L’Etna and Parco Statella saved my Sicilian quarantine

Quarantine Passegiata

A few weeks back I experienced humanity in the vacuum of a chat with a man as proficient a listener as he is eloquent as a speaker. As for his writing prowess well, any words I can conjure only drift in mimic of what rhythms his melodies play. I am of course talking about Andrew C. Jefford. I recited my Covid story to the British born, France habituating composer about my quarantine up aboard the northern slopes of L’Etna and in kind he tuned in with great intent. The next day, after clearly having further considered my experience, the writer encouraged my going public with a recounting of the tale.

Parco Statella by night

Working through a bout of Covid-19 has been for each of us a personally possessive experience. We had all spent months and for some the better part of two years assimilating information, growing concern and formulating speculation as to what would happen when we contracted the virus. We also wondered how we might affect others. My turn involved only a few close connections, first my fostering and nurturing Sicilian hosts and chaperones at Planeta Winery. Then, aboard the mountain, the gracious and obliging staff at Shalai in Lingualossa. And finally the man so effing effable that is winemaker Giuseppe Russo. Sorry for the viral transfer Giuseppe. Cute sorry smiley Vector Art Stock Images | Depositphotos

Il Guercio

Let us back track for just a couple of paragraph’s moment. Travelling companion, beautiful friend, articulate writer and persuasive speaker Michaela Morris and I are having lunch with Il Guercio, the one and the only Sean O’Callaghan at Osteria Le Panzanelle in Lucarelli, Radda in Chianti. It’s the first truly warm day of March and so Nada Michelassi creates a table for us on the terrace. Sean hails from the U.K. and is asked to peek indoors on a distinguished and clearly famous solo British diner but he returns after not immediately recognizing the man. A moment later, as if having silently swept in like an apparition, he’s standing over our table. “May I join you?” he inquires, a chair is pulled up, a glass of Tenuta di Carleone is poured and introductions are made.

Sean O’Callaghan, Jeremy King, Michaela Morris and Godello

He is Jeremy King, London’s most famous restauranteur and we are treated to a story of his 44 million euro court predicament with investors. Sean takes a bite of Tagliata and he is suddenly choking, up desperately and stumbling over the stones, grabbing at his throat, liquids evacuating wherever they can find an outlet, terrified face turning blue. Still seated, legs crossed and calm as a hindu cow, Mr. King asks, “would you like me to do the Heimlich maneuver on you?” Sean shakes his head up and down hard, the towery King gets behind him and with one hoomph! the steak is dislodged and expectorating details aside, Sean falls back into his chair in heaving breaths. He’s fine. Saved. Left to live another day and enjoy another plate of Tagliata. King is back in his chair, story immediately in resume. Four days later I’m in Catania testing positive, alerting Michaela and Sean who in turn, both test positive with 24 hours. Coincidence? Perhaps. Fair trade? Absolutely. Like it or not Michaela Morris, Sean O’Callaghan, Nada Michelassi and Jeremy King, we are all inextricably linked for the duration of our times.

It was the Tagliata

Related – The five estates of Planeta earth

Which brings us to Sicilia and more specifically, L’Etna. My adventures with the candid and talented Patricia Tóth are visually chronicled and well documented in my previous article. After testing positive in Catania the winemaker picked up the necessary provisions of sustenance and medication then drove back up the mountain to the volcano’s northern slope. There at Parco Statella I passed my isolation for 11 days, albeit in one of the universe’s most spectacular, spiritual and enlightening locations. A few days of feeling quite unwell beget short walks and then full on treks through the forests and vineyards of this edenic playground. Friends were made and relationships forged with three sheep. two horses, a donkey and several sweet dogs. I ambled through the landscape in a Covid fog as easily as children might slip into their weariness like the soothing water of a warm bath. The effort of subterfuge was no match for Parco Statella’s beauty.

Verdant Parco Statella

Only came outside to watch the nightfall with the rain. I heard you making patterns rhyme

As the symptoms waned and the sun continued to warm Versante Nord there arrived, a case at a time, the wines of Etna producers, first Planeta and Donnafugata, followed by a stream of others. I began to taste and write in earnest, soaking up the innate imperfections and precise perfections of Etna Bianco, Rosso and variations on the parochial theme. Then there was the care provided by Manuela Scala, a plate of provisions here, a sublime slice of cake there. These gestures nourished some withered essential part of myself as I sat on the weathered wrought iron chairs at the table in Parco Statella’s piazzetta. I would fall gratefully on a perfect slice of cake, on this human gesture of connection and to know fortune smiles upon us. On the morning of my departure a caffé in Manuela’s presence made cause for true emotion and then, with the wind circling L’Etna and over the stones of the courtyard I was gone.

Una fetta d’amore

In the Planeta article I detailed the wines of Menfi-Ulmo, L’Etna, Noto, Vittoria and Capo Milazzo. Please click on the link to that post (above) to review those 45 wines. Here are 55 more tasting notes from Girolamo Russo, Emiliano Falsini, Donnafugata, Graci, Calcagno, Scirto, Eduardo Torres, Tascante, Vigneti Vecchio and Azienda Agricola Sofia. The wines on L’Etna that helped saved my quarantine.

With Giuseppe Russo

Girolamo Russo

Girolamo Russo Etna Bianco DOC Nerina 2021

Giuseppe Russo’s Etna Bianco honours his mother Nerina. Made from younger plants, including some planted three or four years old, but only carricante. That said Giuseppe will likely also plant some more grecanico in the San Lorenzo Vineyard because he likes the linearity and verticality it gives to the carricante. The Nerina is a startling and invigorating Bianco, as fresh, available and precocious as any on Versante Nord, or likely anywhere on L’Etna for that matter. A seven days a week wine for which there can be no reason not to engage. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted March 2022

Girolamo Russo Etna Bianco DOC San Lorenzo 2020

From the single vineyard at 730-740m of elevation and vinified in tonneaux. The 2009 was the first vintage of San Lorenzo Bianco for a wine that leads amongst the 80-90 thousand total bottles made by Giuseppe Russo from 18 hectares. A strong selection from the plants of carricante with cattaratto and grecanico. The carricante are the oldest and they provide the breadth in the mouth, the texture in unction and the presence that really makes you feel the vineyard. The difference between it and Nerina is really in the selection of the grapes. Giuseppe wants his whites to speak for his territory, here to be a bit more generous and 2020 obliges first because it was easier and second because it is such a vintage specific to the white wines. Such beauty and emotion is purity and life. No stress and a wine you want to drink. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted March 2022

Girolamo Russo Etna Rosato DOC 2021

Only nerello mascalese partly because cappuccia has more colour but also less body, acid and tannin than mascalese. And so the mascalese is the red Rosato variety, especially in Etna’s northern sector. Yes of course this is salty Rosé but that’s a given and hardly the point. Why does Giuseppe make it? Because it’s molto versate, literally “very poured” but meaning always worthy of consumption. For food, especially in summer and at low alcohol. He also believes it can age in fact he’s tasting some older Rosato here and there as witnessed by bottles laying around. Trust when it is said that Etna Rosato is a special breed. Indeed. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted March 2022

Girolamo Russo Etna Rosso DOC ‘A Rina 2019

First made in 2005 as the initial vintage for Giuseppe Russo and from more than one vineyard, inclusive of fruit from some of the younger vines as an assemblage of micro-vinifications. In terms of maceration Giuseppe only does 15 days, nothing close to the Piedmontese ways with nebbiolo, even if he adores those wines. So much freshness, red fruit forward vintage but also a linearity because these wines always carry some of this emotion. ‘a Rina can be consumed just about when you want to but carries a sort of structure that is subdola, sneaky enough to see it go long. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted March 2022

Girolamo Russo Etna Rosso DOC Feudo 2019

Many generations have been here but the story really begins with Giuseppe’s grandfather Giovanni Massimino, who planted the vineyard Feudo. Diversity of the vines is a profound part of the growing on these terraces, especially with the old vineyards, in Feudo 70-80 years old and also some as old as 100. Nerello mascalese with five per cent nerello cappuccio from a single vineyard cru and here 20 days maceration, five days longer than the on skins time for ‘a Rina. Again a vintage that Giuseppe Russo is a big fan of, rich and luxe to a great degree yet broad and deeply spiced. The depth and complexity are quite profound. First vintage was 2006 for a Rosso that needs the bottle in the ways of great grapes all over Italy. Drink 2024-2032.  Tasted March 2022

Home cooking by Tóth and Russo

Girolamo Russo Etna Rosso DOC San Lorenzo 2019

Giuseppe Russo’s father purchased San Lorenzo but Girolamo never bottled and sold off all the grapes. In 2003 Girolamo passed away. Giuseppe has worked with Emiliano Falsini from Toscana since 2005 and continues through to today. The selection is mainly from the vineyard’s highest point and it is in fact the largest at Girolamo Russo, making up seven of the 18 total hectares. Such a crunchy nerello mascalese though with plants up to 100 years old there are likely some other varieties mixed in for what is ostensibly a field blend. Also volcanic chalky (if there really is such a thing) and the one that reeks but also tastes of orange, mainly blood orange. While San Lorenzo may lack the richness of Feudo it does so much in terms of finezza and this after so much perfume. Fantastic vintage. Drink 2025-2035.  Tasted March 2022

Parco Statella fixer-upper

Girolamo Russo Etna Rosso DOC San Lorenzo 2017

From a vintage that was very warm, like the rest of Italy and you’d not be fully paying attention were you not to notice this in the wine. You have to wonder when the fruit was picked and indeed though the alcohol was high in September it was Giuseppe Russo who waited well into October to pick his grapes. They are ripe through and through, even if the weight lays low and intensity runs high. This is by far the biggest wine of five Rosso tasted but at its height there is balance and togetherness. Brilliance in the face of adversity, covered in spice is a beautiful thing. Drink earlier than some vintages but also be surprised as to where this may go. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted March 2022

Girolamo Russo Etna Rosso DOC Calderara Sottana 2018

A label that was started in 2007 and from a contrada on the perimeter of the Russo property. From a very difficult vintage and a wine completely different from both Feudo and San Lorenzo, also because the contrada is so very different. A much more lifted Etna Rosso, edgy with some volatility but the kind that you can imagine settling in with this carefully picked, selected, sorted and vinified fruit. There is a wildness about this fruit that is specific to place but also the tannins that are spicier, grippier and forceful. This one really wakes you up and keeps you on your toes. Mi sveglia! I am awake! Drink 2025-2032.  Tasted March 2022

With a roof right over our heads

Emiliano Falsini

Feudo Pignatone Etna Rosso DOC 2020

Feudo Pignatore, from Emiano Falsini, the name of the contrada on L’Etna’s north side. A vintage a bit like 2018, difficult though not quite in the league of that challenge. Beautifully perfumed, youthful for sure and quite compact. Crunchy Rosso, red fruit in the currant and pomegranate vein, high acidity and showing its barriques though as a lithe, transparent and lifted wine it does so with great ease. Creates a cinnamon heart type spiciness and then you feel the wood on the back end. Very curious contrada Rosso. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted March 2022

Covid penicillin

Feudo Pignatone Etna Rosso DOC Davanti Casa 2020

Feudo Pignatore, the name of the contrada on L’Etna’s north side and the small cru/single vinyeyard Rosso. This is the selection, smaller quantity from Emiliano Falsini and a whole ‘nother expression altogether, here the wood and fruit conspiring for a frutta di bosco experience but also one with toasted coconut. Barriques and tonneaux are used and because the fruit is deeper and richer there is more depth, doubled down concentration and a feeling of that wood, earlier and throughout. This will need much time and there is definitely an affinity with nebbiolo this time around. Drink 2025-2032.  Tasted March 2022

Donnafugata

Donnafugata

Pantelleria

Donnafugata Lighea 2021, DOC Sicilia

Lighea, Sicilian for “light” is varietal zibibbo (a.k.a. muscat of Alexandria) grown on the Island of Pantelleria off the southwestern Sicilian coast. Not unexpectedly high in citrus both juiced (lemon and orange) but also floral with orange blossoms the obvious, ostensible and uncanny notation. So bright and popping, brimming with pressed acidity and waxy, spritzed, airy and vaporous of sea spray. Sun, afternoon and vacation are three words that easily come to mind. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted April 2022

Donnafugata Ben Ryé 2019, Passito Di Pantelleria DOC

Ben, as in “son of” and Ryé, a Sicilian riff on the concept of making strong mocker from the wheat grass. Think of grapes instead, in this case zibibbo (muscat of Alexandria) grown off the southwestern coast of Sicily on the Island of Pantelleria. Passito di Pantelleria DOC is one of the world’s great sweet wines, found only on this windswept promontory where the grapes concentrate, drink in the sea and express a view to which only this place commits. The warmest of vintages develops and comprises these particular sugars into something surreal. Extraordinary orange-ginger crème brûlée, perfectly embittered and made viscous in the most natural of ways. Layers of dedication and spice, health affirming herbs, respiratory fixing drops and sweetness captured, effortlessly and to gift plaisir. Apricots ripe and glazed, zen zero limone, giusto intenso. Nearly perfect. Drink 2025-2039.  Tasted April 2022

Donnafugata Vineyards

Contessa Entellina Estate

Dolce & Gabbana Rosa Rosé 2021, DOC Sicilia

Donnafugata makes two Rosato, one from Etna and this on the northern side of the Contessa Entellina Estate. A blend of nerello mascalese and nocera, two apposite varieties, one being the Dolce and the other Gabbana. Together they combine for exotic fragrance but also sweet candied florals, cottony feels and salty streaks right on through. Healthy acids easily deal with, mitigate and assimilate whatever sugars might want to express themselves but truthfully they only come out in the aromatics, rising at dusk and bleeding into night. Can’t think of a time when this Rosato would fail to please. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted April 2022

Contrada Statella

Donnafugata Anthìlia Bianco 2021, DOC Sicilia

What’s in a name? Anthilìa is the name given to the city of Entella on the top of the Rocca in Roman times. As a Bianco it is composed of the local (Contessa Entellina Estate) lucido, known in other parts of Sicily as catarratto, blended with other unnamed autochthonous and international varieties. Regardless of the bit parts there is no questioning Anthilìa’s tart, tight and citrus to mineral posit tug of Sicilian style. There is an herbal quality in sweet basil or chervil typology but lemon-lime meeting salty stones halfway is really where it’s at. Beck and call, “a place we saw, the lights turn lo. The jigsaw jazz and the get-fresh flow.”  Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted April 2022

Donnafugata Sur Sur 2021, DOC Sicilia

Sur Sur is varietal grill0 from Donnafugata’s Contessa Entellina Estate in southwestern Sicily. More lemon and less mineral as compared to Anthilìa though sunshine is at an all time high. Sur Sur as in “On On” or in Italian Su Su. Like the lights and more to the point the sun, filling and lighting up this grillo. Light up the grill and throw on some fishes, large shrimps, even a squid or three. Sur Sur will compliment, alight and walk astride. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted April 2022

Donnafugata Sherazade Nero d’Avola 2020, DOC Sicilia

Sherazade, or Scheherazade is the fictional wife of a sultan and the narrator of the tales in the Arabian Nights. The Nero d’avola is taken from western Sicily’s Contessa Entellina Estate and nearby vineyards. Mixed cultures’ spice and exotica are the aromatic potpourri this calls home and nothing else scents as this. Nothing else is also so inviting, casting its varietal line and reeling you in to inhale, sip, smile and exhale. Red wine as aperitivo, unencumbered, calming and even a little bit divine. Track three, The French Dispatch, Alexandre Desplat. Drink 2022-2025.   Tasted April 2022

Donnafugata Tancredi 2017, Terre Siciliane IGT

Tancredi, that exceptional Italian name is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, local nero d’Avola, tannat and ”other grapes,” field-ish so to speak, born in Donnafugata’s place of origin, Contessa Entellina Estate. Deeper in barrel, fruit substance, time and thought. All varieties well put, organized and once in conflagration now smouldering seamlessly together. What may have been an ignited engine of brush, tar and pressed juices is still tight and intense, raging in acidity and just now emerging with local style. Plenty of savour too, a western Sicilian kind, challenging the olfactory, making a concerted request for more time. Bordeaux, Madiran and Santa Margherita di Belice mixed, matched and melded together. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Parco Statella by day

Donnafugata Mille E Una Notte 2018, Rosso Sicilia DOC

Mille E Una Notte (1001 nights), a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales compiled in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age, a.k.a. the Arabian Nights. A Contessa Entellina Estate near Santa Margherita di Belice blend of nero d’Avola, petit verdot, syrah and in the typical Donnafugata field blend idiom, also inclusive of “other grapes.” The deepest and most profound if brooding and structured of the estate’s reds while also hauntingly familiar, succulent and beautiful. Clearly one of Sicily’s most age-worthy red wines, reeking of roses and steaming in highlands acidities. To say tasting 2018 this early in its tenure does little to open the gates of knowledge or pleasure would be a vast understatement but these many nights hint at hidden treasure, meaning and the aforementioned beauty. A serious wine with endless time laid out ahead. Drink 2025-2034.  Tasted April 2022

L’Etna

Donnafugata Sul Vulcano 2019, Etna Rosso DOC

The Rosso from L’Etna’s northern slope near Montelaguardia is essentially nerello mascalese though there is a small percentage of cappuccio involved. From vineyards adjacent the stunning Parco Statella to the east of the village of Passopisciaro. Alberello-trained vines mix with volcanic rock terraces, grazing sheep and the wild ferla. Really quite precise varietal, location and lava coming together in a Rosso that exhibits the limit of Etna’s volcanic savour. Really brushy and herbal, fruit singing a ripe acid song, slinging arrows of basaltic intensity, creating a true to form and peace experience. A broad brushstroke of Etna Nord and yet one with vim, victory and relish. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted April 2022

Donnafugata Sul Vulcano 2019, Etna Bianco DOC

Sul Vulcano, below L’Etna on the north slope, 100 per cent estate grown carricante adjacent the Parco Statella in Montelaguardia. Classic varietal profile, at once rich and then salty, volcanic soils and elevation so very present, buoyant and presenting this dramatic white wine. Richer and riper than some, vintage related and directed to be sure. Not so much croccante as much as being scorrevole for carricante, mid-palate and aromatic twin split between pomelo-mandarin and ferla-broom. Some structure here so wait a year and drink through the decade. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted April 2022

Vineyards adjacent Parco Statella

Donnafugata Fragore Contrada Montelaguardia 2019, Etna Rosso DOC

The single vineyard Fragore is an Etna Rosso out of the Montelaguardia contrada that announces itself with an ascoltami ruggire, in other words a roar. But a quietly controlled one, like a lion resting, expressing its content with the moment, using voice to engage, not warn. Take the Etna Rosso normale, improve and compress upon it multi-fold, concentrate all that savour, hillside naturalism and herbology, take things to an entirely unimaginable next level. This is the roar of Fragore, in control of emotions and sensibilities. Like a passegiata through Parco Statella on a windy Etna Spring day. An impressive vintage if just a bit barrel controlled, intimating fine chocolate and dusty espresso, needing time to integrate. Drink 2024-2031. Tasted April 2022

Vittoria

Donnafugata Floramundi 2019, Cerasuolo Di Vittoria DOCG

As per the Sicilian DOCG a blend of nero d’avola and frappato grown in the southeastern sector, the latter made deeper and more profound by the former. What may be lost in sheer consumer attack-ability is gained through strength and vigour. Cerasuolo is meant to concentrate but also percolate, simmering two complimentary varieties in liquid layers, increasingly volumetric and akin to new thought music in a red blend of moods. No Donnafugata’s does not exist by dint of such pressed heights because it persists in airy, openly fragrant and flute singing tones. A best of both worlds appellative juncture is met, acquiesced and compressed. Give it time or simply air to enjoy. Drink 2023-2026.  Tasted April 2022

Donnafugata Bell’Assai 2020, Vittoria DOC Frappato

Pure frappato from southeastern Sicily, fragrant and perfumed to the proverbial hilt and so bloody inviting. The freshest of summer strawberries, violets at peak and if aromatics could talk they would say hello. Juicy and justifiably tart, those peppery florals candied, inclusive of pansy and nasturtium. A veritable bouncing, fanciful and buzzing throttle frappato yet so easy to sip back. Inspiring. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted April 2022

Graci

Graci Etna Bianco DOC 2021

Graci’s viticultural epicentre is Contrada Arcurìa but they also grow in four other Etna north communes. The all-purpose Bianco is 85 per cent carricante with (15) catarratto harvested mid-October (on average) and raised in only stainless steel for nine months, on the lees. My how those lovely lees drive this wine, texturizing the local grapes and directing all the traffic. Rarely does an Etna Bianco recall Chablis but here is one in all glory and reminiscence. Fresh, luxe fruit round and abounding, mild yogurt to crème frâiche character derived by the infiltrations of those positive yeasts. Just salty enough to remind of the place in a generalized and beneficial way. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted April 2022

Parco Statella friends

Graci Etna Rosato DOC 2021

Etna Rosato comes from 100 per cent mascalese and the only grapes harvested in September. Just a soft press, no skin contact maceration and ultimately a salty, easy, light and rustic rose coloured meeting flavoured mingling with texture Rosato. Just what you want to drink in the sun, anytime after 11:00 am, preferably with the volcano looming above. Or anywhere the sun might hit in your place of living. Meets the non-plussed demands of delicious and satisfying, two most important blush ideals. Drink 2022-2023.  Tasted April 2022

Graci Etna Rosso DOC 2020

From Alberto Graci in Passopisciaro, with vineyards in five contrade, Feudo di Mezzo, Santo Spirito, Mugnazzi, Arcurìa and Barbabecchi. A spontaneous varietal nerello mascalese in every way, from fermentation through emotive spirit. Smells like L’Etna by way of 18 months spent in grandi botti (tini), fruit skin musky, salumi curative and mint-scented without being minty. Fine acid crunch and fruit persistence, intensity yet in control, driven and determined. Clearly top echelon Rosso untethered to any one specific tract of contrada soil. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Graci Etna Bianco DOC Arcurìa 2020

Arcurìa is central to Graci’s farm and work, a contrada location on L’Etna’s northern slope at 600 to 700m of elevation. For Bianco only carricante is used, harvested mid-October, half in small wood and half in stainless, 12 months on lees followed by 12 in bottle. As a cool and windy place it refreshes, revitalizes and breathes great air into the carricante, joining forces with the multifarious volcanic soils to instil great salinity and ariosità in the Bianco. Even though it sees longer lees aging as compared to the normale there is less frâiche and more freshness but also depth, determination and desire. Great bite, snap and acutezza. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Graci Etna Bianco DOC Muganazzi 2020

Mugnazzi is Graci’s secret weapon property, five and a half hectares in Passopiscaro, once owned by Ettore Majorana, the “brilliant and mysterious gentleman.” Three of those are planted to carricante at 700m, harvested around the same time as Arcurìa, destined to shake, rattle and roll this Etna Bianco. Takes the grape and volcano to the next level, both in mineral salinity but also luxuriousness of substantial, fleshy and concentrated fruit. The most aromatic of the bianci, orchard and even exotics mingling with sea, lava and air. There is no end or conclusion to this Mugnazzi for it is both inspiring and one to take a breath away. Very special Etna Bianco indeed. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted April 2022

Graci Etna Rosso DOC Arcurìa 2019

Arcurìa is the homefront contrada location, flagship vineyard, late harvested nearing October’s finish and 100 per cent nerello mascalese. In the middle of 600 and 700m, on five types of layered volcanic mille-feuille, connected to the village of Passopisciaro. The best mascalese plants and rows are chosen for this single contrada Rosso, an Etna that takes the cumulative Rosso to a higher level of focus, preciseness and northerly understanding. This IS Graci, fruit and cure like a recipe passed down through generations, even if Alberto Graci is the family pioneer, at least in this place. Lightly chalky tannins present a structured notion for a Rosso that must be, has to be, can only be Arcurìa. Textured to settle on the palate and fortified just enough to explain something extra about the land. Drink 2024-2028.  Tasted April 2022\

Walking on basalt

Graci Etna Rosso DOC Feudo Di Mezzo 2019

In Feudo di Mezzo a wholly antithetical experience is had, ninety degrees to the west from full on northerly Arcurìa, ancient and early vines of 80 years or more growing at 600m, sharing the already tiny 1.5 hectare space with free and sky reaching nerello cappuccio growing as alberello. The oppositional character does not end there, what with the finer soils, less volcanic variegation and earlier to ripen location. And so the (95 per cent) nerello mascalese plus cappuccio Rosso is blessed of fruit breadth, round, circulating and enriching acidity, not to mention luxurious tannins. Feudo di Mezzo makes for some of the volcanic idiom’s most generous and lavish Rosso with this by Graci up there with the best. Longer maceration and full acceptance of the large barrels make this a most impressive Rosso to gain and gather friends. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Jimmy

Graci Etna Rosso DOC Arcurìa Sopra Il Pozzo 2017

Sopra il Pozzo describes a special portion of the signature Arcurìa vineyard (and contrada of the same name), a block “above the well,” 100 per cent nerello mascalese picked in the last week of October. Treated to the same maceration and elévage as the Rosso for the same spontaneous style and time as Feudo di Mezzo. However Sopra il Pozzo’s refuse soil composition is different and requires patience in the name of time, due to its alternating layers of decomposed volcanics in stone and coarse sand. This is a section of recast material and the corresponding mascalese is both emasculated and chivalrous. The degree to which layers of fruit, mineral and umami incorporare and completare is finite and contiguous yet also lengthy, scorrevole and endless. There is rare Etna glycerin texture and perfectly timed acid tang. tempismo perfetto. Grande. Drink 2024-2032.  Tasted April 2022

Calcagno

Calcagno Etna Bianco DOC Ginestra 2020

Ginestra, a.k.a Genista aetnensis, the Mount Etna broom. A no wood, only stainless Etna Bianco spent time on lees and yet freshness of airy and open character abounds. And so a saltiness and a mineral wealth mix with typically lime blossom floral and spicy scents. Classic unadulterated and naked carricante, citrus streaking, tight, tart and satisfying. Could drink and relish this Bianco seven days a week. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted April 2022

Calcagno Etna Bianco Superiore DOC Primazappa 2019

Primazappa comes from the commune of Milo, incidentally the only Etna area where it is allowed to bottle as Etna Bianco Superiore. A varietal carricante off of 30-40 year-old vines grown on both alberello and spalliera at 850m, picked in late September. The volcanic soils are quite weathered, decomposed and sandy, with a decided micro-mineral effect on this wood-aged and seriously flinty Bianco. Takes on a whole new appellative and stylistic meaning, clearly designed to age and enter another new Bianco world apart. Simultaneously smouldering and buzzing with mineral salts, fleshing if not yet quite fleshy. The curiosity and potentiality factors in this Bianco are developing and climbing off the charts. A bit wild now, it should settle into something really special. Drink 2024-2028.  Tasted April 2022

Sicilian blood orange for what ails

Calcagno Etna Rosato DOC Romice Delle Sciare 2020

Romice refers to a Sicilian grass species and delle Sciare literally “of skiing” so clearly a Rosato referencing the flora and also the high Etna slopes. A north side, salty, sapid and pink pink citrus slinging nerello mascalese, infinitely fulfilling and drinkable. Acids sling right along and balance is had by all, including sugars and fragrant fruits. Drink 2022-2023.  Tasted April 2022

Calcagno is the life work of Franco, Gianni and Giusy Calcagno, two brothers and a daughter, first vintage being 2006, now a full grown concern. From the Contrada Calderara the mixed soil consists of black pumice and basalt. Perhaps made most famous by Cottanera but never sleep on the passion and torch passing into this generation of Calcagno hands. Cherries and red fruit in concentration could never be dismissed and in fact must be celebrated in a nerello mascalese of sweet intoxication. I really wanna know this Rosso, I really wanna go with this mascalese, my sweet Calderara. Fresh and grounded, effusive and espansivo, meeting at both poles, one mission gained. Implosive Rosso from the famiglia and one to savour after many other wannabes have walked heavy in their soles and commercialized their souls. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Terroir

Calcagno Etna Rosso DOC Arcurìa 2019

Arcurìa contrada is a late October harvested cru for nerello mascalese grown at elevations between 600 and 700m, on five types of multi-layered volcanic soils associated with the village of Passopisciaro. The Calcagno profile is consistent with Calderara in red fruit as if cherries especially are prominent and yet sour-savoury and botanical tonic elements change the complexion of this particular Rosso. Less generous and effusive if more serious and even structured results. No, not the same wine at all, even if it is distinguished as being from Calcagno. Drink 2024-2028.  Tasted April 2022

Calcagno Etna Rosso DOC Feudo Di Mezzo 2019

Feudo di Mezzo is neither Calderara nor Arcurìa, here much smaller plots of alberello vineyards with their twisted and ancient vines 60, 70 even 80 years or more growing at 600m.The nerello msacalese often shares space with less dominant and texture thickening cappuccio but most notable is the salumi and red fruit skin musk aromatics of these Rosso. There is nothing like Feudo di Mezzo, characterful, distinct, knowable and just plain funky. In a 70s bass beat way, not quite G.Q. but perhaps Love Train style. Calcagno’s is really special FdM, reaching for greatness and making itself noticed. Don’t sleep on this cru “‘cause if you miss it, I feel sorry, sorry for you, well.” Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted April 2022

Scirto

Scirto Don Pippinu Bianco Carricante 2019, Terre Siciliane IGT

From the Contrada Feudo di Mezzo and also Contrada Porcaria, at 650m on L’Etna’s north slope, planted in the 1930s. Soils are black volcanic sand, sub-acidic, skeletal, rich in potassium and poor in organic matter. Don Pippinu is a name attributed to Giuseppe Scirto’s grandfather and the wine is made from carricante, catarratto and white minnella. Ages for 10-12 months in steel and in the bottle. Just a raw white assemblage with no strings attached save for 100 years of history and a little bit of skin contact. No volatile distraction to speak of but yes this wine settles on the palate like a dissolving citrus, chamomile and orange blossom salve. Not loathe but perhaps reticent to use the word natural though how else to explain this thing of delicasse, elixir of kind heart and vial of virility. Acids are purely substrata drive, flavours layered by lava and mixed white grapes so in touch with one another’s realities. Peak performance happens late, often and with persistence. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Scirtu All’Anticas Vino Della Tradizione Nerello Mascalese 2019, Terre Siciliane IGT

The term is “Rosso della Tradizione” or “Vino della Tradizione,” in other words Rosato. You have to look at and consider tradition where a certain style of Rosato is concerned and in Etnean terms this is a wine that must also be looked at under a Rosato lens. Still a matter of ungrafted 80-100 year old nerello mascalese (here with some cappuccio) subjected to 36 hours of skin contact. Where this diverges from a wine like the Don Pippinu Rosso is in the foggy, murky, uncharted, uncooked and untested waters of varietal sensitivity. And aromatics, here rising, inciting and inviting investigation. There is also a matter on minor Brettanomyces not present in the other Scirto wines. So yes tradition is on display, as is an unbending relationship for which control and sulphuring are not going to happen. Terrific aromatic display, mostly floral but also old vines and volcanic induced fruit substance but the palate is a world apart and to its own. That said it oscillates, wavers and delivers new complexities each and every time sipped. Curiosity takes on a whole new meaning. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted April 2022

Un’altra fetta d’amore

Scirtu Don Pippinu Rosso Nerello Mascalese 2019, Terre Siciliane IGT

Scirto is the work of Giuseppe Scirto and Valeria Franco near Passopisciaro, with grapes since 2010 and from vineyards inherited from their grandparents. They have vines in Feudo di Mezzo and Porcaria, mainly nerello mascalese. Don Pippinu comes from a tiny plot of ungrafted 80-100 year old nerello mascalese and nothing off of the north slope of Mount Etna resembles what’s in this glass. Throws a light sediment, its hue is orange sky pastel at dawn and a flirtatious volatility marks the nose. Opens to an earthy if wild berry fragrance and then the salty-geological basaltic rock energy alights, if of a purpose to wake up the palate. Do not be fooled into any commercial space or domain for this is a natural expression of the Feud di Mezzo zone. Not on purpose mind you but a Rosso that is precise and as was unintentionally intended. So much beauty in the complexion of its flaws, a taste into the mirror of what is necessary and also possible. Wouldn’t age this too long but can think of many, many wine geeks who could crush the bottles of such a quietly provocative Rosso. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted April 2022

Scirtu A’Culonna Rosso Nerello Mascalese 2018, Terre Siciliane IGT

monument in the centre of the nearby village of Passopisciaro. The volcanic stone was a three-sided carved obelisk indicating directions, to and from Milazzo, Taormina, Randazzo and Palermo. La Colonna was also the meeting place where peasants stopped for a chat and at the same time sold their wine. For Giuseppe Scirto and Valeria Franco it is predominantly nerello mascalese with some cappuccio picked in early October. Fermentation is done in stainless steel tanks using only natural yeasts, then aged 12 months in large and small used oak casks. Not filtered or fined with minimal use of sulphur at bottling. Clearly the most textural, glycerin and fruit pretty Rosso in Giuseppe Scirto’s Siciliane shed, flowers distilled into perfume, curious berry caramels swirling through the flavour profile. The swarthiness while there is perfectly seasoned and in check, the lasting impression is good, intuitive and reasoned one. A’Culonna is the bomb. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted April 2022

Eduardo Torres

Eduardo Torres Acosta Viticoltore Versante Nord Uve Bianche 2020, Bianco Terre Siciliane IGT

The white counterpart to the “north slope” cousins is this from old vineyards in six different districts: Pietramarina, Allegracore, Piano Daini, Friera, Zucconero and Marchesa. The red nerello mascalese dominates but the vines are always inclusive of 10-15 per cent white grapes. In this case half minnella (Bianca) equalized and complimented by (50) other endemic varieties, as in carricante, catarratto, inzolia and grecanico. Fine sands of volcanic ash are the product of various and recent lava eruptions. The “Uve Bianche” expresses purposeful clarity and seriously rich Etna intendment, giving away a fleshy and controlled lees-effected texture. The weave has melted and so the seamlessness with which this drinks is second to none. A white of glaze and shine, implosive acid zing and explosive flavour bursts. It’s bloody delicious, so expertly assembled and crafted, professionally and yet subtly designed. Saying yes to this glass is akin to being paid for telling people what you already know. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted April 2022

Eduardo Torres Acosta Viticoltore Versante Nord Nerello Mascalese 2020, Terre Siciliane IGT

Versante Nord, literally “north slope” is nerello mascalese (plus 15 per cent “varietà locali,” in other words nerello cappuccio and friends) from old (50-plus years) vines of the Pietramarina districts in Verzella, Capreri in Castiglione di Sicilia, Zucconero, Piano Daini in Solicchiata, Allegracore in Randazzo and Friera in Linguaglossa. The land is obviously volcanic, of mixed stones, sand and ashes from eruptions, several quite recent. Natural farming and fermentation, picked in the first two weeks of October and a 15 day, free to its own devices skin maceration. This gives the VS a raw feeling but truth be told the Rosso perfectly straddles the lines between the exposed and the sheltered, the volatile and the calm. Tart yet sweetly scented red fruits, edging to pomegranate but also a woven fabric in the mouth that suggests chalkiness, bend-ability and structure. Persistence is the surname, braiding the middle and “ascesa” the given. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted April 2022

Eduardo Torres Acosta Viticoultore Quotan Vino Di Contrada Piede Franco 2020, Rosso Terre Siciliane IGT

Quotan as in “quota” is an apt moniker, a part or personal share, easily discerned for producers on L’Etna and what land they have to use. The wine comes from an old vineyard in Piede Franco, in the Contrada Nave, on the northwest slope of the volcano. Quota N is also the name of the vineyard, Q being the stamp of locally known “roads quota nave.” A most unique assemblage, of half nerello mascalese, 20 per cent grenache and (30) uve bianche, of grecanico, carricante and coda di volpe. Allegedly if obviously lighter, brighter and airy finer than Versante Nord, multi citrus strewn and waxy with both yellow and red citrus giving it all away. Neither Rosato nor full on Rosso, nor somewhere in between but residing all on its own. Not a structured wine but wouldn’t put 10 years past it without something interesting happening, eventually leading to curiosity and pleasure. Crushable in any case, like semi-soft lemonade in the best way. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted April 2022

Tascante

Tascante Etna Rosso DOC Contrada Pianodario 2019

The vineyard was planted at 775m in 2010 in the contrada of Pianodario, one of four on the northern slope of Mount Etna, between the villages of Montelaguardia and Randazzo. Characterized by a degrading morphology from south to north on volcanics 15,000 and 4,000 years old. It is believed that the substrata is between 40,000 and 30,000 years of age. Pure nerello mascalese here is one of the latest picked in the last days of October, treated to a year in large Slavonian cask. Imagine sangiovese from somewhere like Montalcino but in this varietal world the lightness of being is palpable but also so accepting of the wood. If ever a mascalese from Etna were spoken in pure Sicilian blood orange terms this would be it. Tart yet never sour nor do you feel the acids in any sharp or inflammatory way. Really just purity and clarity, a well seasoned glass that comes from ripe fruit meeting nurturing barrel with the result being one of energy and spirit. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Tascante Etna Rosso DOC Contrada Sciaranuova 2019

Sciaranuova is located between the villages of Montelaguardia and Passopisciaro at 730m and is one of the four contrade (districts) farmed by Tasca on northern Mt. Etna. The terraces of nerello mascalese were planted in 2008 and are generally harvested a week earlier than Piandorio. Less intense, more calming, acids not as sharp and fruit more developed in a Rosso of great stage presence and nurturing feel. Acts with less emotion and more control, delivers the kind of perfume that makes you close your eyes to consider and inhale. Pure wild strawberry and while surely airy and stone-cut there is always something of ease about this wine. Spice in the form of nutmeg and then cinnamon heart give a light white peppery edge but all turns to liquid, seamlessly integrated and finishing long. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted April 2022

Tasca’s Tascante vineyard

Tascante Etna Rosso DOC Contrada Rampante 2019

This third of three Contrade Rosso farmed and bottled by Tasca on Etna is from a vineyard at 740m between Solicchiata and Passopisciaro. Same volcanic geological time period (between 15,000 and 4,000 years old) but a bit of a swing here towards the east, direction Feudo di Mezzo. Some really old vines exist here and Tasca’s are planted in 2000, making them eight to ten years older than Piandario and Sciaranuova. Also picked a bit earlier, stylistic tighter, wound and wrapped, like a rounded Napoleon or mille-feuille with so much to unravel, uncover and discover. Neither blood orange nor strawberry here but rather currants and pomegranate, with underlying botanical tonics and a layer of organza material. Increased curiosity, elevated enigma and mysteries to unfold. Wait longer on Rampante. Drink 2024-2028.  Tasted April 2022

Contrada Rampante

 

Tascante Etna Rosso DOC Contrada Sciaranuova 2017

Northwesterly Sciaranuova at 730m is found between the villages of Montelaguardia and Passopisciao. These gently sloping terraces of nerello mascalese went in the volcanic soil in 2008 and harvest usually occurs in the second to last week of October. One nose of 2017 and one understands about vintages and also time. If 2019 Sciaranova feels like a nurturing and health affirming nerello mascalese than 2017 writes the proverbial book on the subject. The warmth of the season is to thank but so is two extra years of settling in bottle time. A fleshing and a reckoning have taken place but so have a refreshing and an awakening. It could be thought that ’17 would not have shown this fragrant, open and vital just a year ago but now, well something of a next level rejoicing has occurred. The ’17 is in a right honest, pure and giving place. It should remain here for three, possibly even five years deeper. All this bodes so well for the most excellent ’19. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Vigneti Vecchio

Vigneti Vecchio Etna Doc Rosso Sciare Vive 2020

From Solicchiata on the northeastern slope and the work of Carmelo Vecchio, mainly nerello mascalese with 10 per cent indigenous varieties (including minnella, inzolia, carricante, grecanico, catarratto and malvasia.) As per the disciplinare there can be up to 10 white grapes and in this living, scorrevole sledding Sciare Vive they bring lift, refreshment and a glide across the palate. Takes a page out of the Crasà book with some meaty juices but here they run rare, show little cured meat character and just bloody enliven the energy and spirit of this wine. There is some sneaky structure lurking but my you could really sip the you know what out of this blessed Rosso. Youthfulness does show through in a minor amount of austerity at the finish so let this ’20 rest a while. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Vigneti Vecchio Etna DOC Rosso Crasà Contrada 2019

Carmelo Vecchio and Rosa La Guzzaone farm one hectare of nerello mascalese in Crasà Contrada near Solicchiata on L’Etna’s north slope. Picked later in October, a wild ferment and a quick two week maceration on skins. Adds up to a stylish and perfumed Rosso, vibrant, pulsating and alive. The aromatics are curiously akin to the tightest lambrusco but with running meat juices, tonic, savour and pinpointed local accuracy. Cured meats too, impulsive and implosive fruit internment, definite block of a Contrada’s location intendment, trenchant in many purposed splendour. This Rosso means business and directs its own traffic. No affection or heirs, only truth out of Crasà effectuation. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted April 2022

Azienda Agricola Sofia

Azienda Agricola Sofia Etna Rosso DOC La Vigna Di Gioacchino 2020

The eponymous north Etna winery is run by Carmelo Sofia, son to Gioacchino who was born in 1953 in Castiglione di Sicilia. Dad had inherited vineyards in Solicchiata where the Piano dei Daini Contrada is located. Carmelo now has three hectares, two on that volcanic soil and one on clay in the Pietramarina Contrada, just outside of the village. This is vintage number four, all nerello mascalese grown at 600-700m. La Vigna di Gioacchino comes from Piano dei Daini and also Pietramarina, averaging out at 25 years, picked middle of October. Short skin contact, aging in concrete and as a result a level of kept freshness, but also the living, breathing feeling of cured meats and musky red fruit skins. No overt or purposeful structure but a true, honest and highly enjoyable Rosso experience. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted April 2022

Azienda Agricola Sofia Etna Rosso DOC La Vigna Di Gioacchino 2019

The 2019 was Carmelo Sofia’s third vintage in bottle, here from the label dedicated to his father Gioacchino and drawn from the two parcels he farms on Etna’s north slope. Both the volcanics of Piano dei Daini and the clay of Pietramarina Contrada contribute but in 2019 they are so entangled, meshed and together. A terrific vintage to match flesh against bone, substance versus karst and meaty depth in tandem with mineral sway. A brighter and more lifted Gioacchino as compared to 2020, sure it’s got another year under belt but here the layers coordinate and open. Ready for business. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted April 2022

Lava Flow of L’Etna eruption, 1981

Azienda Agricola Sofia Etna Rosso DOC Contrada Piano Dei Daini 2020

L’Etna’s north slope is the face of Contrada Piano dei Daini, here being the second vintage for which Carmelo Sofia decided to bottle as a single vineyard Rosso. The block is 65 year-old Alberello nerello mascalese that remains in contact with the skins a half week longer than Gioacchino and again there is no wood, only concrete for aging. Piano dei Daini straddles two worlds like few Etna Rosso can; swarthiness and clarity, lift and precision. Hard not to feel the volatility but it’s just so perfectly judged at the edge of the precipice in teasing, flirting and sly fashion. Whether intentional or nor it matters little because the ability to please both sides of that debate make this a deliciously risky and rewarding nerello mascalese. Confident and obvious, swagger and humility. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted April 2022

Azienda Agricola Sofia Etna Rosso DOC Contrada Piano Dei Daini 2019

The Contrada Piano dei Daini is on L’Etna’s north slope and Carmelo Sofia first made the decision to bottle a single vineyard/commune Rosso from the oldest (65 year-old) Alberello nerello mascalese in the previous ’18 vintage. Stays in contact with the skins a few days longer but again no wood is used, only concrete for aging. This went to bottle in September of 2021 but it still exhibits a reticence and hesitation to lift. The fruit is leathery and you feel a hidden musk pungency, a fruit meets salumi skin so typical of this vineyard and the volcanic strata it breathes upon. Great potential here, a year and a half away it would seem, before the florals, flavours and highlights begin to align and alight. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted April 2022

My friends are so lazy

Azienda Agricola Sofia La Vigna Di Gioacchino 2021, Terre Siciliane Bianco IGT

Carmelo Sofia’s Bianco scents of a singular set of circumstances and aromas, in part taken from 60-70 year-old Alberello carricante with a few percentage points of catarratto, minella and inzolia. Drawn from Piano dei Daini (volcanic) and also Pietramarina (clay) on the northern Etna range, picked late in September and staying in touch with the lees for the full five months in tonneaux. The crème frâiche quality and lemon curd viscosity are not as in charge as first thought with some (four months) of steely stainless extra time making sure to keep freshness and juicy behaviour a clear and present part of the style. Battles the urge to swirl in yogurt and comes away clean, chewy but clean. Seems like a work in progress to a certain extent, four years into its tenure, with great focus and precision to come. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted April 2022

Arrividerci bella Sicilia

Good to go!

godello

Quarantine Passegiata

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign

The five estates of Planeta earth

Welcome to Planeta Earth

The question often asked, if you could go back in time and meet just one person, who would it be? Shakespeare, Golda Meir, Beethoven, Anne Frank, Martin Luther King, Maya Angelou, Galileo, Marie Curie, Einstein, or maybe Gandhi? In the winemaking world there would be many great men and women to consider but this current fascination with Sicilia leads to the name Diego Planeta. Pioneer, visionary and a man who considered the entire island an agricultural playground where anything was possible. The Planeta family has Spanish origins and roots dating back five hundred years. Diego Planeta was the former president of the Settesoli Cooperative and founder of Planeta winery. His passing in 2020 left an irreplaceable hole but 15 cousins, including Alessio, Francesca and Santi Planeta are the beneficiaries of their uncle’s plans and legacy. Five family members run the day-to day operation and more than 200 vinicultural, viticultural, administrative and marketing artisans share in the collective vision. Today they work, farm sustainably and reap the benefits of five distinct estates but more than that they bring the fruits of these locations to the world. No other producer in Sicilia does this, not with the scope and breadth they do. This is the story of the five Sicilian estates of Planeta earth.

Godello, L’Etna

Related – Planeta’s Sicily

Un percorso non casuale, fortemente legato alla diversità dei paesaggi, dei venti, del carattere degli uomini e quindi dei loro vini. Not an accidental journey but one inextricably linked to the diversity of five landscapes, in soil, wind, climate and the relationship between the custodians and the wines they shepherd. Menfi, Vittoria, Noto, L’Etna and Capo Milazzo. No two are the same and all five contribute to the fabric of Planeta’s extant association and alliance with Sicilia. The Planeta family and head winemaker Patricia Tóth abide by their surroundings, as do the agriculturalists, guardians and caretakers, of olive groves, orchards, hinterlands and plantations. The pentamerous grouping of estates in all its micro and collective diversity is at once staggering to consider and then a thing of sensory overload. Taking in one at a time and appreciating the profundity of each place is the key to understanding. In March of 2022 I had the honour and pleasure to visit two properties and were it not for Covid-19 and later in June travel misteps I would have seen a third, quite possibly a fourth and perhaps even all five. As it is my personal and professional life have become enriched in ways that could never have been imagined.

Menfi Coast

Only came outside to watch the nightfall with the rain. I heard you making patterns rhyme

Not to be overlooked is above all else, Planeta’s production of IGP olive oil. Their’s is a painstaking process to achieve uncompromising quality borne of the trees in a landscape destined to deliver greatness. The fields of hospitality and cultural ventures integrate into their viticultural activities, all purposed to enliven the Sicilian experience. Sustainability without exception,  respect for the land and wineries completely integrated within the landscape are the values which guide the company’s activities. Winemaker Patricia Tóth was born in Hungary and received a degree in 2004 at the University of Corvinus in Budapest in Food Science specializing in wine, beer and spirits. Tóth worked at Le Vigne di Zamò Friuli, Bava in Piemonte and Vylyan in Hungary. She began her 17 year Planeta run in 2005 at Noto, then in Vittoria, later managing the setup of the estate in Capo Milazzo and on L’Etna. She now splits her time at 900m above sea level on the volcano’s north face and also nearest the beating heart control centre of operations in Menfi.

Related – All the wines of Sicily

Baglio di Ulmo

In Menfi the variety of terroir is infinite and to walk the phrygana is to stop time. The fauna ignites in the olive oil and the wines from Ulmo in a variety of styles and varietal personalities as sundry as the numbers of women and men who create them. They can be fast or slow, rich or discreet, loud or soft, hard or tender, loving or intense. They can be so packed full of notes it may feel like life speeded up. They can also be calming and interpretive. They can be anything at all.

L’Etna eruption, 1981

On L’Etna space and melody, in particular aboard the volcano’s north face (versante nord) there is a use of space so artful it enables the melodies of the original lines in the wines. Though Planeta (and so many others) use improvisations and embellishments, they do so in order to integrate the leading voice to grow together with the supporting cast. The main declarations of nerello mascalese and carricante are joined by nerello cappuccio, catarratto and grecanico, all evolving together organically, swelling and retreating as the complete pulse of the wines, the inner pulse guiding the creativity itself, as it is dictated.

The inimitable human and paradigmatic winemaker Patricia Tóth

In Vittoria, Noto and Capo Milazzo the path indicated is that of quiet intensity, of melodies so phrased that the rhythm and the space together build wines of strong driving forces. Their collective agency is power achieved without volume, tension without distortion. Some wines grab you and drive everything else from your mind. They seduce, softly engage your whole attention and lure you into the grooves they are travelling. All this without you being aware, of what is happening until it has already happened.

This is planet earth you’re looking at planet earth
Bop bop bop bop bop bop bop bop this is planet earth

Alessio Planeta

Related – Sicily in review

Paraphrasing from something Alessio Planeta said back in 2018, Planeta looks to connect the island by the phrase stato stazione delle una perfetta, meaning the union is currently situated in a perfect state, working together for the common good. Alessio and his family’s rich set of wine-producing circumstances, whether it be the individual refrains of each estate or the collaborative effect of the group, is a constantly growing and changing undertaking but never with the kind of urgency implied in some other producers’ body of work. Planeta’s is more than methodical, it is meditative, contemplative and organic. Calculated? Of course but with the future in mind and the greater good always considered. Leadership incarnate, always hospitable and most importantly positive. When I fell ill with Covid whilst visiting with Alessio and Patricia I felt safe and set up for recovery. I can never thank them enough, for their humanity and support.

Meet next gen Planeta custodian and burgeoning chef, Costante Planeta

Here are the 45 Planeta wines tasted in late March and early April in a cross-section of a portfolio interconnected and jointly illustrative of five estates. Their quality is what makes it so satisfying to taste, assess, compose, edit and finally publish the results. Working through these wines, like listening to the albums of a band’s tenure, or sitting in a club while they play their songs, well this makes for a great trip through an intensely diverse and ever-evolving viticultural terrain.

Menfi phrygana

Menfi-Ulmo

The Menfi situation is really one of Ulmo, or rather Ulmo is Menfi. Here on the island’s southwest coast beneath Palermo is where Planeta’s first winery opened in 1995 near the village of Sambuca di Sicilia, Built near an ancient 16th-century baglio, or stone farmhouse, situated above Lake Arancio and blessed with chalky limestone soils. In the middle of the 1980’s Planeta planted their first vines around the baglio which the family has always owned. The Iter Vitis museum, surrounded by a “collection meadow’” of different Sicilian and Georgian vines, “inspired by the idea of enhancing the rich Sicilian winemaking tradition.” The nature footpath called La Segreta runs from the winery, connects with those that intersect the Menfi hills and also 250 cultivated hectares of vineyard. The name adorns the quadripartite set of wine labels that are arguably Sicily’s most well-known. The crux, core and heart is Dispensa where production, administration and planning all happen.

Beach at Menfi

The Infernotto, inside the small winery, is the family caveau, one of the most calming placing to read, rest and taste through Planeta’s portfolio of wines. Ulmo, Maroccoli, Cirami, Baglio di Ulmo and the 6th century B.C. Palmento di Bosco della Resinata; places of affinity, integration and varietal kinship. Of grillo, fiano, chardonnay, grecanico, sauvignon blanc, viognier, nero d’Avola, syrah, merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. The chardonnay stands out as the iconic label, a super chardonnay to be sure because no other varietal example delivers the two pillars of quality and quality like this Planeta label.

Planeta Serra Ferdinandea Rosato 2021, Sicilia DOC

A joint venture between Planeta and the family Oddo from the south of France. Rosato, Bianco and Rosso made high in the hills above the sea near Menfi, closer to Sambuca. Here nero d’avola and syrah made in the airiest, salty and light tart way, quenching and satisfying. The name refers to the story of a volcanic island that suddenly rose from the sea in 1831, fought over for claim by the Italians, French and British, before disappearing back in to the water many months later. There it sits 30 to 40 metres below the surface. You can drink the town dry out of this Rosato, any day, any time. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted March 2022

Ulmo Chardonnay

Planeta Chardonnay 2020, Sicilia DOC

Chardonnay comes from two vineyards, Storico which is the large white rock at 270m above the Menfi lake and Marrocoli, where red grapes (cabernet franc, merlot and syrah) really thrive. Here chardonnay is given roundness to mix with the stoic-stony and intense directness of what it could have been. A place of vibrations and nerves and so Marrocoli is needed to tame and soften Storico’s blunt edginess. That it does, injecting peach fleshy sunshine into the linearity of the wine. Keep in mind that 200,000 bottles a year are made and that doesn’t even keep up with the demand. Arch classic Planeta bread and butter wine, also in style. One of the planet’s great chardonnays of double Q effect. Quantity and quality. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Chardonnay 2019, Sicilia DOC

The two vineyards are Storico at 270m above the Menfi lake and Marrocoli where really white calcari predominates. While there is the plump presence of chardonnay giving “morbido” roundness in apposite to the mineral Storico fruit, there is also this persistent buzz and and nervy character. For a wine for which upwards of 200,000 bottles a year are produced it really is quite incredible how vintage dictates the personality of the wine. Fresh quality bread and churned butter in the glass. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Cometa 2020, Sicilia Menfi DOC

As a reminder Cometa comes from two vineyards, the important one being Dispensa right by the winery and Paso di Gura, 10 kms away. Fiano, not off of volcanics but clay soils close to the sea, well-ripened, in a place where it likes the sun, suffers and gets a bit bronzing and golden. A fiano of white and yellow flowers, chamomile and the like. While the universe busy was sending more than enough chaos to humanity, in this vintage there were only good conditions and therefore excellent to raise a proper Cometa. Feels plump and salty, full and herbal, bitters so minor and subtleties available to those who wait for it. The upward trend continues, towards greatness. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Cometa 2019, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Cometa is fiano “di Ulmo” in Menfi out of two vineyards, Dispensa and Paso di Gura. Clay soils over calcium carbonate and a place for full ripeness within the context of fulfilling the promise for golden grapes. The florals sing from 2019, more white than yellow and the vintage delivers a credibly balanced affair. In this last vintage before the world went mad Cometa seems at ease, confident and secure. Not as round and plump as the following 2020 yet equally saline, herbal if sweetly so and the crunchiest Cometa ever encountered. Not a shock because “every vintage of fiano is unpredictable” explains Alessio Planeta. More vertical, linear and direct. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Cometa 2018, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Experimental grape introduction of fiano to Menfi in 1994 with the first vintage being 2000. “They (Avellino) grow fiano on volcanic soil in the mountains and we grow it in clay soils by the sea,” tells Alessio Planeta. “With low yields and small bunches.” Here it can be tropical but it’s always herbal and breezy. Can’t help but be salty, after all the air is filled with marine life.  Last tasted March 2022

Cometa has changed or rather in its youthful state of ultimate reductive freshness is so straight-laced, linear, tightrope walking along a razor sharp edge. There’s a tonic injection that helps to propel it forward and the envisioning projects two years ahead to see it develop some sweeter fruit notes, straight from the orchard’s hip. Watch for this special vintage of fiano, the ancient noble variety from Campania that Planeta’s braintrust took a well-advised flyer on in the 1990s. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted May 2019

Planeta Didacus 2019, Sicilia Menfi DOC

The name Didacus is Diego, from the Latin, a chardonnay dedicated to Alessio Planeta’s visionary uncle, the late Diego Planeta. These Storico Vineyard Menfi vines were planted in 1985 on the hillside up to 270m of elevation and below the white rock on calcareous-clay soils above the lake. As a vintage 2019 was dryer and warmer than 2018, especially in summer. Results in a richly concentrated chardonnay but one picked earlier with acids in tact and phenols well developed. Plenty of water stocks in the soil after a wet 2018 allowed the plants to ease through ’19 and take full advantage of the dry season. Full malo feel, good mineral backbone and a long sensation swept across the palate puts this in a place of Menfi specificity while also leaving an impression that next level notes will emerge over a good period of time. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Didacus 2018, Sicilia Menfi DOC

The chardonnay dedicated to Diego Planeta, from the oldest Menfi vines, planted in 1985. The name Didacus is indeed Diego in Latin and the inherent plus inferred further meaning is as thought, a didactic one, which says something about many things. It speaks to the pioneer Mr. Planeta’s two-toned, ahead of its time work and to the way chardonnay takes Sicily into another realm and brings reductive freshness into buttery bites that ties two voices together. And they will speak as one. Soon. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted May 2019 and March 2022

Planeta Ulmo tasting

Planeta Didacus Cabernet Franc 2017, Sicilia Menfi DOC

The Didacus red is a varietal cabernet franc from a very specific Ulmo block, also named for Diego Planeta, visionary and pioneer for wines in Sicily. The Piano del Sommacco (sumac) is the source, treated to whole bunch fermentation and aged in tonneaux because of the fruit’s great potential. The heat did not come until just before harvest (after a cooler season early). This is good for franc when the heat comes late for more concentration though also one picked later as it should be. The uncanny smell of carob and even bokser pod fruit, properly herbal, just the right amount of pyrazine, balsamic and spice. Long, blue and true. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted March 2022

Didacus is Diego, from the Latin and like the chardonnay this cabernet franc is dedicated in kinship to Alessio Planeta’s uncle, pioneer and visionary, the late Diego Planeta. Storico Vineyard in Menfi was planted in 1985 on white rock-calcareous-clay soils above the lake. There is little surprise that 2016 was a serious franc vintage, long and drawn out, perfect to bring the ripeness of necessary phenols that the grape so clearly needs and dearly deserves. Shows off cabernet franc’s dreamy complexion with a side of pyrazine though depth of fruit and dearth of (including American) oak are really the pair in charge. There is something Rioja Gran Reserva about Didacus but even more so there is Sicilian depth, Moorish density and Planeta gravity. Or gravitas it should be conceded from and for a wine of many splendored seasoning and structure. Perfume flies in the air and dreams will someday come true. Drink 2024-2032.  Tasted March 2022

Fishes by Costante Planeta

Planeta Alastro 2021, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Alsatro the yellow flower that appears all over Menfi in Spring. Mainly grecanico with some sauvignon blanc, the former essentially the same grape as garganega. Similar to a Soave ideal, to add some aromatic swagger in a friendship to work with a local grape. Lean and light, like garganega in wet concrete, straight ahead citrus, neutral and refreshing with just a hint of petrol. Cool white. Drink 2022-2025. Tasted March 2022

Planeta Grillo Terebinto 2021, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Terebinto the red flower all over the hills of Menfi in spring, especially as you approach the sea. A cross between the aromatics and intensity of cataratto and the gregarious flavours of zibbibo. Made as a pure variety but only since 2016 because Alessio Planeta realized it was a beautiful beast. While the sunshine and richness are very much accumulated there is also the sea in this gently rolling and saline white. A great vintage of this wine and just what grillo should be. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Plumbago Nero d’Avola 2019, Sicilia DOC

Plumbago or “Ploom-baggo” grows in Menfi and around Ulmo, coming out in Spring though not right away. In nero d’avola it is a red that manifests Menfi missives though Planeta chooses to label it not in menzione geographica terms but rather Sicilia DOC. This is because a new vineyard’s fruit is involved and so it was not requested to be Menfi, but again in 2021 will be. Always rolling deep and seasoned, a black cherry and seasoned meaty depth yet ’19 seems to have more stones, air and lightness, a relative thing but it makes a difference. This Plumbago really gets it, or maybe we get it and how it translates transparently. Less rustic than usual, a wood adjustment made and so here with a bit more sympathy and less dealing with the devil. Or more perhaps? It may say, “Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name. But what’s puzzling you, is the nature of my game.” Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Maroccoli Syrah 2017, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Syrah, from a conca facing the lake in Ulmo, more calcareous than where the chardonnay grows, a sea of sediment that is more alluvial going down to the shore. This syrah grows on the white calcium carbonate which surely gives vivid florals to mitigate a hematic meatiness created by the clay, sun and varietal tendency. Not a syrah of bacon or smoked meat and also not overtly concentrated but instead quite pretty and elegant. It should be expected this direction will continue with subsequent vintages. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted March 2022

Vineyards in Ulmo

Planeta Maroccoli Syrah 2016, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Syrah is grown above the lake in Ulmo on a “conca“ of alluvial and calcareous clay soils notably white and the purple flower aromas are surely there in this vintage. So are the meaty ones but also those that imagine roasted melanzane and other toasty vegetative scents. While there used to be so much concentration in this wine it seems that 2016 marks a turn towards restraint and that thing we like to call elegance. Still the dripping meat juices fragrance and flavour rear up in this ’16, as they have always been known to do. Ready to go now with the first hints of balsamic and flint coming through. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Sito Dell’Ulmo Planeta Merlot 2016, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Pure merlot made since 1995, one of the first for Planeta and one that used to be called simply “merlot.” A style of spice and even balsamic but once again the florals, lighter activity and respect for vineyard in their sense of place is what really matters today. These were the first vineyards planted in 1985, along with chardonnay, nero d’avola and grecanico. The experimental early days. At 31 years-old these merlot vines are highly experienced, the varietal give is exactly of itself and the wine is almost OCD stringent. That is to say it knows what it is and wants to be. Not overtly rich but surely capable of aging and again a vintage of freshness meets long, cool and slow ripening. “A bit too fresh for me,” says Alessio Planeta and then “nordic style,” adds Patrica Tóth.” Beautifully chalky and like a Sicilian I will fight to the death to argue that soil has much to do with the mouthfeel of this merlot. Still needs one more year. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Burdese 2016, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Burdese (Boor-dee-say) from a Sicilian dialect, as in Bordelais, looking back in time at Bordeaux, using the two cabernets from Ulmo, sauvignon and franc, 70-30 in every vintage except ’97-99, when it was only sauvignon. There is an acidity that can only be described as “Burdese,” even when the sauvignon dries out a bit, by the calcareous raised franc and most importantly the freshest of Menfi vintages. Here a fragrant and bright Bordeaux (or perhaps Ulmese?) joint, a blend that sings and raises the bar for such wines in Sicily. Tart and chalky, structured and really long. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Burdese 2015, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Burdese, the Sicilian Bordeaux blend, a word brought back and employed here in Menfi as the French dispatch for cabernet sauvignon (70 per cent) and franc grown in Ulmo. Now settled into its Bordelais by way of Sicilian skin, tannins softened and acids too. Feels like a warm season created the resolve in this wine but then again it also seems like there are parts unknown and things yet revealed. After all “all great beauties withhold their deepest secrets.” Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted March 2022

Sicilia DOC

Planeta La Segreta Grillo 2021, Sicilia DOC

An extension from the original Bianco bottle, added a few years back (2016) when grillo and nero d’avola were recognized as protected varieties under the Sicilia DOC. While made in greater quantity and with less complexity than the Terebinto grillo the idea and the ideal are one in the same. Citrus and herbs, some fleshiness and sunshine though quiet and calm. Spot on balance and amenability. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta La Segreta Il Bianco 2021, Sicilia DOC

Il Bianco is the original La Segreta, a blend of (50 per cent) grecanico with viognier, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Remarkably the aromatics do tell of viognier but that changes across a palate that  s expressly grecanico with shades of the other grapes. Broader and more rounded than grillo, perhaps antithetically so but less specificity Makes Il Bianco the one to work for all. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta La Segreta Nero d’Avola 2021, Sicilia DOC

An extension from the original Rosso bottle, added a few years back (2016) when nero d’avola and grillo were recognized and added as protected varieties under the Sicilia DOC. Essentially Planeta’s varietal “lite,” a lithe and honest, pure and transparent entry into the Ulmo world for nero d’avola, with just a small portion from Noto. The key is all estate grapes, an entry into and sort of second set of wines for Planeta. The selection comes within the availability of 370 hectares of production. Safe, straightforward, varietally correct, tart and also too easy to knock back. Drink 2022-2024. T asted March 2022

Planeta La Segreta Il Rosso 2021, Sicilia DOC

As with Il Bianco, Il Rosso is the original red under the La Segreta label, a blend of (50 per cent) nero d’avola with merlot, syrah and splashes of cabernet franc. Deeper if not darker but certainly meatier and more ferric than the varietal nero. Herbal as well, a note of Amaro and dark chocolate shavings. As with the other three La Segreta wines the Rosso is a matter of different vineyard management as compared with the other Planeta wines, with the intendment to be less concentrated, less tannic and to drink right here and right now. That it does, especially with pasta in a sauce of eggplant and tomatoes from Vittoria. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted March 2022

Lava flow, Feudo di Mezzo

L’Etna

The year was 2008 when Planeta settled on the north side of Etna, among the lava flows and the woods which surround the village of Passopisciaro. Vines of planted nerello and carricante were planted and then in 2012 the winery was also established. The hospitality is housed to the north at Montelaguardia, in the middle of the Sciaranuova vineyard at more than 800m above sea level. Here the Etna cru are produced, in pinot nero, nerello mascalese, riesling and carricante. To the south the Feudo di Mezzo winery and vineyard (for Etna Rosso) are right in the centre of a 15th century lava flow. Nearby at Torreguarino and Rampante the vines are also best suited to red wines. At Sciaranuova the old terraces were transformed into a “Theatre in the Vineyard,” home to the Sciaranuova Festival.

Sciaranuova, Etna

To get a true sense of geography and location there are four passeggiate that will unlock the door to Etna enlightenment. The first is through the 15th century lava flow at Feudo di Mezzo and the vineyards with their gnarly bush vines. The second is the lava flow of “L’Etna 1981,” an eruption between the 17th and 23rd of March, at which time the village of Randazzo below came this close to being swallowed whole. The third is through Parco Statella to gain a sense of how Etna’s north face integrates Alberello vineyards, woods and homes. The fourth is ambling over volcanic boulder flows, admiring all the layers of lava rock, exploring the ancient, gnarly and propitious aboard L’Etna, as seen in Passopisciaro.

Planeta Eruzione 1614 Carricante 2019, Terre Siciliane IGT

Eruzione is always picked later than the carricante for the Etna Bianco (from Monetalguardia), at least a week later, finished on the 20th of October, really early. You smell and taste the Bianco from 2019 and think it’s tight but then you do the same with the Eruzione and then realize just what tight is. In this amazingly compact ’19 there is the feeling of salts dissolving into the fine grain of the wine, volcanics in carricante disappearing with immediacy though their presence never leaves your palate. A vintage that so precisely and clearly defines what it means to grow this grape on the northern slope of the mountain between 810-900m, even though at this elevation it can’t qualify for DOC Etna. The higher you go, the tighter are the wines and the longer they live. That is a fact. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted March 2022

Parco Statella, Etna

Planeta Eruzione 1614 Carricante 2014, Terre Siciliane IGT

This is just perfect. To re-taste Eruzione carricante five years later, almost to the day and just past the halfway point in this 1614’s expected tenure. In fact it barely feels like any time has passed save for a fumé moment of character that Tóth admits “I don’t know where it comes from,” meaning it’s not technologically possible. Which means it comes from the vineyard. Or, the original sapid part of the wine transforming into smoulder. The texture is not organza but sheer, you can feel through it. The salt has fully melted to now extend the flavour but the wine remains tight. And so the longevity abides. And the score also rises, as the sun. Drink through 2027.   Last tasted March 2022

“Not everyone can carry the weight of the world,” save perhaps Planeta’s Patricia Tóth, a winemaker who celebrates the past, the endemic varietal and in the present, the glaring truth. The name Eruzione is evocative of the estate’s Cru dell’Etna and in a mind’s eye transports history through the narrative of carricante (with 10 per cent riesling). It brings the legendary 1614 Mount Etna eruption to life, a longest ever recorded catastrophe that lasted ten years, halting just on the border of the vineyards of Sciaranuova. This is veritable mountain altitude wine, from high (790-890m) terraced, volcanic black soils delivering fresh conifer savour, saltiness and palpable mineral style. It is sharp and composed on the nose, with citrus distillate and elevated acidity. It does not matter whether you are wide awake or deep in R.E.M sleep. At all times it is a revelation for carricante. This is what it can be! There was no need for crop thinning, it was picked four to five weeks after the sparkling and it spent five months on the lees. The texture and the potential longevity are thankful for this. “Combien, combien, combien du temps?” At least seven years. Talk about the passion. Drink 2018-2025.   Tasted March 2017

Quarantine passegiata, Versante Nord, Etna

Planeta Riesling 2018, Terre Siciliane IGT

What do you compare Etna riesling to? Nothing save perhaps Eden Valley but what’s the point? Texturally this from Planeta is quite soft but no matter the texture every sip goes salty. Volcanics, or more to the lava flow point, living, breathing and current (within the last 400 years) volcanics will do that, for real. Not like other “volcanic” soils, those from mountains that erupted maybe one million years ago. But that’s only half of the matter. The other and equally important matter is elevation, at 900m, less fancy, attractive and sexy. But this is real and this is what riesling wants and needs. Not Mosel, not Trentino, not Argentina but L’Etna heights. She is present and she presents. “Elevation is not as sexy as volcanics, “ said no one ever but this is the thing. Riesling was never that or like this but it has arrived. Say hello to my little friend TS-IGT. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted March 2022

Sciaranuova Vineyard

Planeta Eruzione 1614 Pinot Nero 2018, Terre Siciliane IGT

Super fine pinot noir from Patricia Tóth on Etna’s north slope at 820m, like well-prepared sea urchin, straccato di manzo mantecato and fegato d’oca. If not the best Etna Rosso vineyard it may as well be in the conversation because this kind of pinot noir depth is usually reserved for nerello mascalese. Something cool this way comes every morning and dry, no matter the settling of precipitation the night before. Here the fineness of varietal and block share a feeling, a commonality of place within to the third degree, mimicking gastronomy and asking for the right set of partners. There is fennel and there are dried spices, cumin perhaps in how the delicate yet forceful south asianer’s carpet really ties the wine together. Sweet meanderings in dried rags really bring the rustica and the autentica. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted March 2022

Making friends in Parco Statella, Etna

Planeta Etna Bianco DOC 2020

Widest and most inviting smile yet from Planeta and winemaker Patricia Tóth’s 2020 Etna Bianco, generous gift of the volcano and the sun, elemental salts and even ripeness, controlled eruption and fleshy intensity. A relaxed bianco as an extension of the vineyard, 100 per cent carricante from Contrada Taccione in the village of Monetalguardia. The soil is deeply organic, nourishing, dark for Etna at 690-720m. Hard to find more direct accommodation and physical beauty than what this Bianco wants to share, without demands, strings or expecting anything in return. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted March 2022

Etna hospitality, Planeta

Planeta Etna Bianco DOC 2019

Though the next vintage of Etna Bianco DOC will be the perfect one, for everyone and all, this from 2019 is no difficult one, it’s just more linear, laser focused and intense. There are times when 100 per cent carricante can act this way, not because of any varietally finicky reason but just because the vintage makes it so. More central, linear, severe and seeking ways to branch out but that still may not be possible at this time. Super compact and it looks as though 2021 could also be this way. The grapes came early, seemingly counterintuitive to how things turned out and the winemaker looked around, not believing the harvest was done. But forget about it Patricia. It’s Etna. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted March 2022

Shalalingualossa

Planeta Etna Rosso DOC 2020

A 100 per cent nerello mascalese from Pietramarina and Feudo di Mezzo (where the cellar is located), two vineyards 5km between them at 600m of elevation. The nose is almost clay even though there is none on Etna making for a very clean aromatic profile. Made in the Piedmontese cappelo sommerso method, 35-40 days on skins, because nerello mascalese doesn’t like and doesn’t need oxygen, regardless of its tannic structure. The vintage is a round and gifting one for all, bianco and rosso alike, less compact than some and fleshy as a ripe plum, especially with reds. A 2020 in which recent volcanics are a matter of wringing out a basalt sponge with the resulting juices running with charismatic invitation. That said a Planeta Etna Rosso clearly needs some time, not forever mind you and in this case a depth of developed fruit and mineral swath keeps things wrapped and taut. Notable for the red citrus bite, pique and pith across the back end. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted March 2022

Feudo di Mezzo, Etna

Planeta Eruzione 1614 Nerello Mascalese 2018, Terre Siciliane IGT

Varietal nerello mascalese grown above the DOC line is a matter of great, compact and vertical concern from out of the 2018 vintage. Was a rainy and “fragile” vintage, a matter of nature putting more stress on bunches that can result in variegate meaning. The concept of rigorous table sorting and the use of a basket press are essential tools to getting pristine fruit and then juice. Etna’s conditions are so unique to Sicily and so here in Sciaranuova it is the last of Planeta’s estates to figure out the what, why and how for making quality wine. On the whites it was in and around ’16 and for the reds probably right here with this sharp, spiced and meaningful red. While it is quite compressed there is also an expansiveness that presses to the full extent in how the palate is swarmed and covered. My goodness. Drink 2025-2032.  Tasted March 2022

Parco Statella, Versante Nord, Etna

Planeta Eruzione 1614 Nerello Mascalese 2017, Terre Siciliane IGT

Sciaranuova is the place closest to the village of Passopisciaro for nerello mascalese of a very specific style. From a warm vintage and one when there was nine per cent cappuccio mixed in with the mascalese. More of a salumi, curative and dried skins vintage, not just with an extra year affecting the wine but also because of the cappuccio influence with an increase in oxidative feel. Feels quite ready to rock and roll, more of the latter perhaps and with the right moment there will be a scorrevole of mascalese sensation running and then sliding across the palate. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted March 2022

Capo Milazzo, Sicily

Capo Milazzo

Sicilia’s most extreme and dramatic northeast corner is home to some of Planeta’s most extreme and dramatic wines. Capo Milazzo’s soils are alluvial, deep soils, friables, born out of rivers that came from the northern mountains. The peninsula’s proximity to the sea leads to wines that are salty, with algae, black cherry and cypress. The four hectare vineyard is called La Baronia, used for the Sicilia DOCs in Nocera and Mamertino but also experimentally and for research in three ancient varieties known as varietà reliquie; vitraruolo, lucignola and catanese nera.

Planeta Nocera 2018, Nocero Sicilia DOC

Specific to Milazzo in the northeast of Sicily, in two appellations, Faro and Mamertino. Noce is “nuts,” growing in big bunches and blue-hued (much more so than cabernet sauvignon). Grows on volcanics, in a place with an active volcano (Stromboli) which is significant and in 2018 the vintage didn’t turn out the same beast of a bruiser in terms of the grape’s intensity of tannins. Forget the comparisons to sangiovese, barbera and tannat because this ’18 is a wonderfully harmonious and balanced varietal wine. Still the presence and obviousness of black cherry, peppery nocellara olive and just a kiss of orange. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Mamertino 2017, Mamertino Sicilia DOC

From the dramatic land and seascape that is Capo Milazzo and a wine surely as close to winemaker Patricia Tóth’s heart as any in her Planeta dreams. Blends 60 per cent nero d’Avola, with (40) nocera while paying homage to the Mamertini who produced a version of this wine at Milazzo, described by Pliny and beloved by Julius Caesar. First vintage was 2013 and so only the fifth by this warm vintage example. Can be a bruiser and a brooder but ’17 exhibits a surprising antithetical brightness and invitation for pleasure. Even when this young, now moving, not evolving but relenting, in structure and for spirit. The two grapes work in seamless if also delicious tandem, pushing and giving a little, extending an olive branch through clear Mediterranean scents, flavours and style. Like morning dew, soulfully guitar driven, modern jazzy in pure stone groove. Unexpected and warranted at the very same time. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted April 2022

Noto

Noto is the birthplace of nero d’Avola, graced with calcareous soils like Jerez and Champagne, not really comparable to anywhere else. Noto is close to Vittoria in how the wines come to be but it’s a mobile texture, silken and with velvety tannins. The soft hills of Buonivini are blessed by soft breezes arising from the meeting of two seas, ideal for nero d’Avola and moscato, but also almonds, carobs and olives, symbolic plants of the Mediterranean location. The three vineyards are agliastro, buonvini and zuppardo on 45 hectares, acquired piece by piece, today producing the DOC wines Santa Cecilia, Moscato di Noto and Passito di Noto.

Planeta Allemanda 2021, Sicilia Noto DOC

Allemanda, opening baroque dance, 100 per cent moscato bianco, fully, completely Noto. The concept is before the meal, a winder upper, ahead of several courses and pairings, in lieu of that wine killing sundowner, Sicilian style. Quite a tart and powerfully stinging revivalist, to wake one up and keep the spirit alive well into the night. A palate refresher, making use of the indigenous and the parochial. Crisp, clean, tightly wound, acidity high, difficulty low. Revive your energy with a glass of Allemanda, dancer in the mouth. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted April 2022

Moscato Di Noto Dry 2021, Sicilia Noto DOC

Sister to Allemanda, 100 per cent moscato (di Noto) yet here dry as the southern Sicilian desert (proverbially speaking) and acids running jet propelled high. In the vein of riesling or say Hunter Valley sémillon, austere, intense, at present unknowable but tenable as time will surely race on by. Lime and the dream of petrol, sharp herbs and even sharper citrus, though not straightforward as such. Most curious and intense white wine, best with sea creatures now but with time, who knows, the sky just may be the limit. Age some and see what transpires. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Planeta Controdanza 2018, Sicilia Noto DOC

Not quite a year has passed and while a settling seems noticeable there still pulses and vibrates a dance of sorts. The white soils have yet to leave the floor and the wines continues to slide over the sleek surface. The nero needs more time, the austerity must chill out and the integration is still somewhat far away. Keep to the program.  Last tasted April 2022

Noto’s bianci soils on the Buonivini estate are the Controdanza source at of Sicily’s furthest southeastern point. Planeta’s relationship here dates back to 1998. The hoedown,”quadrille” or square dance is 85 per cent nero d’Avola plus (15) merlot, super Sicilian by way of Noto and no matter how many vintages pass on by there is still this irony between barn dancing and post-modern blending. It takes tasting this 2018 to realize how dominant the nero d’Avola really is and while merlot is supposed to soften and add a cream centre, in 2018 that’s a big request. Now 2017 makes even more sense and is a cream puff compared to this tannic and grippy 2018. A bigger wine of greater fortitude and one that needs some time to soften. Hold off on the Controdanza for now, the wine and the dance. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted June 2021

Planeta Santa Cecilia 2016, DOC Noto

That idea behind tertiary fungi and umami is still a dream and should be shelved for at least four to five years. That said there is some movement now into the secondary, just hints mind you but there are the plums baked into the minced meat of a sciachiatta pie. Even a note of red pepper flake, parsley and dandelion to accent the sausage. Drinking with most excellent gastronomy right now.  Last tasted April 2022

The flagship 100 per cent nero d’avola must be poured last because of the power and the fact that it’s not something so easily understood. If you were to try and taste other wines after this it would be like Eric Clapton going on after Jimi Hendrix. There’s a deep olive, blood orange, tar and ribena profile that you just know will seek out truffle, porcini, tar and roses. Welcome to the world of aging Sicilian wines and in this very specific world, nero d’avola from Noto. Drink 2022-2034.  Tasted May 2019

Planeta Santa Cecilia 2011, DOC Noto

Santa Cecilia from 2011 is a special nero d’avola, balanced in silent but sweetly deadly acquiescence of Noto’s white chalky soils. Her tannins are abundant and smooth, running in one direction and so it’s a wonder how un-evolved and yet so involved this nero d’avola is equipped to believe about and with great kindred spirit with itself. That it presents this youthful and yet to advance is a thing magical and sincere. Inner strength is one thing but outward beauty is the real deal. Or is it the other way around? Either way they combine for one of Cecilia’s greatest acuity and remainder of structure. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted May 2018 and April 2022

Planeta Santa Cecilia 2008, DOC Noto

Having now tasted several vintages, including a few older examples of Santa Cecilia the idea of taking nothing for granted is now engrained. Something happens to this nero d’avola after several years in bottle, part chemistry and part magic. When 10 years get behind this wine it begins to dig, deep and purposefully into the Noto soil, finding minerals and elements that never seemed to before be present in this wine. Well past the fruit stage here in this 2008, now underlying, primitive and fundamental. And yet it reeks of nero, wood a thing of the past, a perfume cast with spellbound, gripping and intriguing fascination. No shortage of earth and cocoa derivations but mostly the curiosity of place. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted April 2022

Planeta Santa Cecilia 2005, DOC Noto

Finding oneself in a state of utter disbelief upon nosing an older Santa Cecilia has just happened with thanks to this 2005 and the unthinkable aromatics it possesses. There have been some older examples like 2007, 2008 and 2011 which all showed morphological magic but this, this is something other. The state of perfumed preservation is impossible, the floral emanations and fruit continuance implausible and in suspension of belief. The 2005 is almost perfect, dark berries and red citrus alive, acids in perfect condition, wood dissolved, resolved and walked straight out the door. The life and vitality reside in the arena of the flawless, faultless and achievable. This is what nero d’avola, Santa Cecilia, Noto and Planeta can be, at its collective finest. Will drink this way (and also that) for five more years and with ease. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Planeta Passito Di Noto 2019, Sicilia Noto DOC

Planeta’s Passito di Noto is a rare and singular dessert wine, now in its 17th year of production, made with moscato (di Noto) and from vines so old it may not be known just how old they are. The grapes are dried using the appassimento method and then turned into this concentrated and naturally sweet dessert wine. This is a very particular viscosity and profile with resins and vapours as tenable as are the sugars, with herbs and plants nearby mixing with their vinous qualities for a sticky of superior savour and character. Imagine pineapple soaked in rosemary and vermouth, apricots bathing in fennel and golden Amaro, hazelnuts toasted with long pepper and green vines. Not unusual but particular, spoken personality and in the end, so very fine. Drink 2024-2035. Planeta’s Passito di Noto is a rare and singular dessert wine, now in its 17th year of production, made with moscato (di Noto) and from vines so old it may not be known just how old they are. The grapes are dried using the appassimento method and then turned into this concentrated and naturally sweet dessert wine. This is a very particular viscosity and profile with resins and vapours as tenable as are the sugars, with herbs and plants nearby mixing with their vinous qualities for a sticky of superior savour and character. Imagine pineapple soaked in rosemary and vermouth, apricots bathing in fennel and golden Amaro, hazelnuts toasted with long pepper and green vines. Not unusual but particular, spoken personality and in the end, so very fine. Drink 2024-2035. Tasted April 2022.Tasted April 2022

Vittoria

Southeastern Vittoria is home to the only Sicilian DOCG called Cerasuola di Vittoria, a blend of nero d’Avola and frappato grown on red sandy soils. As winemaker Patricia Tóth likes to say, “the main actor in all these wines is the beloved nero’d’Avola,” most important variety on the island, planted across 60 per cent of vinicultural surface area. Nero is the adaptable one, like pinot noir in France, nebbiolo in Piemonte and sangiovese in Tuscany. Vittoria’s are fresher and ignite more passion as compared to what comes from Noto and parts further east on Sicilia.

Diesel

Planeta Frappato Sicilia Vittoria DOC 2020

First vintage of Planeta’s frappato was 2013 so by count this eighth is a Vittoria DOC of experiential significance, rare, low output yielding and as always, never showy. The grape and the amazing singularity it possesses makes for comparisons that are desperate but ultimately useless. That frappato in Planeta’s way can deliver this fresh strawberry and reductively earthy combination is testament to soil and sea. Think of the ripest fruit cut clear and clean by wet stoniness and sharp imagery. Crystalline vintage here for Planeta, potent, vehement and heartfelt. There is no hiding from such clarity and tempered ethos. The 2020 shows a little of that Etna Rosso feeling and from a location so far away. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Planeta Frappato Sicilia Vittoria DOC 2019

An extra year effects a significant amount of change and difference, especially when that vintage was so warm and generous. In the realm of rare and dignified frappato there are moods, as if sounds, environment, beats and emotion have become involved, as if music saved my life. The strawberries are wilder and deeper, the herbals ground by pestle and the sea just a bit dark, turned up and stormy. The mid-palate on 2019 is completely filled in, the acids circulative, the finish weighty and defiant. Not the light and bright frappato of some years and yet always sharp, direct, pointed. It can’t help but be. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted April 2022

Winemaker or dog whisperer? Both

Planeta Cerasuolo Di Vittoria DOCG 2020

From the red soils of the Dorilli estate and Sicily’s only DOCG in capture of a seriously striking vintage. The southerly location lands between the sea and the Iblean mountains, the name coming from cerasa, cherry in Sicilian dialect. Typical for Planeta’s take, blend of 60 per cent nero d’Avola with (40) frappato, coming together like Hall and Oates, a little bit 80s, funky and pretty. Cerasuola as method of modern love, in which “dreams are made of a different stuff.” Cerasuola pitting strawberry and cherry against a red citrus backdrop, remarkably well constructed and produced. Two grapes in harmony, with strong hooks and overlaying melodies. Adheres to traditional soul traditions while turning out the pop. Thus the DOCG. Drink 2024-2028.  Tasted April 2022

Dorilli Sicilia Cerasuola Di Vittoria Classico DOCG 2017

Dorilli represents the pinnacle of the eponymous estate sound and vision in a Cerasuolo more Bowie and Lennon than any duo aligned for hits. The 2017 is Planeta’s Fame, higher in nero d’Avola (70 per cent) and lesser (30) in frappato as compared to the normale. Named for the nearby river Dirillo, “landing place of brave Aeneas,” and a red blend that aches with both maturity and confidence. “Could it be the best, could it be? Really be really babe. Could it be my babe could it babe?” The answer is yes, in spite of a warm vintage with some dustiness and dried fruit. Fame can be and is had with bowie knife sharpness and young Sicilian intensity. Yes this 2017 is too youthful to call but time will be kind and this wine will be timeless. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted April 2022

Good to go!

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Twenty-one mind-blowing wines of 2021

The greatest wines are considered as the ones that talk to us, connect with that part of our being that elicits sensory and emotional responses, feelings of zeitgeist and great release. Throughout the course of a year I taste thousands in my glass, countless banal, innumerable competent, others correct and many exceptional. Then there are the rare and peerless capable of altering time and space, chosen ones that after listening we then speak directly to. The mind-blowing wines.

Related – Twenty mind-blowing wines of 2020

This is what I might say to such a splendid creature. “I look upon the flash of your sheen, you a wine of scientific strategies. Your aromatics sum up for me my educational studies in science and lifelong memories. Your flavours remind me of experiments in vinous physics, your textures of exercises in galactic mechanics. Your structure recalls infinite chemical reactions and architectural engineering. Your energy, though carefully controlled, threatens to ignite and destroy my laboratory and yet binds my existential life together. You blow my mind.

Related – Nineteen mind-blowing wines of 2019

Last year’s 20 for 20 was a much different list than ever before. Only 25 days of travel and while I did finally make a return to global discovery that number was even less in 2021. Two trips to Italy and one to B.C. in October and November. Once again just 25 days in total. A yearly schedule usually adds up to 100-plus but fortune also shines on the critics of WineAlign. Through quarantine, isolation and safe-distancing we still managed to taste through thousands of wines. I recorded well and above 4,000 tasting notes in 2021 so it would appear that palate discovery is still alive and well. For the first time ever there are three dessert wines on the list because well, stickies just don’t get enough love. And never before have I included a Canadian wine because I pen a separate list for local but a Thomas Bachelder chardonnay is wholly deserving of going global. These are Godello’s 21 mind-blowing wines of 2021.

Berlucchi Riserva Familia Ziliana Franciacorta DOCG 2001, Lombardy

A blend of chardonnay and pinot nero matured on lees for 218 months and a further 31 months after disgorgement. Zero dosage, tirage in June 2002. Tasting from “the stolen bottle,” and one would swear there is some sweetness in this wine, offset by twenty year-old persistent and rising acidity. The state of grace and ability this 2001 finds itself sitting royally in is quite something to behold. Stands firm and can stride with most any 20 year-old sparkling wine. A simple fact tells us that Arturo Ziliani’s father Franco and Guido Berlucchi decided to create sparkling wines in Franciacorta. They are the pioneers. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Krug Vintage Brut Champagne 2002

The year 2002 dubbed as “ode to nature” marked the first Krug “vintage of the millennium” and was presented after Krug 2003, just as Krug 1988 left the cellars after Krug 1989. A clement year, relatively dry to make for a homogeneous harvest. The blend is 39 per cent pinot noir, (40) chardonnay and (21) pinot meunier. Disgorgement would have been in the autumn of 2015 after having spent at least 13 years in Krug’s cellars. All this tells us that the vintage is one treated to great respect with the acumen to age seemingly forever. This bottle shows some advancement but mostly in toasted and spiced notes while acting so expertly oxidative, in total control of its own and also our senses. Smells of orange skin, zesty and by citrus spray, then pickled ginger and wild fennel. Tasted blind it feels just exactly 20 years old but it’s not hard to be tricked into imagining even older. I admit to guessing 1995 with thanks to a presentation of at once wildly exotic and then exceptional bubbles. Just a matter of being hoked up with celebration. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Kabola Malvazija Amfora 2017, Istria, Croatia

Kabola’s is malvazija istarska raised in traditional clay amphorae in combination with oak barrels. Kabola is found in Buje, not far from the coast and south of Trieste. While the combination of clay and wood seem to confuse or blur the game there is something wholly credible and intriguing about this wonderful aromatic mess. You can not only smell and sense but more deeply intuit the phenolic qualities inherent in here. Skins, pips and even a bit of herbaceous stem. Peach and orange tisane, exotic spice and high, high quality lees. Great winemaking here in the context of leaving your grapes to do the work but both timing and execution are spot on. Raises the varietal bar and shows what’s possible. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted April 2021

Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte DOCG 1998, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia

A wine in which the switch has been flicked at least five times, at least three past the family’s preference but let’s be frank. This is a fascinating Friuli-Venezia-Giulia wine to taste. Oxidative in the most beautiful way, sapid and laden with 23 year-old tang. Very much a young adult of confidence and swagger borne out of phenolic fruit maturation. A long-hanging vintage, a note of botrytis, a late harvest sensation but truly salty, mineral and showing the biodiversity in clones and vineyards that one would expect a white blend of this ilk to display. Just a terrific example of friulano, sauvignon and pinot bianco in their arena of characterful array. Drink 2021.  Tasted October 2021

Bachelder Grimsby Hillside “North Slope, Starry Skies” Chardonnay 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore

New in the pantheon for Bachelder and Niagara wines as an entity is this from Grimsby Hillside, the new frontier, next level up and future for the industry. In fact the time is already upon these precocious vines and their fruit specially formulated for the most wound and cinched kind of chardonnay, so precipitously witnessed in Thomas Bachelder’s “North Slope, Starry Skies” 2019. The vineyard was planted to vitis labrusca and used for Kaddish wine through the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s and just less than 20 years ago re-purposed to vinifera. Just two decades later winemakers like Thomas and Ilya Senchuk have discovered the magic of possibility and greatness of probability. Tasted this first in July with Thomas though it had just gone to bottle. Now the textural level of this GH-N triple-S has hitherto arrived at the immaculate, sweetly viscous, gleefully gelid and just right there at the apex of sensory enjoyment. Tight and delicious is a good combination. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted December 2021

Stellenbosch, Western Cape

Raats Family Wines Chenin Blanc Eden 2018, Stellenbosch, South Africa

A single vineyard chenin blanc and the first vintage to the Ontario market for a unique project celebrating the family farm called Eden. From their Stellenbosch ward of Polkadraai and high density plantings on dolomitic, granitic soils. Of a richness, an intensity of parts and a presence only a handful of South African blanc ever reach. A wine that achieves a level of status by its work underground (through root competition) and a clone called Montpellier that produces small berries and even smaller yields, not to mention the plot is just 0.6 hectares in size. Eden is the mothership and matriarch of this clone and for that variety in South Africa. All parts contribute to a wine of outrageous acidity that is never sharp, vivid or dominant. Fruit, mineral, focus, elements and precision. Wet stone is pure Polkadraai, vaporous, omnipresent, all over the wine. “The most successful winemakers (and wine projects) are ones that specialize,” says Bruwer Raats. This Eden follows the credo to a “T” and with a capital “E.” Really cerebral and also age-worthy chenin, in the upper echelon of the finest in the pantheon. If ever a chenin signified “Bringing it all Back Home,” the Raats Eden is it. “Discuss what’s real and what is not. It doesn’t matter inside the Gates of Eden.” Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted June 2021

With Sofia Ponzini and Vico

Tenute Bosco Etna Rosso Vigna Vico Pre-Phylloxera 2018, DOC Etna

Just another immediately memorable Piano dei Daini Etna Rosso Vico, Sofia Ponzini’s Cru-Vigna nerello mascalese (with 10 per cent nerello cappuccio) at 700m from the northern side of Mount Etna. Grown as alberello on a volcanic, sandy matrix with some stones from 100-plus-plus pre-phylloxera vines located in the town of Passopisciaro, Contrada Santo Spirito, parcels “Belvedere,” “Seimigliaia” and “Calata degli Angeli.” A tempest of steel and a feeling that runs with waves of acidity throughout, in many parallel and horizontal lines, at all levels. Spice cupboard, rich waves of red fruit, viscous wisdom, confidential and confident elegance, finishing at precision without recall. True value, scattered patterning, significant and relevant. A vintage of force, restraint and powerful lightness of being. Drink 2024-2036.  Tasted October 2021

Domaine De Bellene Nuits Saint Georges Premier Cru Aux Chaignots 2019, AOC Bourgogne

The limestone soil Climat of Chaignots lies in the northern part of Nuits-Saint-Georges, up the slope and edging in location but also feeling towards that of Vosne-Romanée. The affinity is much discussed, real and therefore puts the Premier Cru at the top of what is most desired out of Nuits-Saint-Georges. A tiny (0.14 hectare) plot and simply a coup for Nicolas Potel to be able to secure this fruit. Everything about the aromatic front speaks to the Bourgogne mind and Chaignots heart. Cola but from the root, a tuber underground rubbed, that and a cocoa nut crushed between fingers. An almost diesel waft but not gaseous, instead sapid, nut-based, a liqueur toasted and intoxicating. The fineness of structure is the sort of wiry winding by winch that could cut through limbs due to tension so taut. All that you know, love, don’t know and hope to experience is in this wine. Neither I nor Nicolas Potel will be around when it blows someone’s mind in 2074. Look forward to that day young Alphonse. Drink 2025-2045.  Tasted May 2021

Angela Fronti, Istine

Istine Chianti Classico DOCG Vigna Istine 2019, Radda in Chianti, Tuscany

One must have to look at, walk this and stand in awe of of this vineyard, the steepness at 30-50 per cent grade with a terrace in the middle to break it up. Heavy in Alberese inclusive of massive yellow calcareous boulders and also Galestro. In fact the medium stones removed were transferred to create terraces for olive trees on the other side of the cantina (by Angela Fronti’s father no less). The vineyard faces north so the freshness is off the charts, while the ripeness is so matter of purposeful vintage fact. The label represents the position of the vines in coordinates, echoed in the machicolations of a Fronti sangiovese that drops all the Radda stones on unsuspecting palates through fruit openings between supporting acid corbels of a projecting tannic parapet. Vigna Istine is at the forefront of Chianti Classico’s battle to win over the world. Follow this example. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted October 2021

“Molto parfumato,” binds an aromatic agreement between myself and Paolo de Marchi upon sniffing this ’11 found on Locanda Pietracupa’s wine list. “Cepparello needs time,” says Paolo, understatement of the obvious for the evening, year, decade and history with respect to sangiovese grown in the Chianti Classico territory. Also truth succinctly spoken, roses and violets exhaling and a 100 per cent varietal (or so it seems) profile of succulence and one to fully draw you in. Mint to conifers, multiplicity by complexity value, not to mention vigorous acidity sent straight to a mouth with a full compliment of wisdoms able to think about the situation. A linear Cepparello seeing its wide open window at the 10 year mark. And now a Paolo de Marchi story. “One side of the vine’s grapes were burnt and so I called up (Consorzio Direttore Giuseppe) Liberatore and asked are we changing the name of the appellation? Liberatore said what? To Chianti Amarone replied de Marchi, or sangiovese Port? Joking aside, a stringent selection and a five per cent inclusion of trebbiano did for this ’11 Cepparello what viognier might do for syrah. Not a Chianti Classico so perfectly kosher. A secret until now but all above board. Totally cool. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted October 2021

Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 1999

The 1999 was the last (original) Riserva produced until it was again resurrected in 2011 and what’s so cool about this vintage is how it was held to some early esteem, though paling in comparison to that “vintage of the century” that was 1997. Underestimated over the last 20 years, drinking so beautifully now, with frutta di bosca, tertiary tartufo and fungi. Just doesn’t strike as a fully mature adult reminiscing about the way things used to be but more like a wine with an outlook for more promise, good times and adventures still ahead. If you are still holding onto ‘99s from this part of Toscana you will be very pleased. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted May 2021

Filo di Seta is Filippo Chia’s intuitive “transavanguardia” sangiovese of place, over the ancient beach where he and his father Sandro once painted the Montalcino sea. Mostly early picked fruit, all in tonneaux, at first thinking “croccante” but that’s too simple a way to describe what texture and sensation is combed in this reserve wine. Bottled on the 29th of June so just arriving at the ready, to look at if not to consume. Here there is a fineness of liquid chalkiness, a “fluido” or “scorrevole” to drive the way this sangiovese plays and also sings, a Riserva to move with the wind and musical sway. Somewhat unknown, finely tannic and clearly what could and should be described as “mountain” Brunello. Coming in late is the spice, almost cinnamon and such. Hate to refer to any wine as the best from an estate but too bad. That this is, beyond the avant-garde such as it is. Drink 2025-2038.  Tasted November 2021

Biondi Santi Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Tenuta Greppo 1985

The longevity of this vintage is almost not to be believed. Has been in bottle for as many years as it would have matured in casks. The next year (2022) will se the re-release of this vintage (in 2021 that vintage was 1983) and the year 1985 is the one I entered university. A Biondi-Santi of resolved tannin but remarkably youthful. A wine that saw Grandi Botti more than before, seen in the gentlest of spice notes and the back to the future return of balsamic and pomegranate. Followed a winter of major snowfall, long and cold winter, a regular spring and uneventful summer. The acidity is just incredible, also youthful and so sweet, those lengthened tannins in liquid powdery-chalky form. The connection with 2016 may seem to be an uncanny one but so help me if the chain is not there. The bottle was opened one hour and forty five minutes earlier so grazie to Federico Radi and Biondi-Sandi for perfecting the timing. We can all learn so much from this wine, to be patient, calm, well-adjusted, confident and gracious. Style and temperament to live by. Should continue this way for at least 10 more years. Drink 2021-2033.  Tasted November 2021

Argiano Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 1979, Tuscany

A cooler vintage, especially as compared to 1978 and truly a Piedmontese style because the cellar workers closed the tanks, went on strike and returned two months later. Resulted in some carbonic maceration and surely an increased amount of vim in freshness. That mixed with true porcini, fungi and fennochiona. The extended maceration makes this act 43 years forward like an older nebbiolo, rich and once demanding tannins now long since melted away, tar and roses still showing with earthly perfume. Fabulous mouthfeel, lingering and lively. Surely the mean steak astringency would have been in control during the first 10 to 15 years but the beast relents and gives way to charm. Patience breeds gentility and the story is now unfolding. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted October 2021

With Stefano Cesari, Brigaldara

Brigaldara Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2016, Veneto

Stefano Cesari’s farm concerns itself with all things sustainable and while that may seem like a catch phrase, In Brigaldara’s case it most surely is not. The family supports its workers financially, culturally and in health. The young winemaking team is encouraged to study and stage abroad, to learn new oenological skills and languages. The other farm workers and their families are additionally supported by being given stake in the profits of the farm. How can this not reflect in the qualities of the wines, including this very special vintage 2016 Amarone. A magnificent wine and one you can easily drink beyond one glass. Not that it’s a light example but it speaks in soft tones, clearly and with a distinct, precise and honest weight, in vernacular and feeling. All things fruit lead to roads of sweet acidity and fine tannin. A rare Amarone of this ilk and one to savour. Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted October 2021

Errázuriz Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve 2012, Aconcagua Valley, Chile

Don Maximiano 2012 is a blend of 75 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (12) carmenère, (8) petit verdot and (5) malbec. No cabernet franc back in 2012 and aside from the obvious notions ushered in by age there is a distinct lack of herbal notes as a result. This is just in a great place nearly nine years forward from vintage, now settling, acids still in charge but tannins having done most of their melting and rendering. This wine is far from done, in fact the next level notions have just begun to have their say and from a vintage as great as this there should very well be nine years nigh before true earthiness, umami and truffle set in. Pour this blind at dinners with old world counterparts and watch with awe as to the results. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Château Pétrus 1993, Pomerol, AC Bordeaux

Never easy to live in the shadow of siblings clearly designated as mom and dad’s favourites but sometimes overlooked vintages left for dead show greatness later on in life. The 1993 Pétrus is definitely a late bloomer and from a year when only 200 cases were produced, where normally 4,000-plus is the standard. Softened to an almost Burgundian sense of calm but the richness and concentration multiplied by a Spring verdant freshness and sweetly herbal pesto can only indicate one thing and that is Right Bank Bordeaux. I tasted this blind and immediately thought of Pomerol and its close proximity at the eastern border with Saint-Émilion because of the “fromage à pâte molle” feeling gained, along with vestiges of once formidable black fruit supported by a push-pull posit tug of merlot-cabernet franc acidity. A good hunch indeed and a more than surprising set of excellent parameters come to this for a 1993 Bordeaux. All in all a really satisfying and come together wine to hush the naysayers and win in the end. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted November 2021

Paul Jaboulet Aîné La Chapelle 1990, AC Hermitage, Rhône

Jaboulet’s 1990 La Chapelle is a kind of an echo of the year in history, an Hermitage of impeccable harmony, much like balance restored in relative peace and prosperity. In 1990 the Soviet Union fell, ending the decades-long Cold War. Hard to find more shiny opaque purple in a 30 year-old syrah plus a splendid floral nose of stone roses, pencil shavings and graphite. The combinative effect of heft and freshness elicit pleasantries from a bad boy able to play soft ballads to mellow a crowd. La Chapelle is a communicative, entertaining and business-like syrah, a link between the northern Rhône and the taster, an internet Hermitage that changes the way we think and feel. Things will never be the same after tasting Jaboulet’s 1990 and for good reason. Has 10 years left without worry of decline. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted November 2021

 

Reynvaan In The Hills Syrah 2017, Walla Walla Valley, Washington

Reynvaan is a family production of Rhône-style wines from two vineyard properties in the Walla Walla Valley. “In The Rocks” is their first vineyard located in Milton-Freewater, Oregon and the second vineyard is called “In the Hills.” short for “Foothills in the Sun.” It is found at the base of the Blue Mountains on the Washington/Oregon border and is planted to syrah, viognier and a gaggle of cabernet sauvignon rows. As one of the highest elevation vineyards in Washington (at 1200ft) and in this syrah co-fermented with up to 10 per cent syrah you might get a rendering of a northern Rhône-ish picture. Sure enough the perfume is floral but more than anything a smoulder of pancetta and smoked meat. Reductive as well, different as such than any syrah, anywhere else on the planet but liquid peppery and tire on asphalt nonetheless. The credibility and accountability here is profound and while the sheer concentration and beauty of In the Rocks in captivating, this In the Hills is alternatively vivid, dramatic and powerfully restrained syrah. Which one is you? Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted January 2021

Sine Qua Non Syrah The Hated Hunter 2017, Santa Barbara County

The hated hunter is named after Austrian immigrant and Los Angeles restaurateur turned winemaker Manfred Krankl’s grandfather, depicted on the label in gear, with rifle and hound. The blend is led by 82.4 per cent syrah with (7.8) petite sirah, (5.2) mourvèdre, (2) grenache, (1.2) petit manseng and (1.4) viognier. Clocks in at 15.9 alcohol but in this regard hardly garners even one per cent of the discussion. All anyone can talk about is the infinite expanse of pretty, pretty floral capture and personally speaking it simply reeks of syrah. A game of meat juices and marbling, part smoked meat and part pancetta. The only question tasting blind is whether to imagine it as Hermitage or Central Coast California. Once the abv is disclosed the answer can only be the latter but a syrah of such reclusive exclusivity is hard to pin down. Derives from a group of prized vineyards; 32 per cent Eleven Confessions (Santa Rita Hills), (41) The Third Twin (Los Alamos), (25) Cumulus (Santa Barbara) and (2) Molly Aida (Tepusquet Canyon). Adds up to the most luxe, deluxe and ultra-fantastic instrumental of a syrah, no lyrics needed. Man, Manfred, take a bow. A hunting bow. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted November 2021

Fèlsina Vin Santo Del Chianti Classico DOCG 2018, Tuscany

An absolutely lovely vintage for Fèlsina’s Vin Santo and for Chianti Classico Vin Santo as a rule because extract, temperament and adaptability are all in collective balance. All that you want, need and expect from this traditional and loyal dessert wine are present and accounted for. Dried and glazed fruit, low and slow developed nuttiness and a freedom of territory spoken through airiness and layering. The upside cake of life turns over to reveal a generational wine of clear standards, perfect layering and endless conversation. Nonna and Nonno would be proud. Drink 2021-2035.  Tasted June 2021

Agriturismo Hibiscus Zhabib Passito 2020, C.Da Tramontana, Sicily

From the island of Ustica in the Tyrrhenian Sea, 70 kilometres (36 nautical miles) of the coast of Sicily’s capital Palermo and the work of Margherita Longo and Vito Barbera. The vineyards for this zibibbo (moscato d’Alessandria) are grown very close to the water on volcanic soil and Hibiscus is the only winery game in town. There are other farmers that contribute grapes to this tiny production; also grillo, cataratto, inzolia to go along with the zibibbo that makes this Passito. A place where tomato, grapes and peached co-exist, in the gardens and in the wine. This carries that uncanny sweet to savoury feeling in the most specific and ethereal dessert wine both mind can conjure and emotion shall receive. Of orange, grapefruit, peach and tomato. Balanced, harmonious, silky, woollen and with a super-tonal capacity to love. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted October 2021

Taylor Fladgate Very Old Tawny Port – Kingsman Edition, Douro, Portugal

A bottle of wine is rarely tied to a film, let alone a Douro Port but Taylor’s Very Old Tawny has been blended and bottled to coincide and be product placed in the second Kingsman film, in this case a prequel to the first, this time set in the 1920s. Head Winemaker David Guimaraens chose reserve Tawnys from 70-100 years of age, wines crafted and set aside by generational predecessors past, no stretch for the master blender because we are talking about a house with extensive stocks from which to reach back into. Guimaraens was looking for harmonic balance between concentration and elegance and just a whiff will tell you he and his team have achieved a crossing between a magical vortex and a vanishing point of complexity. Two manifest matters have developed; concentration of sweetness and in this case by association, a focus of acids as well. Together they inspissate and cling comfortably to the skeletal structure. It feels like you are nosing 100 unique aromas, with just seven of them being marzipan, red velvet hazelnut cake, candied ginger rose, rau răm, roasting banana leaf, calimyrna fig and grilled pineapple express. Step six feet away from the glass and the aromatics persist just as sharp as if the glass were in hand. As for a sip of this maraviglioso Tawny, warmth, comfort, delicadeza and forever length make just an ounce last forever. Timeless. Approximately 1000 bottles were produced and in Canada 100 will be made available next September. That is when theatre goers should likely make a return to the cinema to take in the Secret Service spy thriller and Tawny Port fantasy up on the silver screen. Drink 2021-2050.  Tasted February 2021

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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