Young but Beautifully Complex Etna Rosso

Today’s Story: Passopisciaro – Vini Franchetti

Passopisciaro is a highly regarded wine estate founded in 2000 by Andrea Franchetti on the northern slopes of Mount Etna. Franchetti purchased an old farm and cellars at about 1,000 meters up the volcano and they desperately needed restoration, clearing, and replanting of the vineyards. Franchetti was somewhat instrumental in the renaissance for Etna winemaking, taking great risk by working on an active volcano surrounded by ancient estates long abandoned due to lava flow. He focuses primarily on the native Nerello Mascalese variety, but grows Chardonnay, Petit Verdot, and Cesanese d’Affile as well between roughly 600 meters and 1,100 meters in elevation.

Today, Passopisciaro consists of 26 hectares planted to Nerello Mascalese, 4 hectares planted to Chardonnay, and 2 hectares of Petit Verdot and Cesanese d’Affile. Franchetti makes six wines with 100% Nerello Mascalese, and they range from the Passorosso (blended from various elevations and terroirs) to five different Cru, or Contrada as they are known on Etna, bottlings he introduced in 2008. The five Contrada bottlings of Chiappemacine, Porcaria, Guardiola, Sciaranuova, and Rampante come from different elevations and are planted in varying lava flows that offer unique mineral characteristics. His red blend of Petit Verdot and Cesanese d’Affile, called Franchetti, entered the portfolio in 2005 and his Chardonnay, called Passobianco, entered in 2007.

Winemaking is without a doubt very unique on Mount Etna for a number of factors. First, the fact that this is an active volcano with frequent smoke plumes and lava flows which can destroy vines…or worse. Second, the elevation stretches to 3,300 meters on Mount Etna and even vines planted 1/3 of the way up face winds and drastic temperature swings, though it does stay cooler and help produce more complex and elegant wines. And third, the soil is naturally very rocky and volcanic and, due to its black color, diffuses sunlight across and throughout the ground to provide additional indirect sunlight to the vines. Franchetti seems to have mastered these elements, crafting wines with a true sense of place, great depth and complexity, and beautiful purity of fruit.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Passorosso Etna Rosso

100% Nerello Mascalese; 14.5% ABV

The 2017 Passorosso Etna Rosso is translucent medium ruby in color. Given about an hour to open up, the wine showcases a surprisingly deep nose of red cherry, raspberry, strawberry, black plum, red rose, leather, scorched volcanic earth, black pepper, dried green herbs, cocoa powder, and cedar with pronounced intensity. Meanwhile on the palate I get notes of cranberry, sour red cherry, pomegranate, blood orange, licorice, violet, tobacco, smoke, crushed rock mineral, and chocolate. This dry red is full-bodied with high acidity, high tannins, and a long finish. Very young, and the tannin and alcohol should integrate beautifully with a couple more years of bottle age.

Price: $35. I think this is a great value, especially given how beautifully it drinks at such a young age. Give this one or two more years to better integrate the alcohol and tannin, but this certainly has the stuffing to drink well for the next 5+ years.

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