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.
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.
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.
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.