Adventures with Weird Wine Grapes

There are 1,368 varieties covered in Master of Wine Jancis Robinson's Wine Grapes. Bet you can't try them all.

Nerello Mascalese: Please Do Not Tell Anyone About This Wine

Note from the author: There are 1,368 varieties covered in Wine Grapes by MW Jancis Robinson, MW Julia Harding, and Dr. Jose Vouillamoz. Bet you can't try them all.

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[Photo: Stevie Stacionis]

Frankly, I'd rather not tell you about this wine. I actually don't want you—or anyone—to know about it because I am fearful that then the prices will inevitably go up and the availability will go down, and I'll be left (poor) with wicked withdrawal symptoms and resentment. Please don't pass this article along or tell anyone that I told you.

The sheer greatness of the 2003 Calabretta Etna Rosso took me by total surprise. I'd had it in my little under-the-sink cellar for a few months, a present from a generous friend. Pulling it out from under the pipes, I casually noticed the vintage and wondered if it would still be any good. I figured it was Italian and ought to be a fine match for the farro risotto I was making. Very thirsty but distracted by my green-garlic-chopping and mushroom-cleaning, I popped the cork, poured out a glass and took my first sip absentmindedly.

It caught me utterly unawares; I may have dropped the mushrooms on the floor, and before I knew just what had happened, the wine had captured 200% of my attention, the same way my first bottle of great red Burgundy had when I first got hooked. It sent me into a greedy, anxious craze: Was anyone nearby? I must fend them off. I must protect this bottle. I must have ALL of it. For myself. Only.

The wine is made from a blend of local Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio grapes, the former "indigenous to the Etna region of north-east Sicilia" and the latter "typical of the Etna region" according to my Wine Grapes reference. Authors Jancis, Julia, and José mention that a local grower says Cabernet is to Merlot as Nerello Mascalese is to Nerello Cappuccio, implying that Cappuccio is a bit plumper and softer while Mascalese rocks the guts and tannins to keep a wine upright.

I can sense both grapes' presence in the wine, which has a fierce grip on the entry and exit but a sort of caressing mid-palate, like a chic satin robe you never want to take off. Of Nerello Mascalese, Wine Grapes notes, "Its ability to communicate terroir is especially prized by the swelling ranks of Etna producers." Since I'm already giving in and talking to you about the wine, I may as well note that this terroir is another one of the wine's ultra-fascinating aspects: the region is named for Mount Etna, the live, very active volcano just up the street that spews magma quite regularly and has contributed its unique black volcanic soil to the vineyards where these grapes are grown.

This wine is less about glossy red fruit and more about smoke, rust, tar and dried rose petals at first (The wine is also 10 years old! And that's a standard release practice for this estate!), but as it opens up in my glass (and my second and third ones), it's like the dust has been brushed off a jewel box of still-shiny treasures, and there are gorgeous, still youthful glints of cherry liqueur and raspberry jam casting light and energy every which way.

I love how it keeps changing, keeps me guessing and compelled and wanting more with every sip, pinning itself right onto my heart. I discover online that the bottle is just $25. (This is a much more affordable habit than my Burgundy one!) Oh, and with the farro risotto? Unbelievable. I couldn't ask for better... but just never you mind. Please stop reading now, and please do not go out looking for this wine.

2003 Calabretta Etna Rosso
The Grape(s): Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio
The Region: Sicily, Italy
Retail Price: $25

About the Author: Stevie Stacionis is a wine writer and Certified Sommelier based in San Francisco. She's currently drinking her way through the 1,368 varieties included in the new Wine Grapes tome. Follow her on Twitter @StevieStacionis and check out her snobbery-free wine videos at A Drinks With Friends TV.

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