Posts Tagged ‘Benanti’

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!

Tour of Sicily 12-Benanti

Etna’s best-nerello mascalese grapes

Benanti is one great Etna DOC winery that everyone should visit-it’s a very old place set on a small hill (Monte Serre, 450 m) in the village of Viagrande-on Mount Etna’s eastern slopes.

For a start it is one of the originals to resurrect the Etnean vineyards which had fallen foul of development and the bulk mentality taken towards Sicilian wines in general from the 60s onwards.

Evidence of grape culture millions of years pre the settlement of Sicily was discovered on Etna in 1860 and since that time vineyard production has both expanded and contracted. Today it is expanding again.

The heart and soul of Etnean producers is their palmenti-original yet abandoned wineries that operated by gravity feed and totally by hand labour from the 1860s until the depression in the 1930s where the industry died but the vines survived.

Benanti’s palmento in Viagrande is mid-way through revitalisation but has not been restored for winemaking while other farmhouses are now the tasting cellars and reception halls.

The large wooden grape press handle counterbalanced by a huge granite boulder however gives prominance to the palmento’s doorway. These men must have been one tough race of winemakers to operate such fearsome manual equipment.

Old Palmento Press

Benanti’s seminal white wine is made from the native carricante grape-the best expression being in the Milo region a little north of the cellars, also growing at high elevation (900-950 m).

This wine rides on its fineness. It is pale, slow maturing, unassuming in the mouth until you strike the minerality and acidity, coming around your mouth in a thin stream.

Pietramarina-from carricante grape

It is high end seafood wine which the province of Catania exudes with-swordfish, sea bass, sea urchin, tuna, octapus, calamari and more.

Benanti’s best white is Pietramarina 2008 (96); not yet released; 12%; elegant, smells of small white apples; is lean and restrained; then 2006 (95); subtle and toasty to a small degree, is pale emerald green; then 2001 (96); green, no more colour than that, toasty but still chalky to taste from the dominant minerality.

Three gems, having also drunk the fourth one-2007 (95) when visiting last year.

Serre della Contessa; Etna Rosso DOC (designated red Etna wine) 2006 (90) 14%; contains the two great red grapes of the mountain, nerello mascalese (80%) and nerello cappucio (20%); just a lovely pair to drink here, and take with you.

It’s tobacco, sour cherry, lean and lingering, 2006 is drying, then 2004 (92), 14%; a little funky, dry also, then 2002 (97); 14%; positively great with its cherry-jam notes, extra fineness and line. Great drinks.

Why so good? Well its a mixed-age blend of vines; some pre-phylloxera, over 80 y-olds; falling all over the ground as untrellised and misshapen bushes, low cropping vines, others more recent no doubt giving the blend its vitality.

Ungrafted, 80-100 year-old nerello, pre-phylloxera

Benanti produce a single varietal red; Monovitigno Nerello Cappucio IGT Rosso di Sicilia 2005 (92) from Verzella; 13.5%; having perfume, sweet fruit and very easy to get into; somewhat uncomplicated, spicy and soft; as were 2000 (91); 14%; and 1998 (92); 13.5%; soft landing wines, nice drinks, easy to see that this variety softens the Etna Rosso DOC two grape blend.

Benanti make another super Etna Rosso DOC called Rovitello from a northern Etna site in Guardiola contrada, 750 m altitude, the same 80/20 blend of the two designated red varieties.

This was a great visit. The challenge now is to drink more of these excellent varieties native to Mount Etna.

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