08 September, 2015

From the Ashes of Deliciousness - DOC Etna and Planeta Wines

Alessio Planeta has as light a touch with his presentation style as he does with his delicious wines.  He kept us laughing and furiously taking notes when he visited San Francisco and hosted an informative lunch at SPQR, as perfect a spot for Planeta's interesting wines as you could ask for.

Alessio became Planeta's chief winemaker in 1998.  Since then he has been creating and marketing Planeta's wines.  I could hear his passion for the land:
"Sicily is special.  Dotted with places with varieties of soil and of culture.  The jewel is the volcano."

He means Etna. Volcanic soils exhibit much diversity, despite common ideas that all volcanic soil is lava.  He told us that  Etna is more like an island, since it  rose from the sea like mushroom 700,000 years ago.  Its land was formed by matter escaping from up from bottom border and rising above the sea, rather than by a blowing top and cascade of lava.
Credit: Planeta

It's still an active volcano today.  Every few years ash blows out to fall on existing land, which continually transforms the lava stones. After all these  years, ash is now a main component of the soils. Vineyard sites must be flat as soils are powdery, so man made terraces are a common feature.  The soil ranges from ancient to younger more organic soils.

Much as the conversation fascinated me, the best thing about  DOC Etna is that it's a place where history, geology and viticulture combine to produce delicious wines.

Alessio wins more awards and says the whites in general are of better quality.  This is especially true of the Eruzione 1614 Carricante.  Carricante is the leading white grape Planeta produces in Etna.  It pulls from the soil a fresh and lively mineral quality underpinned by a floral note.  Alessio's  "secret ingredient"  10% Riesling, makes all the difference,  Riesling grown surrounded by the Carricante, blends and reinforces floral notes and acidity.   As much as Alessio is skilled with the white wines, he roots for his reds

Photo Credit Planeta: Nerollo Mascalese
My favorite wine from the lunch was the Eruzione 1614, which was made from the area's  leading red grape: Nerello Mascalese.  Nerello in the name comes from the grape's dark, almost black, color.  Vinification includes aging with a touch of wood to fix color and flavor.  Used French oak and a careful barrel protocol are used to be gentle with the grapes, preserving that sense of place. This results in a lighter, fresher ready to drink wine laden with exotic spices and autumnal red fruit.  It has bright splashes of cherry, anise cookies, balsam and sap in the aromas.  A blast of cherry with a hint of postage stamp are also in the flavors and finish. You may still be wondering why in the fullness of time of 700,000 years,  did Planeta land on 1614 as a name for their wines?  That was the year a 10 year eruption and lava flow started which stopped nearly at the border of the Sciara Nuova vineyard

Photo Credit Planeta:Feudo di Mezzo Vnyd
These wines came from a lovely winery in the middle of vineyards nearly 10km square on each side.  The winery itself is in the middle of natural stone garden which gives the place a unique appeal.

Sicily is an area that delivers a diverse range of wine from Marsala to Nero d'Avola.  Lots of influences that contribute including culture, grapes and climate.

I love ordering wines from Etna when I see them on wine lists because I have found them to be an excellent value, delicious with many foods and exotic.  I think about all the inherent challenges in viticulture and wine making, and then throw in an active volcano.

If you see Planeta wines on your wine list, please do try them.  You won't be disappointed.

Many thanks to Bethany Burke of  Palm Bay International who hosted me at this lunch

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