There’s a crunch to the air that you breathe at the highest point of the Pandolfa vineyards, some 300m above the gorgeous 17th century es-tate now owned by Marco Cirese and his wife Alice. It’s easy to spot the Adriatic through the hilly terrain of Predappio which no doubt plays its part in the coolness of that breeze and the unique character of the wines from up here.
I’m talking with Francesco Bordini, the famous local agronomist who’s now playing a major role within the vineyards and winery at Pandolfa, “the soil here is a mixture of 3 types; limestone, the region’s common yellow clay and fossil. The variety and designation were chosen to best suit the soil type when we pulled out the other vines and replanted these”. He’s talking about the 100 or so hectares of vineyard which were taken out to re-establish the native forest that to me seems as though it’s been there for decades, but in reality that project is still fairly recent, “our idea was to introduce the typical ecosystem of Forli back into the estate, and have less vines in total which benefit more from these natural circumstances. It’s better than anything that we could do by chemicals or machines, and gives the Sangiovese terroir driven fragrance and texture”. The estate is now almost completely organic, with many of the vineyards becoming certified in the coming years but all of them farmed as such already. “Unfortunately you can’t just take a vineyard and make it organic in one or two vintages, it takes patience but there are already a lot of things we can do to help the vines without introducing chemicals. We use barley as a mid-row crop, it pulls most of the nitrogen out of the soil for us, and now we have almost no pest problems thanks to the forests”
The winery is a packed with stainless tanks, with some barrels tucked away in a dark corner. Most are large Slavonian ‘Botti’ but there are a few barriques, Marco tells me “those are very seasoned, we put the Pandolfa and Pandolfa Riserva in them mostly. The other ones – the new ones – well, we make some wine for another guy, a friend of ours… He likes wood”. Thankfully here at Pandolfa they’ve worked hard to allow the fruit to do the talking, and we are all the better off for it
2016 Fessina Etna Bianco 'Erse'
Etna, Sicily, IT
Erse is the blended Etna Bianco from Fessina, though this vintage carries a little less cattaratto than previously, meaning it's led by the Etnean native Carricante, and it shows. This is led by its minerals, all about the fresh acidity and the vibrant citrus fruits while belying its origins of Etna's Eastern part with a classic salty twang
90% Carricante, 10% Catarratto & Minella, from the Cavaliere, Caselle, Rinazzo, and Volpare vineyards in Milo (Eastern Etna), 900-1000m ASL, 9 months in stainless, 3 months in bottle before release, diam
2015 Fessina Etna Bianco 'A'Puddara'
Etna, Sicily, IT
A’Puddara is a unique vineyard, not quite the highest of Fessina’s Carricante vineyards but the most sheltered, and not quite the oldest vines but the most productive. Year after year, it has produced mesmerising wines which compete with the best being made anywhere else in Italy. My notes about this vintage are much less about the fruit than those from the publications (more savoury, herbaceous and salty), however I did believe that the 2015 was all the better for it.
100% Carricante from the 100 y/o A’Puddara vineyard in Milo (Southern Etna), 900m ASL, 48 hours on skins, ferment and ageing in used French Oak botti for 12 months, bottle for 6 months before release, 6,000 bottles made, cork
2015 Fessina Etna Rosato 'Erse'
Etna, Sicily, IT
Following somewhat of an obsession for rosé wines worldwide, it made sense that the replantings and new vineyards at Fessina would be used to craft a rosé from Etna. Although the DOC law states that solely red grapes are allowed, I have it on good authority that a good portion of the blend is Carricante (shh), and although this is completely unofficial, it does create a compelling reason as to why this should be the norm. This is not only a good Etna Rosato, it is one of the finest young Etna wines you will taste…
85% Nerello Mascalese, 15% Nerello Cappuccio from Rovitello (Northern Etna), 670m ASL, saignee, ferment and ageing in stainless steel for 6 months, bottle for 6 months before release, 3,200 bottles made, diam
2015 Fessina Etna Rosso 'Erse'
Etna, Sicily, IT
A masterpiece of Etnean winemaking, one of those rare wines which is able to show power and elegance all wrapped up in a red-fruited box. This is Nerello Mascalese at its finest, its rawest (stainless steel only) and its most versatile. I think you could drink this with just about anything, or nothing at all
85% Nerello Mascalese, 15% Nerello Cappuccio from Rovitello (Northern Etna), 750m ASL, 10 days on skins, ferment and ageing in stainless steel for 12 months, bottle for 6 months before release, diam
2011 Fessina Etna Rosso 'Il Musmeci'
Etna, Sicily, IT
2011 was a wonderful vintage for Etna. In many ways it reflected the vintages had in other parts of Italy but was punctuated with some excellent rainfall in September before the fruit was fully ripened. This was especially good for the Nerello Mascalese, which is harvested closer to the end of October, and it instilled freshness and life into the grapes which were ripening fairly quickly. Il Musmeci is not only the reserve wine of Tenuta di Fessina, but undoubtedly one of the most serious Etna Rosso wines produced by anyone in the area. It sits in a gorgeous middle ground (weight, perfume and structure-wise) between Barbaresco and Burgundy, with its own Etnean qualities layered on for good measure. I would happily show this in any tasting of the world’s great red wines
100% Nerello Mascalese from the 110 y/o Musmeci vineyard, Rovitello (Northern Etna), 790m ASL, 14 days on skins, ferment and ageing in French Oak barrique and Slavonian Botti for 18 months, bottle for 12 months before release, 10,000 bottles made, cork
2014 Fessina Nero d'Avola 'Ero'
Noto, Sicily, IT
While recognition continues to grow for the volcano wines, Sicilian wine’s reputation has been largely built off the native Nero d’Avola. In complete contrast to Nerello Mascalese which prefers a long, slow growing season in the cooler, higher altitude parts, Nero d’Avola’s home is the coastal town of Avola and its surrounding denominations. The fruit for this pristine example comes from Fessina’s own vineyard in Val di Noto, on the South-Eastern Sicilian coast at next to no altitude, right by the sea. Dry grown bush vines in sparse, sandy soil give birth to fragrant, perfumed Nero d’Avola that reflects the elegance of the Etna reds of this estate but with a chubbier fruit weight and slipperier tannin profile. Regardless, this will change your attitude to Nero in the best way possible
100% Nero d’Avola from Noto (Southern Sicily), 40-50m ASL, 14 days on skins, ferment and ageing in stainless steel for 12 months, bottle for 6 months before release, diam