A pioneer on the Etna volcano, Pietradolce in six vintages

One of Etna’s top producers, Pietradolce, had its first ever vertical tasting of the estate’s flagship wine, the Archineri, at the food and wine fair Taormina Gourmet in Sicily. BKWine Magazine’s Asa Johansson was there.

In the last few years Etna wines has become the talk of the town and wines from the volcano are making a big success around the world. Producers from other parts of Sicily and also from other regions are investing in new vineyards on the volcano. There’s a lot of attention on Etna.

Michele Faro of Pietradolce, Etna, Sicily

Michele Faro of Pietradolce, Etna, Sicily, copyright A Johansson

Pietradolce was founded in 2005 by Michele Faro who was one of the first to believe in the potential of Mount Etna. The Faro family runs one of the largest nurseries for exotic plants in the village of Riposto, north of Catania. Nearby the family also has a luxury hotel and luxury restaurant called Donna Carmela dedicated to Michele’s mother, Carmela.

Etna was for a long time northern Italy’s source of grapes and wine when northern Italy had a shortage of grapes after the phylloxera struck in the early 1900s.

When Northern Italy eventually got the own production in order after the phylloxera ravages they no longer needed grapes or wine sold in bulk from Sicily. On Etna most of the wine production was abandoned, much on difficult terrain. The low yields from old vines scared away most producers. It was simply too expensive to produce wine that no one was willing to pay high prices for.

– On a vineyard on Etna where the vines are trained in alberello (freestanding vines are pruned like bushes), we get about 2 tons of grapes per hectare, compared with 8 tons at a modern vineyard with more workable terrain, says Michele Faro.

Vines in albarello, Etna, Sicily

Vines in albarello, Etna, Sicily, copyright BKWine Photography

Etna almost fell into oblivion.

The trend was reversed when enthusiasts, like Azienda Benanti with the oenologist Salvo Foti at the head and Michele Faro from Pietradolce become involved and engaged. They understood the value of indigenous grape varieties and saw possibilities instead of problems.

Etna is a magical place. A volcano right next to the sea. The climate is cool because of the high altitudes despite not far from the North African coast. They decided to invest.

– Etna has a small production, a total of only two and a half million bottles per year. It is only 1-2% of Sicily’s total production, says Michele Faro.

Compare these numbers Barolo, also a small region, which in 2016 produced 12.5 million bottles.

Nerello mascalese, Etna, Sicily

Nerello mascalese, Etna, Sicily, copyright BKWine Photography

On Etna they grow the red nerello mascalese and nerello cappuccio grapes. They are often compared with the nebbiolo that is the grape behind the Piedmont’s Barolo and Barbaresco stars. The red wines from Etna have light colour, strong tannins and high acidity, like their northern cousins. With aromas of earth and fragrant roses, while notes of flint reflects the volcanic soil. The vines, which in some cases are more than 200 years old, are trained in the traditional alberello. They grow on terraces where you cannot work with machinery; all the work must be done by hand.

In view of Etna’s short history (for quality wines), it was interesting to taste five vintages of Pietradolce’s Archineri, a wine that comes from a single vineyard near the village Solicchiata on Etna’s north side. Here the vines are between 80 and 90 years old. They make only 7000-8000 bottles per year of Archineri. The first vintage was in 2009 when 3,000 bottles were.

– I have only 36 bottles of the 2009, in my private cellar, says Michele.

Pietracolce Archineri, Etna, Sicily

Pietracolce Archineri, Etna, Sicily, copyright BKWine Photography

Six vintages of Pietradolce Archineri Etna Rosso

Pietradolce Archineri Etna Rosso 2014

2014 was, unlike in other parts of Italy, a perfect year on Etna. You can feel that in the glass. Complex aromas of dark berries, plums, wild herbs and dried rose petals. Elegant tannins are balanced by both fruit and acidity. Long finish. Excellent!

Pietradolce Archineri Etna Rosso 2013

2013 was a difficult year on Etna and the harvest was done under the rain. Compared with 2014, this vintage was a shade lighter and the acidity feels more pronounced. Despite this, it is a good wine that I would give some year before drinking.

Fermentation tanks at Pietradolce, Etna, Sicily

Fermentation tanks at Pietradolce, Etna, Sicily, copyright BKWine Photography

Pietradolce Archineri Etna Rosso 2012

“We were worried because it was so hot in 2012. I was sure that we would produce marmalade and not wine”, says Michele when he describes the vintage.

It did not turn into jam, but a full-bodied, ripe wine with soft, round tannins. The acidity is there and balances the alcohol and the wine is ready to drink now.

Pietradolce Archineri Etna Rosso 2011

The 2011 was one of the best wines I’ve tasted recently. A wine that has everything. The body, the structure, fruit and complexity. Balanced. Long lovely finish that generates a a smile on the person tasting the wine. Top class!

Pietradolce Archineri Etna Rosso 2010

2010 was a difficult year with rain on several occasions during the year. The wine is tight and spicy. The wine is anything but a powerhouse and feels rather slim but with Pietradolce’s customary elegance. It is also interesting to see how well nerello mascalese develops after a few years of aging. Despite the difficult vintage this wine is really high quality.

Pietradolce Archineri Etna Rosso 2009

2009 was a complicated year with much rain and moisture. The 2009 is more full-bodied than the 2010 but aromas are less complex, the wine lacks the elegance of the 2010.

Åsa Johansson is BKWine’s person in Italy. She lives in Florence since the early ’00s. She has a passion for all things Italian, so much so that she married an Italian and stayed in Florence after having come there to study political science.

More pictures from Pietradolce and Etna below!

Very exciting things are going on in Sicily today, not least on Etna. Pietradolce is now one of many very talented producers on the slopes of the volcano. Join BKWine on a wine tour to Mount Etna in Sicily.

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Barrel cellar at Pietradolce, Etna, Sicily

Barrel cellar at Pietradolce, Etna, Sicily, copyright BKWine Photography

Plant nursery at Pietradolce, Etna, Sicily

Plant nursery at Pietradolce, Etna, Sicily, copyright BKWine Photography

A vineyard on the mountain, Etna, Sicily

A vineyard on the mountain, Etna, Sicily, copyright BKWine Photography

Hill slope and village, Etna, Sicily

Hill slope and village, Etna, Sicily, copyright BKWine Photography

A village in the mountains, Etna, Sicily

A village in the mountains, Etna, Sicily, copyright BKWine Photography

Nerello in a vat, Etna, Sicily

Nerello in a vat, Etna, Sicily, copyright BKWine Photography

Sunset over the Mediterranean, Sicily

Sunset over the Mediterranean, Sicily, copyright BKWine Photography

On the fish market, Catania, Sicily

On the fish market, Catania, Sicily, copyright BKWine Photography

Side-walk cafe, Catania, Sicily

Side-walk cafe, Catania, Sicily, copyright BKWine Photography

The Sant' Agata cathedral, Catania, Sicily

The Sant’ Agata cathedral, Catania, Sicily, copyright BKWine Photography

A church interior, Catania, Sicily

A church interior, Catania, Sicily, copyright BKWine Photography

At the fish market, Catania, Sicily

At the fish market, Catania, Sicily, copyright BKWine Photography

The famous elephant statue, Catania, Sicily

The famous elephant statue, Catania, Sicily, copyright BKWine Photography

A village on the mountain slope, Etna, Sicily

A village on the mountain slope, Etna, Sicily, copyright BKWine Photography

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