The volcanic Etna region has thrilling potential, said our tasters, but wines are best in younger vintages and when made in a fresh, vibrant style. Amy Wislocki reports
LikE so mAny reds from italy, these wines show far better over a relaxed meal than in a formal, tasting room environment – ‘they would perform much better on the table’, commented Andrea Briccarello. Emily o’Hare agreed that Etna reds make great food wines: ‘They’re really good all-rounders because of all that acidity and tannin. And the tannin in them isn’t as dramatic as in nebbiolo, so they can even pair well with fish dishes. They’re a really smart option when dining out.’
That said, the tasters questioned the balance of some of the wines. ‘i really like nerello masacalese as a grape,’ said michael Garner, ‘especially the aromas. But the volume here is always turned up to 11, Spinal Tap style – you’ve got high acidity and high tannins, all blasting out. As a nebbiolo addict, i should be able to deal with tannins, but i’m not sure with nerello mascalese that i’m getting the depth of fruit that i get with other very tannic varieties like nebbiolo. i definitely prefer simpler styles of nerello mascalese because the danger of over-extraction in the variety is very apparent.’
Briccarello also found some of wines ‘too extracted, too overworked and too overdone’, adding that the variety needs careful handling. o’Hare on the other hand enjoyed the tannins, describing them as ‘impressively firm, but not too high’. she concluded: ‘if you like the expression of Pinot noir with the character of nebbiolo, this is an interesting wine.’
At the same time, the tasters were unconvinced by the comparison that is often drawn between Etna Rosso and Pinot noir or nebbiolo – often prompted by the lighter colour of nerello mascalese in the glass. ‘i don’t think it’s a fair comparison – i think Etna reds deserve their own space,’ stated o’Hare. ‘Also, i found the aromas more Bordeaux-like than Burgundy-like. And for me, the wines we tasted lacked the depth of fruit of Pinot noir and the drama of nebbiolo.’
What these wines can offer in spades, said Garner and o’Hare, is a sense of place – a real identity. ‘The wines have a very particular character and you wouldn’t confuse them with anything else,’ said Garner. ‘There is a real transparency to them,’ chimed in o’Hare. ‘They have a great terroir character and i’m convinced that given time that could become more interesting.’
All the tasters felt that the region is still young and evolving in winemaking terms. ‘it reminds me of Barolo 30 years ago,’ said Garner. ‘Etna as a phenomenon has been born in the last 10 or 12 years. There isn’t a fantastic amount of tradition, knowledge and experience there.’
some producers are overworking the wines, observed Briccarello, because they are looking for sales in markets, such as the Us, which prefer a bigger, more oaky style. ‘But in the Uk we probably prefer the tighter, cleaner style. i want to see freshness, vibrancy and fruit in these wines.’ This helps to explain why the preference was for the younger vintages, particularly 2015 and 2014.
The general view on longevity was that these are not wines for long-term cellaring. ‘i didn’t see any wine that i’d want to drink after 10 years, largely because they lack the depth of fruit to age well,’ reflected Garner. Briccarello felt the wines with a proportion of nerello Capuccio in the blend did offer more fruit, and Garner also preferred these, finding them less astringent and better balanced. in the other camp, o’Hare was surprised to find she preferred the varietal mascalese wines, describing them as ‘charming’.
Entry criteria: producers and UK agents were invited to submit their latest- release Etna Rosso DOC wines
‘If you like the expression of Pinot Noir and the Nebbiolo character, try these’ Emily O’Hare