New Wines from Passopisciaro
As you know, we love Sicily here at Some Good Wine. For those who were able to make it, we had one of the best tastings ever this past weekend where we opened a wide range from across the island that truly showcased the vast terroir differences. It was a tasting for the record books. So for today, I decided to keep the party going with a producer that I adore who is highly under the radar and mostly only known in chic circles.
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.
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."
Wine Advocate 96+Points: Andrea Franchetti's namesake 2017 Franchetti is a blend of 60% Petit Verdot and 40% Cesanese d'Ale from a vintage known for dark and extra rich fruit. This is a gorgeous wine that opens to an inky dark appearance and opulent aromas of midnight black fruit, spice, tar and campre ash. The heat of the vintage has contributed to the immensity and fullness of this extremely opulent wine. There is some oak spice on the close thanks to eight months in new French barrique and ten months in cement vats. This is an A-lister for sure and a true beauty. Sadly, only 4,290 bottles were made.
2017 Passopisciaro Terre Siciliane Contrada Guardiola
Newsletter Price: $74.99
94 points Wine Advocate: The 2017 Contrada G (from the spectacular Contrada Guardiola) is a very elegant and polished expression with small berry intensity, crème de cassis, dried pomegranate and delicate whis of exotic spice. The wine positions itself with vertical intensity thanks to its mid-weight mouthfeel and very focused aromatic intensity that awakens the senses. I love the extremely polished and pristine nature of this 100% Nerello Mascalese. Some 3,750 bottles were released.
2017 Passopisciaro Terre Siciliane Contrada Rampante
Newsletter Price: $74.99
Kerin O’Keeffe, Wine Enthusiast, 95 points: Underbrush, wet stone and camphor aromas meld with whiffs of scorched earth and Mediterranean scrub. The full-bodied, enveloping palate delivers dried Marasca cherry, orange zest, raspberry compote, fennel and flint alongside velvety tannins and lively acidity.
2017 Passopisciaro Terre Siciliane Contrada Chiappemacine
Newsletter Price: $59.99
93 points Wine Enthusiast: “"This has a shy nose that eventually reveals subtle aromas evoking dark culinary spice, crushed rock, crushed herb and a whiff of blue flower. The palate boasts the firm’s trademark of structure and weightless elegance, delivering red cherry, wild strawberry, orange zest, star anise and salty minerals alongside polished tannins. It’s well balanced, with bright acidity. Drink 2021–2028."
2017 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."
95 Points Wine Enthusiast: Eucalyptus, Mediterranean herb and wild berry aromas mingle with a whiff of wet stone. It's full bodied and youthfully austere but also boasts a weightless elegance, doling out black cherry, flinty mineral and bitter almond sensations before a licorice close. Thanks to the ripe fruit flavors, you'd never guess this had a hefty abv of 15%.
2017 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."
93 Points wine Enthusiast: Aromas of ripe wild berry and Mediterranean scrub alongside a whiff of eucalyptus take shape in the glass. Juicy and smooth, the palate offers crushed raspberry, strawberry compote, licorice and notes of exotic incense framed in taut, fine-grained tannins. A tangy mineral note gives the finish tension. Drink through 2027.