Archives for the ‘Sicily Tour Visit Post’ Category

Benanti: now Etna drinks

Uncorked guests just love the Etna grape story. How the Benanti family with roots in Lombardy migrated to Sicily by royal decree, to Catania really, assisting the economic output of eastern Sicily.

By the 1800s native red vines were well established, named in Sicilian dialect but with no relatives in Piedmont to nebbiolo, barbera or dolcetto which inhabit the homeland slopes there. But the wines have similarities.

Travellers come in contact, in a warming manner, with the major variety, nerello mascalese,  Etna hero and gem of a variety. It is lithe, with some pinot noir textures, having pale and some browning colours as with the varieties in Piedmont, then a broadening mouth appeal.

Nerello mascalese

Nerello mascalese

I asked about the origins of nerello mascalese. Host Antonio Benanti says “it has origins in the old town of Mascali nearby, nerello means pale black in Sicilian dialect, and as it is trained by the albarello system introduced by the Greeks, it is an ancient Etna native. We really never know its exact origin”.

Albarello is a form of bush or free standing vine, where the vine supports itself. In old times the vines were randomly planted looking like unkept bushes while today the albarello vine is a tall, upright, row-planted and cleverly-grown shrub whose growing shoots are renewed annually.

Our guests stroll between Benanti’s 100 year-old bush nerello on the 470 m hillside Monte Serra vigneti or vineyards, venturing into the 30 year-old single staked modern section at Viagrande, the company’s now historic wine home.

Monte Serra- 100 yo bush vines

Monte Serra- 100 yo bush vines

And of course a smoking Mount Etna supervises the annual growing crop with a periodic black spray of lava ash. And the rain washes it off. The soil is very mineralised.

The original winery or palmento, is one of numerous ancient designer facilities scattered over Sicily. Lava stone wineries became as a cultural and business interest since the late 1700s.

The rejuvenation of the Mount Etna vineyard sites has seen a purchasing of these derelect palmentos for incorporation in the new wineries as historic parts, with use for wine making illegal (unsanitary) or uneconomic to re-build. But they make great aging cellars or show pieces.

I have visited similar wineries at Passopisciaro and Tenuta de Fessina.

The old vineyards were mixed in plantings and now on trend as a “field blend”. The locals say that their grandfathers must have known what is best for the final wine as nerello mascalese dominated though 20 per cent is nerello cappuccio, and 1-2 per cent the local white variety minnella. Minnella is no longer used.

Here is the lovely lithe general blend Benanti Nerello Mascalese 2012 Etna Rosso DOC, AUD 65, pale-medium colour, Etna terroir nose, volcanic origin, supple and enjoying, long flavour and oak well covered.

Benanti Nerello Mascalese 2012

Benanti Nerello Mascalese 2012

Second wine in the pair is Benanti Nerello Cappuccio 2012 Etna Rosso DOC, AUD 65, very pale, usually unoaked to keep the softness, and very much akin to the light or soft reds of other regions; or also allowed to be blended with nerello mascalese in the field blend.

Benanti Nerello Cappuccio 2012

Benanti Nerello Cappuccio 2012

Uncorked guests taste the magnificence of the volcanic nerellos under the puffs of Etna’s occasional smoke. And view the vista of Etna up closer below!

La Nave on Mt Etna

The latest addition to my Mount Etna wineosphere is the brilliant white wine from the winery Santa Maria La Nave: grown on the northern slopes of the mountain.

This exciting part of Sicily continues to capture and allure international writers and sommeliers. It has to be the elevation that these local indigeneous varieties enjoy. There is freshness and a joy in the mouth. Don’t miss it!

The darling white variety of recent tastes is carricante, and no Etnan white is more famous from New York to Buenos Aires than Benanti’s Pietramarina (2011) (USD 47) – grown at 1000 m in the vicinity of Milo, above Zafferana on Etna’s east side.

Benanti Pietramarina Carricante 2011

Benanti Pietramarina Carricante 2011

Other native whites like minnella are interplanted with the century-old, pre-phylloxera red vineyards. I have eaten it in Benanti’s Monte Serra vineyard, where it is harvested separately.

And Frank Cornelissen in Solicchiata uses grecanico dorato, carricante and coda di volpe in his Tartarci vineyard 1000 m pre-phylloxera blend of Munjebel Vigne Alte 2013 (USD 40). That is how the vines were planted long ago.

But my most impressive encounter is with Sonia Spardo Mulone and Riccardo Mulone’s rejuvenated plantings of grecanico dorato planted at 1100 m, by far the highest elevation for vine growing on the mountain, these on the northern-western side in Contrada Nave.


This Santa Maria La Nave Millesulmare 2014 Sicilia DOC is special in colour: it has luminosity in the glass, masses of quartz-green glints, excellent lustre of a wine with pearl shell gloss; it “winks” at you.

Santa Maria La Nave Millesulmare 2014 Sicilia DOC

Santa Maria La Nave Millesulmare 2014 Sicilia DOC

The taste works a treat; and the aromas are not overt, just muted citrus and lemon rind; subtle, no more.

The  citrus meet on the palate, and the sensation you  find is one of linearity of acidity that goes on for ever. Note the acid succulence, respond to the salivary senses and detect the peak when the lemon essence and lemon grass acid flavours start fading. Should take ten seconds.

These vines have been around for some time but Riccardo is yet to tell me how long.

Now they are being curated and carefully propagated by massal extension, using the old process of burying one unpruned cane of an old vine into the next vine space to start re-growth. Some call the process layering.

So the vineyard must have gaps from vines which have died; now they are being replaced using a very meticulous plan.

These Etna whites have shrill acidity, and slim body, generally irrespective of the variety. They are naturally minerally, merely responding to their terroir.

Another I enjoy is Planeta’s Eruzione 1614 Carricante 2014 Sicilia DOC (USD 33); a more expressive white from the use of aromatic yeast and 5% riesling, the latter another cold climate variety noted for its light body.

Planeta, a bigger Sicilian operator and regionally-aware of the greater microclimates in the Island, is a very active participant in Mount Etna viniculture. Sciara Nuova, 870 m on the northern side in Castiglione di Sicilia is the Eruzione source.

Tascante Eruzione 1614 2014

Planeta Eruzione 1614 2014

Then I recently tasted Tasca d’Almerita Tascante Buonora Carricante 2014 Sicilia DOC (USD 23); back to the muted style of the Millesulmare grecanico, gleaming green, absolutely razor acidity and a delicious texture of the green mint acid taste style; also from Castiglione di Sicilia of vines planted in 2000.

Tascante Buonora Carricante 2014

Tascante Buonora Carricante 2014

Peter Scudamore-Smith MW visited  Sonia Spado Mulone and Riccardo Malone in Milan to interview for this project; and served this Grecanico Dorato 2014 at the opening evening dinner of Uncorked and Cultivated Sicily Wine and Food Tour 2015 in Taormina. Uncorked and Cultivated Sicily Wine and Food Tour guests tasted Benanti carricante at Viagrande, Tasca d’Almerita carricante at Regaleali, and Planeta carricante at Lago Arancio in Sambuca di Sicilia.




San Sebastian: pintxo hunts

What a day-pintxo hunting with Ane Ibarzabal of San Sebastian Food, and finding six different bars to eat and drink. One interesting Basque discovery really.

You see we are in the old Basque town of San Sebastian (called Donastia in Basque), and it takes a little deciphering of what is being said, and what is actually going on. Thank goodness there is a week to settle in also.

And while we were walking around I discovered this town was razed to the ground in a fire in a three way fight between the Portuguese, Spanish and French in 1813. See the plaque. One older building survived. Read more →


Stories about Italy and France | The Italian Travel Edition

We return from touring Tuscany, Piemonte and Sicily.  France beckons.

Edition Twenty One | November 2014

Read about our latest Italy Food and Wine Tour in Uncorked and Cultivated’s November 2014 newsletter.  Featuring articles on:

* Tenuta Il Greppo-Montalcino

* Life of the food in Sicily

* We love endorsements

* Truffle hunting in Alba

* European Harvest 2014

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