Saturday, April 29, 2017

A visit to Pietradolce Winery (Solicchiata, Mt Etna, Sicily)

“A model small estate making top-level, authentically regional wines from mostly old vines, including several pre-phylloxera parcels. Michele Faro’s grandfather grew grapes and made wine on Etna, and some of the oldest parcels were in family hands, so he got off to a running start in 2005.” Thusly was Pietradolce described in John Szabo’s Volcanic Wines. With this full-throated endorsement of the Pietradolce estate and wines, I was anxious to pay them a visit. Sensing my urgency during our pre-trip communications, Brandon arranged for me to go directly from the airport (after an overnight, intercontinental flight) to the estate in Solicchiata.

After a great “catch-up” ride, we arrived at the Pietradolce (“sweet stone”) estate. The winery building dominates the zone, appearing as an oversized lava terrace overseeing the smaller terraces that fell away before it. We were met in the driveway between the vineyards by Giuseppe Parlavecchio, the vineyard manager, who, after the introductions were made, proposed that we go walk in the vineyard. I agreed. I needed to keep walking to stay awake.

The estate sits on 11 ha that is subdivided into three vineyard plots (two of the plots fall within the Rampante Contrada while the other is in Zottorinoto. The location experiences cool nights, warm days, and a 20-degree day night temperature variance (Such variances are widely held to be beneficial to grape quality.). The area is also subject to steady winds flowing over the Nebrodi Mountains and they serve to keep the vineyard, which faces in that direction, relatively free of vineyard diseases (2015 was a very difficult year in that they experienced higher-than-normal rainfall). 

The soil is comprised of a stony, light sandy loam infused with a bounty of minerals. According to Giuseppe, the soil is very rocky up to depths of 2 - 3 meters over the entirety of the property.

The  vineyard follows the natural lay of the land. Because of the amount of stone that had to be removed during vineyard establishment, they opted for two large terraces, rather than a larger number of smaller terraces. 

The vineyard is farmed organically. Vine training is a mix of albarello (legacy and youngest vines) and espalier. Albarello is cropped shorter here than on other Etna estates. The estate’s position is that albarello affords the best expression of Etna wines in that it forces the roots to dig deep in search of nutrients and water.

The lowest vineyard is laid out between 600 and 800 meters and is simply called Pietradolce. It is planted 4000 vines/ha to Carricante (2.5 ha) and Nerello Mascalese (0.5 ha). The Archineri cru is 2.5 ha in size and is home to 70-year-old Nerello Mascales vines. The Barbagalli vineyard is the highest of the vineyards (900 m) and is populated with 80 - 100-year-old Nerello Mascalese vines.

The estate’s first vintage was the 2007 Archineri — a total of 300 bottles — followed by the Barbagalli in 2010 and the Rosato and Etna Bianco in 2011. The white wine is subjected to a lengthy maceration. The reds are fermented/macerated over 20 days in 500 - 700 hl barrels and then undergo a natural malolactic fermentation. Entry-level wines are aged for 3 months while the more complex wines are aged between 14 and 20 months.

The Pietradolce Etna Rosato 2010 is a Nerello Mascalese wine which saw no maceration. Perfumed cherry nose along with spice and butterscotch. Focused, with great acidity and a lengthy finish. Slight yeastiness attributable to lees with no battonage. Beautiful wine. 9000 - 10,000 bottles per year.

The Etna Rosso 2015 is a 100% Nerello Mascalese which spends 3 months in wood. Cherry, spice, aggressive tannins and searing acidity. Great attack and mid-palate with reticence on the finish. 10,000 - 11,000 bottles.

The Archineri 2014 spent 14 months in wood and 6 months in bottle. Pine notes, dried bramble, tar, and mahagony on the nose. Mint, green herbs, silky tannins on the palate. Balanced. 7000 bottles.

Archineri 2010 showed spice, polished wood, caramel, sweet tobacco, and burnt orange. Cigar and leather on the palate. Lengthy finish.

We did not taste the white on this visit, a gap which I intend to address in the near future. Overall I was pleased with the wines on offer and especially so with the Rosato.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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