Posts tagged ‘baglio di pianetto’

The Latest from Sicily

Mt. Etna, mid-March (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

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.

Count Paolo Marzotto, Baglio di Pianetto (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

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.

Silvia Maestrelli, Proprietor, Tenuta di Fessina (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Other wines

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.

April 19, 2011 at 10:49 am Leave a comment

Surprising Italian Whites that age

We’re quite familiar with the aging potential of the finest Italian red wines. Any discussion about Brunello di Montalcino, Amarone, Barolo, Barbaresco and Taurasi inevitably deals with how long these wines will age; 15-25 years is not uncommon, especially for the best products from superior vintages, while a few of these wines drink well some 35-40 years after the vintage date.

While these wines are quite special, the truth is that there are many relatively common Italian reds that age well, be they Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Chianti Classico or Lagrein, to name only a few. Here the aging potential is more in the 5-10 year range, though I’ve tasted a few special bottlings of Chianti Classico at 25 years of age that were in fine shape.

So red wines from Italy do age well, but what about the whites? Well, except for a few examples, there is little talk of this subject, as it seems that many writers and fans of Italian white wines put them in the “appealingly fresh” category, for consumption over 2-5 years after their vintage date. There certainly are a lot of Italian whites such as this (as there are with many whites from France, California, New Zealand, et al), but there are some examples that age much longer than five years and many of them are not very famous.

Baglio di Pianetto winery and vineyards (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I was reminded of this during my most recent visit to Sicily, where I stayed at Baglio di Pianetto, a lovely estate not far from Palermo in the northwestern reaches of the island. Like many Sicilian wine farms, red wines such as Nero d’Avola, Syrah and Merlot are specialties, but here the whites are also quite notable. One of the finest and most intriguing from this estate is a bottling known as Ficiligno (named for a local stone found in some of the estate vineyards), a blend of Insolia and Viognier. This is an aromatic white that is aged solely in steel tanks to preserve its appealing perfumes of honeydew melon, lilacs and quince. It has a nice richness, while maintaining a lightness on the palate and a refreshing finish.

The first thing I thought about this wine (after how delightful and delicious it was) was that this a wine to be enjoyed with food over the next 2-3 years. Then my dining companion, Alberto Burrato, the CEO of the winery, opened up the 2003 bottling and my mind was opened to new possibilities for this wine. The color was what I expected for a seven year old white (deep yellow), but the wine still had a good freshness and was very enjoyable with our meal. This was especially impressive, as 2003 was a torridly hot year that resulted in wines with less than normal acidity.

It just so happened that I also had an older bottle of white wine from Baglio di Pianetto at my apartment in Chicago. This was the 2004 Viognier (labeled as Piana di Ginolfo). Now Viognier is not that common in Sicily and the version this producer makes is very appealing with honeysuckle, pear and pineapple aromas, is medium-bodied and has a lovely texture. Having tasted a few vintages of each wine, I’d say from the same year that the Ginolfo Viognier has a bit more aging potential than the Ficiligno.

However, I thought I may have waited too long, as this style of Viognier rewards consumption within a few years of the vintage. So when I opened the wine a few weeks ago, some six-plus years after it was made, I wondered it if would still show some life, especially as I hadn’t stored this wine in my cool cellar, but instead took it from a cardboard box in my living room.

I needn’t have worried, as the wine was in wonderful shape! First I was pleasantly surprised by the light yellow color – the wine looked as though it were two years old, not six. My notes for this wine list dried pear, banana peel and dried yellow flowers for the aromatics with a generous mid-palate and a nicely balanced finish with good acidity and a hint of almond. The wine was still in very good shape and was a delight with my meal that night (Oriental cuisine). The 2009 version of this wine (now labeled simply as Ginolfo) has just been released; having just tasted the wine (from an outstanding growing season) and now after my experience with the 2004, I’d guess this wine has at least seven years of life ahead of it and perhaps along as a decade. Who would think an Italian Viognier could drink so well for so long?

Leonildo Pieropan (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


There are dozens, if not hundreds of examples of other everyday Italian white wines that age beautifully. Take the Soaves from Pieropan, for example. Leonildo Pieropan produces two special bottlings of Soave Classico each year – La Rocca and Calvarino – that are truly special and are meant to be enjoyed later than sooner. I recall with great pleasure a bottle of 1989 Calvarino I tried with Leonildo and his wife at their winery in the town of Soave in 2005. Here was a sixteen-year old Soave in superb shape, one with excellent freshness as well as a distinct streak of minerality; it was one of the most memorable whites wines I have ever tasted.

But while the two cru bottlings from Pieropan tend to age well, even the simple Soave Classico from this producer offers excellent character far beyond the 2-3 years you might expect. A few weeks ago, I tasted the 2005 normale Soave Classico and was impressed with the youthfulness of this wine as well as its complexity. Not bad for a wine that costs $16 a bottle (I think even less when it was released)!

Of course, there are some marvelous white wines from Campania, Alto Adige and especially Friuli that have the stuffing and structure to age for 10-15 years. Many of these wines (such as Terre Alte from Livio Felluga and Braide Alte from Livon) are quite famous and given their notoriety, their prices are justifiably precious. But how nice to find whites wines from several corners of Italy that sell for less than $20 and offer pleasure for five to seven years.

Cellaring a wine isn’t always about tannins; acidity and overall balance have a lot to do with a wine being able to drink well for many years. So keep an eye out for Italian white wines the next time you think about ordering a slightly older bottling – it just may be perfect for your meal!

April 7, 2011 at 10:59 pm 6 comments

Sicily – Unlocking the Key

Alessio Planeta (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


In my last post, I wrote about the beautiful red wines of the Etna district in northeastern Sicily. For this post, I will deal with the rest of Sicily, a wine region that has been evolving into one of Italy’s most varied and highly respected over the past decade.

As the vintners there will tell you, Sicily is an island, but is it more like its own country, given its size. While some in other Italian regions believe that the entire island is one big temperate zone, the truth is that there are many different microclimates that work better for some varieties than others.

Take the Noto area in the far southeastern reaches of the island, for example. More and more producers have discovered this is a superior zone for Nero d’Avola, as the variety ripens much better than in the western part of the island. Planeta has been concentrating on Noto for its top bottling of this variety named Santa Cristina. Originally, the fruit for this wine was sourced from the family’s property near Menfi in western Sicily, but soon grapes from Noto were added to the blend. Winemaker Alessio Planeta noticed a difference in style between these two zones, with fruit from Menfi being more rustic with herbal notes, while the Noto fruit being brighter and more voluptuous. Planeta changed the blend a few years ago and today the Santa Cecilia bottling is Nero d’Avola entirely from Noto; in fact, the newly released 2008 bottling is labeled as DOC Noto. The wine offers lovely maraschino cherry fruit (prototypical for the variety) along with notes of toffee and licorice, has very good acidity and excellent complexity.


Merlot vineyard at Baglio di Pianetto estate, Santa Cristina Gela (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


A unique wine that shows the difference in microclimates is a bottling called Shymer from Baglio di Pianetto. This is a blend of Merlot and Syrah from two opposite ends of the island; the Merlot is sourced from their vineyards at their winery about 12 miles south of Palermo in northwestern Sicily, while the Syrah is from their estate in Noto. The varieties need different conditions for optimum results; the cool reaches of Noto, where vineyards are planted at lower elevations, assure a long hang time as well as ideal acidity that are perfect for Syrah (and as we have seen, Nero d’Avola). Meanwhile the higher elevations at the Pianetto winery near Palermo (plantings at 650 meters – or 2130 feet – above sea level) combined with the clay soils there are excellent conditions for Merlot.


COS estate near Vittoria (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


Then there is the area near Vittoria, located a bit west of Noto, where the famous Cerasuolo di Vittoria, the island’s only DOCG wine, is produced. A blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato, the wine has soft tannins and very good acidity, as the Frappato provides softness and roundness along with red cherry flavors as opposed to the maraschino cherry notes of Nero d’Avola (the word Cerasuolo means “cherry.”) Here the soils are generally loose sand (which helps promote floral notes and lighter tannins), while there is often a strata of tufa stone deep blow the surface. The best examples of Cerasuolo di Vittoria from producers such as COS, Valle dell’Acate, Avide and Planeta are beautifully balanced wines with marvelous complexity as well as finesse. Meanwhile, Arianna Occhipinti, Valle dell’Acate  and COS produce separate bottlings of Nero d’Avola and Frappato here and the results are striking.


These are only three examples that show how the producers of Sicily are making wines that reflect a sense of place- not that of Sicily as a whole, but as an island with a multitude of growing situations. The best red wines of Sicily have grown far beyond rich, ripe reds into multi-layered, beautifully structured offerings that can stand side by side with Italy’s finest.

March 26, 2011 at 9:33 pm Leave a comment

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