Sicily’s Mt Etna has exploded…..no, not a volcanic eruption, which is very possible for this still active cauldron. Rather, the renewed interest and investment that has taken place over the last 10 years has allowed the wine growing culture on Etna’s slopes to pass from ancient obscurity into the modern limelight of wine lovers’ fancy. The indigenous varieties found here are quite unique: Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappucio in red; Carricante, Catarratto, and Minnela in white. The soils are made principally of different layers and ages of decomposed lava, ash, and sand; this volcanic melting pot is terribly rich in minerals. Due to its massive size, the appellation also benefits from strong microclimactic differences in exposure and elevation. These terroir-driven variations bring to mind the parcellary subtleties of the wines of Piemonte and Burgundy. Nerello Mascalese, the predominant red variety, is quite Pinot Noir like, but with a certain southern Mediterranean richness. It is most often vinified with a red fruited pallor which allows for en even greater reflection of a site’s soil/elevation driven qualities. Once again, the wines of Piemonte and Burgundy come to mind.
Roughly a decade ago, the iconoclastic Andrea Franchetti of Tenuta di Trinoro fame (whose wines have also arrived….) was drawn in by the possibilities that this ancient and unique viticultural area offered. Along with partner Peter Sisseck of Dominio de Pingus fame, he purchased a sizeable estate, with various holdings of old vine Nerello Mascalese between 80-100 years old at a minimum!! Sisseck was shortly thereafter bought out, and Franchetti forged on with his vision, no expense spared. He planted two 3000 foot elevation vineyards to varieties that he intuited would fare well with Etna’s climate/soil, in spite of no historical reference point: Chardonnay in his Guardiola vineyard, and Cesanese d’Affile and Petit Verdot in his Franchetti vineyard. Over the following decade, he continued to refine his aesthetic goals and knowledge of Etna’s character; he culled out four distinct single vineyard Nerello Mascalese wines, which he calls “contrade”, to highlight some of Etna’s microclimactic diversity. Virtually from the outset, the purity and intensity of the wines have been received with a fever pitch of superlative praise. With the newly arrived 2010 vintage reds and 2011 white, we have a collection of wines that may be his greatest ensemble yet. The cooler 2010 vintage has allowed for a gorgeous sense of freshness and poise that frames the wines’ savory red fruited core. Across the board, the wines are eminently swoon worthy in their purity, texture, and sumptuousness………
Here are some impressions from Antonio Galloni on the 2010s:
“Think of the Passopisciaro as a cross of Chambolle-Musigny and Gevrey-Chambertin and Gattinara.”
And the wines, with reviews from Galloni:
2011 Passpisciaro Guardiola Chardonnay $29: Blind, this wine brings to mind a sense of cut and salinity that i’ve only really experienced from white Burgundy, with its own tropical richness and concentration. This is a stunner if that sounds like your cup of tea……
“The 2011 Guardiola (Chardonnay) boasts impeccable richness and class in its juicy peaches, lemon, white flowers and spices. Insistent veins of minerality frame the long, finish. The 2011 is a gorgeous, totally pure expression of Chardonnay from the slopes of the Etna. I would not be surprised if the 2011 opens over the next 6-12 months, as it had just been bottled at the time of my tastings. Anticipated maturity: 2013-2016. ” 91 points
2010 Passopisciaro $35 For the money, this is an insanely good value to my taste……
“The 2010 Passopisciaro is deceptively mid-weight, but behind the light color and seeming fleeting structure lies a deeply expressive core of perfumed red berries, crushed rocks, flowers and mint. A burst of deep salinity frames the bracing finish. Quite simply, this is a stunning wine. Think of the Passopisciaro as a cross of Chambolle-Musigny and Gevrey-Chambertin and Gattinara. The Passopisciaro bottling is made from parcels in Guardiola and smaller pieces that aren’t large enough to be bottled separately. Anticipated maturity: 2013-2020. ” 94 points
The single Contrada wines, all packed in 6pk wooden cases:
2009 Passopisciaro Contrada Sciaranuova $59
“The 2009 Contrada Sciaranuova S is one of the firmer wines in this set of 2009s. Bright red fruit, flowers, anise and minerals wrap around the palate in this wiry, energetic Nerello Mascalese. This shows substantial vibrancy and cut, along with intense mineral notes that become more prominent over time. Sweet scents of cedar, dried herbs and tobacco add complexity on the close. Anticipated maturity: 2014-2029. ” 94 points
2010 Passopisciaro Contrada Sciaranuova $59
“A totally striking wine, the 2010 Contrada Sciaranuova S opens with a deep, intriguing bouquet redolent of orange peel, tar, licorice and exotic spices. Dark berries, minerals and rose petals add further complexity on the generous, silky finish. This is a texturally brilliant, poised wine endowed with tons of class and nuance. Striking pretty much sums up it all up here. Anticipated maturity: 2013-2020.” 94 points
2010 Passopisciaro Contrada Chiappemacine $59
“The 2010 Contrada Chiappemacine C reveals a more immediate expression of fruit. Dark red berries, tobacco and mint flesh out on the radiant mid-palate. This is still an energetic style because of the vintage, but the Chiappemacine C is a bit richer than some of the other 2010s as this site sits on the lower end of the slope. Like all the Passopisciaro reds in this vintage, the Chiappemacine C is impeccably refined and harmonious. Anticipated maturity: 2013-2020. ” 94 points
2010 Passopisciaro Contrada Porcaria $69 In addition to the highest score issued by Galloni, this wine won the
Tre Bicchieri in the Gambero Rosso, the highest prize from Italy’s leading wine publication.
“Constantly changing in the glass, the 2010 Contrada Porcaria P (from the Feudo di Mezzo vineyard) is the most complete of these 2010s. Layers of dark fruit continue to sweep across the palate as this generous, deeply satisfying Etna red opens up in the glass. The Porcaria P is arguably the richest of these 2010s, but at the same time, underlying veins of minerality keep the wine vibrant and beautifully delineated. There is a level of pure unbridled energy in the 2010 that is hugely appealing. This is a dazzling showing from Andrea Franchetti. Anticipated maturity: 2013-2020. ” 95+ points
2009 Passopisciaro Franchetti $149
“The 2009 Franchetti is another stunning wine. The blend is Cesanese d’Affile (80%) and Petit Verdot (20%) that are the result of massal selections from Lazio and Franchetti’s own Tenuta di Trinoro respectively. It is a fabulously ripe, exotic wine that envelops the palate with layers of dark fruit. Refined tannins support the fruit, while intense inner perfume adds sweetness and elegance, especially on the layered finish. Anticipated maturity: 2017-2029. ” 96 points
I am thrilled that these wines are finally here, and that you can begin to see what all of the fuss is about. These are wonderfully complete wines that offer something to wine lovers of every ilk, from geek to hedonist to newbie. It doesn’t hurt that i’m offering them at the best prices in the USA……
As always, with any questions or interests, hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TO THE STUNNING BEAUTY OF ETNA, AND FRANCHETTI’S TAKE-NO-PRISONERS COMMITMENT TO HELPING IT SHINE!