On Friday, 9th November, we welcomed some 60 guests and Planeta - doyens of Sicilian winemaking - to the Perth Museum (and Art Gallery), in which we were facilitated by Planeta's UK importers, Enotria & Coe. Canapes were provided by the excellent Number 9 Chef Services.
We were joined by Planeta's winemaker, Patricia Toth, whio guided us through 9 (4 white, 5 red) of their wines (plus a 'secret' wine) in fairly short order (one cannot keep the Museum open indefinitely, alas...). Both Patricia and we found it especially difficult choosing a shortlist of wines for the evening from their extensive range. A key objective was to bring to the audience a) a few of Planeta's lesser-known labels and b) wines from all 5 of their wineries on Sicily. For those hoping for others of the range... well, we chose as well as we could and made our guests as wobbly as we dare .... and those wines can still be obtained!
For those who were unable to join us, here's a round-up and synopsis of what we tasted: (all wines feature at the foot of the page)
THE WHITES (with winery name in brackets)
1) Moscato Secco Allemanda 2017 (Buonivini) - now the 2018 available - a highly aromatic, bone dry wine with really ebullient notes of pink grapefruit, honey and ripe Muscat grapes. This emerged as a finely-balanced wine: the palate has seriously opulent fruit notes but also a lovely savoury hint. The Moscato grape is grown all over the Mediterranean, but has a real character of its own in Noto in the south-east of Sicily.
2) Alastro 2017 (Ulmo) - a fine expression of the Grecanico grape (also known as Garganega in Italy's north and the backbone of one of Italy’s greatest (if most misunderstood) wines – Soave). In Menfi, the wine manifests itself as rather fuller in the mouth. This Grecanico is lifted by the addition of Sauvignon Blanc (for aroma) and Grillo (to enhance the fruit notes). This is a great all-round wine: ideal as an aperitif, but particularly at home with good fish (both freshwater and marine) and - unusually for most Italian whites - wonderful with aromatic spicy dishes (eg Thai, Indonesian, Japanese cuisine).
3) Terebinto 2016 (Ulmo) - Grillo has become a most fashionable grape of late, although it has been grown in this part of Sicily for at least 120 years as the key constituent of Marsala (the fortified wine). Here, what we have is a ripe, medium-bodied version, aided by 6 months on the lees, which both highlights the aromatic nature of the grape and gives the wine a weight which matches beautifully with good shellfish (scallops are a good start). John from Enotria says, " ... or if you are being really adventurous - tortilla chips and guacamole dip! (I promise this is a good match)".
4) Carricante, Eruzione 1614 2017 (Feudo di Mezzo, Etna) - the stand-out white and best-seller of the evening. This is a wine that really shows its place of origin, or terroir (if you will). Carricante is the white grape of Etna and the vineyards are some of the highest on the mountain (so high they fail to qualify as Etna DOC!!). The smoky, aromatic, mineral soil is reflected in the wine. As you sip, the zesty, citrus flavour dances on the palate, backed up by a texture that one only finds from grapes grown on volcanic soils. This is an amazing example of this grape (its aromatics are enhanced with a 10% addition of Riesling). This is a very much a wine for seafood (John says "sardines").
5) Frappato 2017 (Dorilli) - the lightest of the evening's reds and quite a surprise for many, given Sicily's reputation for 'big' wines. Light in/on colour, very aromatic (floral, red fruit, even a citrussy hit), but big on acidity with good tannins. This is a wine all about fruit, and not at all about oak. There's a touch of (good) Beaujolais about this, and Planeta's own note of "good with cheeseburgers" - whilst hinting at the wine's versatility - rather underplays its quality. Quite seriously, this is great with fish. I had a glass with a pan-fried salmon fillet a night or two after the tasting and it was tip-top (official tasting term) .
6) Mamertino 2015 (La Baronia) - along with the Santa Cecilia (number 8), the red of the night. 60% Nero d'Avola, 40% Nocera and a beautifully balanced wine. Enotria John felt it was "showing particularly well" (which is a concept I never quite get... it suggests a Jack Russell that misbehaves terribly at home but is a wee angel when it gets to Crufts). A great balance of fruit, gentle oak (only older larger oak vessels are used) and an "explosive nose" (less disgusting than it sounds, here = blue fruits and jammy berries). This is refined elegance but not at the cost of fruit. Decanter agreed in their May 2018 91-point score.
7) Etna Rosso 2015 (Feudo di Mezzo, Etna) - now the 2016 and 2017 available - this one screams Italy (sour cherries), Sicily and Etna (100% Nerello Mascalese): definitely leftfield and unique. We do try to use our own words, but here we defer to Planeta's which are better: "Vanilla, sour cherry, wild strawberry, a very clean floral effect. In the mouth, substantial but smooth. Very expressive fruit with more complex aromatic elements of undergrowth, myrtle and oriental spices. A wine which unexpectedly transforms into a champion of drinkable red wine with marked savoury flavour and a tasting profile produced by a ferrous touch, rhubarb and very evident black pepper". This one surprised many guests, doing that Barolo thing: weirdly light in colour (and even a little on the nose) but then packing a weighty mouthful. Tested with a paprika chicken casserole, and quite wonderful.
8) Santa Cecilia 2015 (Buonivini) - we reached the first of the evening's Big Reds. With both of these two, use of oak plays a significant part. The Santa Cecilia is Planeta's flagship red, and for good reason. As they themselves phrase it, "Santa Cecila is the very expression of elegance, power, balance and emphasis on the unique aromas of Sicily and is now the yardstick for red wines from indigenous Sicilian grapes". 100% Nero d'Avola from the finest plots of Noto, and matured in 2nd- and 3rd-use French (Allier) oak barriques for 14 months, the wine indeed carries that hamony of power and finess, with firm tannins brought into excellent balance by the oak time. Blackberries and cherries to the max!!
9) Merlot Sito dell'Ulmo 2013 (Ulmo) - is Italian softness in a bottle. As takes on Merlot go, it's definitely unusual. Planeta (rightly) say it's "everything a Merlot should be, deep ruby in colour, rich and vibrant with a core of black frut, juicy flavours of blackcurrant, ripe plum and candied violet with herbal notes of thyme and lavender... Intense flavours and ripe tannins complement an extraordinary long finish". I'd class it as a Merlot With Attitude: it definitely shows a Sicilian streak, being just a fraction less soft - and a whole lot more Sangiovese-like - than many of the New World Merlots we get to try. For a Merlot With Cherries, this is your ne plus ultra.
Mamertino (6) and Santa Cecilia (8) - good with fish
Two other mentions - in response to post-event demand - are definitely required:
- We broke open a couple of bottles of a real Planeta rarity. Their unique Eruzione 1614 Pinot Nero 2016 is grown the better part of 1,000m up the slopes of Mount Etna on a lava flow dating back to the historic eruption of 1614 (you see …). What you have here, as Planeta succinctly put it, is “an absolutely original version of this noble variety”. To be clear, that variety is the one that causes more of stir than any other with Exel customers… Pinot Noir (under its Italian alias). The Eruzione 1614 combines an intensity and and ripeness seldom found this side of the New World with a classically Old World elegance born of an altitude seldom used for Pinot Noir. For the Pinot aficionado, this is most definitely a wine to try and/or add to the collection. We can supply limited stocks.
- For completeness, we offered the evening's bread with Planeta's Extra Virgin Olive Oil. We didn't really expect it to go down a storm and create its own demand. But it did. So, here, for those clamouring for it, and for the olive oil aficionados across the UK, we proudly offer it!
It was a most agreable evening. Suggestions and thoughts on preferred producers are always welcome....
The 2015 vintage was awarded 91 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their May 2018 edition article on Sicily (see blue link below).
In Planeta’s early years, expertise came from a surprising source: Australia. The winemaker brought in by Diego Planeta was an Italian – Carlo Corino – but one who had soaked in the latest warm-climate winemaking secrets during a stint in New South Wales. Ever since, Planeta has managed to captured the intrinsic perfume and fresh flavours of Sicily’s grapes in their wines. The island estate pursued an unconventional approach to winemaking, with Planeta establishing a cult following for its barrel-aged Chardonnay, at a time when most other Italian whites were typically consumed straight out of the fermenter. This early success gave Planeta the credibility it needed to open the world’s eyes to the charms of Sicily’s indigenous grape varieties, ushering in a broad range of wines that today owes as much to Grecanico and Nero d’Avola as it does to the winery’s signature Chardonnay.
For this particular wine, see the blue link below for the excellent fiche technique/technical note from the winemakers at Planeta.
60% Nero d’Avola, 40% Nocera.
Brilliant, intense ruby colour with dark violet reflexes. Explosive nose with notes of Mediterranian maquis, blue fruits and jammy berries. On the palate thick but refined tannins, well integrated with the oak.
ABV = 13.5%.