I’m immature enough, even in my 50s (!!), to have had trouble getting my head around the translation of Etna’s Passopisciaro when I visited last year during a media jaunt.
Foot step? Pissing step? “Pitchpiss?”
You see the travails that I have to deal with when I am scouring some of the most gorgeous locations in the world of wine?!??
Thankfully, the wines of this well-regarded Nerello Mascalese (and Chardonnay) specialist are anything but pitchpiss. Passopisciaro sits at an interesting locale on Sicily’s still-active Etna volcano, with bush-trained vines that are planted at the very edge of the Etna Rosso DOC (in fact, some of their highest elevation vineyards are technically not in the DOC).
The history of their estate contains a tidbit so thoroughly Italian, Sicilian, and Etnean (?) that it bears a quick mention: they have buildings from the 1800s that were quickly abandoned by a previous owner, who decided that one of Etna’s frequent lava flows had come in just a bit too close for comfort.
Many of Passopisciaro’s vineyards are planted on the island’s old soils, still uncovered by lava flows. Even then, the vines that are situated on what they consider the “newer” lava flow remains (from eruptions in the early 1600s) are still not what we’d consider young, being 80-90 years old on average (as in the appropriately named “Sciaranuoava” contrada). Similarly older vines can be found terraced in steep locales such as their “Rampante” vineyard.
I considered myself a bit of a Passopisciaro fan before visiting. I left even more of one, based almost entirely on the awesomeness that they are able to coax out of their single vineyard releases…
2020 Passopisciaro ‘Passobianco’ Terre Siciliane, $40
This 100% Chardonnay shows off Passopisciaro’s reverent fascination with the variety, and is sourced from two separate vineyards, one of which the claim to be the highest Chardonnay plantings in all of Europe. Mineral, fresh, floral, and citric, this white has absolutely lovely presence in the mouth, and is one of those Chardonnays that could convert Chard haters.
2020 Passopisciaro ‘Contrada PC Passochianche’ Terre Siciliane, $90
A micro-plot selection that sees six months of lees aging, this white is cut from a different cloth, with lifted perfume aromatics and more tropical and peach flavors than its Passobianco cousin. Dense, rich, and irresistibly dead-sexy.
2020 Passopisciaro ‘Contrada P Porcaria’, Sicily, $100
This is one of the more structured Nerello Mascalese reds that your mouth is ever gonna meet. Still, it doesn’t lack for beauty in its vivaciousness, despite being almost forceful with all of its mint, basil, dark cherry, and smoke notes. There’s something almost ethereal about its potency and grip, and I suspect bottle aging will well reward the more patient among you who are lucky enough to put this one away in the cellar.
2020 Passopisciaro ‘Contrada R Rampante’ Terre Siciliane, $100
The Nerello Mascalese vines from this old, terraced spot are well over a century old. That age brings a sense of depth, concentration, and focus to this red that is truly stunning. Minty, floral, and savory, there’s basil, licorice, and black cherry on the nose that are all lovely in their purity and transparency. In the mouth, it’s boldly structured and powerful, but also quite vibrant; think “mountain wine” married with “volcanic wine” and you’ll get the idea. The shaded areas of this vineyard help elongate the berries’ ripening curve, creating a sweet spot that is producing some of the most killer stuff coming out of Etna.
2017 Passopisciaro ‘Franchetti’ Rosso, Sicily, $160
This is the very definition of an outlier, what Passopisciaro likes to call their “Super Etna” red: a blend of Petit Verdot and Cesanese di Affile from Guardiola, which sits 820 meters above sea level. This powerful red is a chunky, guilty pleasure. Deep, dark, and powerful, with sour black cherry and blackberry compote flavors, its topped off with notes of balsamic and dried violet petals. BOOM!