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Benanti: Kings of Mount Etna

Mount Etna’s popularity as a wine producing district has skyrocketed over the last few years. This is mostly due to a few hard-working and persistent winemakers who believed in the potential of the unique climate and soil of the volcanic region. One of those pioneers was Giuseppe Benanti, a man whose family has historical winemaking connections on Mount Etna and whose vision was to make world-class wine from the indigenous grapes of the region.

Up until the 1980s, most of the wine made on Etna was red, and then sold off in bulk. Although the Benanti family had been making wine on the slopes of Mount Etna since the late 1800s, it wasn’t until Giuseppe started a five-year study of local varieties, soils and enological techniques, that the region’s potential for premium wine was recognised.

“Giuseppe researched the ideal growing conditions for the indigenous Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio and Carricante grapes, which hadn’t been done before,” says Enoteca Sileno Managing Director John Portelli. “Thanks to him, the spotlight now shines on the terroir around Mount Etna, which up until this point had been neglected.”

Vinicola Benanti was named ‘Winery of the Year’ by the Gambero Rosso Guide in 2007, and again by Wine and Spirit Magazine (US) in 2012. Also that year, Giuseppe Benanti was inducted into the Accademia dei Georgofili di Firenze (est. 1753) for his invaluable contribution to viticulture.

In 2012, Giuseppe Benanti decide to step aside as head of the winery to enjoy more of a hospitality role and handed the reins to his sons, twins Antonio and Salvino, now co-directors of the operations. The brothers have remained focused on only producing wines from indigenous varieties.

Under Etna DOC, Benanti produces two whites from the Carricante grape and five reds, all from indigenous varieties. One of the whites, ‘Pietra Marina’, is a critically-acclaimed single vineyard release, rated by critics Ian D’Agata and Eric Asimov to be one of Italy’s best white wines. The range is rounded out by red wines made from Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio from sub-regional communes that come from very old pre-phylloxera vines.

The phylloxera invasion that decimated much of Italy’s viticulture in the early 20th century didn’t quite take hold on Mount Etna. As a result, one of Benanti’s parcels on the northern slope of the volcano has un-grafted bush vines that are possibly 80-90 years old, while another parcel at a higher altitude has one hundred percent pre-phylloxera vines, certainly older than 120-130 years.

 

This is how Eric Asimov, of the New York Times introduced his readers to Benanti's benchmark white wine.

“If you’ve never heard of carricante, and if you thought Etna only produced reds, you are no doubt in good company. Eastern Sicily, including Etna, is dominated by red wines. Yet the whites, made primarily if not entirely of carricante, may be even more distinctive. The best carricantes, like Benanti’s Pietra Marina, are profoundly savory, with a striking saline flavor. In a word, salty… Depending on the vintage, Pietra Marina, which I believe is one of Italy’s best whites, can be rich and concentrated with great minerality and herbal and citrus flavors. It can age well, too. Over time, it can take on a kerosene quality reminiscent of aged riesling, but it never loses its lip-smacking succulence. It’s balanced, refreshing, distinctive, complex and delicious. The wines are high in acid and low in alcohol.”

Enoteca Sileno has been the exclusive Australian importer of Benanti wines since 2004. 

 

BENANTI WINES AVAILABLE AT ENOTECA SILENO:

Etna Bianco DOC 2015 100% Carricante

Etna Rosso DOC 2015 80% Nerello Mascalese, 20% Nerello Cappuccio

Pietra Marina Etna Bianco DOC Superiore 2013 100% Carricante (other vintages available: 2009, 2010, 2011, & 2012)

Nerello Cappuccio Terre Siciliane IGT 2012 100% Nerello Cappuccio

Rovittello Etna Rosso DOC 2010/2011/2013 80% Nerello Mascalese, 20% Nerello Cappuccio – single vineyard

Serra Della Contessa Etna Rosso DOC 201380% Nerello Mascalese, 20% Nerello Cappuccio


 

 

 

 

 

[1] WineBiz – http://www.winebiz.com.au/statistics/

 

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