Another day in Paradise for wine lovers! First we started at Passopisciaro, a word that means passing of the lava flow. Here on the north slopes of Etna, the harvest hasn’t started yet for many winemakers. In fact at this winery, the harvest won’t start until October 23.
The owner, Andrea Franchetti started in Montalcino and when he arrived in Sicily, he planted
international varieties. The first winery was planted in Petit Verdot. The Etna area was never infected by
phylloxera. He discovered 20 years ago that there were great old vines in Etna, but bad winemakers.Andrea was a pioneer.
He planted dense vineyards: 12,000 vines per hectare instead of the traditional 3/6,000. He does a green harvest and he takes advantage of the big temperature swings on Etna. It could be in the 90s during the day and drops to 60F at night.
Andrea has said that “Etna is an island inside an island” and that the Guardiola contrada or cru “is an island inside an island inside an island.”
For our tasting we had 5 wines: Passobianco 100% Chardonnay 2017, grown at 1,000 meters, the highest Chardonnay vineyard in the world; it had a deep yellow color, redolent of ripe white fruit, like peaches and apricots, with a surprising acidity and minerality. Passorosso 2017 DOC Etna Rosso, 100% Nerello Mascalese, a blend of different crus or contrade as they are called on Etna, medium body, ruby red, violets and dark berry fruit aromas and flavors; Contrada C. (Chiappemacine), 2017, light ruby red, red berry aromas, cherry fruit in the mouth, you can feel the tension between the acidity and fruit. Contrada G. (Guardiola) 2017, a bit darker, similar dark fruit aromas, very reminiscent of a good Pinot Noir with the tannins of a Nebbiolo and the fruit of a Pinot Noir; Franchetti 2016, a blend of Petit Verdot and Cesanese d’affile (70/30)- the Cesanese d’affile was almost extinct and comes from Lazio with deep red color, beautiful black cherry aroma. Andrea calls it a ‘Super Etna’ with tannins that coat your mouth.
We then went to nearby Cottanera Winery. The Cambria family bought the property in the 1960s as a vacation home and started the winery in the 1990s. There is an all-female team that tends to the vineyards where they cultivate 4 indigenous and 3 international grapes. The winery owns 100% of the Cottanera Contrada.
Our alfresco lunch started with an appetizer of locally made antipasti accompanied by 2 whites:Carricante 2018 Contrada Cottanera and Carricante 2017, made in oak barrels and cement tanks, a much deeper yellow color than the 2018 because of the vinification, more arromatic and rounder.
With the 2nd course of strazzapreti pasta, we had 2 wines: Diciassettesalme 2018 100% Nerello Mascalese DOC Etna Rosso which almost received a 3 Glass award from Tre Bicchieri, aromas of tobacco and smoke, and Feudi di Mezzo 2015 DOC Etna Rosso- another Contrada or Cru-, 100% Nerello Mascalese, 14 months in French oak barrels, light clear ruby red, beautiful dark cherry aroma.
For our 3rd course of rolled veal stuffed with cheese and meatballs wrapped in lemon leaves, we had the exquisite Zottorinoto Riserva 2014, a 3 Glass award winner, with 2 years in French oak barriques and 2 more years in bottle. This is an exquisite wine with medium ruby red color, dark cherry aromas and a lingering after taste- I loved this wine!
We also had the honor of meeting the owner, Signora Maddelena Cambria who graciously autographed the bottle of the Zottorinoto Riserva which I had purchased for one of my tastings when I return.
We ended a perfect day at the Girolamo Russo Winery where the owner Giuseppe Russo and his assistant, Dante Pasqua, escorted us on a vineyard tour and alfresco tasting in the vineyard. Russo is a small (65,000 bottles) producer of top quality Etna wines. The winery produces 7 wines: 2, whites, 4 reds and a rosato. They export 70% of their wines.
They do all of the correct things for a quality winery, including a green harvest, leaving only 3/4 bunches per vine.The attention to detail shows in the wines.
Our tasting started with the Rosato 2018, 100% Nerello Mascalese, whole cluster fermented with very little skin contact, vinified like a white wine, a pale onion skin color, delightful. Then we tasted the ‘A Rina, dialect for volcanic ash, a blend of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio. It’s a wine that previously received a 3 Glass award in
’12 and ’15, clear ruby red, slight onion skin, aromas of dark fruit, soft tannins, a great wine experience.
Our 3rd wine was Feudo di Mezzo 2017, another 3 Glass award winner, 100% Nerello Mascalese, beautiful clear red akin to a Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo, distinctive spicy aroma, cinnamon, rose petals,
with Barolo-like dimensions in taste, with the tannins of a Nebbiolo and the fruitiness of Pinot Noir.
Our 4th wine was the San Lorenzo 2017, with the vineyard at 1,000 meters, again a wine very similar to a Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo. Our last wine was the Feudo 2016, a classic vintage and another great example of what can be achieved with this grape.
Although it took an hour to get to the area, once there all 3 wineries were near each other.