Passopisciaro Passopisciaro 2008
Critical AcclaimAll Vintages
The Etna is one of Italy's most fascinating emerging wine regions and Andrea Franchetti is arguably the area's most fanatical, driven producer. High altitude vineyards, volcanic soils, ancient indigenous grape varieties in Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio and a rediscovery of the uniqueness of these vineyards are among the reasons for the spectacular growth in interest the Etna has seen in recent years. In 2008 Franchetti bottled his single-vineyard Nerello Mascaleses separately, resulting in four new wines, all of which are well worth discovering. The regular Passopisciaro bottling doesn't seem to have suffered, as it is magnificent in this vintage.
In 2000 Andrea Franchetti decided to restore an old farm and cellars on the slopes of Mount Etna, an active volcano in northeastern Sicily. 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.
The high altitude, sun-drenched vineyards are idyllic yet a constant plume of smoke and the odd ash-filled belch present a constant reminder that Etna is indeed a volcano with attitude, given to relatively frequent lava spills. These spills devastate the landscape, yet each flow leaves a unique mineral profile, giving rise to the notion of various terroirs, here called contrade. The borders of the contrade reflect old feudal property lines, which are still mapped out on the local land registry. Franchetti respects and plays to the strengths of his chosen terroir on Etna, producing wines of remarkable complexity and individual personality. Significant temperature differences between day and night also play an important role, necessitating a longer growing period and this, in turn, contributes complexity and intensity, as do the profound mineral elements of the volcanic soils.
Franchetti makes eight different wines at Passopisciaro, with six focused on the grape Nerello Mascalese. The wine Passorosso is a bright, holistic rendering of the grape that is unique and ever-present on the volcano, blending from different altitudes and terroirs. During the first several years of making wine on the volcano, Franchetti realized that once the Nerello grapes reached the cellar, they produced different wines depending on the district from which they came from; starting in 2008, he began to bottle the top sites separately, helping to usher in a cru system on Mt. Etna. These five Contrada wines — Chiappemacine, Porcaria, Guardiola, Sciaranuova, and Rampante — each come from vineyards of different ages and are each on a lava flow with different minerals, grain size, and altitudes.
In 2005, Franchetti began making a striking red, to which he gave his own name Franchetti, made with the grapes Petit Verdot and Cesanese d’Affile, loaded with sweet spices, cassis and plum that are woven together with profound elegance. He produced his first white Guardiola Bianco, now Passobianco, in 2007, a 100% Chardonnay planted at 850-1,000 metres above sea level, with a fresh, mineral and aromatic profile reminiscent of the great whites of Burgundy.
A large, geographically and climatically diverse island, just off the toe of Italy, Sicily has long been recognized for its fortified Marsala wines. But it is also a wonderful source of diverse, high quality red and white wines. Steadily increasing in popularity over the past few decades, Italy’s fourth largest wine-producing region is finally receiving the accolades it deserves and shining in today's global market.
Though most think of the climate here as simply hot and dry, variations on this sun-drenched island range from cool Mediterranean along the coastlines to more extreme in its inland zones. Of particular note are the various microclimates of Europe's largest volcano, Mount Etna, where vineyards grow on drastically steep hillsides and varying aspects to the Ionian Sea. The more noteworthy red and white wines that come from the volcanic soils of Mount Etna include Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio (reds) and Carricante (whites). All share a racy streak of minerality and, at their best, bear resemblance to their respective red and white Burgundies.
Nero d’Avola is the most widely planted red variety, and is great either as single varietal bottling or in blends with other indigenous varieites or even with international ones. For example, Nero d'Avola is blended with the lighter and floral, Frappato grape, to create the elegant, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, one of the more traditional and respected wines of the island.
Grillo and Inzolia, the grapes of Marsala, are also used to produce aromatic, crisp dry whites. Pantelleria, a subtropical island belonging to the province of Sicily, specializes in Moscato di Pantelleria, made from the variety locally known as Zibibbo.
With hundreds of red grape varieties to choose from, winemakers have the freedom to create a virtually endless assortment of blended wines. In many European regions, strict laws are in place determining the set of varieties that may be used, but in the New World, experimentation is permitted and encouraged. Blending can be utilized to enhance balance or create complexity, lending different layers of flavors and aromas. For example, a variety that creates a fruity and full-bodied wine would do well combined with one that is naturally high in acidity and tannins. Sometimes small amounts of a particular variety are added to boost color or aromatics. Blending can take place before or after fermentation, with the latter, more popular option giving more control to the winemaker over the final qualities of the wine.