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  • Benanti Contrada Rinazzo Bianco 2019

    £44.99

    “Lemon zest joins sour green melon, tropical florals and sweet smoke as the 2019 Etna Bianco Contrada Superiore Rinazzo comes to life in the glass. This is deeply textural with medium-bodied weight, casting notes of papaya, young mango and minerals across a stimulating core of citrus-laced acidity. That said, the 2019 is also youthfully dense, tapering off with persistence but also a structural tension that promises many more good things to come. Like many of the best 2019 Carricante bottlings, the Rinazzo is enjoyable today, but it also has the ability to excel over medium-term cellaring. Drinking window: 2022-2029. 93 points”

    Eric Guido, Vinous (06/21)

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  • Benanti Etna Bianco 2021

    £23.99

    Crusaders, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, the Mafia…..These are just some of the invaders who have left their mark on Sicily, an important fact which goes some of the way to explain the background to the delicious wines now emerging from the 23 DOCs and 1 DOCG which make up its wine map. Many historians have commented that Sicily is more akin to a continent in its own right rather than a mere province of Italy and it is this heritage more than anything which gives these wines their vibrancy and complexity, together with the infinite variation of soil type, especially on the slopes of Mt Etna itself.

    Sicily has always produced buckets of undistinguished wine – encouraged latterly by EU subsidies. More recently though, there has a been an explosion of top quality wine with many producers in the Etna DOC at the forefront of this. This is due in large measure to the tireless work of Diego Planeta whose wines many of you will already have enjoyed. As well as starting his own eponymous winery in 1995, he was also responsible for persuading Settesoli (the largest producer of bulk wine in Sicily) to expand the range of native grape varieties they were willing to cultivate commercially. The workhorse (and rather bland) and most widely planted variety in most of Sicily has long been Cataratto but now there are more dynamic wines made from Frappato, Nero d’Avola, Nerelli Mascalese and Capuccio, and Carricante – to name but a few.

    Benanti, whose vineyards lie predominantly on the slopes of Mt Etna at Viagrande in Catania, was founded at the end of the 19th century. The Etna DOC was established in 1968 but the modern era for this estate really starts in 1988 when Dr Giuseppe Benanti completed a study of soil types with a view to matching the grape variety and its clones to specific soil types. This is no mean feat as Sicily has such fabulous diversity. Since then, this producer has gone from strength to strength, with a range encompassing wines made from single native varietals to wines such as Majora, the top wine, made from a blend of Nero d’Avola, Syrah, Tannat and Petit Verdot.

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  • Benanti Pietra Marina 2016

    £84.99

    “The 2016 Etna Bianco Superiore Pietra Marina is more of a whisper than a shout, but it has a lot to say, as its bouquet blossoms with aromas of young peach and mango, evolving further to reveal hints of sage, sugar-dusted almonds and white smoke. Like a veil of pure silk, this slips across the palate, nearly weightless yet stimulating all the same, as salty acids and minerals build tension toward the close, balanced by ripe stone fruits. It’s persistent yet juicy, swaying between savory and sweet, while leaving the senses completely refreshed and longing for more. The Pietra Marina is an old-vines selection of Carricante from the Rinazzo Contrada on Etna’s eastern slope. It refines for 24 months on the lees in stainless steel vats prior to bottling. Put some away for a few years in the cellar, and reap the rewards. Drinking window: 2023-2032. 94 points”

    Eric Guido,Vinous (06/21)

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  • Frank Cornelissen MunJebel Bianco 2020

    £44.99

    “What can I say; Frank Cornelissen is at the top of his game. I think back over the last fifteen years that I’ve been tasting these wines, and I can honestly say that I have never seen such precision, purity and consistency as I’ve seen tasting the last few vintages. It all seems to have come to an apex with the 2019 crus. The best part is that 2020 is expected to be an even better vintage, and the Munjebel Rosso tasted in this report has heightened my anticipation.

    What has Cornelissen changed? Actually quite a bit. In my interview with him, he plainly stated, “My wines used to be anti-wines.” He came to Etna in the early 2000s with the idea that this was one of the few locations on earth where wine could be made without any manipulation. Mistakes were made as he learned along the way, but with time, the style of Frank Cornelissen became renowned. Unfortunately, they also became renowned for being undependable. I remember a time when I would tell people that finding a perfect bottle is very difficult; but when you do, it’s pure magic. It was because of this that many collectors became turned off to the brand, especially when you consider the price tag attached to the single-vineyard wines. Today, Cornelissen admits that his first ten years were very experimental and that he took things too close to the edge. This is still a winery that practices extreme biodynamic principles across their twenty-four hectares and eschews overhandling of the wines in the winery and cellar. However, there have been a number of changes to the process. For one thing, their team has grown, which allows for better precision pick dates and sorting. Aging and refinement is now completed in epoxy-lined fiberglass tanks, while the subterranean terracotta is reserved for small-batch projects. The wines are bottled sooner, but held longer prior to release in an attempt to capture more purity of fruit and “crunch”. Sulfur is now used, but only as necessary, and in very low doses. And then there are the stems, as since 2018 (a very difficult vintage that required drastic experimentation), Cornelissen has started using 10-15% of the stems in the fermentations. Taking all of this into consideration, one might expect the wines to have changed quite a bit, yet I still find Frank Cornelissen magic, just without the fear and guesswork of what to expect from bottle to bottle. They are ripe, sapid, full of life, with balanced structures and transparent to terroir. What’s more, they only get better the longer they are open in the bottle.

    As for the 2019 vintage in front of us, while many producers will talk about how happy they were with the year, Cornelissen will explain that the excellent result was one of selection, not nature. The winery dropped around 20% of their normal single-vineyard production in the sorting room to weed out the faulty berries within each bunch. In my opinion, the result is a selection of wines that readers will not want to miss.”

    Eric Guido, Vinous (06/22)

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  • Marco de Bartoli Pietranera 2020

    £26.99

    “If I were permitted only one producer on the island of Sicily to introduce readers to, it would be Marco de Bartoli. When the average person thinks of Marsala, they think of a cheap cooking wine that is the last-minute errand you run right before starting to prepare a meal. What they don’t understand is that Marsala has a deep, rich history of creating wines designed to compete with the best Madeira and Sherry. The problem is that this history was buried deep beneath decades of mass production, a muddling of grape varieties and unnecessary fortification. Marco de Bartoli turned a passion for tradition into a vision of the future, and his heirs, have held the line, learning from their father’s teachings while keeping an innovative eye on new practices and trends. Today, de Bartoli continues to release purely traditional-style Marsala, using only estate-grown Grillo, the Solera barrel aging system (which uses oak and chestnut vats of various sizes) and, in the case of the Vecchio Samperi, no fortification. The Superiore wines do see a light fortification with grape brandy when removed from the Solera system, and they are then aged oxidatively in oak vats until bottling for release. Simply stated, a Marsala from Marco de Bartoli can compete with the greatest Ports, Sherries and Madeira. However, this house is no longer just about Marsala. The current generation, made up of Marco’s children Renato, Sebastiano and Giuseppina, began to experiment with dry whites produced from Grillo, Zibibbo and Catarratto in the 1990s. Today, these wines have really come into their own, showing exceptionally well, and they are true standouts in my recent tastings. What’s more, this experimentation has now evolved even further with the next level of dry whites in the Bartoli lineup, Integer. Both the Zibibbo and the Grillo for Integer are spontaneously fermented without temperature control, spend 10 days macerating with zero sulfur added, and then go through malolactic fermentation and rest for 10 months on the lees in large botti, with a small percentage of the juice spending five months on skins in clay amphora. The resulting wines are unique and stretch the imagination, yet they are also amazingly pleasing, and with notable cellaring potential.”

    Eric Guido, Vinous (06/21)

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  • Marco de Bartoli Vecchio Samperi N.V.

    £56.99

    “(17% alcohol): Luminous amber-gold. Explosive aromas of ripe citrus fruits, peach and hazelnut. Fat, sweet and mouthfilling, delivering very intense flavors of peach, hazelnut, butter and orange peel. Finishes relatively sweet and extremely long, not unlike a very high-quality Amontillado. And you really won’t notice the alcohol. Drink: 2015-2030. 93 points

    Marco de Bartoli has long been one of the best wine estates not just in Sicily but in all of Italy. Sadly, Marco, a very likable man who did so much for Marsala production, is no longer with us, but his son Renato has followed brilliantly in his footsteps, expanding the winery’s portfolio and promoting research of old local vines. For example, de Bartoli’s is the first Catarratto bottling made exclusively from the Lucido biotype (not a clone) of Catarratto Comune , of which there are three: Comune, Lucido and Extralucido. Although generations of growers has repeated the received wisdom that the last two gave the best wines, until de Bartoli came along with his Lucido bottling nobody had bothered to see if that was really the case. Those consumers who have never found a Marsala wine to like owe it to themselves to try the ones by made by de Bartoli.”

    Ian D’Agata, Vinous (12/15)

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  • Passopisciaro Contrada PC 2019

    £64.99

    “The 2019 Bianco Contrada Passochianche (PC) opens slowly in the glass, with dusty florals and hints of smoke giving way to a vivid note of fresh slices of Granny Smith apple. It’s savory on the palate with textures like pure silk and a cool-toned freshness and salty mineral core. This leaves nuances of raw almond and hints of green melon while tapering off lightly structured. The 2019 PC is an understated beauty. Drinking window: 2023-2029. 92 points

    The sad news at Passopisciaro is the passing of Andrea Franchetti in December of 2021. Franchetti was truly a visionary winemaker, both in Tuscany and Sicily, and one of the pioneers of Etna. He arrived over two decades ago, and along with a handful of other trailblazers, set out to prove the worth of this region to the world–he most definitely succeeded. My recent interview with the Passopisciaro team revealed a deep-rooted respect and love of Andrea that has inspired them to continue on in his memory, with no foreseeable changes in sight.

    As for the Passopisciaro portfolio, tasting through it is always an education, as the winery has holdings and produces single-vineyard wines from five of the most highly esteemed crus on Mount Etna (Sciara Nuova, Rampante, Porcaria, Guardiola and Chiappemacine). What adds further dynamic to this mix is that all five wines are vinified in the same fashion in the cellar; all refined in large oval-shaped oak barrels between fifteen to thirty-five hectoliters. The end result is the ability to truly study the differences of each individual terroir. Winemaker Vincenzo Lo Mauro stated to me quite eloquently, “Each contrada is like a single instrument.” To make things even more interesting, this year’s lineup included both the 2019 and 2020 vintages, which provided fantastic insights into both years and how different each microclimate performed. For a broader understanding of Etna and the Passopisciaro house style, there is the Passorosso, a blending of multiple crus, with a 45% core coming from Guardiola, and all from vines that are between 80- to 100-years-old. Collectors really can’t look at this wine as an “entry-level” expression because, frankly, it overperforms in every possible way. I often think of the Passorosso the same way that I think of Vietti’s Barolo Castiglione. It’s all about blending for balance. For a more internationally-styled wine, it’s the Franchetti that sits atop the pyramid on Etna. This blend of varying amounts of Petit Verdot and Cesanese D’affile is a permanent stamp that Andrea Franchetti has left upon Etna, having planted the vines in 2000. It has since become one the top wines being made in Italy today. As for the whites, readers may be surprised to learn that both of the Biancos of Passopisciaro are made with Chardonnay, and from locations that are some of the highest-elevation plantings of the variety in the world, at 1,000 meters. When Andrea Franchetti arrived on Etna, Carricante from this part of the region didn’t impress him; and so, in 2002, he planted Chardonnay in the Guardiola and Passochianche crus. Now that these vines have come to age, the winery also produces a Cru Bianco, the Passochianche (PC). Plainly stated, for collectors with the resource to do so, the entire portfolio is worth hunting for.”

    Eric Guido, Vinous (06/22)

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  • Passopisciaro Passobianco 2017

    £34.95

    “The 2017 Passobianco shows a pretty straw-gold color with aromas of Golden Delicious apple, honey and a touch of sweetly toasted almond. This is a mid-weight wine that remains light and balanced on the palate thanks to those distinctive background notes of volcanic ash and sea salt. This is an extremely Mediterranean expression of Chardonnay. Some 25,000 bottles were released. Drink: 2019-2026. 92 points

    As a note of housekeeping, I want to point out that the estate name seems to be transitioning from Passopisciaro (which is also the name of a town on Etna) to Vini Franchetti, after proprietor Andrea Franchetti. I have changed the brand name to Passopisciaro Vini Franchetti to be consistent with what I see printed in the winery’s literature, although I do notice that the front label of these wines reads Vini Franchetti only.

    Monica Larner, Wine Advocate (10/19)

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  • Marco de Bartoli Integer Zibibbo 2018

    £31.99

    Review to follow

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