In the shadow of Mount Etna, Passopisciaro is a captivating region for terroir. The area in Sicily is largely known for its volcanic rock and ash which makes it a somewhat dangerous yet rewarding setting for wine production.
The volatile nature of the area translates into an intense and concentrated flavor that has produced some exceptional wines from the renowned winemaker, Andrea Franchetti.
On the higher elevations of the active volcano, some exceptionally old vines benefit greatly from late harvesting. At 24 hectares featuring some low yielded vines, the estate sits at a high altitude of over 1000 meters above sea level.
From high-quality, focussed winemaking, the Passopisciaro region produces elegant, exceptionally structured wines that are a true tribute to the energetic terroir they originate from. Let’s take a closer look at this wine today.
The Wine From Passopisciaro
Andrea Franchetti has developed several exciting wines which have gone some way to transform the reputation of this once overlooked region.
One renowned wine to be created from this Sicilian region is his Passopisciaro Vini Franchetti 2018 Contrada Passochianche (PC).
This Chardonnay is an IGT Terre Sicilliane wine that is the glorious result of a grape that has developed from volcanic soil.
Expect a full-bodied wine due to ten months of cask-oak aging which persists with a slender mid-palate. Lightly golden color and a rich bouquet contains hints of honey, cinnamon, apricot, and even cumin.
Try it for yourself, if you can find one of only 2,660 bottles.
The Passochianche (PC) is one of various contrade based wines that Franchetii has developed to showcase the region’s range of terroirs.
Indeed, once Franchetti embraced the individuality of the contrades in 2008, the production went up a notch. Each contrada found on Mount Etna represents an old feudal property as seen in the local land registry.
Three years later, the Passopisciaro winery released a series of five single-vineyard bottlings which originated from each contrada. These included Sciaranuova (S), Guardiola (G), Porcaria (P), Rampante (R), and Chiappemacine (C).
Each wine from each contrada is known for its complexity and reflects the nuances and individuality of each site’s personality and terroir.
You can even expect the wine to change over time due to the active nature of the volcano and how the land is due to change.
Every eruption, lava flow, and spill changes several variables including the minerality of the soil, the altitude, and the grain size, whether that be gravel, sand, rock, or powder.
The Contrada Guardiola originates from a truly ancient domain at around 800 to 1000m above sea level, just on the edge of the lava flow that came down on the 1947 eruption.
This is another rich, complex wine with deep tastes of oranges, marzipan, and, of course, red fruit. One highly sought-after Contrada is the Porcaria due to the lush and robust wines that can be produced there.
If you were to visit, you would be staggered to find the lava sheet breaking underfoot.
The Rampante is a ruby-colored red that is wholly from the Nerello Mascalese grape. If you wanted a wine to prove how the high altitude and ancient lava can boost winemaking then this is the one.
A punchy palate with hints of black and red berries that eases into pepper spices and a tannic structure.
Further wines include Passorosso which is a combination of Nerello Mascalese found on various sites that have originated from several altitudes and terroirs.
These combine to create a pinot-esque red wine with aromas of red berries and a ferrous aspect.
Then there is Passobianco, a refreshing and unoaked wholly Chardonnay wine that is well worth seeking out for its ripe peach and citrus fruit notes that make it perfect for summer.
This white wine is the result of Franchetti planting four hectares of the Chardonnay grape in the Guardiola contrade which sits between 850 and 1000 meters above sea level.
These vines lie on the eastern slopes of Mount Etna and sit in powder-like lava which has high mineral content.
The Chardonnay is usually picked during late September and the harvest is performed sporadically with each vine inspected by cluster. Each grape is caught just when it hits the right ripeness.
Franchetti has even gone out to name a wine after himself. Since 2005, the red wine named Franchetti has been produced from Petit Verdot and Cesanese d’Affile.
The Wineries From Passopisciaro
The estate known as Tenuta di Passopisciaro is controlled by Andrea Franchetti who is well-known for creating exceptional wines from his time in Tuscany. There he created Tenuta di Trinoro, a Tuscan wine from his Trinoro vineyard.
That winery was built from scratch by ridding the area of woodland and then planning the vineyard.
On the banks of Mount Etna, his work has been centered on resurrection as previously abandoned vineyards have been pushed back into production.
Due to the slopes and the high altitudes from Mount Etna, those red wines are harvested late, typically in late October to early November.
As if to confirm the rustic production values of the winery, those grapes are hand-picked, then sorted and de-stemmed before fermentation.
Each red wine is left to ferment in huge stainless steel vats then aged in neutral oak barrels for 18 months. The wines are also left unfiltered when bottled.
Franchetti established the winery in 2000 to restore those vineyards which lay on the northern slope of Mount Etna.
The vineyards that were already there had been planted with bush vines aged from 70 to 1000 years of the native Nerello Mascalese. The estate has a total of 26 hectares under vine which have varying altitudes.
At the higher elevations, you can expect gravel-esque soils while lower down the various lava flows have created an oxidized, deeper, and more powdery soil.
The Nerello Mascalese grape often produces wines that contain notes of camphor and citrus fruit that comes from the volcanic lava soils. The range of altitudes also has a telling effect on the grape and the subsequent wines.
The white wine has been planted by Franchetti and is completely Chardonnay, showing that he knows the region and several reasons to remain there.
Andrea Franchetti has brought about a resurgence in the vineyards that grew on the slopes of Mount Etna and the Passopisciaro wine region has itself been resurrected.
Though the winery lies on an active volcano, that is telling for the success of the wines produced there. Certain complexities are the result of the light in the area, and how the volcano alters the surrounding temperature.
Despite being planted on the steep slopes of Mount Etna, the odd eruption is a mere distraction from the real business that Franchetti is undergoing.
Few would be drawn to the area yet the terroir remains alluring and brings some staggering aromatics that the winemaker has developed.
This is largely due to the minerality that the volcanic ash contains as numerous lava flows have gradually invoked a unique complexity to the wines from their distinctive winery. Find yourself a bottle and see for yourself.