Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Vini Franchetti: The "pre-Socratic" Nerello Mascalese vintages on Mt Etna

In a personal communication post my visit to the Vini Franchetti Passopiciaro estate on the north face of Mt. Etna, Andrea Franchetti stated as follows: "I tried to make a Nerello that I liked right away, but wasn't able to until 2005 when I finally started getting it. Since then, our Nerello has been, I think, getting better because of new touches in the winemaking." In this post I will trace the early Franchetti Nerello Mascalese winemaking experiences and identify the changes which have led to the wines being among the leaders today.

Robert Camuto (Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey) provides telling insights into the Franchetti mindset and practices in those early years. In his visit to the Franchetti estate in the summer of 2009, he saw no Nerello Mascalese grapes planted there. In fact, "... Franchetti saw no need to plant local varieties when he could buy or lease Nerello from vineyards that were already established."

His perception of this early-times Franchetti is electric:
Most winemakers were coming to Etna to make their interpretations of Nerello, but Franchetti was here, it seemed, to interpret Franchetti. The others were like landscape painters who had come to paint the volcano; Franchetti was an abstractionist who had come to paint on the volcano. ... For other winemakers, Nerello Mascalese, with its delicate Pinot Noir color and structure, was part of the attraction. Franchetti, on the other hand, was here on Etna in spite of Etna.
Camuto reports that Franchetti told him, "I hated the stuff -- I thought it was coarse. I didn't want to use Nerello to make wine. I looked at it as an ingredient I had to use."

According to Camuto, the early Franchetti Nerello vintages "rolled out the Bordeaux new wave formulas that had worked so well for him at Tenuta di Trinoro" but the long maceration, and aging in barriques, produced a wine that was "as rude as it was rustic."

In an email communication with me, Andrea referred to the wines made before 2004 as the "pre-Socratic vintages."
In 2004, I tried to extract for a long period at low temperature before fermenting the berries; to no avail. I mixed some 2001 Trinoro Merlot in the 2002 Nerello Mascalese. I let the 2003 Nerello Mascalese start out with local wild yeast out of spite. No "philosophy" had been built.
Andrea recently sent me three vintages of this wine to try. They bear no resemblance to the Franchetti Nerello Mascalese wines of today.

The 2001 showed a much deeper color than one would expect from an aged Nerello Mascalese. Hint of Nerello on the nose, but indistinct. Mushroom and earthiness dominates. Concentrated and unfocused on the palate. Bitter on the palate with a very bitter aftertaste. Metallic. Unpleasant finish.

The 2002 showed balsamic, spice, dark fruits, and lacquer on the nose along with hints of tobacco and cedar. Fruitier than the 2001. High acid level. Lack of focus on the palate. Big, dark fruit. red pepper spice. Bitterness and acidity competing on the palate. Severe dryness on palate leading to a furry feel in the mouth.

The 2003 exhibited stewed fruit, spice, and rust. Sweet fruit on the palate. Bitterness, salinity and kerosene.

But Franchetti eventually came to the realization that the problem was with his winemaking technique, rather than with the cultivar and, in 2004, he changed his approach (Camuto):
  • He ceased macerating on the skin
  • He lowered the fermentation temperature
  • He moved from barrique to botti for aging
Franchetti, as cited by Camuto: "You see, I learned that the best part of the Nerello grape is not in the skins, like with the Bordeaux grapes. Its all in the juice."

In his communication with me, Andrea said that he gained his initial feel for Nerello in 2004 when the wine came in "nice and tannic." The first applied thinking happened the following year (lightness, clarity, fining with egg whites). "What Nerello wine should be, or is in the heavens, struck me from 2005 on: I first modified the cellar activities, then the harvesting decision; then my vineyard management practices."

And the rest, as they say, is history.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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