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In 2000 Andrea Franchetti decided to restore an old farm and cellars on the slopes of Mount Etna, an active volcano in northeastern Sicily. The winery sits at about a thousand meters of altitude above the small wine town of Passopisciaro in the district of Castiglione di Sicilia, on the northern slope of the volcano.

His first task was to clear and restore long-abandoned terraces of ancient vines on the northern slopes of the mountain, replanting at a density of 12,000 vines per hectare on thin lavic soil. His arrival on Etna helped to initiate the renaissance of viticulture on the mountain and an international discovery of the wines of Etna. At Passopisciaro, he focuses on the native grape Nerello Mascalese and its various expressions of terroir and altitudes through a series of crus, as well as the varieties Chardonnay, Petit Verdot, and Cesanese d’Affile.

The high altitude, sun-drenched vineyards are idyllic yet a constant plume of smoke and the odd ash-filled belch present a constant reminder that Etna is indeed a volcano with attitude, given to relatively frequent lava spills. These spills devastate the landscape, yet each flow leaves a unique mineral profile, giving rise to the notion of various terroirs, here called contrade. The borders of the contrade reflect old feudal property lines, which are still mapped out on the local land registry. Franchetti respects and plays to the strengths of his chosen terroir on Etna, producing wines of remarkable complexity and individual personality. Significant temperature differences between day and night also play an important role, necessitating a longer growing period and this, in turn, contributes complexity and intensity, as do the profound mineral elements of the volcanic soils.

Franchetti makes eight different wines at Passopisciaro, with six focused on the grape Nerello Mascalese. The wine Passorosso is a bright, holistic rendering of the grape that is unique and ever-present on the volcano, blending from different altitudes and terroirs. During the first several years of making wine on the volcano, Franchetti realized that once the Nerello grapes reached the cellar, they produced different wines depending on the district from which they came from; starting in 2008, he began to bottle the top sites separately, helping to usher in a cru system on Mt. Etna.

These five Contrada wines — Chiappemacine, Porcaria, Guardiola, Sciaranuova, and Rampante — each come from vineyards of different ages and are each on a lava flow with different minerals, grain size, and altitudes.

In 2005, Franchetti began making a striking red, to which he gave his own name Franchetti, made with the grapes Petit Verdot and Cesanese d’Affile, loaded with sweet spices, cassis and plum that are woven together with profound elegance. He produced his first white Guardiola Bianco, now Passobianco, in 2007, a 100% Chardonnay planted at 850-1,000 metres above sea level, with a fresh, mineral and aromatic profile reminiscent of the great whites of Burgundy.

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Passopisciaro

2015 Contrada C

93+ Points Ian D'Agata, Vinous Media

Bright red. Sweet spices and red cherry on the vivid nose. Then enters soft and round, but turns livelier, thanks to vibrant acidity that lifts the floral and red cherry flavors. Less explosive on the nose than Rampante and Sciaranuova, with a high, lemony acidity on the palate that speaks of this site’s calcareous soils. The C in the wine’s name stands for Chiappemacine (550 meters asl). The word chiappemacine itself derives from the large stone wheels used to crush olives when making olive oil.

Technical Information
Vintage: 2015Region: SicilyFermentation Method: Alcoholic fermentation in stainless steel vats for 15 daysVineyard: ChiappemacineOak: Malolactic fermentation followed by 18 months aging in large, neutral oak barrelsAppellation: Mt EtnaAlcohol: 14%

2015 Contrada G

94 Points - Ian D'Agata, Vinous Media

Bright dark red. Intensely aromatic nose of superripe red cherry, spices, minerals, balsamic vinegar and broom. Then clean, vibrant and tactile, with polished tannins providing noteworthy backbone on the long youthful, chewy finish. This will need a long time to smoothen out. The G in the wine’s name stands for Guardiola (800 meters asl). First made in 2011, so much later than the other single contrada wines by Franchetti.

Technical Information
Vintage: 2015Region: SicilyFermentation: Alcoholic fermentation in stainless steel vats for 15 daysVineyard: GuardiolaOak: Malolactic fermentation followed by 18 months aging in large, neutral oak barrelsAppellation: Mt EtnaAlcohol: 14%

2015 Contrada P

89 Points - Ian D'Agata, Vinous Media

Bright dark red. Very ripe aromas of sweet spices, quinine and red cherry. Similar flavors of aromatic red cherry and botanical herbs on the palate, with a fleshy tactile texture and a low acid mouthfeel. Finishes broad and ripe, with very good length. A bigger richer wine than Franchetti’s other Contrada wines, but less well-delineated currently with a trace of alcoholic heat at the back. The P in the wine’s name stands for Porcaria, an Etna Contrada; Franchetti’s vines grow at about 650 meters above sea level. (14.5% alcohol)

Technical Information
Vintage: 2015Region: SicilyFermentation: Alcoholic fermentation on the skins in stainless steel vats for 15 daysVineyard: PorcariaOak: Malolactic fermentation followed by 18 months aging in large, neutral oak barrelsAppellation: Mt EtnaAlcohol: 14.5%

2015 Contrada R

92+ Points - Ian D'Agata, Vinous Media

Bright red. Very elegant, clean, precise aromas and flavors of red berries, botanical herbs and sweet spices. Finishes very mineral and refined with lots of lingering spicy red fruit. This is the most ready Contrada R (R stands for Rampante) I remember tasting from Franchetti; usually I find the wines from this specific Etna contrada (his vines are located high up at 1000 meters, or roughly 3500 feet above sea level) to be rigid and tannic in their youth. Instead this wine can be drunk now, though it will also last another ten years without problems. The grapes were picked at the end of October building up enough sugar for the wine to clock in at 14% alcohol.

Technical Information
Vintage: 2015Region: SicilyFermentation: Alcoholic fermentation in stainless steel vats for 15 daysVineyard: RampanteOak: 18 months aging in large, neutral oak barrelsAppellation: Mt EtnaAlcohol: 14%

2015 Contrada S

92+ Points Ian D'Agata, Vinous Media

Bright red. Menthol, sour red cherry, and redcurrant liqueur on the spicy, intensely perfumed almost aromatic nose. Then also spicy in the mouth, with a fleshy powerful mouthfeel (14% alcohol) and outstanding length. This strikes me as being especially well balanced this year. The S in the name of Contrada S stands for Sciaranuova; these Nerello Mascalese grapes grow at 850 meters above sea level.

Technical Information
Vintage: 2015Region: SicilyFermentation: Alcoholic fermentation in stainless steel vats for 15 daysVineyard: SciaranuovaOak: 18 months aging in large, neutral oak barrelsAppellation: Mt EtnaAlcohol: 14%

2015 Passobianco

90 Points - Ian d'Agata, Vinous Media

Bright straw-yellow. Rich buttery banana and pineapple but also lemon drop and grapefruit on the refined nose. Then similar flavors to the aromas with a vibrant saline backbone and very good lemony bite. A lovely wine

Technical Information
Vintage: 2015Region: SicilyFermentation: Stainless steel vats for 20 days at 23 degrees CelciusOak: 12 months in cement vats and large oak barrelsAppellation: Mt EtnaAlcohol: 13.5%

2015 Passorosso

92 Points - Ian D'Agata, Vinous Media

Bright red. Perfumed aromas of rose and violet are complicated by cinnamon. Fresh, juicy and precise, with a hint of chlorophyll and menthol. Vibrant and very long with a persistent herbal note on the very floral, perfumed finish. 100% Nerello Mascalese grown in different contrade (about 60% from Guardiola, the rest is from Chiappemacine, Malpasso, and Favazza located within Calderara and Feudo di Mezzo). This became an Etna Rosso with the 2014 vintage.

Technical Information
Vintage: 2015Region: SicilyFermentation: Alcoholic fermentation for 15 days in steel vatsOak: Malolactic fermentation followed by 18 months aging in large, neutral oak barrelsAppellation: MT EtnaAlcohol: 13.5%

2015 Passorosso

92 Points - Ian D'Agata, Vinous Media

Bright red. Perfumed aromas of rose and violet are complicated by cinnamon. Fresh, juicy and precise, with a hint of chlorophyll and menthol. Vibrant and very long with a persistent herbal note on the very floral, perfumed finish. 100% Nerello Mascalese grown in different contrade (about 60% from Guardiola, the rest is from Chiappemacine, Malpasso, and Favazza located within Calderara and Feudo di Mezzo). This became an Etna Rosso with the 2014 vintage.

Technical Information
Vintage: 2015Region: SicilyFermentation: Alcoholic fermentation for 15 days in steel vatsOak: Malolactic fermentation, aging in 18 months in large oak barrelsAppellation: Mt EtnaAlcohol: 13.5%