Mount Etna, Sicily’s spectacular volcano, is home to luxury wine growing. The mountain villages, known here as contrade, on its northern side, are excellent participants in the move towards fineness in red wine.

You see you need an address from these villages: Passopisciaro, Randazzo, Castiglione di Sicilia, Linguaglossa or Solicchiata to be an Etnean player in the steady race for wine fame. This is nerello mascalese country.

Wines from volcanic regions such as this high part of Sicily are on trend. They are excellent participants in the move towards fineness in red wine.

Italian entrepreneur Andrea Franchetti bought an old run-down winery (about 200 yo), last used at the time in 1947, which he renovated in 2002, and now our tasting tour party is drinking Passopisciaro wines there.

Icon wine Franchetti- a petit verdot-coda volpe blend

Icon-Franchetti- serious deep tannin, petit verdot-cesanese d’affile blend

The house vineyard, at 800m up the mountain looks a treat, thousands of silver flashers repel birds; harvest is just starting, the chardonnay is off, having malo-lactic fermentation (in a warmed room) and the nerello mascalese is about to arrive to be crushed as 2016 red.

Our Sicily wine tours take guests through the villages of Etna, offering introduction-only visits to wineries, only some open to the public.  If you’d like to find out more about this exclusive guided experience for lovers of wine and food, you can call me direct on +61 427 705 391 or email

We are at Passopisciaro to be greeted by their affable marketer, Letizia Patane whose forebears made wine on the mountain for the past century. And as she expresses, “Etna as a production region is an island within an island, though a high, cool climate one.”

So we get the immediate impression the place is seen by local makers to be entirely different from production regions elsewhere on the island without black, rocky, knarled and moon-like landscapes.

We hear the only white wine of Passo is chardonnay (an exceptional world example), and that there are red vineyard plantings at varying elevations (500-1000m).

The higher you grow nerello the finer the wine (read that as more linear texture, less fullness), the later and harder to ripen and be fully ripe. At about 800m proper growth of red grapes is halted. Nerello in dialect means light black and wine colour is similar.

We taste the contrada Rampante (700 m) and contrada Chiappemacine (500m) among the five; Porciara, Sciaranouva and Guardiola.


Passobianco 2015 is the famed chardonnay, such a good drink, fermented and aged in big barrels (700-2000 litre), so little oak shows, lovely green, spearmint fruit, never fat, overt or stonefruit like, taut, trimmed to the bone of acidity, totally linear and mineralising in the mouth. A triumph. Harvested during 20 passes on sunny days when the diurnal swing can be 25 degrees.

Passopisciaro age chardonnay in large oak

Passopisciaro age chardonnay in large oak

Chardonnays made this way are unusual in Australia though the technique is very sound. It minimises the influence of oak in today’s sommelier-led revolution where anything ‘apparently artifical’ does not go down. Released next February.

Passorosso 2014 is the estate blend of wines not reserved for the single vineyard contrade bottlings (specific elevations too). This is good; lovely fresh aromatics of the mountain herbs; laurel, bay and a swish of black fruits, lithe, light bodied, long flavoured. The 100% nerello mascalese Passo is known for, seen as a first level wine, not an introductory wine.

Passopisciaro's Passorosso nerello mascalese level 1

Passopisciaro’s Passorosso nerello mascalese level 1

Passopisciaro R 2014 is a single contrada vineyard selection from Ramparte; the high elevation gives more linearity than body, and bright acidity keeps the taste humming along. Nice wine, understated, long liver, 7-15 years’ potential even at 15% alcohol.

Passopisciaro -Contrada Rampante single vineyard nerello

Passopisciaro Contrada Ramparte –single vineyard nerello mascalese

Passopisciaro C 2014 is the next tasted single vineyard wine from lower elevation, the Chiappemacine vineyard; more the mouthful of nerello showing more body, a direct result of richness derived from warmer ripening conditions in the same year. Great on black fruits.

Passopisciaro - Contrada Ramparte-single vineyard nerello mascalese

Passopisciaro  Chiappemacine — single vineyard nerello mascalese

This is outstanding wine country but like any region where the benefits are great (outstanding wines), the growing process and more important, the ripening phase is very exacting to extract great nerello.

Passopisciaro climb that ripening peak each harvest without extravagant winemaking.


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