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An Afternoon with Gaia Gaja

4 Dec

An Afternoon with Gaia Gaja 2015

Finally I’ve managed to share my thoughts on a very special & intimate afternoon with Gaia Gaja at Boccaccio Cellars earlier this year. A big shout out to Anthony D’Anna for organising such a delicious event and Gaia Gaja for being such a human hostess.

An Afternoon with Gaia Gaja 2015

Gaja is at once both one of the world’s wine icons and a controversial winery bucking “traditional wisdom” often being the trend setter rather than the follower.  For me, it’s a sign that the Gaja’s have passion, focus, and, that they are pushing the boundaries.

Over the last six months I’ve drunk Gaja’s wines from over 5 decades of production. One thing has been clear, they are evolving and pushing to make the best wines they can. This evolution has not been insulated from changes in the wine world. Historically, across the world’s greatest wine regions, think Barolo, Barbaresco, Burgundy, Tuscany, traditional winemaking has been interrupted by curiosity with the potential of new world winemaking techniques. Gaja has not been immune from this trend, use of high levels of new oak has being the most obvious example. Something I’m glad to say has been tempered in recent times.


Gaja has a long history stretching back to it’s very beginnings in 1859. The transformation from an largely unknown winery in a region, not valued by consumers to one of the worlds most famous wineries in a very special region certainly didn’t happen overnight.

Gaia Gaja shared with us the history of Barbaresco, the Gaja winery, the challenge of establishing recognition for the region and what the future holds. One thing is certain, the Gaja’s aren’t afraid of pushing against the rules, some rules are meant to be broken. They have had to declassify their Barbaresco from DOCG status simply because the rules don’t fit what they believe is the best way to make their wine. With a nifty slight of tongue, Gaia, refers to this as a reclassification. A simple example being that they tend to pick early before the permitted time for a DOCG to pick. Why because higher vine density, lower yield per vine, flavour ripeness earlier, better natural acid etc. If they waited they could have DOCG, but, they would not be giving their fruit the best opportunity to shine.

Below is a 20 minute video exert from the discussion.

What Separates Exceptional Wineries?

When you look at the great wine producers of the world they often have many things in common. Two of those being passion and continuity.

Passion just makes sense. Continuity well that’s a challenge. Good vignerons are always looking at their wines and vineyards, trying to make them yummier, healthier, more balanced, often by doing less, but, doing it better. Having the knowledge of the past, interrogating trends to find often simple ways to improve is critical. Seeing a vineyard in a cool years, hot years, observing the little patch of vineyard that is not performing and nurturing it. Some wineries employ precision agriculture with high tech imaging of vineyards, others, the eyes of trusted colleagues who have worked with them for decades. These eyes come to know each site, each vine and tend to them like they would a child. This philosophy has given them an intimate understanding of their terroir.

This is precisely the reason Gaja only employ permanent staff. Like many of the world’s great estates Gaja shifted from buying fruit to supplement production to buying and controlling great sites. In the early years as the Gaja Estate expanded, they were forced to purchase old run down houses with vineyards. Over time these have been restored and are now offered rent free to their staff. One of Gaja's Staff Houses Offered Rent Free

The Challenges for the Future

There’s one trend that everyone in the wine world has had to address recently. Every time I catch up with a grape grower or winemaker I always ask what are you working on. Increasingly the response is “Managing climate change”.

Gaia explains the impact of climate change as helping them achieve greater consistency from year to year. The challenge being resultant higher alcohol and pH, with lower acids, fuller riper wines. Now instead of worrying about getting fruit ripe, they worry about sugar accumulation racing ahead of flavour and tannin development producing out of balance wine. On the upside it has opened up opportunities, the grape bunch stalks are now ripening allowing their incorporation into wine, adding tannin, spice and perfume.

The focus has been on rebalancing in the vineyard to meet this challenge. They’ve put money behind their beliefs and are adapting to change by experimenting. They’ve hired half a entomologists (insect gurus) & horticulturist (plant gurus and more) seeking to disrupt their thinking. Not necessarily taking direction from them, but, pushing themselves to use this knowledge combined with their wisdom, gleaned from over 150 years of tending the land to develop their own approach.

Biodiversity – Flowers, Bees, Trees

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Looking after soil health, moisture levels and temperature.

They have replaced direct fertilising using manures, with composting. Composting stalks, vine cuttings, used grape skins and manures allows the worms they’ve imported from America to further process organic waste and add nutrients through their microflora. An approach that has been used world wide with success. Just like your very own garden they’re mulching to cover crops to insulate the soil from the heat of the sun and retain moisture.

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They’re looking to take a natural, yet, pragmatic. Considering technology, balanced with minimal intervention.  Perhaps one of the most radical changes at least in terms of effort has been changing the row orientation at some sites in order to reduce direct impact of sun on the vines.

Nebbiolo Rossato – Not Nebbiolo.


My lasting though was that it takes for a vigneron to understand their sites. Sometimes it takes just as long to convince the consumer of what the vigneron is trying to achieve.

A couple of Wines from the Session

Gaja Wine Tasting at Boccaccio Cellars by Paul Kaan

Costa Rusi had a real elegance vs the masculine Sori Tilden masculinity. Again highlighting the difference small differences in vineyard location can make to the personality of a wine. Both sites are in the image below. Sori Tildin top right. Costa Rusi lower left.

Gaja Vineyards Sori Tildin Costa Rusi Barbaresco Italy

Next Up: Roberto Voerzio

Taking a look at the Lauded 2004 Barolo Vintage … A Wicked Retrospective

23 Jul

2004 Barolo 10 years on Retrospective photo by Paul Kaan

Barolo has undergone a revolution of the last few decades. One that we’ve seen occur across many of the great wine regions of the world. Think Burgundy, Tuscany and even Australia. It’s a cycle where tradition gets overtaken by technology and often ends up with those craftsmen who tend vines and make wine finding a balance between the two employing more restraint to let fruit shine and using artefacts like oak only to layer in complexity not dominate a wine.

Clearly there’s personal preference and market driven style decision to consider. Some people like a balls and all red loaded with tree branches. Personally I’ll stick to the former, the zone where wines of intrigue and personality rest!

Anthony D’Anna’s 2004 Barolo Retrospective demonstrated this perfectly with wines from both sides of the coin.

Beyond that it gave us a chance to see how the vintage was holding up. The consensus, blood well, with some ones entering the drinking window and others still a few years away. The more I drink Barolo the more I tend to think waiting 10 years is a minimum and drinking good ones between 15-20 years of age is a good rule of thumb. Scroll on to ready the wine list and reviews.

2004 Barolo 10 years on Retrospective photo by Paul Kaan

2004: CREAM RISES TO THE TOP – Notes below by Antonio GalloniThe

2004 Growing Season and Wines

One of the key attributes of 2004 is that both quality and yields are high, two characteristics that don’t always go hand in hand. After the torrid 2003, during which the vines ceased vegetative development in order to conserve energy, the more temperate conditions of 2004 led plants to unleash all of their stored energy, which in turn produced a large crop. Diligent growers reported making several passes in the vineyard in an attempt to restrict yields, but there is only a certain amount man can impose on nature. A few wines have put on additional weight in bottle, but those are largely Barolos that already hinted at considerable volume when they were younger. I was also deeply impressed with a handful of entry-level Barolos from top growers that showed far better than I would have ever expected. So much of the wine world revolves around the importance of vintages, yet I continue to believe consumers are often best served by focusing on producer first.

What Am I Looking For at Ten Years?

All things considered, though, the 2004s have aged spectacularly well. At the ten-year mark, I am looking closely at how wines are developing, specifically if the elements in a wine are aging at the same pace, which I consider absolutely essential. In other words, are the aromatics, fruit and overall structural profile in-line, or not? This is the eighth comprehensive Barolo retrospective I have done. Of the four vintages I have covered at the ten year mark, 2004 clearly surpasses 2000, 2001 and 2003 in both overall quality and consistency. That applies to 1999 as well, although I tasted those wines at ages seven and fourteen. The pure thrill in revisiting these wines is only equaled by the same level of excitement I felt when tasting through the 1989s and 1990s a few years back. In present day terms, 2004 is similar to 2008 in style, as the wines are perfumed and graceful, and also (with a few exceptions) much less imposing in tannin than either 2006 or 2010, the two powerhouse vintages of the decade. I expect the 2004s will age beautifully for years to come. In general, the wines will open up at a younger age than the 2006s and 2010s and are likely to fade a bit earlier too, although that is of course in relative terms, as Barolo is a long-term ager compared to most of the world’s red wines.

2004 Barolo Festa – The Good!

Make sure you turn up the volume … the tunes are a part of the wine review!

A video posted by Paul Kaan (@paolovino) on

Cavallotto Riserva Bricco Boschis Vigna San Giuseppe – Stunning perfume sappy herbs great mid palate. Stunning balance. Needs time to open. Closed nose. Core of fruit on palate. Big front mid palate oak.

Bartolo Mascarello*Wine of the Night* Made from fruit from Cannubi, San Lorenzo, Rué & Rocche. Beautiful secondary development, oppulence, great tannin balance, even long, incredibly rich, poised violets, yumminess. Stunnning. Second time I’ve had this in the last 12 months. Both bottles were superb!

Capellano – Closed looking an edge reduced and meaty. Good length most developed feeling a little hot. Opened and blossomed in the glass.

Massolino Barolo – VA lift. Lots of Secondaries. Tight angular hot alcohol. Beautiful core of fresh fruit.

Massolino Dieci Anni Vigna Rionda Riserva – Jumping out of the glass, vibrant fruit, secondary development. Beautifully layered. Great length of fruit wee hump of tannin mid palate. Lovely acid. Held back by the winery for 10 years before release.

2004 Barolo Festa – The Ugly! OTT Oakey Ones!

Make sure you turn up the volume … the tunes are a part of the wine review!

A video posted by Paul Kaan (@paolovino) on

2004 Baroli Festa! The UGLY! All of these wines tended toward the OTT modernist style with lashings of coarse oak masking what was often an incredible core of delicious fruit. Creating unnecessary angularity and harshness! Great learnings to see them side by side with a number of other wines that got it right.

Poderi Luigi Einaudi Cannubi – Resinous sappy pulling a little short. Again developing well. Sappiness comes through on the palate. Front palate new oak dissruptive.

Elio Grasso Runcot Riserva – Stunning perfume & lift layered with fresh fruit & flowers, unfortunately masked by coarse oak. Searing acidity, edgy mid palate tannin that’s a little too hard. Asking for a little fatty food to enhance it. Heap of oak. Tough wine. Why did they throw this many trees at it! It could have been superb had a little restraint been shown!

Sandrone Le Vigne – Cooked over ripe jammy. Hard oak tannin coarse. Unyielding. Barossa of Barolo. Tough wine.

Azelia San Rocco & Bricco Fiasco – were just that! Oaky sappy hot alcoholic. Unexpressive. OTT WTF? Potential tainted.

Rocche Castamagna, Rocche dell’Annunziata – Boring, cooked out of balance.

Clerico Pajana WTF pushing the boundaries. OTT too much oak.

Wanna know how to save a 49 year old wine … READ THIS!

24 Apr

Wanna know how to save a 49 year old wine ... READ THIS! by Paul Kaan

At 49 years old this baby, 1966 Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Claret, was looking tired! So I decanted it onto 30ppm of Sulphur & left it 2 days. Result was impressive!

1966 Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Claret

The samples I tried on the day, both sulphured & un-sulphured were dramatically different. The unsulphured sample was hard with an aldehyde finish. The sulphured sample fresher, but, closed. Aldehyde had been mopped up by the sulphur.

2 days later the sulphured sample has freshened and opened up beautifully. For around $20 you can get the equipment & sulphur needed to treat more tired old bottles than you’ll drink in a life time. If you have a lot of old wine in the cellar & want to know how to do, this hit me up via the Contact Page or leave your email address in a comment below.

What can you learn from tasting 14 x 1988 1989 1990 Baroli from the best producers?

21 Apr

1988 1989 1990 Barolo Dinner by Paul Kaan


1988, 1989 & 1990 are referred to by many as the years that made Barolo, starting it’s astronomic rise to celebrity status amongst the greatest wines of the world. Once again Anthony D’Anna has scoured the cellars of Barolo to source 14 of the most celebrated Crus from these three vintages. Rare does not even begin to describe “drinkings” like these. You don’t taste these wines, you devour them, they are meant to be enjoyed with delicious food and good friends. When I first found out that I had a ticket to this event I had goosebumps and the very thought of the pleasure that awaited me!

1988 1989 1990 Barolo Dinner by Paul Kaan

Themes have started to come together over the last few “Il Vino da Tavola” dinners. Bottle condition, corks, old world vs new, oak, acid, restraint, oppulence, the hand of the maker, drinking windows.

What’s the difference between Great wine & Mind-Blowing wine, wines that scream DRINK ME?

Perhaps the most important question to answer from the night. I sought to assess these wines at the extreme level of excellence and differentiate between stunning and mind blowing. There were a couple of wines that I’d happily devour every night of the week and twice on Sunday, yet, amongst this company they were lost.

So what, was the difference between those wines that shone and those that whilst excellent didn’t make the cut on the night? I was looking for an edge more, that extra layer of complexity, harmony, seamlessness, wines that screamed DRINK ME! That rare ability to caress your tongue with a divine texture. The wine version of the renaissance man! I saw it in the Cicala, Mofortino, Voerzio’s and Grasso, hidden under some Brett in the Gigi Rosso. So very close to being there in the Vietti’s. I’ve seen it in the past in the wines of Bartolo Mascarello.  A core of incredible fruit wrapped in so many layers of yumminess and intrigue, that you can’t help but go back for more!

At a purist level, I just wanted the extra nuances that take it to the ultimate level. It felt like the wines that didn’t quite get there had seen some overt intervention, holding them back from being a true expression of site.

To address the elephant in the room … Where does the line between being too technical in your assessment of wine and just calling a spade a spade rest?

If it’s bretty enough to detract from the aroma and give the wine a hard finish it’s bretty. If the fruit has been dulled through oxidation, well, you guessed it, it’s oxidized! I’ll call the spade a spade. If a fault stops a site expressing it’s true personality then it hasn’t enhanced the wine, it’s detracted from it.

Tonight, there we wines that had faults that detracted from their expression. It’s a shame that wines of such great quality haven’t reach their potential. They weren’t terminal, but, they weren’t the best examples.

How old is too old?

The ultimate rule for wine applies here … call the wine, not the maker, not the region, not the vintage. The Gaja’s had years left in them, as did the Voerzio. The Vietti’s, Monfortino, Grasso, Gigi, Aldo Contertno’s good to go now. Fantana, Borgogno over the hill. As a generalisation, increasingly I’m getting the sense that 15-20 years is a good window with the caveat that you still need to play the wine, try a bottle after 5 years and give yourself a feel for when to try it next. This leads to the next question …

How much difference does provenance make?

Provenance is the cellaring history of the wine. Has it been stored under optimal conditions or not? The sense around the table was that a few of the wines hadn’t been stored well. The Monfortino and the Grasso were the two wines that stood out as perhaps not showing as well as they might have, potentially due to storage. The Monfortino, at close to $1,000 a bottle looked like it had seen some heat, now that hurts! Finding these wines, putting a collection like this together alone is a challenge guaranteeing provenance without source direct from the winery is near impossible.

Rusty tap water! Does colour really matter?

Simply stated … NO! As far as I’m concerned blind fold me. I just don’t care! Give me bags of aroma, flavour, texture and personality and I’m a happy fella! The Nerello Mascalese from Etna and the Barbaresco and Barolo from Piedmont are often pale, they can look insipid, at the same time they are some of the most intriguing wines with incredible personalities.

The Wines on the night.

GIACOMO CONTERNO – Monforte Monfortino 1988 Barolo Riserva

Incredibly rich, ripe, complex wine with layers of flavour and bags of aroma. A little VA lift, great savouriness. Soft and supple. This bottle wasn’t in the greatest condition, appeared a little heat affected. Will have to try another to confirm!

PODERI ALDO CONTERNO – Monforte Bussia Cicala 1988 Barolo

Loved the acid drive of Cicala, beautifully structured with fine tannin. A stunning perfume, incredibly elegant feminine Barolo, layered with savoury goodness.

1988 Giacomo Conterno Monfotino 1988 Aldo Conterno Cicala Barolo by Paul Kaan

ANGELO GAJA -Barbaresco- Sperss 1989 Barolo

The Sperss showed the balance of oak and oak tannin, fruit and acid that I was looking for in the younger of the 5 Decades of Gaja Barbaresco we drank a month ago, but, did not find until we reached 2011. Incredible perfume, core of fruit. The Gaja’s were some of the most youthful wines on the night. Great, clarity, freshness and a colour that suggest a little more than Nebbiolo was in the mix. I’d have loved just an extra bit of restraint in the oak handling to allow the site to shine a little more, rather than the hand of the maker. Now classified as a Langhe, not a Barolo, due to incorporation of around 3% of Barbera.

ROBERTO VOERZIO -La Morra- La Serra 1989 Barolo

Voerzio’s La Serra was one of the wines of the night. Complete, full and round, harmony, complexity balance. An expression of a special site.

1989 Angelo Gaja Sperss Barolo 1989 Roberto Voerzio La Serra Barolo by Paul Kaan

ANGELO GAJA -Barbaresco- Sperss 1990 Barolo

Just like the ’89, incredibly youthful. True to the Sperss style of the ’89 with that slightly overt oak. It was pulling short initially, openned to show a lovely perfume.

ETTORE FONTANA Castiglione F. Barolo 1990

Dried out and thin. Well past it’s prime. The colour of this wine was like a pale Rosé.

GIGI ROSSO -Castiglione F.- Sori Ulivo 1990 Barolo Ris. Baj

This could have been wine of the night bar the Brettanomyces! Incredible core of fruit, masked, by a little to much Brett. You could see what was underneath it. So much potential lost!

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ROBERTO VOERZIO -La Morra- La serra 1990 Barolo

As with the ’89, this was look fresh, opulent, refined and elegant. Oak structure was there, yet, not over the top. Like the Conterno’s it had a great acid drive and a beautifully even structure. There was incredible pleasure to be derived from this wine.

ELIO GRASSO -Monforte- Ginestra Casa Mate’ 1990 Barolo

Brooding, opened up beautifully. Would have loved an edge more acid, a personal thing really. Rich wine with incredible complexity. The 2004 was my Wine of Night at a Monforte dinner a year ago. Stunning wine. Would have loved to see it 5 years ago.

PODERI ALDO CONTERNO Monforte Bussia 1990 Barolo

An edge corked, looking flatter and less vibrant than expected. Would still drink it every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Again and again Aldo Conterno comes up with the goods! His wines are refined, sophisticated creatures, with so many layers of yumminess.

1990 Aldo Conterno Barolo 1990 Elio Grasso Ginestra Casa Mate' 1990 Roberto Voerzio La Serra by Paul Kaan

PIO CESARE -Alba- Ornato 1990 Barolo

Massive oak, with huge mid-palate structure and fruit with a silvery line of bitterness that worked well with food. Drunk by itself I’d probably have rated this wine higher. In comparison with the better wines on the night it lacked the layers and complexity.

GIACOMO BORGOGNO E F. -Barolo- Barolo 1990

Wild wine! Out of control, oxidised and hard. True to the Borgogno style it was an animal, savoury and rough around the edges, blood like saltiness, almost vegemite.

1990 Pio Cesare Ornato Barolo 1990 Giacomo Borgogno Barolo by Paul Kaan

VIETTI -Castiglione F.- Lazzarito 1990 Barolo

Finishing with two Vietti’s was a conflicting moment for me. I visited the winery back in 2005 and have a soft spot for the people and their wines. The following comments need to be put in context. Both wines were sensational examples of Baroli. On this night I sought to assess wines at the extreme level of excellence and differentiate between stunning and mind blowing. If I’d happily rave about the Pio Cesare Ornato on it’s own, I’d by rolling around the floor drink these bad boys. Vietti have exceptional sites and great fruit. I was looking for an edge more, that extra layer of complexity I saw in the Cicala, Mofortino and Voerzio. I felt that these wines had seen some intervention, holding them back from being a true expression of site. The Lazzarito appeared rounder, slightly broader. I feel like a bit of a hard ass. This was a great wine, again at a purist level, I just wanted the extra nuances that take it to the ultimate level.

VIETTI -Castiglione F.- Rocche 1990 Barolo

The Rocche stepped it up, the structure, acid and refinement, gave it a level of finesse that appeals. The restraint it showed was impressive, with such a core of fruit. Again I’d happily drink both wines every day of the week and twice on Sunday. I’d like to see them both as wines direct from the cellar. Perhaps they would have showed better a few years ago. That said as with many of the great wines of the world, I feel that they would have only declined slightly after their peak and would continuing drinking well for some time. I need to look at more young Vietti to see the direction Luca is heading in … Technical vs Expression of Site vs Restraint!

1990 Vietti Rocche Barolo 1990 Vietti Lazzarito Barolo by Paul Kaan

Passopisciaro the Jurasic Park of Wine! Ancient Vines Revived to Create the Liquid Essence of Etna!

14 Apr

2012 Contrade from Passopisciaro, Photo by Paul Kaan

Passopisciaro is at once both a fossil and  a piece of modern art! Vines aged from 70-120 years old grow on the slopes of a volcano at altitudes that make noses bleed. Less than 20 years ago these wines were unknown, the Grandfathers of today’s revolutionists made simple wine from overcropped vineyards.

Guardiola under a blanket of snow. Photo courtesy of Passopisciaro

Today the next generations are pushing the boundaries making wines from 100% Nerello Mascalese. Often referred to as a hybrid of the great Nebbiolo’s from Barolo and Pinot Noir’s from Burgundy, Nerello Mascalese is capable of making wines with real personality! They’ve taken something incredibly ancient, gone back to the DNA and started again. In under a decade the evolution of these wines have accelerated through a millennia.

Vines have been nurtured back to balance, tended by hand on terraced vineyards that one in every  3 years find themselves under ash clouds hurled into the sky from the very mountain they are planted on, a volcano, Mt Etna!

In the winery they have played the mad scientist experimenting with an incredible array of variables to find the best way to express the personality of these extreme sites. In Letizia’s grandfathers day wines were given just 1 day on skins, she describes them as grape juice. Today they sort fruit by hand and seek to find the best way to guide wines and reveal the true expression of their vineyards. Whilst they have applied modern technologies, they have done so with restraint.

People ask “How long will they age?” “What will they look like in 20 years?” The answer is just an educated guess, no-one knows yet! That excites me, they’ve made such great strides, in such a short time. It’s like watching a start-up with the wisdom of elders to support it, jumping the hurdles and avoiding the mistakes of inexperience, yet still they have so much to learn!

Much of the vineyard, randomly planted on terraces, is goblet trained, just a trunk low to the ground with shoots trained up a single stake.


Vines are tended by hand with a green harvest removing 50% of the fruit taking the number of bunches per vine from 12-15 down to 6-7. They’re massive bunches with big berries and thin skins. Towards the end of the video you can see a picker unloading fruit and will get a true perspective of the berry size.

Letizia Patane considers Etna to be an island within Sicily. A unique terroir that has three times the rainfall and sites at altitudes from 500-1,000m in elevation. That’s only the beginning, the single vineyards, Contrade (plural of Contrada), are a true expression of place, each having their very own personality. Passapisciaro has been bottling five Contrade over the last few years. Only 2,000 to 3,500 bottles of Contrade: Chiappemacine, Porcaria, Guardiola Rossa, Sciaranuova and Rampate are produced in any given year.

They are all planted on North facing cooler sites. Not exposed to the humidity from the sea of the South facing slopes.

The Vineyards of Passopisciaro Photo Courtesy of Passopisciaro

It was fascinating to taste a vertical of Passopisciaro from 2007-2012. Passopisciaro purposely highlights the vintage on the label to celebrate the variation and individuality each year brings to their wines. Perhaps highlighted by the extreme viticulture.

Vertical Tasting of Passopisciaro from 2007 to 2012 with Letizia by Paul Kaan

The 2007 is developing beautifully. It included the fruit of all of the Contrade, age seeing complexity layering into it, 2009 was a fuller riper year, again developing complexity, 2010 showed the elegance of a cool your, refined wine, with potential to age, I would love to see this specific wine in 10 years, 2011 was closed the first time I tasted it 8 months ago, it is now starting to open and be far more expressive, it is bold wine and just a little gangly, like a teenager working out how to use their limbs! The 2012 is rich round and ripe, a much more masculine style.

The 5 vintages of Passopisciaro are light, almost translucent in colour.  A beautiful perfume was ever present, more evident in the cooler years and balanced by savoury earthy yumminess. The mouthfeel would be demanding for inexperienced palates, with the right food on the plate a great accompaniment.

Tasting the 2012 Contrade A Masterclass for a lucky 12 at Boccaccio Cellars (importers of Passopisciaro) raised the bar and the level of intrigue! Letiza wears her heart on her sleeve, bringing a little bit of her home Etna to the table. The Contrade are tasted in order of altitude from lowest to highest. The explanation, the lower vineyards produce wines that are fuller, rounder and richer, the higher, more acid, refinement and elegance.

Notes on the 2012 Vintage: An incredibly dry year with no rain from May to October. Passopiscaro took the risk of waiting for rain to help the vines push through the last stages of ripening and pull back the fruit into better balance. Unlike most years they had around 10-12 days on skins compared with the more typical 15-18 days. The friable open nature of the Contrade probably saved them, with roots being able to penetrate deep into the ground, finding a temperature and moisture stable environment. The wines are aged in Botte, large oval shaped oak barrels holding 1,500-3,000L, no chestnut barrels here!

Tasting the 2012 Contradas from Passopisciara with Letizia Patane by Paul Kaan

2012 Passopisciaro – 45% from the Guardiola vineyard the balance from their other non-Contrade holdings. Rich round and ripe, a much more masculine and forward style.

2012 Chiappemacine – 550m The only Contrade with mixed soils, limestone and volcanic soils. The rocks of the limestone have been used over hundreds of years to make the stones that grind olives to yield delicious olive oil. The name itself translates to “Big Stone Grinder”. The 2012 has a perfumed lift supported by the 15.5% alcohol, which really doesn’t show as you might think on the palate. 3,500 bottles of this rich wine are produced each year. The Contrada didn’t have the core of fruit present in the others.

2012 Porcaria – 650m Super ripe, rich, the simplest of the group, yet not a simple wine. Comparatively a bit clumsy. Picked on the 20th of October a full 20 days before the highest altitude Contrade, Rampate. It was perhaps my least favoured wine, just a matter of personal preference. Many around the table rated it as their wine of the day. I’d happily drink it any day of the week, but, preferred the refinement of the higher altitude Contrade.

2012 Guardiola Rosso – 800m a selection of the best vines, 120 year old, from the 5 Ha site surrounding the winery. The first of the wines that truly sparked intrigue. Inviting, demanding of attention, I kept going back to smell this wine again and again finding something new each time. A savoury wine, initially looking reduced, it openned up to reveal layer after layer of integrated flavours with finer tannins than the previous wines.

2012 Sciaranuova – 850m just five minutes walk from the Guardiola vineyards, the name explains much of the difference, translating to “New Lavaflow”, the soils are younger the rocks are bigger, not having had the time to break down. This 80 year old vineyard produced wine of much greater perceived acidity and had purity and elegance about it.

2012 Rampante – 1,000m Each year this is the last of the vineyards to be picked. It has a level of sophistication and elegance that appeal to my taste, with a core of fruit to support it. Much of this is a result of higher acid levels. It steps up the yumminess a notch.

So, what did I buy? 3 x Rampante, 3 x Guardiola and 2 x Sciaranuova. If I had more money I’d have bought a full cross section of the wines to see how these wines evolved with time. All in all, REAL WINES! Wines with personality, wines to try, sooner rather than later, before the prices skyrocket! Anthony sells his allocation in a couple of weeks each year, so give him a bell at Boccaccio Cellars if you want to get your hands on some.