11-11-2011

Biondivino Vinicola Benanti tasting

It’s one of those rare gems in the wine world when you’re afforded the chance to do a true vertical tastings. Sure, you can get a glimpse of this when you visit a winery and they’ll pour two or three different years of the same wine for you to compare, but it pales in comparison to when you get to sample over a decade of a maker’s wines. Recently we were lucky enough to have the chance to experience this at Biondivino from the Sicilian winery Vinicola Benanti.

There were tastings of the “young” wines of Bianco di Caselle 2008 and Rosso di Verzella 2008 from their Etna DOC line and then there was a taste of the Nerello Mascalese from their Monovitigno. All enjoyable and finely crafted wines that are currently offered at Biondino, in addition to a few others from below.

It was the line up from the Etna DOC Cru wines that was truly mindblowing though. Of course, just tasting single vintages of these wines would have been fantastic, but getting to trace the subtle changes of each vintage over the large sample of years was a something that anyone should jump at given the chance.

The white Pietramarina, comprised solely of the grape Carricante from 80 year-old vineyards grown at 950m above sea level, had on offer the 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2006, and 2007 to taste. What really stood out was the diesel/petrol quality to the wines that would come and go with each vintage. Some people love this and others not so much. We’re somewhere in the middle and naturally if the wines are finely-crafted, delicate and subtle as these were, you can’t help but like it.

The Rovitello is grown at 750m above sea level and is made from the Nerello Mascalese grape from 80 year-old vineyards. The bottles that they brought were the 1995, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006. The 2005 and 2006 were a bit strong with tannins and were good, but as you go back in years, you get more and more spoiled. You also see the general thrust of what the winemaker is trying to do in the long term. The standout was the 1998 for us. That is a splendid wine that offers up all the elements of the other wines in one classy bottle. Dark, gentle, and still somewhat sweet after 13 years of aging, it is an elegant wine that while it would go great with a meal would be a shame to not drink alone to enjoy all its complexity, yet immediate approachable elements.

The Serra della Contessa is grown at 500m and like the Rovitello, is also made from Nerello Mascalese grapes, but ones in 100 year-old vineyards. We were able to sample the 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004. While lacking in the base, approachable qualities of the Rovitello, it makes up for it in being a slow-maturing wine. This is obvious as you taste back through the years and they get consistently more subtle and sultry although with less bold tannins than the Rovitello overall. It’s something of a slow, ponderer that comes up with great ideas as it sits longer.

All in all it was a completely overwhelming tasting that was at the same time thoroughly exciting and illuminating of the wines from Vinicola Benanti. We’re just very thankful we didn’t have to drive home afterward.