Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Planeta Winery of Sicily Part II: Wines that speak to Territory

Planeta Winery of Sicily Part II: Wines that Speak to Territory

A guided tasting with Alessio Planeta, winemaker and Francesca Planeta. Sales Manager

Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

Menfi, Italy—Alessio Planeta is a scholarly looking man with an encyclopedic knowledge of the wines that he makes. During an exclusive tasting for international journalists attending Sicilia en Primeur sponsored by Assovini Sicilia, the non-profit association of Sicilian wine producers, he presented an extensive portfolio of wines that demonstrated why Sicily is fast gaining world renown as a producer of ultra-premium wines.

The afternoon began with a spectacular buffet of local culinary delights and  Planeta Brut Metodo Classico. Made from 100% Carricante, a local grape variety. The grapes are picked early and then destemmed and crushed before being soft pressed. The wine is fermented under consistent cold temperature for 15 days in a special room. The wine remains on the less (de-activated yeast) before being prepared for bottling and, ultimately, disgorgement (removal of the dead yeast). The sparkling wine is fragrant with a fresh mineral taste. It is defined by a straw yellow color with flecks of green. Flavors of ripe, white peaches, Meyer lemons and crushed chamomile flowers make it as perfect accompaniment to sushi, fried artichokes and spaghetti with sea urchins, all local Sicilian delicacies. Great as an aperitif, it pairs perfectly with passed hors d’oeuvres and such Sicilian specialties as sardines, “baccala” (salt cod) or an omelet of wild leeks, dried sausage and crostini. Tuna tartar, oysters or anchovies drowning in sesame oil or Sciacca citrus shrimp balls or fried Aranchia, crispy dumplings stuffed with herbed rice are also the order of the day.

Planeta’s Chardonnay is exemplary, but the white grape most associated with Sicily Is the Muscat grape. According to Alessio Planeta, it is the most ancient of all grape varietals and may have been the first grape variety to reach Sicilian shores.  Traditionally, Muscat wine has always been sweet, but modern incarnations run the gamut from moderately dry to syrupy dessert wines. Planeta’s Moscati di Noto 2006 is powerful with rich, tropical flavors. It’s somewhat spicy with a lively finish. The 2006 is rich and intense with a hint of spice and a vivacious finish of orange marmalade.

Francesca Planeta spoke at the Ulma winery in Sambuca. “This is an extraordinary winegrowing region in southwest Sicily in which most of the vineyards are dedicated to indigenous grapes such as Grecanico and Nero d’ Avila. Kit’s also where in the ‘80s an important experimentation began on international varieties, such as Chardonnay and Merlot and Shiraz. Planeta started making our wines in 1995, and this is the place (Sambuca) where we first started producing our wines, which were blends of both indigenous and international varieties such as La Segreta Bianco and La Segreta Rosso all the way to some pure Cru of international varietals. The most popular of our wines is the Chardonnay, which has become one of the icons of Planeta all around the world. That wine was first produced at the vineyards all around this farm.

“We are near a lake, which is called Lago Arancia, and the 90 hectares around the lake are dedicated to Chardonnay grapes.  The soil is well suited in that it is clay soil that is also quite vegetal, because of its close proximity to the lake. This vineyard is also particularly unique because of the Sicilian sun and the special climate, which is mild. It’s never too hot here. That, combined with the soil gives the particularity to the wine.”

Planeta Nero d’Avola wines were presented in a vertical tasting, which is a comparison evaluation of one wine from the same producer from several vintage production years.

Planeta first began producing its Nero d’Avola in 1997 which was a blend of 85% Nero d’Avola and 15% Syrah. This is a warm, herbaceous wine with notes of mint and spices. A freshness and earthiness makes for a mouth-filling experience.  Planeta’s 1998 version is 100% Nero d’Avola is fresh and tart with a palate of black cherries, blackberries and other dark fruit with a structure accented by spicy and earthy undertones. 1999 Planeta Santa Cecilia IGT Nero D’Avola di Sicilia was the first year in which fruit from the Noto vineyard at their Buonivini estate was added. Spicy, with a backbone of rich, turned earth. Venturing into the new millennium, progressing through the years 2000, 2001, ‘05, ‘06, ‘07 and a barrel sample of the 2008, one could see the progression toward more focused fresh, floral aromatics, deeper flavors of bright cherry fruit and, in the 2008 barrel sample, a distinct nose of fresh, dark chocolate.

Chardonnay, as Francesca mentioned, is the international flagship white wine of Planeta, and the winery’s most successful product, hands down. Wholly 85% of the wine production in Sicily is white wine, most of it local varieties such as Grecanico, Grillo and Trebbiano. Each of the blends that Planeta makes from these grapes is outstanding in its own right, but it is Chardonnay, with its crisp apple and bright lemon citrus flavors and layering of white peaches and its ability to sustain a year or two of bottle aging, that makes it the most attractive and popular of its portfolio.

A grand finale tasting of Planeta Moscati di Noto 2007 and a tank sample of Passito di Noto DOC 2008 opened an entire world of sweet intensity enlivened by the flavor of ripe grapes and textures of lemon and spices and, in the case of the Moscati, a luscious finish of orange marmalade. Hold the Tiramisu. It won’t be needed at this table!
 The vineyards in and around Menfi and Sambuca, Sicily

 Francesca Planeta
 Alessio Planeta
 Arancia (little oranges) and the sumptuous buffet at Sambuca

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