I am often asked what my favourite wine is, and my standard answer is always… “whatever is in my glass.” That may seem cliché to a lot of people, but I can never pick just one wine. There are usually circumstances surrounding a great glass of wine, and typically it includes fabulous people, and those circles constantly move and change. People, places, time and circumstance are always part of an amazing glass of wine.
I was however, asked the question, “if you could be any grape, what grape would you be?” and without a moment’s hesitation, I answered, which surprised he who asked. After studying thousands of grape varieties, how could I narrow it down to just one grape? For me, it was easy…
I like this grape so much that I got a tattoo of it! Now that’s real commitment right?! Seriously though, every time I look at my arm, and see those grapes, I’m reminded of how far I’ve come. Unlike many in this business, I’m a virtual baby, only really being in the wine trade for six years, but I’m also older than many in my business. I have spent a lot of time, money, tears, and life events sacrificed to finish all the education, and to have the career and job that I have. Just like my favourite grape Nerello Mascalese, I’ve had to work really hard to get to where I am now.
My family has encouraged me to share this story, because much of it defines who I am in the wine world and all that I’ve accomplished along the way.
Loving this grape has nothing to do with its recent rise in popularity, due to its home in Italy: Sicily. Sicilian wine varietals seem to be all the rage these days and Nerello Mascalese is no exception. Grown (mostly) on the southern slopes of the active volcano Etna, vines grow here even at a thousand meters above sea level. It can get pretty chilly up there, but still it grows, and vigourously too! Pick the grapes too early, and the tannins are green and unbearable, so de-leafing for extra sun exposure to help in the ripening process is an absolute must. But because they grow so high up in elevation, sunburn is a real risk, so choosing the exact right time to do this (de-leafing) is the key to the grapes gaining full phenolic ripeness. Even at full ripeness, the tannins could still become a real concern, so crush times can’t be too long (this is where the skins extract the colour and tannin into the wine) and the fermentation temps must stay fairly low. The vine goes through a lot of stress, the rains of spring and just before harvest, along with the stress of drought due to summer heat. All of these things affect the size, weight and ripening of the berries. This grape has to go through a lot of stuff before it’s even harvested. Not to mention there’s always a smoking gun in the background – you never know when it might blow!
The reward for this tough slug? Some exciting wine that tastes of sour cherry, herbs, tobacco, smoke and some flinty-pencil-shaving-minerality that comes from that volcanic soil. Pretty amazing I’d say, first of all, that a grapevine can actually grow in those (sometimes) harsh conditions, and second of all, that the wine made from this grape is pretty darn outstanding. I’ll never forget the first time I tasted Nerello Mascalese. It was a life altering moment, and since that day, I’ve featured the grape in many tastings, and have sold copious amounts of it.
In the end, hard work pays off.
Just like me…and I’m loving every minute of it!
You’re my one and only Nerello Mascalese! You will always be my favourite! Salute!