Posts tagged ‘planeta’
Here is my final post on the Best Italian Wines from the past year; this is the third entry on red wines. Again, this is a partial list, see the end of this post for more information on all of my selections.
2008 Grattamacco Bolgheri Superiore - The gorgeous wine zone of Bolgheri, located in Tuscan province of Livorno, just a few kilometers from the Tyrrhenian Sea is the home of some of Italy’s most renowned estates. Most Italian wine lovers know two of these companies, namely Tenuta dell’Ornellaia and Tenuta San Guido, the latter firm being the one that produces Sassicaia. But in reality, there is a third producer here that ranks the equal of those two; the winery is Grattamacco. Established in 1977 and currently owned by Claudio Tipa, Grattamacco is a spectacularly beautiful estate where the vineyards seem to go on forever. Like most companies in Bolgheri, the top red wine here is made primarily from Cabernet Sauvignon (65% in this wine), while Merlot makes up 20% and Sangiovese 15% of the blend. The 2008 is a brilliant wine with incredible depth of fruit, seductive aromas of black cherry, black currant, tar, licorice and black raspberry and an extremely long finish with beautifully silky, polished tannins. The acidity is remarkable as it cleanses the mouth (this is a astonishingly clean wine for being so powerful), and provides amazing freshness. There is outstanding persistence and the balance is impeccable while the complexity is superior. I have loved this Bolgheri Superiore, the top wine of the estate for years and I believe this is the finest offering of Grattamacco since the great 1999 bottling! A truly spectacular wine and a candidate for the Best Italian Wine of the Year. This is seductive now, but it will only improve with time and should be at its peak in 20-25 years. $85
2006 Sestadisopra Brunello di Montalcino - I have listed the Brunello from this traditional producer at or near the top of my rankings virtually every year since 2001. This is a lovely wine with beautiful red cherry, strawberry and cedar aromas backed by a rich mid-palate and an ideally structured finish with excellent persistence and fine acidity. Aged solely in big casks, this is a great expression of terrior in the small Sesta zone of Montalcino. This should be at its peak in 20 years and will probably drink well for a few years after that. $75
2006 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino – Another great traditional Brunello producer and one of my favorite Italian wines, period. Winemaker Fabrizio Bindocci manages to craft a superb Brunello each vintage by largely staying out of the way, as the fruit from the estate vineyards is so wonderful; Bindocci treats this fruit with kid gloves, aging it in large casks (grandi botti), allowing the varietal purity to shine through. This should be at is best in 20-25 years. $80
2006 Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino - Here is another ultra consistent Brunello producer at the top of their game. Proprietor Andrea Cortonesi always crafts an elegant Brunello, even in a year such as 2006 that resulted in beautifully structured wines. The aromas feature notes of wild strawberry, red cherry, thyme and cedar; the tannins are polished and the acidity is finely tuned. This should be at its best in 15-20 years. $70
2007 Donnachiara Taurasi – Taurasi is arguably the finest Italian red that few know much about. Made primarily from the Aglianico grape in a zone near the eponymous town in Campania, Taurasi combines ripe cherry fruit with hints of bitter chocolate along with firm tannins and healthy acidity to result in a complex wine that is one of Italy’s longest lived; 40 year old versions that drink well are not uncommon. This version from a producer that should also be better known is not the biggest Taurasi from 2007, but it is an excellent example that has all the characteristics one looks for in a Taurasi. Medium-full with appealing varietal fruit, this has polished tannins and good acidity. Like most examples of 2007 Taurasi, this is forward and somewhat approachable now, but will improve with time and should peak in about 10 years. $40 (which is very reasonably priced for a Taurasi).
2007 Mastroberardino Taurasi “Radici” - Mastroberardino has been the family that has been one of the flag bearers for Taurasi over the past 100 years. They have produced some of the best bottlings in the last six decades; the famous 1968 bottling is still in fine shape, almost 45 years after the vintage. While the winemaking has changed over the years – today’s versions are aged in small and large barrels as opposed to only small barrels of years past – the quality has not. Deeply concentrated with elegant tannins and good acidity, this is a rich, quite complex Taurasi that is a very good expression of local terroir. This needs time to round out and will be at its best in 12-15 years. $50
2009 Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico “Dorilli” – Planeta, one of Sicily’s most influential producers never ceases to amaze. Excellent whites and reds, from Fiano and Chardonnay to Syrah and Nero d’Avola, are turned out on a seemingly routine basis. The latest success from this winery is this new bottling of Cerasuolo di Vittoria, the chamring Nero d’Avola/Frappato blend. The regular bottling of Cerasuolo di Vittoria from Planeta is very good, with its lovely freshness and tasty fruit, but with this Dorilli bottling (named for a local river), there is an added layer of complexity and elegance. A blend of 70% Nero d’Avola and 30% Frappato, this has beautiful aromas of black cherry, plum and violets with a lengthy, elegant finish with very good acidity. This is so delicious now and will drink well over the next 5-7 years. $20
2008 Arianna Occhipinti Nero d’Avola “Siccogno” - The effervescent Arianna Occhipinti is the niece of Giusto Occhipinti, co-owner of the famed COS estate in Vittoria. The younger Occhipinti produces several wines that are of similar caliber to her uncle; this was may favorite from last year. Medium-full, with inviting aromas of strawberry, red currant and mulberry, this is a complex Nero d’Avola with plenty of punch in the finish, yet maintains its elegance and finesse throughout. This is an outstanding example of Nero d’Avola; it should be at its best in 7-10 years. $35
This completes my posts on the Best Italian Wines of 2011. Given the space limitations of a blog, these have been partial lists. The complete lists of my Best Italian Wines of the Year will be in the Spring 2012 issue of my Guide to Italian Wines. To purchase this issue for $10 or to subscribe ($30 for four quarterly issues), please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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.
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.
Planeta Moscato di Noto (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Here is part two of my list of the Best Italian producers of the first decade of the 21st century:
DUCA DI SALAPARUTA
The days when this winery was best known for Corvo white and red are long over. Today, this is one of Italy’s top producers, especially for its glorious red, “Duca Enrico”, which was the first great bottling of Nero d’Avola. The “Triskele” bottling, which is primarily Nero d’Avola with a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, is another excellent wine. Congratulations to winemaker Carlo Casavecchia for his excellent work!
Partners Giambatttista Cilia and Giusto Occhipinti continue to produce beautifully styled wines from indigenous varieties at their winery near Vittoria. Their bottlings of Cerasuolo di Vittoria are so elegant and finesseful, while their offerings of Nero d’Avola and Frappato are so varietally pure. Then there’s the aging process in amphorae – why be a slave to modernity when you can make wines this good in the centuries-old way of tradition?
This is one of the finest producers from the exciting Etna district; this producer is adept with both whites and reds. The top white called “Pietramarina” is made from the Carricante variety – the word Carricante means “consistent”, an apt descriptor for this producer. Several noteworthy reds here as well, especially the “Rovitello” and “Serra della Contessa” Etna Rossos. Never anything less than excellence from Giuseppe Benanti and his sons!
Arguably Sicily’s best-known producer – also one of the best, period. While famous for a lush, tropical-tinged Chardonnay, for me their best white is the non-oak aged Fiano called Cometa, an exceptional wine. I also love the beautifully structured “Santa Cecilia” Nero d’Avola, produced from grapes grown near Noto. The Syrah and the eleganty styled Moscato di Noto dessert wine are also highly recommended. Wonderful work from the Planeta family – they do as much as anyone to spread the good word about the wines of Sicily.
This is the Antinori project in Puglia and one of their best. I love the fact that they are offering not only high-ticket wines, but value bottlings as well; the Neprica, a blended red that sells for about $12 is very good. At the other end, the Bocca di Lupo, a 100% Aglianico, is a first-rate rendition of this variety, bursting with fruit and combining all the components in harmony.
A vastly underrated estate that concntrates not on making the biggest wines, but the most honest. A very good Nero di Troia called “Le Cruste” an even better Falanghina (“Le Fossette”) that is a revelation for white wines from Puglia and best of all, a lovely version of the local DOC red, Cacc’e Mmitte di Lucera, a charming blend of Nero di Troia, Montepulciano and Bombino Bianco. Longo almost singlehandedly kept this DOC from extinction – bravo!
CASTEL DI SALVE
From the far southern reaches of the region, rich, ripe and modern wines, but beautifully balanced, zesty and for the most part, handled without too much oak. My favorites are the “Priante”, a Negroamaro, Montepulciano blend (aged in used French and American oak) and the “Lama del Tenente”, a Primitivo/Montepulciano blend. Then there is a remarkable Aleatico Passito, one of the finest of its kind.
A long-time standout producer in this region; excellent white and reds. The Pinot Grigio is famous; the Friulano and Sauvignon should be – each is subtle with exceptional balance. The “Terre Alte” is one of Italy’s finest and most ageworthy whites. The “Sosso” is a beautifully crafted blend of Refosco, Merlot and Pignolo and is one of this region’s most consistent reds. Finally, the Picolit is a rare and exceptional dessert white.
MARCO FELLUGA/RUSSIZ SUPERIORE
I love the elegance and flavor of these wines and I also love the price, as most are quite reasonable. Best evidence of that is the “Molamatta”, a Pinot Bianco, Friulano, Ribolla Gialla blend that offers one of the best quality/price relationships for a Friulian white. The Russiz Superiore Sauvignon is assertive, flavorful and quite memorable.
This producer gets the award as much for the quality of its wines as for its efforts to popularize the lovely whites from this region. Joseph Bastianich, one of America’s most famous restaurateurs, is becoming as successful in the wine world as he is with Italian food. The regular Friulano is simply delicious, while the blended white “Vespa” (Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Picolit) is a stunning white that also ages well (try this wine at 5-7 years after the vintage – if you can find a bottle). The “Vespa” Rosso (Merlot, Refosco and Cabernet Sauvignon) is another fine bottling.
LE VIGNE DI ZAMO
An exceptional estate that consistently produces some of Friuli’s best whites and reds. My favorites include the “Cinquant’anni” Friulano, the “Ronco delle Acacie” blended white (Chardonnay, Friulano and Pinot Bianco) and the Schiopettino, a spicy specialty red of this region. Hard to go wrong with this producer!
Next post – Part Three of the decade’s Best Italian Wine Producers
As there are hundreds (or is it thousands) of grape varieties planted throughout Italy today, it is no surprise how many unique wines are produced in the twenty regions of the country.
For this post, I’d like to discuss one of Sicily’s most distinctive reds, Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Produced from grapes grown in a district near the town of Vittoria in the southeastern province of Ragusa, Cerasuolo di Vittoria is a blend of two grapes: Nero d’Avola and Frappato.
Nero d’Avola (see previous post) is Sicily’s most widely planted red variety and gives Cerasuolo its body and richness, while Frappato adds aromatics (usually fresh cherry – the word Cerasuolo means cherry) and acidity to the final blend.
For years while Cerasuolo was a DOC wine, the mix was almost always 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato. As of the 2005 vintage, the wine was recognized with DOCG status and with this classification, there is more blending freedom for winemakers. Some blends are now 70% Nero d’Avola and 30% Frappato, while others are just the opposite, while there are also 50/50 blends. Producers may bottle a DOCG version or a DOC version or both.
Cerasuolo di Vittoria is a medium-bodied wine that can be aged in various ways. Some producers use large oak casks, while others prefer small oak barrels (barriques). Then there is Giusto Occhipinti and his partner Giambattista Cilia at COS, who ferment and age their bottlings in amphorae, the ancient vessels made from terra cotta that are modeled after the same pots used by the Greeks more than 2000 years ago.
Generally, most bottlings of Cerasuolo di Vittoria express ripe cherry fruit, medium weight on the palate and a finish with moderate tannins and lively acidity. Most versions are meant for consumption within 5-7 years of the vintage, although a few exceptional bottlings, such as the “Pithos” from Cos can drink well for 20 plus years.
Here is a short list of the best producers of Cerasuolo di Vittoria:
- Valle dell’Acate
- Terre di Giurfo
- Santa Tresa
As Cerasuolo di Vittora has excellent levels of natural acidity, it is a wonderful food wine. Pair the wines with a variety of dishes, from couscous with vegetables, risotto with a Cerasuolo sauce, grilled mackerel, chicken with herbs or simple arancini (rice balls).
Sicily, the lovely, rugged island at the southern tip of Sicily, has a wine discipline that is not hampered by the strict regulations found in other Italian wine regions. Given that, you might expect a wide variety of wines to emerge from this land, but in truth the climate – it can be torridly hot during the summer – means that certain cool climate varieties such as Riesling and Pinot Noir are not suited for this area.
Thus only a few varieties here have emerged as critical and clearly the most important red variety is an idigenous one, Nero d’Avola. This variety has much in common with Syrah, as it is deeply colored (often bright purple) with only moderate tannins. The fruit aromas and flavors are primarily of marascino cherry, a opinion shared by many, including Attilio Scienza, one of Italy’s most renowned authorities on viticulture (I heard Scienza give his thoughts in a typically compelling speech in Sicily a few years ago). There are also notes of tobacco in some versions as well as spice notes, though some of this emerges from aging in small oak barrels. As for tannins, while most bottlings have only moderate levels, there are some premium offerings that have enough tannin to ensure aging for as long as 7-10 years.
Throughout the 1970s and early ’80s, Nero d’Avola was usually blended with other varieties throughout Sicily, including Nerello Mascalese and Pignatello. In 1984, history was made when the producer Duca di Salaparuta (best-known at that time for its well-made, moderately priced wines Corvo Bianco and Rosso) produced the first premium 100% Nero d’Avola; the wine was named Duca Enrico and was crafted by Carlo Casavecchia. He decided for Nero d’Avola as he believed this variety showed the most promise of the winery’s selections planted near the town of Gela, near Noto in the southeastern zone of the island; those other varieties included Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Casavecchia continues to make this wine and today, it is rightfully celebrated as one of the country’s most glorious reds.
For years, growers planted Nero d’Avola in several areas throughout Sicily; some of the best plantings were located near the western reaches of the island, near Menfi or Palermo. Today, though more and more producers are looking to the southeastern areas of Sicily for the finest plantings of this variety; indeed the grape is named for the town of Avola, not far from Noto.
There are several producers today who make excellent signature bottlings of Nero d’Avola; among the best is a bottling from Planeta called Santa Cecilia. During a recent visit to their estate near Noto, I was treated – along with a few dozen other journalists – to a vertical tasting of this wine. Winemaker Alessio Planeta told us how the early bottlings (such as 1997) were from Menfi, while the 1999 was a blend of grapes from both Menfi and Noto. The early bottlings, while quite good, were more rustic in nature as compared to the newer releases, which are blessed with abundant black fruit and lovely structure. Today, Santa Cecilia is always 100% Nero d’Avola from Noto and it has become one of Sicily’s finest wines (interestingly, the 1997 Santa Cecilia not only originated from Menfi, it also contained 15% Syrah in the blend).
Below is a list of several of the finest bottlings of Nero d’Avola:
- Duca di Salaparuta “Duca Enrico”
- Planeta “Santa Cecilia”
- Donnafugata “Mille e una Notte”
- Cusumano “Sagana”
- Morgante “Don Antonio”
- Tasca d’Almerita “Rosso del Conte”
- Baglio di Pianetto “Cembali”
Note that the Baglio di Pianetto bottling is produced from grapes grown at their estate a little south of Palermo, in the western part of Sicily. This particular wine is quite rich, but subdued with wonderful finesse. It is proof that not all great bottlings of Nero d’Avola come from the areas near Noto and Gela.
Finally, it is important to note that Nero d’Avola works well as a blending grape and just as it was blended with other varieties some 30 years ago, the same is true today, as some excellent wines that are primarily Nero d’Avola will often contain as much as 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah. However, the real character of Nero d’Avola emerges in wines that are almost always exclusively made from this variety alone; these are the bottlings that I believe are among the finest from Sicily.