Tasted during Sicilia En Primeur: Benanti

The Entrance to Benanti

The Entrance to Benanti

Our last visit was to Benanti, which is located on the lower slopes of Mount Etna and boasts some of the most beautiful vineyards I have seen, truly ancient Carricante vines trained in the Alberello style planted on steeply sloping volcanic hills at the base of Mount Etna, in the Comune of Viagrande (Province of Catania). The vineyards were planted by Giuseppe Benanti in the 1890s, and were still there when his descendent Giuseppe decided to step in and manage property directly in 1988, with the assistance of his sons Antonio and Salvino.

After wandering the vineyards we tasted the wines, and as is often the case they speak quite well enough for themselves, offering very interesting expressions of their terroir.

Benanti Noblesse Metodo Classico Brut Non Vintage
This is a Caricante, spent 48 months on the lees. Gold with fine perlage. The bouquet is fairly intense, with I breadcrumbs mingled with greenish minerality and some flinty accents with sea salt and some vegetal notes as well. Nice depth. On the palate it’s fairly rich, and quite mineral, with peppery accents from the sparkle and lively pineapple citron acidity, and by some flinty mineral accents that continue at length. Pleasant, and distinctive, with very bright acidity that gives character and makes for a distinct change of pace with respect to the better known Italian Metodo Classico wines, and thanks to both acidity and flinty minerality there is also considerable finesse. It is particular, however; if you prefer softer less acidic sparkling wines it won’t work as well for you.
90-91

Giuseppe Benanti presenting the old wine press

Giuseppe Benanti presenting the old wine press

Benanti Pietramarina Etna Bianco Superiore DOC 2004
This is Carricante, from 80 to 100 year old vines planted on native root stock — from vines not struck by the Phylloxera bug, and with a yeast they isolated. Brilliant greenish brassy yellow with golden reflections and pale green rim. The bouquet is intense, with menthol and rhubarb mingled with butterscotch that brings spun sugar to mind, with an airy minerality as well. Intriguing and very delicate. On the palate it’s ample, with rich lemony fruit supported by slight greenish accents and hints of oxidation, with underlying flinty minerality that gradually emerges and carries into the finish, which is quite long, with lemony minerality that has flinty accents that add grace. Most impressive, and still very young.
92

Benanti Rovitello Etna Rosso DOC 2000
Again from an old phylloxera free vineyard. It’s 80-20 Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, at an elevation of 700-800 meters, harvested at the end of October. Pale ruby with brilliant reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, with fairly rich cherry fruit supported by savory notes and hints of tomato, with hints of smoke and some Moroccan leather, and hints of hydrocarbons. Quite interesting. On the palate it’s ample and smooth, with fairly rich crushed cherry fruit supported by smoky minerality and moderate mineral acidity, while the tannins are mineral with a  slight burr. Pleasant, but not really charged, revolving more around finesse than power, and graceful. If you like the style you will enjoy it. If you prefer wines with more emphasis on ripe juicy fruit it won’t work as well for you.
88-90

Benanti Serra della Contessa Etna Rosso DOC 2000
This is from the oldest vines they have, the century plus old Alberello vines behind the winery in the southern part of Etna. Almandine with ruby reflections and an almandine rim that has slightly more orange in the nail. The bouquet is also more mature, with Moroccan leather and spice supported by leaf tobacco and some delicate spicy minerality. Graceful, and though quick to write is quite harmonious. On the palate it’s medium bodied, with fairly rich black fruit and some raspberry notes supported by tannins that have a leathery leaf tobacco burr and flow into a clean fresh finish with some greenish vegetal accents. Quite elegant, with considerable finesse, and a touch more sweetness than in the Rovitello; Serra is more elegant and concentrated, whereas the Rovitello has more charm. Both are very fine, but go in slightly different directions.
88-90

Benanti's Alberello Vineyard

Benanti’s Alberello Vineyard

Benanti Serra della Contessa Etna Rosso DOC 2006
Deeper ruby with brilliant ruby reflections and cherry rim with slightest hinst of orange. The bouquet is a bit fresher, with crushed cherry fruit supported by slight menthol and fairly intense graphite shavings with some underlying vegetal accents and some mentholated notes. Pleasing in a decidedly younger key, and still clearly developing in terms of complexity. On the palate it’s medium bodied, with rich crushed cherry fruit supported by fresh mineral acidity and by tannins that have a warm splintery burr, and flow into a clean crushed cherry finish with bitter mineral accents and some graphite shavings. Pleasant, with considerable finesse, and from a better vintage than either the 2000, displaying greater depth and elegance. One could drink it now, but it will also age nicely for at least 10 years.
91-2

Benanti Nerello Mascalese IGT Sicilia 2006
Etna DOC must be a blend. If it’s 100% of a varietal, it doesn’t qualify and must be bottled as IGT. This is from around the winery. Deep cherry ruby with brilliant ruby reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is fairly rich, with cherry fruit that has slight jammy notes and some minerality, and some green pepper accents too with underlying alcohol and pencil shavings; a fellow taster finds more floral accents and as it opens he’s right, while the vegetal notes fade. On the palate it’s full and smooth, and fairly vegetal, with pepper laced red berry fruit supported by pencil shavings and slight sweetness, while the tannins are cedar laced with greenish accents, and flow into a fairly long moderately sweet greenish berry fruit finish. It’s interesting, and stands out quite distinctly with respect to the Etna Rosso; a fellow taster finds it much more interesting, while I found it more international. And interesting.
2 stars

Benanti Nerello Cappuccio IGT Sicilia 2003
Deep cherry ruby with lively cherry reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is intense and savory with lactic accents and pecorino cheese, and as it opens some red berry fruit emerges supported by slight animal accents. On the palate it’s ample, with rich cherry fruit supported by deft berry fruit acidity and by tannins that are quite smooth, and flow into a clean spicy cherry finish. The fruit and body are more interesting than the nose; it’s a varietal that is pleasant but will work better contributing to a blend than on its own.
2 stars

Benanti Il Musico Moscato di Noto 2008
This is a Moscato Bianco; it’s brassy yellow with brilliant gold reflections. The bouquet is rich and sweet with considerable sage and yellow peach and some rosemary as well; the herbs stand out with respect to the fruit. On the palate it’s ample and sweet, with rich chellow peach fruit supported by lively citron and grapefruit acidity that flows into a long grapefruit finish. Quite pleastn, and graceful, and a wine that you will greatly enjoy if you like sweet wines; it’s graceful, very much alive, and not at all cloying thanks to the acidity.
88-90

Benanti Coste di Mueggen Passito di Pantelleria 2005
Tawny amber with brillianr aamber reflections and brownish rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, with brown sugar and mint mingled with slight dried mushroom that fades, and dates and some licorice root with underlying candied yellow peaches. On the palate it’s rich, full, and sweet, with dusky date fruit supported by dusky tannic notes and some Moroccan leather, with hints of wood smooth, moderate acidity, and lasting sweetness tempered by bitter accents with hints of iodine. It’s more complex than the Moscato di Noto, but lacks its graceful sense of fun for me. More serious, and therefore more demanding.
2 stars

The current releases from Benanti, presented at Sicilia En Primeur:

Benanti and Viagrande

Benanti and Viagrande

Benanti Pietramarina Etna Bianco Superiore 2007
Carricante.
Brassy yellow with brassy reflections and white rim. The bouquet is rather mineral, with fairly bright acidity and underlying minerality. On the palate it’s fairly bright, with lively lemony fruit supported by some rather bitter sour lemon acidity and some gunflint minerality, which flows into a bright rather mineral citric finish. It’s mature, and pleasant though the bottle wasn’t as fresh as I might have hoped.
2 stars

Benanti Edelmio IGT Sicilia 2009
Carricante and Chardonnay.
Brassy white with brilliant brassy reflections and white rim. The bouquet is moderately intense, with savory minerality and some wood smoke, mingled with some greenish vegetal accents. On the palate it’s ample, with fairly rich mineral laced lemony fruit supported by some glycerin and savory accents that flow into a warm savory lemony finish with underlying gunflint that gives a slight burr. It’s approachable in a slightly laxer key than some others, though it’s not soft, nor is there residual sweetness. Acidity, rather, and it will work well with foods.
2 stars

Benanti Rosso di Verzella Etna Rosso DOC 2009
Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio.
Fairly deep black brick ruby with black reflections and dusty cherry ruby rim. The bouquet is moderately intense, with berry fruit supported by alcohol and flinty minerality with some balsamic accents. On the palate it’s medium bodied, with moderately bright savory berry fruit supported by tannins that have a splintery brambly cedar laced burr and flow into a fairly long warm cherry finish with a bitter balsamic underpinning. It’s not a wine I would think to drink far from the table, but it will drink well with foods.
2 stars

Benanti Serra della Contessa Etna Rosso DOC 2006
Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio.
Deep black almandine with black reflections and slightly almandine rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, with an initial rush of cocoa mingled with berry fruit and spice, and some savory accents as well, and peppery alcoholic spice. Quite powerful. On the palate it’s ample and smooth, with fairly rich crushed sour cherries that have slight peach pit bitterness to them, and are supported by moderate acidity and by tannins that have brambly accents and a dusky cedary graphite shaving underlie and flow into a fairly long bitter cedar laced finish. It’s quite young, and needs time, but will never be a wine I would drink by the glass. With succulent red meats that beg something to clear the palate between bites it will work well, however. The bottle poured at the winery (see above) showed slightly better.
2 stars

Benanti Rovittello Etna Rosso DOC 2007
Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio.
Deep black almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, with considerable graphite shavings and some mentholated accents mingled with some red berry fruit and underlying spice, and quite a bit of alcohol. On the palate it’s ample and smooth, with fairly rich spicy cherry fruit supported by mentholated acidity and by tannins that are greenish, with graphite shaving bitterness, and flow into a fairly long rather powerful spicy finish. It’s quite powerful and quite young, and though one could drink it now with a roast or stew, I think it will be more interesting in another 3-5 years. A lot of extraction, and you have to like that.
2 stars

Benanti Nerello Cappuccio IGT Sicilia 2006
Nerello Cappuccio.
Deep black almandine with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, with hardwood ash mingled with berry fruit and savory notes; there’s also a fair amount of spice, and a strong vegetal underpinning. On the palate it’s ample, with rich crushed cherry fruit supported by dusky tannins that have a cedary burr, and some graphite shaving bitterness, and by moderately intense berry fruit acidity. It’s pleasant, though in a pumped up key, and if you prefer wines that revolve more around finesse than power you may like it less, though if you serve it with a steak it will make you happy.
2 stars

Benanti Nerello Mascalese IGT Sicilia 2007
Nerello Mascalese.
Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is moderately intense and quite vegetal, with greenish accents mingled with graphite shavings that are fairly bitter, and some alcohol and spice. On the palate it’s ample and smooth, and perhaps a little fruitier than the 30, with cherry and forest berry fruit that is slightly riper, and this makes it seem slightly softer; the acidity is moderately intense, and the tannins have a dusky rather bitter graphite shaving burr that continues at length into the finish. What I said for the 30 holds here too; there’s considerable concentration and extraction, and also quite a bit of oak that has a profound influence upon the wine. It is pleasant enough, but you have to like the style.
2 stars

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About Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Italy boasts an astonishing number of varietals, denominations, and wines, and tremendous changes are sweeping the land. New wines are being created, new DOCs are being introduced, and the existing denominations are overhauling their regulations both to reflect the practices adopted by their member wineries and to favor improvements in quality. Even the most staid and stolid region can flower seemingly overnight, emerging with exciting new wines and wineries that require rewriting the enological maps and rethinking one's positions. And, of course, recipes too, because cuisine and wine are closely intertwined and it's difficult to imagine one without the other.
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