio. The recognition of the Faro Doc dates back to 1976 and allows the use of Nerello Mascalese grapes from 45% to 60%, 15 to 30% Nerello Cappuccio and 5 to 10% Nocera.

What is special about Nerello Mascalese?

Nerello Mascalese is one of the most elegant Italian red wines. It is rich in its various expressions because it is characterized by a set of clonal plants. The different expressions, even yearly, of the grape depend a lot on the climatic conditions, on the slope of the Etna volcano and by altitude. Nerello Mascalese is a late ripening grape. In the Etna area the harvest generally takes place in mid-October.  Nerello Mascalese is present in several Sicilian Docs: Faro, county of Sclafani, Alcamo, Riesi, Marsala, Sicily. Its most prestigious versions go under the Etna Doc denomination.

What are the tasting characteristics?

It is necessary to distinguish between pure Nerello Mascalese and vinified in the absence of pomace. The pure one has a deep red color, a cherry red tending to garnet. On the nose it presents itself with elegant aromas of small red fruits and with hints of licorice and spices. On the palate it is dry, tannic, persistent and harmonious. Nerello Mascalese is also vinified in the absence of pomace and is known as “Pesta in Botte”. This particular wine takes on a deep red color and intense aromas of violet, small red fruits and spices. Its taste is full, warm and dry. Furthermore, if grown in volcanic soils, a definite minerality is perceived.

What dishes pair with Nerello Mascalese?

Nerello Mascalese should be poured into a large glass. The serving temperature should be 17/18 degrees. If we choose this wine for an aperitif, accompany it with aged cheeses and salami. If we combine it with first courses, choose something succulent and aromatic. Risotto, tagliatelle or ravioli seasoned with meat-based sauces pair perfectly. For main courses red meat or Nebrodi pork sausage are ideal. Swordfish and tuna can also be enjoyed with Nerello Mascalese.

Which wineries do you recommend tasting Nerello Mascalese at?

Discover the Nerello Mascalese Tasting Options

Which wineries make Nerello Mascalese sparkling wines?

– Antichi vinai
– Benanti
– Cantine Russo
– Cottanera
– Murgo
– Nicosia
– Nuzzella
– Patria
– Tenute Orestiadi  

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