Nerello Mascalese  | Red wine grape associated with the Etna DOC region of Sicily. Prior to 2000 Nerello Mascalese was little talked about. Its fortunes have changed as Etna is now one of the most fashionable wine producing zones in Italy. While grown in other parts of Sicily, like Palermo and Agrigento, it is mostly confined to the vineyards of Etna which is blessed with a wealth of old, pre-phylloxera vines.

The name | Nerello Mascalese is named after the Mascali plain in the northeast of Catania province. Biotypes | Nerello Mascalese has high intravarietal variability and therefore many biotypes, some of which give a slightly deeper color.

Origins | Nerello Mascalese is thought to be an offspring produced by a natural crossing of Sangiovese and Mantonico Bianco. It may be related to Carricante. Locally it is called Niureddu.

Wine style | Due to its specific anthocyanin makeup (more than 50% peonin & cyanin) Nerello Mascalese is light in hue. It has a great ability to translate terroir resulting in subtle nuances between examples though is usually marked by pure aromas and flavors of sour cherry, tobacco, aromatic herbs and minerals. Tannins can be green and astringent so a short maceration and lower fermentation temperatures are best.

Carlo Franchetti of Passopisciaro is quoted by Natalie Wang (2017) as saying wines made from Nerello Mascalese have a ‘smokey, gunpowdery, peppery and very mineral profile. Compared with Pinot Noir, it has better tannins, and higher acidity. So it has a light, elegant body of Pinot but with a greater tannic structure. It’s a grape that’s kind of in between Burgundy and Barolo, so it has the elegance of Burgundy but the tannins close to Barolo, although Barolo is bit more tannic.’ he explains, adding that the volcanic soil from Mt. Etna’s lava flows combined with its high altitude vineyard sites – varying from 1,000 meters to 500 metres above sea level – made his Etna wines stand out among peers.

Where grown | Sicily: Etna DOC Rosso. | Faro DOC. | Contea di Sclafani DOC. | Calabria: various plantings

Viticulture | Though vigorous, Nerello Mascalese gives irregular yields and is very influenced by vintage characteristics, the area of cultivation, training method and density of planting. It is a late ripener which can be a challenge in the cool Etna autumn.

Wines | Dry still red. Nerello Mascalese is usually blended with the lower tannin Nerello Cappuccio which gives color and softens acidity.

Bibliography

See Ian D’Agata, Native Wine Grapes of Italy (University of California Press, 2014).

Italian Wine Unplugged (Positive Press, 2017), p.121.

Natalie Wang, ‘Carlo Franchetti: ‘Nerello Mascalese is the best of Burgundy and Barolo’, Drinks Business (online) 14th June 2017.