Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Planeta Wines: More Indigenous Treasures of Sicily

Some wine lovers possess a misconception about the wines of Sicily, believing that they are all essentially the same, that Sicily possesses a singular terroir. However, why should that be the case? Sicily, which covers nearly 10,000 square miles, is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. It is roughly equivalent in size to the Champagne region of France, and is about four times larger than the combined size of Sonoma and Napa counties. Its size alone should be a significant clue that Sicily likely possesses multiple terroirs, a land with a variety of soil types and microclimates.

That was made even more clear at a recent media tasting of some Sicilian wines produced by Planeta Wines. Back in October 2012, I attended a previous Planeta tasting, finding much to enjoy in their wines produced from indigenous Italian grapes, from Carricante to Nerelo Mascelese. Please see that post for some basic information about Planeta.

The recent tasting was at a luncheon held at Meritage Restaurant, Chef Daniel Bruce's famed restaurant at the Boston Harbor Hotel. It happened to be a beautiful and sunny day, so we had a great view of Boston harbor during our lunch. Planeta Wines was represented by three women, including Francesca Planeta (one of the owners), Patricia Toth (winemaker) and Penny Murray (export director). They also chose to highlight wines from two different wineries, each from a different DOC, Noto and Vittoria. Though they own 6 wine estates, each is still a small, artisan operation. Though some Planeta wines are now available, in September, they will be launching a full line of their new wines in the U.S.

Francesca Planeta, who was both personable and knowledgeable, gave an introductory speech about Planeta, stating that they desire to create wines that represent diversity and terroir. She wanted to stress that not all of Sicily is the same, that there are multiple terroirs creating different wines. Sicily also has over 20 local grape varieties, which adds to the diversity. Francesca sat at my table during lunch so she spoke more in depth about some of the terroir differences of the wines we were tasting.

The DOCs of Noto and Vittoria each possesses a different terroir, with white calcareous soil common in Noto while Vittoria soil commonly has red sand. Both estates are also at low elevations. Their Noto estate covers about 60 hectares, and they primarily grow Nero d'Avola and Moscato Bianco. In Vittoria, they rebuilt a 100 year old winery, and primarily grow Nero d'Avola and Frappato.

While enjoying some passed hors d'oeuvre, we sipped the first wine, the 2013 Planeta Moscato di Noto DOC ($21.99). This wine is made from 100% Moscato Bianco and it is fermented and aged in stainless steel. This is a dry wine, not the sweet Moscato that is so popular right now. It is very aromatic, with a complex blend of floral, citrus, vanilla and more. On the palate, it is crisp and full bodied, with an intriguing melange of flavors. A nice apertif.

As we sat down for lunch, our first course was a Maine Lobster & Monkfish Brodetto, with a Saffron & Tomato Aioli Topped Grilled Crostini. The savory broth was tasty, and enhanced the sweet lobster meat and tender monkfish. A tasty way to start our meal.

With this dish, we had three wines, including the 2013 Planeta Frappato DOC Vittoria ($21-$22), which won't be released in the U.S. until around September. I like the Frappato grape, and this example was impressive. It was a light bodied wine, with floral and red fruit aromas, and a light red color. On the palate, there was a delicious blend of red fruit, smokiness, mild spice and some minerality. It is an easy drinking wine with character, and paired well with seafood. Those who like Pinot Noir will probably also enjoy Frappato.

The only DOCG, the highest level of appellation. in Sicily is currently Cerasuolo di Vittoria, a blend of Nero d'Avola and Frappato. The Italian term "cerasuolo" means "cherry red," reflective of the usual color of the wine. This wine can also qualify as Classico if it is aged at least 18 months.

The 2011 Planeta Cerasuolo Di Vittoria DOCG ($23.99) is a blend of 60% Nero d'Avola and 40% Frappato. It was light bodied and fresh, with bright cherry and strawberry flavors, and smoky accents, with a hint of licorice. An easy drinking wine, it still possesses character and complexity. The 2011 Planeta Cerasuolo Di Vittoria Dorilli DOCG ($32.99) is a blend of 70% Nero d'Avola and 30% Frappato. The Dorilli estate, named after the Dorilli River, is located close to land which once was owned by the Planetas’ paternal grandmother. It is a Classico, and I found it more full bodied, though still with mild tannins. The flavors were more complex, with subdued red fruit, a spicy backbone and a lengthy,pleasing finish. An excellent wine which I strongly recommend.

Last year, I tasted the 2010 and 2004 vintages of Planeta Cerasuolo, and the 2004 was superb, showing its potential for aging.

Our main course was a combination of Slow Roasted Long Island Duck and Foie Gras Filled Ravioli, with Wild Rapini Greens and Melted Fennel. A superb dish, with such decadent ravioli and duck that was cooked perfectly. Delicate pasta, silky foie, tender duck. Chef Bruce knocked it out of the park with this dish.

With the duck and ravioli, we drank the 2009 Planeta Santa Cecilia Nero d'Avola, DOC Noto, ($41.99), made from 100% Nero d'Avola. It was a more powerful wine, with moderate tannins, dark fruit flavors, a mild spiciness and a very long finish. Delicious and compelling, this was another excellent wine from Planeta. I previously tasted the 2005 and 2007 vintages, which gave me some indication of this wine's potential for aging.

Dessert was a Contemporary Carrot Cake with Roasted Pineapples & Toasted Walnuts. If you look at the photo, you might wonder where the carrot cake is located. However, it is just below the hemisphere, which is composed of a creamy and sweet mix, which didn't taste like cream cheese in the least. It was sweet and creamy, and sat upon a moist carrot cake. This has to be the best carrot cake dish I have eaten in years. The walnuts and pineapple enhanced the dish, and I could easily have devoured another one.

The final wine was the 2010 Planeta Passito Di Noto DOC, ($40.99/500ml), which is made from 100% Moscato Bianco. With a fine golden color, it presents an alluring aroma of dried fruit, honey and floral elements. On the palate, it possesses concentrated and complex flavors of citrus, melon, dried fruit and honey, with plenty of acidity which means it only presents a mild, balanced sweetness. A tasty way to end out lunch.

Sicilian wines are starting to get the attention they deserve in the U.S. so you can expect to find them more readily available at your local wine shop. Remember that Sicily possesses multiple terroirs, and that you will find plenty of diversity in the wines of this large island. When seeking Sicilian wines, you definitely should check out the wines of Planeta, especially those which use Italian indigenous grapes. Though they own multiple estates, they still are more of an artisan producer, and are creating some compelling wines.


Frederick Wright said...

Richard - your recommendations are always excellent, but Planeta is in a class by itself. Truly superb wine!

Caramella said...

I love Sicily and its products...I'm half Sicilian :)