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Last year when we tasted our first wine from Passofonduta (the 2020 white wine called “Solfare”) we were knocked out. There was a tiny amount of wine available (and we drank more than a bottle at home), so it mostly passed unnoticed, except for a few lucky customers who were also knocked out. Now the wine is back, along with two stunning reds – the supply is still very limited, but the wines are so exciting we had to let you in on them. As we say in the shop by way of short-hand, the wines are in the CSW program: organic farming, non-interventionist winemaking. I haven’t been to visit yet, so instead of plagiarizing from the Louis/Dressner website, it seemed best to reproduce that text in full fascinating detail. Jamie Wolff
Passofonduto is located about 25 kms from Agrigento and the south coast of central Sicily, on the edge of the province of Caltanisetta. This is a landscape of steep outcrops that was once a source of salt and sulfur. The mines are now closed as the demand for rock salt and rock sulfur has moved over to industrial sources, but the richness of these minerals is evident in the soils all around, making it a very unique area to cultivate vines.
In 2015 Giuseppe Cipolla began planting vines on a plot of land that his family cultivated mainly for other crops like grains, olives, fruits and legumes. Working with two other plots of grapes that were already established in the Torre di Salto d’ Angio and San Vicenzo, he began the search for his ideal expression of terroir in the wines he started making.
The majority of the vines are cultivated in alberello, planted on a very steep hillside of rocky chalk -based soils, consisting of gypsum, halite, calcareous sulfur, and other types of salt deposits from the Messinian period (about 5-6 million years ago). The work is hard but a labor of love and quality for Giuseppe. In the Contrada Passofonduto he built all of the terraces on the 1.5 hectares he has already planted, and he is creating more for future plantings. The total surface of the farm is 16 hectares, and he plans to continue a mixed use of vines, cereals and fruits, but with more vines.
He's planted Nero d’Avola and Nerello Mascalese for reds; Grillo, Zibibo, and Catarratto for whites. The vines have all been grafted in place on American rootstock, except for one small plot of Zibibo that was grafted at a nursery. He uses various massale clones to increase resistance to maladies. The old plots in Torre di Salto have a number of vines planted in unknown local white varieties.
Right now there are three wines of note: "Solfare”, a white wine from mostly Grillo and Catarratto, which are destemmed and then macerated for one day in fiberglass and fermented half in fiberglass, and half in French oak barrels. The grapes for Solfare come from the Torre di Salto d’Angio (the name means “to sulfur”, but actually derives from a particular geologic formation of rock sulfur in the area); the vines are over 40 years old and converted to pergola. The elevation is about 500m, with various exposures from north-to-northwest, depending on the parcel.
"Le Robbe" is a red wine from Nero d’Avola with 15% aromatic white grapes, macerated from one to three days then fermented and aged in barrel. The grapes come from Torre di Salto d’ Angio (230* year old vines in alberello and pergola) and San Vicenzo (15 year old vines trained in Guyot on opaque limestone and a dark clay). [* Not a typo!]
"Passofonduto" is another red wine from Nero d’Avola and 10% Nerello Mascalese, destemmed, lightly crushed and macerated for six days. It comes exclusively from the vines Giuseppe has planted himself at the Contrada Passofonduto.
There is absolutely no doubt that Giuseppe has the potential, passion, grapes and terroir to continue to develop a formidable estate in a remarkably unique region of Sicily. It’s pretty exciting. Courtesy Louisdressner.com
This is the best skin-contact wine I’ve tasted in a long time - this might seem like faint praise, but I assure you: this wine is spectacular. Just one day of maceration with the skins lends it distinctly orange wine character, but anyone who thinks they don’t care for skin-contact white will likely change their mind with Solfare. For one thing it’s fresh and clean – no weird mousiness, etc. For another it’s a living text book example of terroir and minerality, showing intense chalk and saline aromas and flavors, with added complexity from savory herbs and resin, and fruit that echoes ripe Chenin Blanc. The wine is very brisky and juicy, wound together with bracing acidity. A brilliant wine and a great addition to the best wines of Sicily. Jamie Wolff
Le Robbe is stunningly good – it’s that simple. The wine itself is plenty complex, and really dynamic and energetic, marrying the crazy minerality of all of the Passofonduta wines with great lift from juicy citrus fruit (ripe blood orange, for instance) along with the darker, earthy fruit that we more typically associate with Nero d’Avola. This may be due to the very* old-vine grapes, and to the inclusion of 15% of mixed white grape varieties (winemaker Giuseppe Cipolla doesn’t know the names of those grapes), but the result is remarkable. I’m looking forward to sharing this with some wine-loving friends – I predict amazement. Jamie Wolff *Very old vines is not a regulated term, but in this case it means 230 years old!
Le Robbe is stunningly good – it’s that simple. The wine itself is plenty complex, and really dynamic and energetic, marrying the crazy minerality of all of the Passofonduta wines with great lift from juicy citrus fruit (ripe blood orange, for instance) along with the darker, earthy fruit that we more typically associate with Nero d’Avola. This may be due to the very* old-vine grapes, and to the inclusion of 15% of mixed white grape varieties (winemaker Giuseppe Cipolla doesn’t know the names of those grapes), but the result is remarkable. I’m looking forward to sharing this with some wine-loving friends – I predict amazement. Jamie Wolff
*Very old vines is not a regulated term, but in this case it means 230 years old!
Passofonduta Rosso is 90% Nero d’Avola with 10% Nerello Mascalese, it’s a rounder, deeper wine, a more contemplative and serious sibling to Le Robbe. It does share Le Robbe’s intensity and lift, balanced with bright, earthy plum, and a host of savory, mineral aromas and flavors. Another candidate for one of the great wines of Sicily - no mean achievement, these days. My tasting note opens with a highly technical “Wow!” .Jamie Wolff