Two weeks ago, I started chronicling my press trip to Sicily, the almost mystical island off the toe of Italy. We started the week on the East side of the island, navigating around Mount Etna, the active volcano that influences every aspect of life.
On Day Two of the trip, we headed to Caverna Etnea, the Firriato estate that is just a few kilometers from the volcano.
On Day 3, following the tasting at Caverna Etna, we were still on the verdant slopes of Mount Etna, headed for the relatively small (under 10K cases) producer, Pietradolce. First, though, we stopped at Piante Faro, one of the largest commercial nurseries in the world.
Piante Faro has over 5,000 different plant varieties which they export to 60 countries around the world. When I learned of the plan, well, I was less than enthused. I love plants just as much as the next guy, but when my tomato crop was destroyed a few years ago by the ugliest slugs I have ever seen, well, I became less than enthused with plants in general and gardens in particular (despite coming from a long line of midwestern farmers).
We were there to experience Piante Faro’s latest landscaping competition, which included a dozen installations all created by current landscaping students from all over the world.
I have to say it was impressive.
It almost made me want to plant tomatoes again.
Why visit an über-nursery? The owner of Piante Faro, Venerando Faro, after 35 years in the plant business, decided to tap into the palpable potential of the Mount Etna area to create beautiful wines. Thus, in 2005, he bought several vineyards, some up to 200 years old, on the north slope of the volcano, with the desire to produce the highest quality wines from Sicily’s indigenous grapes.
Although the winery is relatively small (under 10K cases), a modern gravity-flow winery is on the verge of completion, which serves as a time-warp contrast to the old-vine, terraced, bush trained (called alberello or “little tree” in Italian) vines that have dotted the adjacent slopes for centuries.
After a tour of the vineyards by Pietradolce’s Agronomist, Giuseppe Parlavecchio, we stopped in a small, nondescript building where there were several wines waiting for us to taste—and they were perhaps the best wines of the entire week.
2016 Pietradolce Etna Rosato: Retail $20. 100% Nerello Mascalese. True Rosé. According to Giuseppe: “Nerello Mascalese is a strong variety, it has survived in this land with no water, through harsh winters, it is almost a ‘wild grape.’” Wow. Fruity and full. Tons of body. Good acidity and minerality. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2016 Pietradolce Etna Rosso: Retail $25. 100% Nerello Mascalese. Beautiful nose of blackberry and cherry. On the palate just gorgeous. Impeccable balance: great fruit, acidity and depth across the board. Bravo. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2015 Pietradolce Archineri Etna Rosso: Retail $30. 100% Nerello Mascalese. From 80-90 year old pre-phylloxera bush trained vines. Aged for 14 months in French oak barrels. Uh oh. This is evocative of a Sonoma Coast Pinot with dark Bing cherry and eucalyptus. Even before I taste I fear how much I will like it. I may even love it, just based on the nose. And I do. On the palate it is even richer than I imagined. Full-bodied but far from aggressive, silky fruit paired with wet rock. Whoa. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2015 Pietradolce Contrada Rampante Etna Rosso: Retail 30€ (about $35). From a different area on the property, a little higher up on Mount Etna. Aged for 14 months in French oak. Rescued the vineyard in 2014 and they were going to blend it in to another wine, but when they tasted it, they decided it had to be its own wine. Darker in the glass and on the nose with chocolate notes and spice. Whoa. On the palate more masculine and muscular with aggressive fruit and body. This is a bigger brother to the Archineri—some of the same flavors and attributes, but all more pronounced. Whoa. Outstanding. 93-95 Points.
2014 Pietradolce Vigna Barbagalli Etna Rosso: Retail 70€ (about $80). The best barrels produced from the Contrada Rampante vineyard go into this wine, which is aged 20 months on French oak. Dark and a bit brooding with dark berry and licorice. Big and racy on the palate with oodles of fruit. Needs to settle down and shed some of body fat. This needs a good 5-10 years before it’s ready. 91-93 Points now. 93-96 Point potential. Outstanding.
Usually, a visit to a winery ends with the wines, but not with Pietradolce. No, after tasting some of the finest Sicilian wines I have ever tried, we were invited to stay at Don Venerando, a stunning villa adjacent to Piante Faro (and named after the company’s patriarch). I could have written an entire post about Villa Don Venerando, but the pictures tell much more of the story….