Contrada Guardiola Comparative Tasting

IMG_1993After a fantastic tour around Etna today with my friends at Tenuta delle Terre Nere, we wrapped with a tasting of wines from the Guardiola vines from both Terre Nere and Passopisciaro: Same alcohol, same vintage, different expressions of the same Contrada. Sitting across the road from one another, the terroir was evident – both share an amarena cherry nose, balsamic notes; bright acidity from this high altitude; and structure from this lava spill. Picked October 20th, the Terre Nere has more structured and drying tannins, leathery and peppery notes on the palate, while the Passopisciaro, picked November 2nd, showed sweeter fruit and more supple tannins, alongside more pronounced acidity. A tasting from two stars of Etna I’ve wanted to explore for awhile, and I thank my friends for obliging.

Passopisciaro, Passobianco 2014 – Mt. Etna, Italy

IMG_9862My first harvest with Passopisciaro was for the whites on Mt. Etna in 2014, so I love revisiting this wine. We grow Chardonnay on volcanic soil between 820-1,000 meters (that’s 3,300 feet, folks) and go through the vineyards up to 20 times over the 2-3 week harvest period, through densely planted vines. It’s a fussy, even neurotic, approach to getting every bunch at its optimal moment of ripeness (read more here), but it makes for damn good wine. Texturally complex with its creaminess and minerality interacting, bright acidity, and at the moment singing with its rich fruit. It was perfect on yesterday’s first real spring day in New York.

The Etna Wine Market

The below observations are mostly about Etna and were compiled for an MW presentation given at the En Primeur Sicily event in 2017. The prompt was regarding any thoughts on trends or on Etna wines in the US market in particular.


Within the Sicilian wine context, Etna in particular has grown exponentially, both in terms of number of producers and demand in the US. It seems to correspond to the overall the trend of the premiumization of wine across the US market — people really respond to the “Burgundy of the Mediterranean” profile of the region. We’ve seen that both at Passopisciaro with our own wines holding consistent price points on the mid to higher tier, especially with the rise of the Contrada system of ‘cru-ification’ and correspondingly tight control of production, and across the region we’ve been able to observe similar trends with other producers putting ever more focus on specific delimited areas.

From an overall increase of production standpoint, we’ve been able to observe physically the growth in number of producers: since Andrea Franchetti started the Contrade dell’Etna event 10 years ago, the amount of producers across the mountain has exploded from a few handfuls that we could host at the winery for an Etna version of “en primeur” to over 120 producers presenting at the event earlier this month at Castello Romeo, having completely outgrown the capacity of a single winery to host the producers and attendees. New producers crop up every year, often having worked for some of the original players, and new plantings are evident across the mountain. Just driving up to the contrada of Guardiola, you can see Cusumano’s new plantings alongside the old vines that Passopisciaro and Terre Nere own and cultivate.

It’s also been apparent in terms of how Etna is sold in the US. It’s been on the map for several years in the major wine drinking cities (e.g. New York and San Francisco), but we’re now increasingly seeing Etna producers entering other markets like Texas, making the landscape much more dynamic and competitive. It’s interesting anecdotally to see the Etna “brand” (both DOC and not) leveraged on wine lists to differentiate the region’s style from the rest of Sicily —a consumer that expects Nero d’Avola from Sicily needs to know that Nerello Mascalese is a different animal!

Below is a recent response from Andrea on a similar theme:

Q: How would you describe the recent history and progress you have witnessed in Etna?

A: Viticulture and winemaking are on Mt. Etna have extremely ancient origins, but it was forgotten with the Second World War. There has always been as tradition of quality-oriented viticulture, which allows us to work with very old vines (even 130 years old) and, because of the sandy, ashy soil, in some cases with pre-phylloxera rootstock. On the other hand traditional winemaking was not of a high level.

The last 20 years have seen the rise of a series of new wineries, including Passopisciaro, which has brought about a rebirth of Etna as a high quality winemaking region. The focus has gradually turned more to individuating each contradas, Etna’s own version of a cru, finds an almost exaggerated example due to the extreme variations in the lava flows and elevations of the vineyard sites. The names of these areas are appearing increasingly on the labels in this renaissance of Etna wine.

There’s this need to perceive Etna as a classic European wine territory, and if we all continue to push how the wine can vary, while at a high quality level, examining how different vintages and places show character, then Etna probably has the stuff to become like Burgundy or Piedmont. If good winemaking and obsessive interpretation grows.

The Bottle to Buy: Chateau Giscours’ 2004 Vintage

Originally published on Departures.comchateau-giscours

The year 2004 was an unremarkable one in Bordeaux. The season was typical, marked by slow and at times uneven ripening, cooler temperatures, and a long harvest, and the wine—a connoisseur’s vintage—easily overlooked by drinkers who prefer the lush wines of California. Sitting between the two highly collectible years of 2003 and 2005 (plush, ripe, and powerful both), the seemingly austere and tannic 2004 received little attention and was left alone in the cellar.

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Make America Grape Again

Originally published on

Ideal summer sipping requires something refreshing, and there’s nothing more thirst quenching than rosé. Because it’s a style of wine that is made with red grapes, there’s a lovely structure that provides a backbone to even the lightest rosés, and those light, salmon-pink wines often have an aromatic subtlety and citrusy minerality that we find just so, well, refreshing.


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Looking Back at Robert Mondavi Wines over 50 Vintages

The first vintage for Robert Mondavi Winery was 1966: 50 years later, and the wine is still singing. For 50 years the wines at Robert Mondavi have followed Mr. Mondavi’s vision of producing wine among the great wines of the world defined by their elegance concentration and terroir and the evening was a tribute to the singular vision of the man who put the New World on the map. Read more about the 50th anniversary gala dinner that brought together some of the Napa Valley greats who worked with Mondavi over the years in my most recent piece for The Tasting Panel.



On Brands in Wine

I’m currently pursuing my Diploma certification through the Wines & Spirits Education Trust, and the below is an exploration of the topic of branding in wine as part of the unit dedicated to the Global Business of Wine. Results are in (I passed with distinction!), so I’m happy to be able to share this here. Text and research are my own, and I’ve included sourcing as appropriate.

The Brief: Wine branding is important across the price spectrum from the likes of Blossom Hill to Château Lafite-Rothschild. Many in the industry strive to create and sustain wine brands but do consumers benefit from them as much as those who own them?

Branding is a huge force in global business, connecting a name, an image, and perhaps a concept intimately with a product in order to create a relationship with the end consumer, ultimately driving purchase intent. Within the context of wine, however, it is a nuanced subject due to the fact that wine is a living product and that much of its value, many argue, is intrinsically variable, with the product changing from vintage to vintage, place to place, and even over time in bottle. Yet creating a brand – and brand loyalty – is an integral part of selling a product, so producers large and small seek a variety of means of connecting their product to the consumer, especially in a field as fragmented and crowded as wine. This essay explores the unique challenges of branding in wine along with some successful attributes, specifically within the field of still light wines, and how the role of brands in wine affects the consumer. Continue reading