This varietal Nerello Mascalese is grown in the Piano Dario vineyard on the northeastern shoulder of Mount Etna. Although it could legally be labeled “Etna Rosso,” the winemaker has selected the broader denomination of “Sicilia.” The choice is surprising given the proliferation of micro-appellation labeling, but I saw this often on a recent research trip to Etna. Most winemakers I asked about it shrugged it off, saying they believe Sicilia has more name recognition. Given how much traction these wines have gained in the U.S. market recently, they may soon want to rethink that choice.
Anyway, this particular wine is on the tight side for Etna Nerello and needs several hours, even a day, to relax. But it’s worth the wait. As the wine wakes up it begins to exhale a fragrance of black plums steeped with wild fennel—which grows abundantly on Etna’s slopes—muddled with coffee bean and black nuts. The acid is firm and the tannins are fine-grained, and the finish offers a pop of coffee powder and bitter cocoa.
It is consummately a food wine, and especially a Sicilian food wine. Pair it with pasta dishes featuring lemon, almonds, sardines, and ricotta. Also harmonious with eggplant parmesan, or any dishes featuring the ubiquitous Sicilian melanzana: the wine will marry with the snap of bitterness the eggplant’s skin and the red tomato fruit. Its cut crystal acidity will also cleanse the palate for rich, savory fare (like Sicilian timballo, arancini, and caponata), but it is also light enough for red shrimp (gambero rosso) or roasted branzino.