In 2000 Andrea Franchetti decided to restore an old farm and cellars on the higher slopes of mount Etna. The winery which later was to initiate the renaissance of viticulture on the mountain and an international discovery of the wines of Etna sits at about a thousand meters of altitude above the small wine town of Passopisciaro in the district of Castiglione di Sicilia, on the north slope of the volcano. The wine “Passopisciaro” was a rendering of the grape that is unique and ever-present on Mount Etna, Nerello Mascalese, a botanical ancestor of Pinot Noir.
This was the first modern bottling of Nerello wine. Up until recently, wines from Etna were sold in bulk. In 2005 Franchetti starts making a striking red, named after the vintner, made with Petit Verdot and Cesanese d’Affile, loaded with sweet spices, cassis and plum that are woven together with profound elegance. The following year Guardiola came along, 100% Chardonnay planted at a 1000 mt a.s.l., a fresh, mineral and aromatic white wine.
In 2008, Franchetti started making single-vineyard bottlings from areas on different altitudes, where there had been some classic old feudal properties renown for their wines. The name of these “Contradas” are: Chiappemacine, Porcaria, Sciaranuova, Rampante, growing respectively at 550 mt, 650, 850 and 1000 mt. Andrea Franchetti had realized immediately that once the grapes reached the cellar, they produced different wines depending on the district from which they came from. The Contradas each come from vineyards of different ages and are each on a lava flow with different minerals, grain size and altitudes: this led him to vinify each district separately, representing the different taste of mount Etna’s ancient crus.
The wines of Mount Etna and especially those of Passopisciaro are unique in so many way: soil, climate, vineyard age and altitude all work together in making wines that cannot be replicated anywhere in the world.
This week we received our allocation of the 2009 Passopisciaro Etna Rosso and in June we will receive the 2009 single cru ‘s. These are not wines for the faint hearted and it is a style that will either captivate you or you will turn your back on and decide Etna is not for you.
People often ask what Nerello Mascalese tastes like? My answer is a mix between Burgundy and Barolo. It has the perfume and fragrance of Burgundy but the power and tannins of Barolo.
Yesterday morning I opened a bottle of the 09 Passopisciaro, threw it in the decanter and left it to sit during the day. Last night when I came back to it, it was in the groove: ethereal, powerful and full of personality.
This wine and many like it from Calabria, Basilicata, Campania and Puglia is the reason why I think Southern Italy will be at the forefront of the Italian wine scene in the next ten years. Grape varieties like Nerello Mascalese (and there are many more like it) are showing the world just how special these indigenous grape varieties can be.