Tenute Ballasanti of Etna

It’s almost nine years since I filed an extensive report from the vineyards of Mount Etna on Sicily. At that time, Tenute Ballasanti was taking its first breaths, this young wine company being formed one year before, in 2013.

Ballasanti’s roots and its vineyards are based on much older origins however. Co-owner, Manuela Seminara, was born locally and introduced the tasting with a background to the Ballasanti story. Her great-grandfather, Don Lorenzo, created his first vineyard over a century ago, clearing and planting virgin land on the Eastern slope of Etna. Her grandfather, Don Angelo, continued the work, exporting much of the production to France. Manuela cites Don Angelo as her greatest influence in understanding and appreciating the beauty of the vineyard and Etna, but also a love for nature. The vineyards are cultivated organically.

It was when Manuela’s husband, Fabio, met Don Angelo that the seeds of Ballasanti first took root. Fabio, an astrophysicist originally from Bergamo, made a deep connection with Don Angelo. When Don Angelo died, the couple decided to continue the legacy, restoring the estate and forming a new company.

The current production is tiny, with only 35,000 bottles produced from 5.5 hectares of vineyard. However another 11 hectares have been planted, with an ambition to hit 100,000 to 120,000 bottles. As is always the case on Etna, the best vineyards are planted at altitude, in this case between 300 and 1200 metres. The higher slopes are barren, lava-strewn land, but here complex soils of volcanic origin are rich in potassium and other minerals.

The focus is entirely on local varieties, and the wines are single varietal: Carricante is used for the white wine, and Nerello Mascalese for the red wines. French oak barrels are used for maturation of the red wines: 225-litre barriques and larger tonneaux (generally around 500-litres).

Interestingly, the entire 2021 vintage was withheld as the couple and their winemaker, Gianluca Scaglione, decided the quality of the vintage was not good enough. The next vintage to hit the market will be the 2022.

The Wines

(2023) This Etna white is 100% Carricante, from vineyards at 700 metres. It is unoaked, but does spend time on lees before bottling. Malolactic has been blocked here too, adding to the freshness of this straw-lemon coloured wine. Though not particularly aromatic, the subtle notes of citrus and pear, also have just a suggestion of something flinty and mineral. In the mouth it is fleet if foot with only 12.5% alcohol, and though lemon and crunchy apple drives this, there is a nice and decisive punch to the wine, a light suggestion of smokiness and pithy lemon and grapefruit adding some complexity. The finish shows a little salt, mingling with juicy lemon. €22 in Italy.
(2023) 100% Nerello Mascalese from vineyards at 600 metres, these are 100-year-old bush vines. The wine was matured in French oak for 18 months, with a further six in bottle. The colour is again so transparent and light, but also with quite mahogany tint to the red of the core. Woody, tobacco and balsamic aromas are spicy rather than fruity, and a glimpse of fragrant old roses is unexpected and charming. In the mouth there is sweet fruit, a sour cherry character with more of those tobacco-like, soft and spicy characters. It is dry, the tannin quite gentle but present and the acidity again echoing that sour cherry. Intriguing, natural feeling and enjoyable. No UK stockists listed at time of review. €26 in Italy.
(2023) A Sicilia DOC Nerello Mascalese from vineyards at 400 metres, bush vines that lie just outside the Etna DOC boundary. This spends around nine months in French oak and a further six in bottle before release. A pale ruby to tawny colour, this is so transparent in the glass that you could read your newspaper through it. Aromtaically not giving a huge amount, though herbs and cherry start to come through with swirling, a warm clove spice hint too. In the mouth it is dry and firm, showing less fruit than the 'Sublime', a more twiggy and herbal character. Acid and moderate tannins do balance, in a wine that just needs more fruit and just a touch more joie de vivre to really hit home. €24 in Italy.


  1. Bravo Etna! We visited Sicily years ago and found a great Osteria off the main street of Taormina- Osteria Nero D’Avola. Seafood was a speciality and the guys collected some very unusual delights while snorkelling that we were introduced to as regulars. They also introduced us to Benanti’s Biancodicasselle white which was quite inexpensive then but wonderful. I sense a similar vibe with these. Hard to find here but Tanners used to have it.

    1. Many thanks John. I’ve only been to Sicily once, but it’s a bit of an ambition to get back there, not just for the wines, but for the food and the amazing scenery and culture. The wines from Etna are expensive, but I guess making wine half way up an active volcano deserves a premium price (and of course, the wines tend to be excellent :))

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *