A taste of Sicilia in New Zealand… Italian wine importer Marco Nordio is the new official importer of Benanti wines to New Zealand.

He is pictured above (left) with Salvino Benanti at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington this week, prior to a tasting of two Benanti wines.

These are the gateway wines to the Benanti range – and are Sicily’s passport to the wine world.

2016 Benanti Etna Bianco DOC 12% ABV

This is 100% Carricante, which was fermented in stainless steel, where it went through a little malolactic fermentation to soften its naturally high acidity, and was then aged on lees to add a little complexity. The wine laws on Mt Etna allow producers to blend Carricante with the lighter tasting Catarrato grape, but Salvino Benanti says he and his family prefer the sharper, crisper, drier flavours of 100% Carricante. They like to age it in bottle for a few months prior to releasing the wine, which is medium bodied with zesty fresh, but balanced acidity. The Carricante grape can be oaked or unoaked; Salvino prefers those with low to no oak.

My mind and palate agree whole heartedly. This is a stunner; so fresh and refreshing.

 

2015 Benanti Etna Rosso DOC 13% ABV 

The family who own this winery sets a high benchmark for their entry level wines so that people get a good impression of Sicilian wine.

This wine is 80/20 Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio grapes and is fermented mostly stainless steel with about 25% of the wine then spending nine months in second fill neutral French barriques. This is an entry level wine and the 2015 was a rainy vintage on Etna, so there is a little more dilution than usual in alcohol; the wine is 13% whereas it is usually about 13.5% ABV.

 

The Benanti story

This year is the first time that Salvino Benanti has visited New Zealand and he was here to introduce his family’s wines from Mt Etna; Sicily’s highest mountain and Europe’s most active volcano.

His family moved to Sicilia from Bologna in 1734 when they were given land there and, over the past two centuries, they have  developed a strong interest in wine. His father was one of the first to start a winery on Etna, which he founded in 1988. Back then there was one other winery on the mountain. Today there are 176 brands. Despite the proliferation of labels, the hard core of Etna wine producers remains around 30, of which Benanti is one of the best known and most highly respected, thanks to being in early and forging a name as a producer of high quality wines.

To say that I was impressed the first time I tried an Etna wine is to make a wild understatement. It was about six years ago that I managed to track down a bottle of Tenuta Benanti Rovittello Etna Rosso, which was being imported to New Zealand by Oh So Pretty Wines, which is owned by Andrew Hedley.

That wine blew me away. I can’t recall its vintage (where was my wine database back then?) but it was about eight years old at the time and I loved the way its pale ruby colour completely betrayed its incredibly powerful combination of staunch full body, tangy acidity, truffly-mushroomy flavours and a fresh cherry bite on its long finish. The wine is a blend of Nerello Mascalese (90%) and Nerello Cappuccio (10%) grapes, grown in the Rivittello sub zone of Castiglione di Sicilia.

Talk about silky. Eat your heart out, Burgundy, Barolo or Barbaresco.