Tag Archives: Rampate

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.