Etna Rosso was all the rage throughout the wine world even before HBO’s White Lotus turned all eyes on Sicily. Though even the average consumer became curious about these Sicilian wines thanks to that wine tasting scene in the smash hit series where Daphne proclaims, “Apparently, the wine has, like a bunch of volcanic minerals in it…so we can get drunk, and then tomorrow our skin, and our hair, and our nails will be glowing.” If only that were true, sis!
Daphne was right about one thing though. These Italian wines have a distinctive mineral characteristic and freshness derived from the volcanic soils in which they grow. That’s what captivated me when I first tasted Etna Rosso many years ago. And that characteristic is what has generated countless volcanic wine fans around the world for wines like Piedirosso, Catarratto, Carricante, and more.
While Etna Rosso wines are quite well known now, the red varieties they’re made from are relatively obscure. So, let’s take a closer look at Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, the two predominant native Sicilian varieties which make up Etna Rosso.
Etna Rosso Grape Varieties
Etna Rosso DOC wines mainly consist of two grape varieties: Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio.
Nerello Mascalese is a red grape variety that grows primarily on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily. One might relate its flavor profile to that of a Pinot Noir mixed with Cinsault or Counoise. Generally, Nerello Mascalese expresses flavors of tart red cherry, wild strawberry, allspice, dried thyme or dried herbs, and that volcanic mineral quality. Acidity is typically on the higher end of the spectrum and incredibly vibrant with moderate, well-integrated tannins, making these wines ideal for cellaring. Like all varieties, Nerello Mascalese is influenced by the site in which it’s grown. Consequently, I’ve had examples of Etna Rosso that are more full-bodied and others that are lighter in style. All delicious nevertheless.
Where Nerello Mascalese delivers energetic flavors, acidity, and alcohol, Nerello Cappuccio tends to play a supporting role in Etna Rosso wines. Although the two varieties are related. Nerello Cappuccio contributes a bright ruby color, aromatic lift, and lends well to a rounder, more structured palate. This blog post from Santa Maria La Nave breaks down the differences beautifully.
Etna Rosso DOC
Under the DOC regulations, the wine must consist of at least 80% Nerello Mascalese. A maximum of 20% Nerello Cappuccio, also known as Nerello Mantellato, is permitted, as is a maximum 10% of other local native varieties. Etna DOC is the main designation which encompasses white (main grape: Carricante), red, rosato, and sparkling wines. For Etna Rosso, there is a Riserva and Superiore designation, the latter of which can only be produced in the commune of Milo. Additionally Etna has 133 contrade (or contrada singular), which are further delineations of local communes similar to the MeGAs of Barolo and Barbaresco. Learn more specifics about the Etna DOC here.
In the Glass
Etna Rosso wines are probably some of the most lively, energetic red wines available today. Expect fragrant aromas that leap out of the glass like cherries, strawberries, orange peel or dried orange peel, violet, allspice, warm baking spices, and leather. They have electrifying acidity which makes them delightful pairings for a variety of foods. These Sicilian wines are generally medium bodied, but that can fluctuate as previously mentioned, and tannins are pleasantly moderate.
Etna Rosso Wines to Try
Tenute Nicosia Contrada Monte Gorna Etna Rosso DOC 2019
We savored this bottle over three days, first with aglio e olio and later with a shrimp and zucchini risotto. It was equally delicious paired with both and just as lovely on its own for a relaxing glass after a long day’s work. Brilliant ruby red color in the glass with tart red cherry, Mediterranean macchia, orange peel, and cardamom aromas. Punching just above medium bodied with high acidity and medium, fine-grained tannins that linger on the palate with a balsamic laden finish.
A big thank you to Winebow for sending this sample my way!
Girolamo Russo a’ Rina Etna Rosso DOC 2019
The certified organic 2019 a’ Rina Etna Rosso DOC is the definition of lively. A charming balance between elegant and rustic, this Etna Rosso is predominantly Nerello Mascalese with just 10% Nerello Cappuccio. Fermented solely on indigenous yeasts with a 12-day maceration, ‘a Rina is awash with savory notes of wet forest floor and Mediterranean macchia coupled with energetic red fruit flavors.
With vibrant acidity and an enticing combination of tart red fruit and spice flavors, Etna Rosso is a delicious match for a variety of dishes. This Sicilian wine is just as versatile as Pinot Noir. So, it can pair with anything from poultry and pork to fatty fishes like salmon or tuna. Etna Rosso is an especially flavorful match for pastas with tomato based sauces or earthy, umami driven ingredients like mushrooms or truffles.
Try pairing this wine with an assortment of charcuterie, mushroom or truffle risotto, Sicilian caponata, pesto alla trapanese, pasta alla norma, or chicken cacciatore. We savored this particular bottle of Tenute Nicosia Contrada Monte Gorna Etna Rosso DOC initially with a simple yet classic Italian pasta recipe – spaghetti aglio e olio. The piquant garlic, heat from chili flakes, and herbaceousness of parsley all sang alongside the red fruit and spice flavors of this wine.