Getting to Know Nerello Mascalese

Nerello Mascalese-Queen of Sicilian Grapes 


If nero d’avola is the King of Sicilian wines, nerello mascalese would be the Queen. This native Sicilian red wine is often compared to pinot noir due to its body, elegance, lighter color, and acidity but it more closely resembles grapes such as nerello cappuccio (a close cousin) and frappato. Nerello mascalese produces light to medium bodied wines with bright acidity. 

The name nerello mascalese translates to mean ‘the black grape of Mascali’ (with nerello being a different form of the word for black). This is in reference to the grapes’ birthplace which is believed to have been near the village of Mascali, where the most violent volcanic eruption in Mount Etna’s recent history occurred (1928).

Many consider nerello mascalese to be the Sicilian grape with the most potential for producing truly great yet elegant wines, particularly when it is grown in the rich volcanic soils of the Mount Etna region. Despite its potential however, nerello mascalese is more difficult and expensive to harvest, as it must be hand harvested and has lower yields. Therefore, plantings of the grape were decreased during the 20th century as producers replaced it with higher yielding varieties.

Nerello mascalese remained relatively obscure and unimportant for over a century. The exception, was in the Mount Etna region, where plantings not only survived but continued to be cultivated (even if in very small amounts). It is now considered to be the signature red wine of Mount Etna.

Over the past couple of decades, nerello mascalese plantings and production have continued to surge as the wines become increasingly popular globally and have enjoyed higher levels of respect and success within Italy as well. 

While primarily used in red varietal wines and blends, it has also become a very popular grape for sparkling wines and rosé. At Gambino, we make four styles of nerello mascalese: a red blend (blended with a little nerello cappuccio), a varietal red wine , a rosé, and a reserve sparkling wine.


Foods That Pair Well with Nerello Mascalese


There’s no need to look further than the tomato rich and seafood inspired dishes of Sicily if you’re searching for something that pairs perfectly with this bright, light-bodied elegant red. 

Think fish stews, eggplant and tomato dishes, grilled sardines (or other meaty fishes such as tuna), tomato bruschetta, and so on. Though an Italian cheese and salumi platter would also go nicely.