2018 Pietradolce 'Rampante' Etna Rosso
It may be winter in Australia, but June’s wine is giving us European summer. That’s right, this month we’re travelling with our taste buds to the sun-soaked hillsides of Sicily! The wine taking us there is the 2018 Pietradolce ‘Rampante’ Etna Rosso. While it may be our first international offering, we’ve made sure it ticks all the usual One Wine boxes: it’s delicious, well-made and it has that special something - in this case, it’s made on the slopes of Mount Etna, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Vertically grown among the clouds at 850m, the fruit for this wine comes from a traditionally grown parcel of vineyards in the Contrada Rampante, a tiny 1.5 hectare vineyard planted to one of the region’s native black grapes - nerello mascalese. And if that wasn’t special enough, just wait until you get it in the glass! With dizzying altitudes, volcanic soils and an intriguing alternative variety, we think this wine is pretty special and we can’t wait to share it with you.
Pietradolce: wine with altitude
Pietradolce, which is Italian for ‘sweet stone’, is named for the volcanic soils that make the wines of Etna so unique. Located on the northern slopes in Solicchiata, the estate was founded by Michele Faro in 2005 and has 11 hectares of vineyard on the north face of Etna ranging from 600 to 900 metres above sea level. The vineyards are mostly alberello, Italian for bush vines, and approximately 80 to 90 years old.
When establishing Pietradolce, Faro chose to work exclusively with varieties native to Mount Etna. His reds are all made from nerello mascalese and come from prime vineyards on the northern side near Solicchiata, including parcels from the prized vineyards of Rampante and Santo Spirito.
Etna: a region of extremes
Mount Etna is the highest volcano in Europe, as well as one of the most active in the world. It is also home to one of Sicily’s most dynamic winegrowing regions, with rows of vines lining its steep volcanic slopes. Thanks to thousands of years of eruptions, the vineyards of Etna, or ‘a Muntagna as the locals call it, are blessed with minerally rich soils. This, combined with the region’s cool nights, warm days and wide ranging temperature variations, result in wines with extraordinary richness, minerality, fragrance and depth.
Bright ruby in the glass, the nose is elegant and enticing, with layers of sour cherries, raspberries and ripe blood plums, and pops of liquorice and baking spice from 14 months ageing in oak tonneaux. Savoury notes of earth, mushroom and leather emerge, along with a bright mineral edge, which point to the wine's unique terroir. On the palate, juicy fruit and fragrant spice are complemented by refreshing acidity and firm, fine-grained tannins.
Nerello Mascalese: Sicily’s answer to Barolo
Native to the Etna region, nerello mascalese is the great black grape of Sicily. Thought to be a natural crossing of sangiovese and mondanico bianco, nerello mascalese is a late-ripening variety that produces large bunches of thin-skinned, tannic red grapes that make up the majority of traditional Etna Rosso. It is often blended with a little nerello cappuccio, which tends to add a little colour, alcohol and some riper fruit notes. The Pietradolce ‘Rampante’, however, is pure mascalese.
Burgundy has Grand Crus. Bordeaux has First Growths. And in Sicily, we have contrada - contrade in the plural. Literally the Italian term for a subdivision, on Etna it is used to classify vineyards that have been singled out for their capacity to produce wines of superior quality and character. There are 133 contrade on Mount Etna, including Contrada Rampante.
Sitting between 800 and 950 metres above sea level, Contrada Rampante is one of the highest vineyards on Etna and comprises 1.5 hectares of bush vines cultivated on steeply rising terraces that have been cut into the mountainside. In this tiny pocket of the world, this magical combination of high-altitudes, volcanic soils and exposure to the elements impart a distinctive wildness and earthiness to the fruit. It is not surprising that wines from Rampante are frequently compared with the wines of Serralunga in Barolo, which are celebrated for their vibrant fruit, firm tannins and mineral edge.
The recipe: Pasta alla Norma, one of Sicily's most famous dishes
Pasta alla Norma is a legendary Sicilian pasta born in the city of Catania blending a full-bodied tomato sauce with fried eggplant and salted ricotta cheese. One of the most famous sicilian first-course meals, this is a dish to satisfy everyone from children to nonnas.
As the history goes, pasta alla Norman is said to have derived its name from the opera Norma, by composer Vincenzo Bellini, which premiered in Italy in 1831. Legend has it that the Italian journalist, Nino Martoglio tasted the eggplant dish and exclaimed ‘this is a real ‘Norma!’ – meaning that the pasta flavours were nothing short of a masterpiece.