Andrea Franchetti’s Ethereal Passopisciaro Passorosso – Sicily’s Crown Prince

Fans of the greatest Italian wines of our generation are fondly familiar with Andrea Franchetti, among the most important, indeed the most passionate artists anywhere in Italy. As he describes his first visual encounter with the breathtaking Val d’Orcia when he arrived in 1970, his place here is evident. His estate of Tenuta di Trinoro – which he built in this southeastern corner of Tuscany one meter at a time, by hand – gained cult status with his first release.

Years later, Franchetti mastered the seemingly untamable Sicilian landscape as well. Galloni reported just as favorably,

“Andrea Franchetti wasn’t content to just make profound wines at his Tuscan estate, Tenuta di Trinoro, so he set out to replicate that success at Passopisciaro, his property on Mount Etna.”

I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, so the moment these utterly ethereal Sicilians became available for tasting, I seized an opportunity. I’ve witnessed the evolution of Passopisciaro, amazed at the relative values these prodigious treasures represent.

When Franchetti first arrived to the ominous, gloomy, desolate site which would eventually produce his glorious Sicilian concoctions, his visions for the future mirrored those from his first encounters in Val d’Orcia; he was ready for another labor of love. It was the winter of 2000; frigid cold, silent, inauspicious. Franchetti recalls the blackened streets, the churches buried with ash, wineries collapsed everywhere he looked.

Franchetti returned in the summer to find the perfect spot, glistening black in the sun, a wide, sprawling hump of black gravel. This would be the spot; this became the estate of Passopisciaro. This was where time stood still in 1947, where flowing lava simply stopped and it seemed as if the land awaited his arrival.

I have tasted so many versions of what was previously known as Passopisciaro Rosso – now renamed Passorosso – that to describe its nature is futile. It changes every year. One constant remains: the special sites. Upon his arrival in 2000, Franchetti discovered centenarian vines, bush-trained across the northern side of the volcano, altitudes between 1,800 and 3,300 feet; at the edge of that lava spill that went no further.

Franchetti experimented with various varietals at first, realizing the importance of the native, local Nerello Mascalese. Several individual crus are planted: Malpasso, Guardiola, Santo Spirito, Favazza and Arcuria. These single vineyards lend very specific characters to the Nerello Mascalese grapes. It is impossible to define this wine; multiple sites, a single varietal, and yet the ever changing activities of nature. At this altitude, you can lose everything in a night.

One thing however, which every critic and serious consumer of Passorosso / Passopisciaro Rosso agrees, is that there has never – EVER – been a vintage as special, as universally superior in this region as 2014. In the hands of the undisputed master, the wines are surreal…

2014 Passopisciaro Passorosso (Formerly Passopisciaro)

Bright red-ruby. The captivating nose combines strawberry, raspberry, minerals, violet and flint aromas. Creamy-sweet but amazingly light on its feet, offering palate-staining, perfumed flavors of soft red berries, ripe red cherry, vanilla, aromatic herbs and crushed rock. Rich, ripe and suave, but displays a penetrating, saline and energetic quality that gives this beauty a three-dimensional mouthfeel and a light-on-its-feet quality. Finishes with great length and wonderfully polished tannins. Absolute knockout wine: from a memorable vintage on Etna, this is most likely the best Passorosso ever (in earlier vintages, it used to be called simply Passopisciaro). Mainly Nerello Mascalese.

97 points – Antonio Galloni’s Vinous