The first winery I visited in this region was also the hardest to reach. I guess it worked out then because every winery visit after has been significantly easier to reach by bike (all down hill). Of all the wineries, Passopisicaro Vini Franchetti is located highest on the slopes of Etna over looking the eponymous town itself.
The winery's founder, Andrea Franchetti, is one of the early pioneers of Etna Rosso. Along with Frank Cornelissen and Marc di Grazia of Terre Nere, they were the first to 'rediscover' terroir and introduce high quality wine making to the region in the early 2000s. Etna has always made wines, however it was mostly high volume cheap bulk wine for local consumption. Franchetti, Cornelissen, di Grazia, all outsiders, brought their expertise and elevated Etna as one of most talked about new wine regions in Europe.
From an old aristocratic family, Franchetti had started a wine distribution business in the US and learnt winemaking in Bordeaux, before starting Tenuta di Trinoro first in Tuscany in the late 1990s. After having success in creating a cult label there, he made his way south into Sicily and established Passopisciaro in 2000. High on the slopes of Mt. Etna, he makes eight different cuvées of about 8,000 cases annually.
Visiting the winery is interesting because it is evident how the history of the lava flows and textures,, throughout the land's geological history, shapes the different contrade. Contrade is a distinct parcel that are recognised as their own appellation due to their location and terroir. The winery is made up of 26ha of Nerello Mascarese parcels over 5 "contrade": Rampante, Sciaranuova, Guardiola, Porcaria, and Chiappemacine. Near Guadiola, they have 4ha of Chardonnay (which is bottled as Passobianco) and 2ha of Petit Verdot and Cesanese d'Affile (which is bottled as Franchetti). Franchetti is considered something of an eccentric in the area for introducing the international varieties, as the region is mostly focused on local varieties for reds and whites.
Of their contrade, Rampante is their most iconic due to the fact it is one of their highest parcels at almost 1,000m. Due to the elevation, the grapes is some of the last to ripen and the last to be harvested, which can be as late as early November – insanely late compared to winemaking regions in other parts of the world.
The wines are made to reflect the terroir, so the oak treatment is minimal, with only steel tanks for the white and large old wooden barrels for the reds. Franchetti is the only cuvée with new oak.
Passopisciaro, Passobianco 2016
100% Chardonnay. Very little on the nose due to its youth, however expressive on the palette. The volcanic terroir is very apparent, with its steely minerality in the fore. Unlike most Chablis however, there is little else to match its overwhelming minerality and bring further complexity to the wine. Still it makes for a very refreshing white to sooth in the summer heat and perhaps with a little age, it will be more generous in flavour.
Passopisciaro, Passorosso 2016
100% Nerello Mascarese. Quite reduction on the first sniff, however opens up quite beautifully. Though the grape is oft compared to Pinot Noir in terms of flavour profile and longevity and Nebbiolo for structure and acidity, I find young versions of it quite like Cru Beaujolais with its carbonic textures. This wine is delicate and not the most ambitious, but charming with its notes of crushed cherries. The tannins here are quite soft and approachable but it is clear there is structure. This can age 5-8 years.
Passopisciaro, Contrade R 2016
100% Nerello Mascarese. The complexity here is a huge step up from the entry level red, Passorosso. Everything here is amped up, from the flavours of strawberry, plum and sweet spice, tea leaves. The nose is curiously smokey, more from minerality rather than charred oak though. The finish is surprisingly long considering the rather curt exit of the Passorosso but it is superbly satisfying here. This a wine that can age 8-10 years without issue.
Passopisciaro, Franchetti 2015
70% Petit Verdot and and 30% Cesanese d'Affila. This wine is aged for longer than the rest in new oak barrels. Extremely rich and medium-full bodied, this is a dramatic sudden departure from the previous wines tasted. Petit Verdot here tastes different from those in Bordeaux; the floral characteristics appear here to do well in the high altitude sites of the volcano. It is lush and pretty on the nose and palette though would fare much better with age. Despite being a rich an seductive wine on its own, it lacks the exotic otherness that Nerello Mascarese has in spades. I would rather reach for the Contrade wines over this.
Wines tasted in May 31, 2018 at Passopiscario Vini Franchetti, Sicily.
Passopisciaro Vini Franchetti
Contrada Guardiola - 95012 CASTIGLIONE DI SICILIA (Catania)
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