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.

New Etna Rosso From Two Great Wine Families

Today’s Story: IDDA

IDDA was established in 2016 as a partnership between the Gaja family of Piedmont and the Graci family of Sicily. While the Gaja family is rightfully famous for their Barbaresco and Barolo, Angelo Gaja became incredibly interested in the history, culture, and terroir of Sicily and particularly Mt. Etna with the Etna wines being produced in recent years. After Angelo met Alberto Graci, whose family makes wines on the northern slopes of Mt. Etna, the two joined together to purchase vineyards on the southern slopes. With about 52 acres of vineyards today located between 2,000 and 2,600 feet elevation on this great volcano, IDDA cultivates Carricante, Nerello Mascalese, and Nerello Cappuccio with the first vintage being 2017.

Today’s Wine: 2017 IDDA Etna Rosso

98% Nerello Mascalese, 2% Nerello Cappuccio; 14.5% ABV

The 2017 IDDA Etna Rosso is translucent deep garnet in color. Given some time to blossom in the glass, this wine opens to showcase a nose of strawberry, raspberry, bing cherry, leather, tomato paste, volcanic soil, bright mineral, and charred oak. There is some slight heat there too, which should become better integrated over time. On the palate, I get notes of tart cherry, stemmy strawberry, boysenberry, rose petal, anise, sweet tobacco, smoke, tilled rocky soil, ground green herbs, and basil. This is medium-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $50. This is the inaugural vintage of this wine, and although young it is both approachable with air and immensely promising as this project comes into its own. I think this is priced very fairly given the apparent quality, and like similar Etna Rosso wines provides QPR that can be hard to find in the world.

Incredible Complexity From the Northern Slopes of Mount Etna

Today’s Story: Pietradolce

Pietradolce was established in 2005 on the northern slopes of Mt. Etna in Solicchiata and consists of 11 hectares of vines situated between 600 and 900 meters above sea level. The vineyards are divided into three sections, with two in Rampante and one in Zottorinoto, but overall the soil is dominated by stones and sandy loam rich in mineral elements thanks to the volcano. Since its founding, Pietradolce chose to work only with native varieties of Mt. Etna with Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, and Carricante taking center stage and growing largely as traditional bushes. At the heart of Pietradolce is a philosophy of caring for the land and both the winemaking practices as well as the physical winery itself are eco-friendly.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Contrada Rampante Etna Rosso

100% Nerello Mascalese; 14.5% ABV

The 2014 Contrada Rampante is almost fully opaque deep garnet in color. This seemed to show best after 1.5 hours decanting, however it continued to evolve and add complexities throughout the 3 hours from pop to last drop. The nose showcases aromas of bing cherry, strawberry, licorice, rose and violet, leather, black volcanic earth, smoke, oregano, cinnamon, stony mineral, and oaky spice. Some slight heat surfaces as well. On the palate this beauty displays notes of black cherry, dried stemmy strawberry, crunchy black raspberry, cola, anise, tobacco, rocky yet loamy earth, earthy mineral, mocha, and allspice. This is medium-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish characterized by lingering notes of iron.

Price: $38 (but good luck). I’ve had many Etna Rosso’s that I proclaim as exceptional values, but this wine might take the cake as the greatest one yet…if you are lucky enough to find it. The utter complexity that surfaces in this wine and its rustic beauty that could be mistaken for a great red Burgundy demands attention and respect. Pair with pasta bolognese, veal parm, or swordfish.

From Tuscany to Sicily

Today’s Story: Pietro Caciorgna

Pietro Caciorgna is a very small family-owned and operated farm and winery based in Casole d ‘Elsa of the Siena province of Tuscany. Giovanni and Fulvia Caciorgna moved to this countryside location in 1953 with their seven children and set about farming cereals, corn, sunflower, and cattle fodder. Fortunately for us, the family also practiced viticulture for their own consumption which spawned into the wines for purchase today. Having grown their property to 20 hectares, the Caciorgna family farms 2.3 hectares of Sangiovese planted in 2001 on the hill of Osteria delle Macchie in Tuscany and branched into Sicily to produce their Etna Rosso. Pietro and his wife Elda manage the day-to-day of the estate, and their philosophy is to produce quality wines while caring for the environment. For instance, they use zero chemical fertilizers in the vineyards and only copper and sulfur when necessary to produce honest and terroir-driven wines. The family was driven to start a new venture in Sicily in 2006 by none other than Marco de Grazia (behind Tenuta delle Terre Nere) where they purchased a small 0.5 hectare vineyard of Nerello Mascalese before expanding with the purchase of another just over 1 hectare in size. Pietro also purchases some fruit from his neighbors and produces his wines in a small cellar located in Rovittello, yet the drive for quality and terroir-driven wines remains the same.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Guardoilvento Etna Rosso

100% Nerello Mascalese; 13.5% ABV

The 2016 Guardoilvento Etna Rosso is medium garnet in color with ruby hues and moderately opaque. I decanted this for about an hour which allowed the nose to showcase aromas of ripe red cherry, stemmy strawberry, dried raspberry, tomato paste, red rose, leather, dried earth, rocky mineral, and pine. Once in the mouth, this wine displays notes of baked cherry, raspberry, red licorice, red and purple florals, thyme, crushed rock, tobacco, volcanic earth, allspice, and earthy mineral. This is medium-bodied with vibrant medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $30. This is an outstanding value and another example of why I love Etna Rosso so much. For those unfamiliar with Etna Rosso and a step deeper the variety Nerello Mascalese, I highly suggest giving them a try. Pair this with pork chops, veal parm, or tomato sauce pasta.

Gorgeous Etna Rosso With an Incredible Backstory

Today’s Story: Le Vigne di Eli

Le Vigne di Eli is a small, family-owned winery established on the slopes of Mount Etna in 2006 by Marco de Grazia who is also behind the acclaimed Tenuta delle Terre Nere. Marco decided to establish Le Vigne di Eli after being offered two of Etna’s tiniest and most coveted vineyards (Feudo di Mezzo and Moganazzi-Voltasciara), though instead of adding them to his portfolio at Tenuta delle Terre Nere he started another winery. Marco says the two vineyards made him think of his daughter Elena (Eli), so not only did he create this winery out of his love for her but he uses her artwork on his labels and dedicates a significant portion of his profits to the Ospedale Pediatrico Meyer children’s hospital in Florence to make it truly a “child’s estate.” Over time Marco selected additional tiny vineyards to increase his offerings and the estate produces about 20,000 bottles annually across several Etna Bianco and Etna Rosso bottlings.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Etna Rosso

98% Nerello Mascalese, 2% Nerello Cappuccio; 13.5% ABV

The 2016 Etna Rosso is moderately opaque and medium garnet in color with bright ruby hues. I let this breathe in the glass for about an hour and the nose emits aromas of ripe strawberry, muddled raspberry, red cherry, red licorice, lavender, tobacco, barnyard, volcanic soil, savory Italian herbs, marine minerality, and oak. Once on the palate, the wine offers notes of strawberry, cherry, wild raspberry, red and purple florals, sweet tobacco, graphite, baking spice, crushed rock minerality, and smoke. This is light- to medium-bodied with vibrant medium (+) acidity, refined medium tannins, and a long herbaceous finish. The wine is incredibly precise and its drinking experience is completely gorgeous. 1,000 cases produced.

Price: $30. This is one of the better Etna Rosso wines I’ve had, and for this price it is a screaming value as a lot of Etna Rosso is (for now). Pair this with chicken parmigiana, tuna with tomatoes, roasted pork, or even pepperoni pizza.