One of the delights of Sicily, and Italy in general, is the sheer amount of unfamiliar wine grapes you come across. This was no exception while on a media trip with Palm Bay International to visit all six of Planeta‘s properties on the island. My first full day introduced me to the Nocera (No-CHAIR-a) grape, a lovely portion of a blend (30%) with Sicily’s well-known Nero d’Avola.
The 2014 Planeta Nero d’Avola/Nocera was a perfect lunchtime red. Seved slightly cool, it clocked in at a midday friendly 12.5% alcohol. Kind of reminded me of Cerasuolo di Vittoria, where the lighter Frappato chills out the more burly Nero d’Avola. This is not to surmise that Nocera=Frappato, though. The Nero d’Avola in this bottle is handled in a manner befitting more of a leaner-style wine. Akin to a long-distance runner versus a power weightlifter.
What else made this lunch memorable? One of the best things I’ve eaten, ever. Well, make that two things at Esposito Pizzeria in the town of Milazzo. The first was porcini carpaccio: thinly sliced, barely adorned raw mushrooms. I revered this dish so highly I didn’t bother to photograph it. (DID IT REALLY EXIST?!?)
The second was preserved tuna, eggplant, green chiles, and olive oil. It was stupendous! And easily the best preparation of eggplant in the history of the world. Bravo! Strangely, we did not have pizza. (Not complaining. Pretty sure there’d be some major eye-rolling from you if I did. Moving on….)
Joining us for lunch was Winemaker Patricia Tóth. I should also mention along for the ride were Sophie Menin and Rachel Signer. To travel with these two was an awesome delight. Please follow them! And I can’t forget our fearless leader, Bethany Burke from Palm Bay. We were united by our newfound, swoon-worthy love for Bronte pistachios. ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTES! (Pistachio rant over.)
Oh, I need to back up to mention one more wine. We started our lunch with the 2014 Planeta Moscato di Noto. (Noto being a wine region of Sicily.) Tóth described the wine as “crispy but not in a hurtful way.” (I love that description.) In other words, lively without searing acidity. Fresh and floral. And dry. A delight! Definitely a wine to drink outdoors in the sun. Or shaded from the fiery orb’s punishing rays (<–Feeling very Seattle here.)
After all the lunchtime good vibes, food, wine, and company, we headed to Planeta’s pretty darn brand-new winery at Capo Milazzo: La Baronia. It’s located in the northeast corner of Sicily. How cool was it that when we arrived the Nocera grapes were coming in?
Even cooler? The location of La Baronia on Capo Milazzo. Talk about a dramatic landscape with views! Damn. The ocean is literally a stone’s (a grape’s?) throw away. Let’s have a look, shall we?
I’d like to close with a couple thoughts from Tóth, pictured at our lunch. She’s actually from Hungary but ended up staying in Sicily a lot longer than planned because, as she revealed, “I didn’t have time to quit.” She said this in jest, of course. (Tóth has a great sense of humor, BTW.) Her harvest schedule plus the miles (er, kilometers) accumulated criss-crossing the roads of Sicily to check on many of Planeta’s wineries would, however, make many beg for mercy. Or at least a good night’s sleep.
Another interesting thing about Planeta we discussed was the wine that put it on the world map: Chardonnay. Though Sicily is chock-full of indigenous grapes that produce stupendous wines, the Planeta Chardonnay does deserve some credit when it comes to the perception and acceptance of Sicilian wine. And people’s willingness to try indigenous grapes. As Toth explained, “We can’t forget that it has opened doors to show other varieties.”
Stay tuned for more from Sicily and the rest of Planeta’s wineries on the island. Including a podcast featuring Tóth along with Alessio Planeta. In the meantime, check out my podcast with the authors of “The World of Sicilian Wine”.
Nerd Alert: The 2014 Planeta Nero d’Avola/Nocera says “Sicilia DOC” on the label rather than the local Mamertino wine region. This is because the winery at La Baronia was not yet completed so the wine was made elsewhere. So you can’t claim the regional DOC on the label in that case, thus the Sicilia desgination. But that will be changing with the winery up and running.