With the recent tsunami of headline grabbing successes, perhaps it’s time to momentarily reflect on the wealth of Etna’s viticultural history and its ancient native grape heritage. Overnight sensations after a Millennium or Three, the history of the volcano is every bit a classic tale. Grasp a handful of its dark ‘coffee-grinds’ soil and one thing is certain, quality crops have always grown in these parts.
Yeah, ETNA’s volcanic terroir speaks volumes about fertility, natural wealth and potential. Yet, gazing up towards its smoking crater, we can’t help but wonder. It was the very same native grapes, Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Carricante & Catarratto that over the past 150 years, in relative silence and obscurity, were cultivated for simple ‘bulk wines, colour and alcohol boosters and must concentrate’.
Surely the connoisseurs of yester-year knew the true potential of these grapes? Well, if they did, not many of them articulated it. At least not openly. Makes us wonder more.
Historical writings do indicate that local wine bottling started on Etna at the beginning the 20th century. Finally signs that some individuals could see the true potential. But as quick as it began, sadly the loss and destruction suffered from consecutive European wars coupled with post-war austerity, ensured that Etna’s & Sicily’s oenological development was stymied. Had history been otherwise, Etna and the amazing wines we taste today may well have been the talk of the town throughout the past 100 years. And more. It stands to reason when you go there and discover the incredible number of pre-phylloxera vineyards still blissfully in production on Etna today.
During our visit to the Contrade dell’ETNA 2017 tasting last April, we encountered many of the mountains new producers, locals and blow-ins alike, all of whom are seeking to carve out a niche for their erstwhile forgotten Contrade. Spurred on no doubt by the pioneering efforts of Franchetti, De Grazia, Cornelissen, Russo, Graci and Benanti who over the past 10-15 years have finally captured much deserved quality recognition. By now there’s no disguising how we’ve been bowled over by ETNA’s ‘Contrada’ wines. They are quite literally mind-altering. Each vineyard bottling offering it’s own unique expression of Etna’s growing potential.
In heading toward Etna’s high ground there is one particular contrada, which during our visit became a kind of spiritual HOME for us. It’s known as ‘RAMPANTE’. As one of the Passopisciaro 5 Contrade, standing at 1000mts above sea level, this vineyard is the highest in the Vini Franchetti winery portfolio.
Infact it’s one of the highest on the volcano, and it’s on what we now call Etna’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’, a vineyard stairwell that starts around 500mts above sea level and brings you through many of the area’s outstanding Contrade like Chiappemacine, Don Pepino Calderara, Feudo di Mezzo, Feudo, Rovitello, San Lorenzo, Santo Spirito, Porcaria, Sciaranuova, Guardiola, Barbabecchi and finally to Rampante itself.
Curiously at 1,000mts, Franchetti’s slice of RAMPANTE lies outside the current ETNA DOC classified area. And being beyond the DOC limits, the bottle label can only identify the contrada by use of the single capital letter ‘R’.
Here’s what we found…
Alluring, translucent ruby that dazzles even the minds eye…
Drawn closer, the first olfactory encounter is aromatically coy…
and yet wait, there’s an intriguing diffusion of wild herbs and mediterranean scrub.
Flip the switch to palate and… ‘BOOM’… an explosive, deliciously fresh, monumental structure.
This is a composition of balance and persistence.
A zing-zing citrus burst of tarocco orange & pink grapefruit, those talc-powdered tannins underpinning wild flowers & fennel tops, spiced, flaked pepperoncino, liquorice sticks, tar and… a smokey Atlantic Coast cottage on a stormy November’s eve…
Earthy, eclectic, electric, the rush is intensely amplified… ah yes, time to gently exhale and relax…
This stunning wine is a complex head perched on young shoulders. ‘WE’ are in no doubt… Andrea Franchetti’s Contrada #R14 will forever be remembered as one of greats to be harvested from this most elevated of ETNA’s contrade… 1000mts above sea level… ‘scuse us while we kiss the sky…
A wine such as this was created and harvested at the interface between Mother Nature & Humankind. It exists on the fine line that so many aspire to reach. Here we’re talking about realising potential. Not only by being ‘Aspirational’, but being ‘Inspirational’ with it too.
This is Vital. Indeed Crucial.
A place whose emotional essence is perfectly framed somewhere between Hendrix’s ‘PURPLE HAZE’ and Tokio Myers ‘POLAROID’.
Q: How to realise potential ?
A: Well, it might just be about having the ability to inspire others to reach theirs, while you yourself aspire to reach your own ?
If we’re right, then we reckon Andrea Franchetti, Passopisciaro, RAMPANTE and all of ETNA’s Contrade have limitless potential.
As has the immense talent of TOKIO MYERS !