New Vintages of Passopisciaro: One of Sicily's Finest and Most Undiscovered Gems
As you know, we love Sicily here at Some Good Wine. Yet as one of the largest regions in Italy and the world, we simply can't keep up. I have heard of the producer Passopisciaro for years now and tried some of his wines in years past, but we never worked with the distributor that much. However, on the quest to discover more from this majestic island, we are doubling down and buying everything in site.
Considered one of the top estates in Sicily, with insane scores and tremendous aging potential, Passopsiciaro is a force to be reckoned with. When founder, Andrea Franchetti visited Sicily in 2000, his keen eye picked out abandoned vineyards on the northern side of Mount Etna with the unique characteristics of high-elevation terraces of highly varied black, lava soils. The winery sits at about a thousand meters of altitude above the small wine town of Passopisciaro in the district of Castiglione di Sicilia, on the northern slope of the volcano. His first task was to clear and restore long-abandoned terraces of ancient vines on the northern slopes of the mountain, replanting at a density of 12,000 vines per hectare on thin lavic soil. His arrival on Etna helped to initiate the renaissance of viticulture on the mountain and an international discovery of the wines of Etna. At Passopisciaro, he focuses on the native grape Nerello Mascalese and its various expressions of terroir and altitudes through a series of crus, as well as the varieties Chardonnay, Petit Verdot, and Cesanese d’Affile.
Franchetti’s first Mt. Etna vintage came out of the 2001 with fruit grown on a rented vineyard of Nerello Mascalese at 1,000 meters. The resulting wine from the Nerello was too light for Franchetti’s preference, which typically leans towards more robust and extracted reds, so he supplemented the Nerello with another wine to produce 200 cases of a fuller-style red. Franchetti found that Nerello Mascalese often produced wines with notes of camphor and citrus that are the result of the volcanic lava soils, and the indigenous yeasts could prove temperamental. However just four harvests later, Franchetti’s relentlessly artistic personality fashioned a representation of Nerello M. that met Franchetti’s standards, stayed true to the typicity of the site, and even garnered some critical attention.
The true stroke of creativity followed in 2008 when Franchetti decided to embrace the contrade. Each contrada on Etna reflects one of the old feudal properties as laid out in the local land registry, and the early 2000’s had ushered in a growing trend of isolating vineyards and releasing the resulting wines as “contrada wines,” a designation intended to be similar to crus. By 2011, Passopisciaro released five single-vineyard bottlings from each contrada Franchetti works with: Rampante, Sciaranuova, Guardiola, Porcaria, and Chiappemacine. Today, these bottlings are named Contrada “G” or Contrada “S” to avoid confusion with the sites themselves.
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- Scores and reviews below are taken from the winery's website as I have not had a chance to taste the new vintages
2017 Passopisciaro Franchetti
Newsletter Price: $149.99
From winery: "This unique blend of petit verdot and cesanese d’Affile is grown in contrada Guardiola at 820 meters above sea level. The winemaker’s interpretation of a full-bodied wine on Etna.The heatwaves that hit the mainland of Italy also came to Etna. With no drops in temperature that usually brighten the nights, the long, hot summer lasted until mid-September. We had to add a little water to the vines to help them through. The grapes that went in to the Franchetti wine of 2017 had ripened steadily and gradually during late summer and, especially, fall. We were able to pick them at the right time for the best combination of fruit and structure without hurry: I would run up every morning to find the same little jump forward in maturity. We made a rich mixed wine of petit verdot and cesanese d’Affile. The wine reminds one of red fruits, it is very fresh and has beautiful, strong fruit. The blend is 60% petit verdot and 40% cesanese d’Affile."
2016 Passopisciaro Terre Siciliane Contrada Guardiola
Newsletter Price: $74.99
Kerin O’Keeffe, Wine Enthusiast, 97 points: “Enticingly fragrant, this stunning red opens with delicate but alluring scents of wild berry, Mediterranean brush, rose, crushed rock and a whiff of exotic spice. It’s full bodied but loaded with finesse, delivering creamy red cherry, raspberry compote, star anise and white pepper. Taut, refined tannins and lively acidity provide support and balance, while a savory mineral note lingers on the close. Drink 2021–2036.”
2016 Passopisciaro Terre Siciliane Contrada Rampante
Newsletter Price: $74.99
Kerin O’Keeffe, Wine Enthusiast, 98 points: “Compelling aromas of Mediterranean brush, dark spice, pressed flower, graphite and aromatic herb draw you in for more of this elegant red. Focused and intense, it boasts great energy, offering juicy wild cherry, rosemary, white pepper and star anise, framed in bright acidity and extremely refined tannins. It’s gorgeous and already enjoyable but will offer a decade or more of exquisite drinking.”
2016 Passopisciaro Terre Siciliane Contrada Chiappemacine
Newsletter Price: $59.99
International Wine Report, 94 points: “Contrada Chiappemacine is a small cru situated at 1,800 feet above sea level, which lies on the outreaches of Mount Etna’s lava, with soils composed of sheets of lava resting on top of limestone. The Nerello Mascalese receives malolactic fermentation, followed by 18 months aging in large, neutral oak barrels. It begins with beautiful fresh aromatics of red fruits, spices, dried florals, wet stones, eucalyptus hints of earthy minerals all developing beautifully in the glass. This possesses a medium body with notable concentration and remarkable overall balance. The combination of ripe fruit and acidity is sensational. It continues to impress with its purity and wonderful fresh character all the way through the long, silky finish. While Chiappemacine already shows flashes of brilliance, readers should plan on allowing this some additional bottle age before it begins to show its best. Nonetheless, this is yet another absolutely stunning Nerello Mascalese from Andrea Franchetti in this vintage.”
2016 Passopisciaro Terre Siciliane Contrada Sciaranuova
Newsletter Price: $74.99
From the winery: "Passopisciaro produces six different bottlings of nerello mascalese, the native grape to Mt. Etna, in order to showcase the profound differences in the terroir – lava flow, aspect, and altitude – of the various Contrade that we work with. The vines are all between 70-100 years old, and the nerello harvest typically occurs at the end of October/early November. The wines undergo fermentation in steel vats, followed by malolactic and 18 months aging in large neutral oak barrels; this minimal intervention approach to winemaking allows the differences in terroir to shine. We started bottling the contrada wines separately in 2008, with a label change in 2009. Contrada Sciaranuova (Contrada S) is located at 850 m (2,800 ft) above sea level on Mount Etna. In Sicilian, “sciara nuova” means “new lava flow.” The vines here are planted on relatively new lava flow from the 1600s that has turned into thick gravel. The wines produced from this site are bright, aromatic, and have a rich taste of fermented hay and a dusty herbal quality. We own 1 hectare of this tiny cru and produce about 2,000 bottles annually of our Contrada S."
2016 Passopisciaro Etna Rosso Passorosso
Newsletter Price: $39.99
From the winery: "Passorosso is from ancient vines between 80-110 years old and from different terroirs on different lava flows and altitudes. At Passopisciaro, 2016 gave us even, steadily ripening grapes so that we were able to pick with an exact timing. I would run up every morning to find the same little jump forward in the vineyards then decide to give them another night. I would descend to the winery where the fluid procession of pickups loaded with nerello fruit from all our contradas had resumed."