Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Planeta Winery: Still More Indigenous Treasures of Sicily
To his horror, Odysseus learned that Polyphemus was a man-eater when the Cyclops captured him and some of his men. Each day, the Cyclops ate a couple of those sailors. Clever Odysseus possessed a wine skin of a undiluted, honeyed red wine which had a high alcohol content. Odysseus convinced the Cyclops to drink the strong wine, which eventually caused the giant to fall asleep. Then, Odysseus and his men drove a sharp stake into the Cyclops' single eye, blinding him, and allowing them the opportunity to escape.
Planeta Winery, related this tale to us at a recent media wine tasting lunch at Ostra. It was intended to illustrate the ancient change on Sicily, when the people first began to tend to grape vines rather than letting them run wild. It was the start of their wine industry, laying the foundation for few thousand years of vinous history. And it also illustrated how wine might save your life, albeit there aren't any Cyclops running around the world.
I first met Alessio four years ago and tasted a number of his wines, providing my thoughts in my article, Planeta Wines: Indigenous Treasures of Sicily. Two years later, I attended another Planeta event, tasting some different wines, and penned my feelings in Planeta Wines: More Indigenous Treasures of Sicily. I recommend you read those articles for more background on Planeta though I'll provide a brief summary here
Planeta Wines is 22 years old, having been founded in 1995 by three cousins: Alessio, Francesca and Santi Planeta. They now own 6 distinct wine estates, totaling about 390 hectares of vineyards, across Sicily, including Ulmo at Sambuca di Sicilia, Dispensa at Menfi, Dorilli at Vittoria, Buonivini at Noto, Sciara Nuova on Etna at Castiglione di Sicilia, and La Baronia at Capo Milazzo. They are devoted to environmental sustainability, and continue to work at making their wineries as environmentally friendly as possible. The reason they do so is: "Because the land and the environment are a collective benefit as well as the company’s heritage, and it is a duty to make every effort to preserve it."
Alessio Planeta is personable and down to earth, passionate about wine and Sicily. He is the the Chief Winemaker at Planeta, and has also been working to identify unique terroirs in Sicily. For this event, Alessio's primary purpose was to showcase the different expressions of Nero d'Avola, highlighting the different terroirs of Sicily.
Though back in 1880, there were about 322,000 hectares of vineyards, today there are only about 100,000 hectares, with 62% planted on hillsides. Sicily has about 19 Local/Regional grapes, 9 ancient grapes and 5 international ones. Approximately 64% of their vineyards are planted with white grapes, 36% with red, and the vineyards are also broken down 80% with local/regional grapes and 20% with international grapes. The top three most planted grapes include Catarratto Bianco (33%), Nero d'Avola (16%) and Grillo (6.5%). The island is divided into 1 DOC Sicilia, 22 Local DOC and 1 DOCG. About 5.1 Million hectoliters of wine are produced annually, roughly 57 million cases.
Harvest extends for three months, from August (often when they start picking Chardonnay) through October (when they are picking the Nerello Mascalese). Planeta has estates in five different regions of Sicily, each with their own unique soil type. In Menfi, their estates include Ulmo and Dispensa, totaling about 251 hectares, and their first harvest was in 1985. Menfi has clay-calcareous soils. In, Vittoria, they own the Dorilli estate, consisting of 34 hectares, and their first harvest was in 2001. Vittorio has marine-calcareous soils. In Noto, they own the Buonivini estate, consisting of 51 hectares, and their first harvest was in 1998. Noto has calcareous soils. In Etna (which has the tallest active volcano in Europe), they own the Sciaranuova estate, consisting of 28 hectares, and their first harvest was in 2012. Etna has volcanic soils. In Capo Milazzo, they own the La Baronia estate, consisting of 8 hectares, and their first harvest was in 2013.
The origins of the Nero d'Avola grape are murky, with its first documented reference in 1696, and on Sicily, it is thought the grape first took hold in the Noto DOC and spread from there. Alessio feels that Nero d'Avola is one of the iconic grapes that represents the best of Italy. Nero d'Avola expresses itself differently dependent on the soil and terroir and Alessio pointed out four different expressions. In Menfi, you find a softer wine with notes of plum, chocolate, and mint, and in Vittoria, you get lots of freshness with notes of strawberry and cherry. In Noto, you'll find notes of currants, balsamic, carob, and incense while in Capo Milazzo, you'll get a fresh, velvety wine with notes of black cherry, and citrus.
Fortunately, many of the passed appetizers were seafood based, from lobster ravioli to hamachi. Every one of the appetizers was delicious and it was hard not to load up on those small bites, despite knowing we would be having a full lunch. I haven't dined at Ostra before, and this event persuaded me that I need to return soon to experience their regular menu.
We then moved onto the 2014 Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG ($24), a blend of 60% Nero d'Avola and 40% Frappato, and we also tasted the 2007 vintage ($24). I previously tasted the 2004, 2010 and 2011 vintages, and raved about the amazing 2004 vintage, giving it my highest recommendation. The young 2014 vintage was delicious, with plenty of deep red fruit flavors, accented by pepper spice and savory notes. With more aging, this wine should develop very well, and could reach the quality of the 2004. The 2007 vintage had a touch of apparent sweetness, despite not possessing any significant residual sugar. It was enjoyable but didn't seem to possess the complexity and potential of the 2014.
The 2014 Dorilli Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico DOCG ($33) is a blend of 70% Nero d'Avola and 30% Frappato. I previously tasted the 2011 vintage and it was an excellent wine that I strongly recommended. About 30% of the wines from this DOCG come from the Classico subzone. Though it sees some barrel aging, it remains fresh with more concentrated red fruit flavors, mild spice and a touch of balsamic savoriness. It is a more powerful wine, yet still possesses an elegance. A well balanced and delicious wine.
With a compelling aroma of black fruit, spice and mild floral notes, this was an impressive wine, with tasty flavors of plum and black cherry, enhanced by a spicy backbone. The tannins were well integrated, the finish was long and pleasing, and it possessed a nice acidity. With plenty of complexity, it seduced my palate and I would highly recommend it.
The Nocera grape is also used in a blend, the 2014 Nero d'Avola Nocera Sicilia DOC ($26), which has 70% Nero d'Avola and 30% Nocera. This wine presented with a more subdued aroma, greater spice and floral notes on the palate, though in many ways it was similar to the single varietal Nocera. If I had to choose, I'd give my preference to the single varietal Nocera.
Next, we tasted two vintages, the 2010 and 2011 of the Santa Cecilia Noto DOC ($45), which is also made from 100% Nero d'Avola. Both wines were tasty, with ripe black fruit flavors, milder spice notes, an herbal aspect, a balsamic element and some underlying black tea notes. Plenty of complexity, a long and pleasing finish, and well integrated tannins. The main difference between the vintages was a bit of blueberry and stronger spice notes in the 2011. Both earn my strong recommendation.