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Details for Murgo, Etna Rosso

AppellationEtna Rosso DOC
Nerello Mascalese
(click to find out more)
Nerello Cappuccio / Mantellato
(click to find out more)
Le Cantine Murgo
(click to find out more)


Sicily is today the fourth-largest wine-producing region of Italy, which is itself the largest producer in Europe. A decade or two ago Sicily was far and away the largest producer in the country. Yet the island was known chiefly for hot, over-baked bulk wines and Marsala - Italy's answer to sherry. Much of its vast output was distilled into brandy or industrial alcohol.
Much has changed: Sicily is now Italy's most innovative wine region. Partly this is due to the absence of prestigious appellations, which has allowed Sicilian winemakers freedom to experiment. International varieties like Shiraz flourish here, often blended with local grapes like the Nero d'Avola. Other winemakers have championed Sicily's unique local varieties: the red Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio and aforesaid Nero d'Avola, and the white Catarrato, Grillo and Carricante.
Sicily's mountainous terrain is key to this transformation. Low-lying areas are scorchingly hot but altitude changes everything, providing a bewildering array of different microclimates. Despite the differences in temperature, everywhere in Sicily is dry so vine disease is not a problem.
Sicily’s best known red variety is its native Nero d’Avola, a rich and intensely flavoured grape that is grown everywhere but is most revered around Agrigento in the south. Another red gaining a reputation is the fragrant and tannic Nerello Mascalese, which is confined to the high-altitude, cool-climate areas on and around Mount Etna in the northeast.
The white Cataratto and Grillo were the main grapes of Marsala, but today are being used to produce increasingly interesting dry whites. Grecanico is another white that has developed a following, though it isn't as local as was once thought - recent DNA profiling has shown it's identical to the Garganega used to produce Soave in Italy's northeast.

Le Cantine Murgo

Winemakers from all over Italy, and even further afield, have flocked to Etna in recent years, and most of the best-known producers are quite new (although their vineyards are usually ancient). The Scammacca clan, however, have roots here even longer than those of their vines, having arrived in Sicily in the 15th Century and established vineyards at their San Michele estate on Etna’s southeastern flank in 1850.
But they didn’t bottle and market their own wine until Emanuele Scammacco, Barone del Murgo, returned to Italy in 1980 after a series of diplomatic posts abroad and decided to revitalise the family estate, producing the first Murgo Etna Rosso in the 1982 vintage.  The baron went on to be Italian Ambassador in the Vatican, Brussels and Moscow before retiring to San Michele in 1999.  He died in 2015, aged 82, but the estate continues to be run and managed by his sons – all eight of them.  Second son Michele is the winemaker.
The Etna Rosso was joined in 1990 by an Etna Bianco and a sparkling Brut Murgo from early-harvested Nerello Mascalese.  The San Michele estate also produces a Cabernet Sauvignon (the first from Etna, in 1991) and, from 2010, a Pinot Nero.  The family have planted new vineyards nearer the coast to produce IGT Sicilia reds and whites from international varieties.

about this wine About this wine

Our last red was from the Languedoc in southern France; this one is from Sicily in southern Italy.  The two have much in common. Their reliably sunny Mediterranean climates produce a lot of wine (though not as much as they used to) yet they have very few famous old appellations and an unfortunate history of producing cheap plonk.  Today both are the most innovative, “New World” regions in their countries, having a strong focus on varietal wines: those labelled with their (often international) grape varieties rather than with their place of origin.
Yet Sicily is home to some true originals, wines very much defined by their place and made from local varieties found nowhere else.  Chief among these are the wines of Mount Etna, Europe’s tallest active volcano, and one much in the news lately.  Etna’s wines have been produced from the same local grape varieties and in much the same way for centuries; they just weren’t historically famous in the same way as, say, Chianti and Barolo.
But they are now – at least among winemakers, wine writers and sommeliers.  It takes rather longer to convince the public, and you won’t find these expensive-for-Sicily wines on the supermarket shelves yet.  These are wines of finesse and precision that seem to express the characteristics of the volcanic terroir in which they are grown.  Many winemakers view Etna as the new Burgundy, and there has been a rush of outside investment in recent years.
I love them, and the second red we ever featured, back in February of last year, was from Etna.  I’ve just finished the last bottles from the case I bought then, and they were delicious – I wish I’d bought more.  So here’s another Etna Rosso for my, er, your enjoyment.  After all, not many of you got to taste that first one.
Etna also produces wonderfully minerally whites largely from the local Carricante grape, but these tend to be more expensive than the reds, and I’m still looking for one at the right price point.  Wines from Etna are expensive because the tiny, steeply-terraced vineyards, often split up by lava flows, need to be worked by hand.  Yields from these usually ancient vines on parched volcanic slopes are low.  The vines do rather need to be ancient, because it doesn’t rain during the summer; they survive on meltwater seeping down through the subsoil but they need deep roots to reach it.
Etna Rosso must be made mostly from Nerello Mascalese, with up to 20% of the earlier-ripening Nerello Cappuccio allowed in the blend.  This Rosso comes from 30 to 40-year-old vines growing on the San Michele estate of the Scammacca del Murgo family, who have been making wine here for generations.  San Michele lies on the southeastern flank of the volcano, around half a kilometre above sea level.
This is not very high by Etna standards, and combined with the southerly aspect means that the finer Nerello Mascalese can ripen sufficiently not to need the support of Nerello Cappuccio.  Consequently Murgo have been reducing the proportion of Nerello Cappuccio in the blend, from 15% in the 2009 vintage to none at all in 2015.  I’m not sure whether there is any in this 2014; the importer’s website says there is 10% but I suspect that may be out of date.
The grapes were hand-harvested and entirely destemmed before being fermented on the skins for a week in temperature-controlled stainless steel at 24°C.  Destemming, limited skin contact and temperature control all combine to reduce the extraction of tannins and preserve freshness and fruit in a wine intended to be drunk young.  It was then aged in large chestnut barrels for six months before blending.  Chestnut is traditional on Etna, rather than the more usual oak.  It is a more neutral wood, softening the wine without imparting significant flavours of its own.  The wine then ages for a year in stainless steel and three months in bottle before release.

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