Posts Tagged Nerello Mascalese

A Duo from Sicily

A Duo from Sicily

“The amount of bullshit in the wine world is almost as much as that in the world of fashion”. Marco de Grazia, founder of Tenuta delle Terre Nere, doesn’t pull his punches. “Winemaking is a cultural process whereby you want to express the character of that vineyard; therefore you have to step back. Most winemakers have very big egos – we are the opposite, we want you to taste the vineyard.”

Thirty years ago, de Grazia, an American wine importer, was one of the very first to set up an estate on the northern slopes of Mount Etna, an ancient vineyard that had largely been forgotten. Since then, the region has been recognized as one of the finest in Sicily, with producers from all over Italy flocking to buy up vineyards.

Today the Terre Nere estate has 55 hectares on the northern slopes of Mount Etna, 27 of which are in production. That includes 24 separate parcels, four released as single vineyard wines. Except for seven hectares of recently planted vineyards all of the vines are 50-100 years old, growing at altitudes of 600-1,000 metres. All of the Terre Nere wines are made from local, indigenous grape varieties. “A happy vineyard produces happy grapes”, says de Grazia; all of the wines are organic and vegan.

De Grazia recently visited Dublin where he, and importers Wine Mason, put on a tasting of the Terre Nere wines. The wines are all good, and some spectacular; over the last few years, this has become one of my favourite Italian producers.


Etna Bianco 2017 Tenuta delle Terre Nere


Floral, fresh and light, with soft pears and subtle stone fruits, and a lively mineral acidity. There is a fantastic succulence and purity to the fruit. Delicious wine with real character and good length.


This would go perfectly with simply-cooked white fish. Grilled hake or sole.

The red wines of Mount Etna tend to get all of the attention, but the white wines can be spectacularly good and are well worth seeking out. The Bianco is made from a blend of 65% Carricante, with varying smaller proportions of Catarratto, Inzolia, Grecanico, and Minella. Organic and vegan.


€25.95 from Redmonds, Dublin 6;; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth;; Mitchell & Son, chq, Dublin 1, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne,; The Wicklow Wine Co., Wicklow,; Ely 64, Glasthule,; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6,; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4,; Devenys, Dublin 14;


Etna Rosso Guardioloa 2016, Tenuta delle Terre Nere


Elegant, high-toned cool savoury red fruits – redcurrants and cherries, with a taut structure, and fine drying tannins and minerals on the finish. Fantastic concentration and depth. Magnificent wine.


Keep for a year or two, or if you must open it now, decant and drink alongside roast or grilled pork with tomato-based sauce of some kind.


This is made from primarily Nerello Mascalase with some Nerello Cappuccio, from a single vineyard, one of the highest plots at around 1,000 metres. Di Grazia describes it as “an austere taut coiled spring”, and “a soprano of a wine”. I bought some of the 2014 to lay down for a year or so.


€45 from The Corkscrew, Dublin 2,; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock,



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The Wines of Etna

The Wines of Etna

First published in The Irish Times Saturday 3rd September, 2016

My only visit to Mount Etna a decade ago was not pleasant. Although it was sunny and spring-like in Syracuse, by the time our bus reached the mountain, the weather was bitterly cold and the sky very grey. The mountain was a black and brooding presence in the background, with patches of white snow here and there. We huddled around the fire in the tasting room, longing for the warmth of our bus. The wines, however, were extraordinary, completely different to anything else we tasted on the visit.

Etna has been the darling of the wine business in recent years; it offers everything the wine geek seeks: steep, dark, rocky volcanic slopes (although the soil is actually very diverse); a unique climate; indigenous grape varieties; and an ancient tradition of viticulture.

The climate and soil are the first pieces in the puzzle. The combination of high altitude and volcanic soils produces wines that are ripe but at the same time very elegant, with a characteristic mineral element (a term that suggests a stony, flinty acidity). Etna wines, red and white, tend to be light and fruity, the reds often having a very seductive earthy warmth.

The primary red grape is Nerello Mascalese, which must make up 80 per cent of an Etna Rosso blend. It is responsible for those wonderful, perfumed, taut, refined dark fruits. Nerello Cappuccio is seen as inferior to Mascalese. The wines are broader and softer, and are often used to flesh out the more austere partner. The white wines tend to be low in alcohol with good refreshing acidity. The most respected grape is Carricante, again an ancient local variety, which is often blended with Catarratto (another more common Sicilian variety) and others.

The vineyard area has expanded in recent years, with many outsiders joining the local producers, but volumes are still small and the wines are in demand. Production costs are high, and so, sadly, prices tend to be high. You can expect to pay €20 or more for a bottle. I do think most of the wines are worth it though. Marks & Spencer have an attractive fruit-filled Etna Rosso at a very reasonable €15.50 – had it been 50 cents cheaper, it would have been my bargain wine – as well as a good Etna Bianco for €16.50.

Sicily is one of the largest wine producing regions of Italy, and has upped its game in recent years. As well as the mass of decent inexpensive red and white wines you can find in your supermarket, grapes such as Nero d’Avola and Frappato (for red wines), and Inzolia for whites, are responsible for some excellent wines at very keen prices.

DSCF6724Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Bianco 2015

Wonderful complex wine with soft ripe pears, grilled nuts, and a clean mineral backbone. Delicious.

Stockists: Baggot Street Wines, Green Man Wines, Blackrock Cellar, On the Grapevine.

DSCF6789Guardoilvento Etna Rosso 2014

Beautiful characterful wine with herby aromas, elegant dark fruits and a seductive warm earthiness.

Stockists: Sheridans Cheesemongers; Mitchell & Son.

DSCF6943Benanti Etna Rosso 2014

Attractive elegant savoury dark cherry fruits with some black coffee; precise with a nice freshness.

Stockists: 64 Wine; Baggot St Wines; Clontarf Wines; The Corkscrew.

DSCF6500Nero d’Avola, Sicilia, Feudo Arancio

Warm rounded ripe dark fruits with a sprinkle of spice. Great value.

Stockists: Mitchell & Son, chq, Sandycove & Avoca, Kilmacanoge; Rua Deli; Wilde & Green.

Posted in: Irish Times

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