This is a real mysterious gem on the slopes of Mt Etna wine region! Navigation kept making fun of us taking to different dirt roads, which were accessible only if you are a donkey or a truck. But at the end we found the right spot on the map - it was an impressive dark grey mansion, without any indications of being a winery. Nevertheless, I rung the bell, and surprisingly we were at the right place.
No advertisement is needed, when 80% of your wines made of 100 years old vines and you produce only 90 000 bottles. All of which are premium class wines of Etna.
Pietradolce's history begun in 2005 with the beginning of new era in Etna wine making. Benanti, Tenuta delle Terre Nere, Pietradolce and a bunch of other today's 'grands' of Mt Etna started their wine ventures those years.
The owner, Michele Faro, comes from a family which was always connected to agriculture. They come from Etna and his grandfather was a small wine producer himself, selling it in bulk. Michele's family owns a tremendous exotic plant nursery, and in 2005 they decided to invest in vines and wines.
Patch by patch the current Pietradolce vineyard was created. The parcels are really small, and sometimes in between their plots you can see land still managed by farmers (probably very resistant ones, as land on Etna DOC becomes more and more expensive). In total, Pietradolce is 11 hectares of mostly pre Phylloxera vineyards, producing just 90 000 bottles a year.
The vines are mostly pre-phylloxera ones, proudly standing on their original European rootstocks, trained traditionally in alberello bushes.
The vines are mostly pre-phylloxera ones, proudly standing on their original European rootstocks, trained traditionally in alberello bushes. The elevation is high, the yield is low, but here the quantity was never a target. From the very beginning, Pietradolce committed to produce only the best wine. Their aim is to recover a taste of wine from the 19th century, made by careful farmers with minimum intervention and no heavy oak. Just like Michele's ancestors did.
the vineyards are cultivated organically and all works done by hand
That's why the vineyards are cultivated organically and all works done by hand. Well, even if they ever wanted to use machinery it would be almost impossible. The vines are planted very close to each other, a person can barely walk in between their bushes. Some hundreds years ago they were planted everywhere, even on stones. The volcano covered so much of the soils with lava, that people learned to use the land efficiently. That's how the terraced amphitheater vineyards were born. Half-round, surrounded with walls built of black lava stones. This is a must see on your Etna wine route!
All this is done to increase not only space, but also sun exposure. At 900 m elevation you have to ensure the grapes will ripe. The black lava stones, just as the black lean sand absorb the heat during the day and prolong the ripening process during night. The terraced 'anfiteatro' planting and 'alberello' style training ensures the grapes are never in shade.
They work only with rare wine varietals native to Mt Etna - Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Capuccio and Carricante. Most of these vines are more than 100 years old, and many of them are pre-Phylloxera vines standing on their original rootstock.
Once we entered to the winery, more discoveries were to be made. The vinification is full of experiments - besides stainless steel tanks of various shapes for different needs, they have concrete tanks and wooden tanks for experiments with white wines and debourbage (I won't relieve more secrets!)
they use new French oak only for entry level wines and old oak for premium wines
The ageing cellar is even more impressive - here they use new French oak only for entry level wines (up to 3 month oaked), and old oak for premium wines. Guiseppe, their winemaker said they 'age' the oak on entry wines, to have it old for premium ones. You normally see the opposite, don't you? But Nerello Moscalese has very sophisticated aromas and they want to be careful while oaking it. As the premium wines are about to stay in oak form 12 to 24 months, depending on the wine.
The whole winery is modern, minimalist but here and there you can see unexpected artworks embedded in the interior.
And then the wine tasting room and their terrace - it was like a definition of a perfect living room for me, with light and shade, warm colours and lots of wood. Couldn't find a better place to taste their unique 'volcanic' wines from Etna.
Etna wine tasting at Pietradolce
Pietradolce Rosato DOC - the juice is left with the skins for only 4 hours! And it managed to create such a rich colour palate and aromas. This is a 100% Nerello Mascalese rosato. It has a very rich fruit bouquet of ripe strawberries, wild berries, raspberries and black currant, with some spring flower hint.
Pietradolce Etna Rosso DOC - 100% Nerello Mascalese, which ages for 3 months in new French oak. Here you'll find lots of dark berries, hint of orange zest, clove and wet stone. The wine has a great acidity and soft ripe tannins.
Pietradolce Etna Rosso Archineri DOC - a single vineyard Nerello Mascalese, from 80-90 years old pre-phylloxera vines from a terraced amphitheater vineyard at a 850 m elevation. It goes through an 18-days of maceration and natural malolactic fermentation, ages in light toast fine grain tonneux. Wild berry, gum tree, flower bloom, anise and cherry, and perhaps much more to discover!
Pietradolce Contrada Rampante DOC - our favourite Etna wine, Giuseppe poured us some of this wine while he left to the cellar to get the wines that we wanted to take home. Well, as we tasted I immediately called him to get us a bottle of Rampante as well. It's produced of 80-100 years old pre-phylloxera vines, that macerate, have the malolactic fermentation and age in light toast oak just as the Archineri wine for 14 months. What we loved so much about this wine was I guess the truffle and dark chocolate combination, along with cherries, anise, fine tannins, high acidity and a long dry finish. A great example of how different terroir can change the taste, even if it's made of same Nerello Mascalese, by the same person, and using the same viticultural techniques.
Here I went crazy and bought 5 wines:
- Pietradolce Etna Rosso and Rosato, Etna Rosso Contrada Rampante, Vigni Barbagalli - their top Pre Phylloxera cru, definitely one of the best wines from Etna, and their very special and experimental Sant'Andrea. I'm looking forward to open them on special occasions, in a few (or more!) years.
It's takes a lot of hard work to produce a wine of this kind in a soil full of stones. But at Pietradolce they truly love those lava stones, that's where the name comes from. Pietradolce means 'sweet' or 'dear' stones, as locals know that they benefit from an exceptional terroir thanks to the elegant and powerful lady Etna, who covered their lands with lava. And you got to respect her in the area ;)
Would you like to join me on a visit to Pietradolce? I can't wait returning there and continuing their terroir discovery!