Thoughts on new releases I tasted during my recent visit to Sicily:
The Planeta family continues to impress with its excellent quality spread out over a dazzling array of wines, whether white, red or sweet, be they from indigenous or international varieties. A new release called Dorilli is a Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico (this is the 2008 vintage) that is a partner to the winery’s very succesful Cerasuolo normale bottling. The Dorilli has a slightly higher percentage of Nero d’Avola compared to the regular version (70% instead of 60%); medium-full, this is a lovely wine with beautiful varietal purity and a long, elegant finish.
Also noteworthy are the 2008 Syrah “Maroccoli” and the Merlot “Sito dell’Olmo”, two newly designated wines. The Syrah is medium-full with appealing mocha and marmalade flavors, while the Merlot is quite rich, with elegant tannins and very subtle oak. The 2008 “Santa Cecilia” Nero d’Avola is another excellent bottling; this should peak in 10-12 years. The 2008 marks the first time the wine can be labeled as Noto DOC.
Baglio di Pianetto
The new releases are excellent as normal, but the truly exciting news at Baglio di Pianetto is the hiring of Marco Bernabei as winemaker. Marco is the son of famed Tuscan winemaker Franco Bernabei (Fontodi, Felsina, Selvapiana, et al); if Marco has inherited one-quarter of his father’s enological know-how, the wines at Pianetto could be routinely outstanding.
The new wines are impressive, including the 2010 Ficiligno and the 2009 Viognier “Ginolfo”. The former is a Viognier/Insolia blend that is absolutely delicious and a wonderful partner for lighter seafood, while the latter has a bit more depth on the palate and can stand up to poultry as well as richer seafood. The honeysuckle, pear and pineapple aromas are alluring.
I was also greatly impressed with the 2006 “Cembali” Nero d’Avola and the “Ramione”, also from 2006. The Cembali is 100% Nero d’Avola from estate vineyards near Noto in southeastern Sicily, while the Ramione is a Merlot/Nero d’Avola blend with the Merlot sourced from vineyards at the winery’s location not far from Palermo in northwestern Sicily. Both wines have impressive concentration, attractive spice and excellent varietal character.
I visited the Etna zone for the second time and was quite impressed with the quality of the wines, not only the reds, but also a few whites. The white grape here is Carricante and I throughly enjoyed several bottlings including the 2009 Cottanera, the 2010 Planeta and the 2007 Benanti “Pietramarina”. This last wine in particular shows what can be done with this grape; medium-full with fruit flavors of apricot and apple, this is quite rich on the palate with beautiful structure. This is a white that can age and improve for 7-10 years and in some vintages, even longer.
The Etna Rosso wines are the real star here; if you can find any bottlings from the 2008 vintage, grab those, as this was an exceptional vintage in this district. A great example is the “Musmeci” from Tenuta di Fessina. A blend of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, the wine has the texture and style of a Burgundy from the Cote d’Or, with sensual flavors of wild strawberry and bacon fat, backed my perfectly balanced tannins and pinpoint acidity. You will be hearing a lot about this estate as well as the wines of Etna in general over the coming years.
Finally, recommendations of a few other new releases from Sicily:
The 2009 Pupillo Moscato “Pollio” is a semi-dry version of Moscato from this estate that specializes in this variety. Beautiful peach and yellow flower aromas and a delicate finish- very appealing!
COS is famous for its beautifully structured bottlings of Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico – the 2008 is another dazzling wine! Strawberry, red rose and carnation aromas and a lovely, subdued entry on the palate are highlights. This wine should drink well for another 7-10 years, despite the fact that the tannins are so delicate. Lovely winemaking as always from this great estate.
Arianna Occhipinti produced an outstanding 2008 Nero d’Avola “Siccagno”; with intriguing aromas of strawberry, red currant and nutmeg; this wine has excellent concentration and persistence. Truly outstanding complexity, this is a gorgeous expression of Nero d’Avola and will certainly be on my list of the Best Italian wines of the year.
The 2007 Cusumano “Noa” is a blend of Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that has appealing black fruit flavors and excellent ripeness. It is most assuredly in a modern style, but the oak is not overwhelming and the wine has beautiful complexity and balance. This is my favorite wine this year from the dependable producer.
Finally, the 2008 Abraxas Passito di Pantelleria is a superb example of this rare dessert wine from the small island of Pantelleria, south of Sicily. The aromas are heavenly – dried apricot, orange zest and caramel while the wine offers deeply concentrated fruit and outstanding persistence. While quite rich and lush, the wine is only lightly sweet, thanks to lively acidity. Along with the Donnafugata Ben Ryé from the same vintage, this is one of the finest bottlings of dessert wine from Italy I have tasted over the past several years.