Nerello Mascalese, translated from Italian as “the small black from Mascali”, is a black grape from southern Italy.
Nerello Mascalese is a variety that yields wonderful wines when grown on an altitude.
How it performs when on lower ground is a bit tricky to tell as there are no reports on that. Maybe the fact that it then often is used for blending gives an indication.
High altitude grown vines generally tend to produce wines of a subtle and stringent character, resulting in a kind of purified fruitiness. Nerello Mascalse is no exception. Flavours are from red berries, some spiciness, liquorice, and vanilla. Grown on the volcanic soil around Mount Etna it also picks up a nice touch of minerals.
The Etna DOC was established in 1968, and many of the vineyards are at levels 800 to 1.000 m /about 2,600 to 3,300 ft. Combine the consistent high quality with the Etna wines’ rise in popularity, it wouldn’t be surprising if we would be presented with an upgrade to DOCG in the coming years.
The DOC allows for production of Rosato (Rosé), Rosso, Rosso Riserva and Spumante (Sparkling), which can be White and Rosato, and is produced as Metodo Classico.
The regulation for Rosato, Rosso and Rosso Riserva all require minimum eighty percent Nerello Mascalese, maximum twenty percent Nerello Cappucio, and maximum ten percent of any in Sicily authorised non-aromatic white grape. The regulation says nothing about required time for maturation in bottle.
The regulation for Spumante require minimum sixty percent Nerello Mascalese plus maximum forty percent of any other in Sicily authorised grape. First ageing on the lees either eighteen months (non-vintage), or forty-eight months (vintage). No requirement for how long the second fermentation has to be.
Given the good body and fine texture in combination with a delicious fruitiness, an Etna Rosso DOC will be a wonderful pairing with roasted poultry or lamb. Serve the wine at 14-16°C/57-61°F.
A glass of Rosato or a Spumante will be wonderful as it is, served in the shade or on the porch on a warm, sunny day. Why not in Sicily, looking at the splendid view of Mount Etna? The wine is best served at 8-10°C/46-50°F.
Where is it grown?
The variety lost some thirty-one percent of its plantings between 2000 and 2010, reportedly covering an acreage of 2.883 ha/7,125 ac in the end of the decade. This made it the forty-third most planted grape in Italy.
Most of the plantings, ninety-one percent, are found in Sicily, with additional plantings found in the southern regions of Calabria and Apulia. The Sicilian plantings are mostly on the slopes of Etna Agrigento, Messina, and Trapani
Nerello Mascalese’s history is somewhat unclear. It is quite certain that it is a south Italian variety, most likely from Sicily from where it also got its name; Mascali is the name of the plain between Mount Etna and the Mediterranean Sea.
Its parentage however is still under scrutiny. One parent is likely to be Sangiovese, but the name of the other one is still not established.