My Heart Belongs to Etna: Passopisciaro Rampante

I have a new obsession and its name is Passopisciaro.  Contrada Rampante to be exact.  This is one of those wines that gets into your head and totally explodes every baseline of previous experience with a grape varietal.

100% Nerello Mascalese, and 100% Pure, Awesome, Etna.

We actually sat down for dinner at the Palazzo’s Carnevino the other night (as opposed to simply attaching ourselves to their fantastic bar), and Italian Wine Master, Mike Tadich selected the 2008 Passopiscriao Contrada Rampante to go with our Bistecca Fiorentina.

Go ahead, re-read that last sentence.

Now try not to hate me, and stop drooling.

The wine was simply gorgeous.  Bright, playful and full of steely minerals.  The color was vibrant and alive- not unlike a Barbaresco in the glass, or even on the palate.  In my opinion, Nerello Mascalese is truly a grape with world-class potential.  The Contrada Rampante is a single “Cru” vinified by Andrea Franchetti at the Passopisciaro winery.  It comes from a very high elevation, almost 3500 feet above sea level.  This is not your sun-drenched Sicilian beach. These are the “Alps” of Sicilia!

Andrea Franchetti determined that he could create 4 different expressions of Nerello Mascalese from his vineyards, and he calls them the Contradas: Rampante, Chiappemaccine, Porcaria and Sciaranuova.  Each site has its own elevation, soil composition, and is influenced by a totally individual type of lava flow from Mount Etna.  This is seriously geeky, committed, and passionate winemaking.

The meal, as usual, was also flawless.  Carnevino dry-ages their steaks for months before searing them off and slicing them for their customers.  This Bistecca Fiorentina was the real deal; crusty and perfectly sealed with a gorgeous medium pink.  The aromas emanating from this beef are closer to foie gras, or even blue cheese, than to your usual steakhouse cut.  Intense, grassy, complex flavors literally burst in your mouth.  Not the least bit greasy- this is the perfection of an extremely high-quality ingredient meeting impeccable execution.

The Contrada Rampante is a perfect match for the complexity in this kind of steak- its perky acidity and grippy fruit tannins really help cradle the rich, unctuous flesh.  I also love the way the char from the steak echoes the smoky, volcanic- graphite notes in the wine.

All together this was a benchmark meal for me.  Sometimes it’s just all about the perfect piece of steak and a truly inspired glass of red wine.