Vineyards of Passopisciaro on Mt. Etna (Photo credit)
In July 2011 –275 posts ago – we first started this blog with a few words on Andrea Franchetti of Tenuta di Trinoro and Passopisciaro on Mt. Etna. And so, when the New York Times published last week's "From Sicily, Reds Worth the Hunt," a piece by Eric Asimov that focuses on Frappato wines and blends from Vittoria, we thought it time to revisit the modern patriarch of winemaking on Mt. Etna, who's largely responsible for the region's renaissance.
After four years of distributing Italian wines in the U.S., Franchetti ventured to Bordeaux where he studied the art of winemaking with Jean Luc Thunevin of Chateau Valandraud and Peter Sisseck of Domino de Pingus. In 1992, he landed in Siena, Tuscany where he founded Tenuta di Trinoro; and eight years later, in 2000, he established Tenuta di Trinoro with the acquisition of Passopisciaro, an ancient vineyard and winery on the slopes of Mt. Etna.
In addition to reviving the slopes of Etna, which hadn't supported much winegrowing since the 1920's, Franchetti embraced Etna's native varietal, Nerello Mascalese, which according to Wine Grapes (J. Robinson, J. Harding, J. Vouillamoz) is thought to be a "possible natural cross between Sangiovese and Mantonico Bianco". Yielding wines that are light in alcohol and color, with bright acidity and red fruit notes, Nerello Mascalese makes age-worthy wines that can be drunk young. And while a number of producers choose to blend it with Nero d'Avola, Franchetti is a purist who creates single varietal wines for his Contrada Etna series, because Nerello Mascalese possesses a great ability to "communicate terroir".
At first blended to make his Passopisciaro wine, the fruit of these four Contrada Etna (or Cru) were then vinified separately in 2009, when Franchetti found each wine an expression of its terroir. In 2011 we wrote: “'Each [contrada] is placed on a different lava spill on different sides of the volcano,' Franchetti explained. It’s 'a system of volcanos or cones,' that allows the vines of each Contrada to 'draw from different lava spills, each with its own combination of minerals.'”
On his website, Franchetti has posted a map that illustrates the location of each dry-farmed Contrada on the slopes of Etna, where he uses neither fertilizers nor pesticides. Of the 2011 vintage he writes:
"Mount Etna had two lighter years ‘09 and ‘010, that produced some fine and elegant wines...2011 is what one calls a great vintage. Late rains and long season made it possible for growers to pick grapes that were able to convey extraordinary richness to the wines in every Contrada of the mountain. This is not, however, the overwhelming kind of vintage where massiveness chokes out some of the finer features of its wines. There is in this vintage a measured and hard structure that contains and will elevate the growing richness of 2011."
As the Contrada with the highest elevation, Rampante is a single 100-year-old vineyard that sits above 1000 meters. Its 1.4ha of 80-year-old Nerello Macalese vines are planted to sandy soils, and it is the last Contrada to be harvested, on November 5, 2011 for the upcoming vintage. With 8,000 vines per hectare, the yield here is 15hl/ha, and only 2900 bottles were produced.
At 850m, Contrada Sciaranuova is a single hectare 80-year-old vineyard with 8000 vines planted to "relatively new lava that has turned into thick gravel". And while the 2011 vintage has yet to arrive, generally speaking, "The wines are deep, large fleshed and have a rich taste of fermented hay."
From a single hectare of vines at 650m, Franchetti crafts Contrada Porcaria, which is a "famous an sought-after contrada because of the full bodied, lush and robust wines it produces." Yielding 10hl/ha, these 80-year-old vines are planted to soil that is "made of a frail lava sheet that splinters under one's feet." Harvested on October 29, 2011, only 2000 bottles were produced.
Located "on the last outreach of Mount Etna’s lava, that turns thin and shares the vines’ roots with the limestone bed below," Contrada Chiappemacine resides at 550m. From an 80-year-old vineyard that yields 18hl/ha, only 2900 bottles were produced.
Expecting the wines to arrive in mid-to-late fall, we promise you that the allotments are small and they will not last, so be sure to act fast. In fact, last year, all four of Franchetti's Contrada wines sold out before they even arrived.