Sicily Day 1 - Planeta @ Ulmo
After our journey from Dublin to Catania, and our late arrival, we managed to navigate the Sunday evening 'passeo', have a wonderful evening meal accompanied by a bottle of Murgo (a blend of Carricante and Catarratto, two new grapes to me) , bed then breakfast the following morning, and set off on our first day proper in Sicily.
Our coach took us through the heart of the island, through the barren central valleys along Eucalyptus lined avenues, past the hilltop towns of Enna and Caltanissetta, to the coastal olive groves and on to Sambuca Di Sicillia and the Planeta Winery at Ulmo.
Established in 1985 the Planeta family, with 50 hectares, decided to plant some French and traditional Sicillian varietals in order to find out what might work on their farming land. It took ten years to establish and produce their first vintage but from that moment on, there was no holding them back. Expansion into the clay soils of Menfi, the reclaimed sea soils along the south east coast and then to the volcanic region of the north around Etna, they currently hold 370 hectares in 6 different wineries!
Our host for the visit was Alessio Planeta himself, a wealth of knowledge when it comes to Sicilian wine making, and his passion for wine is abundantly clear having been one of the founders of his family's legacy.
After a brief tour of the winery, including some sampling of pre and post fermented wine, and a chance to view some of the originally planted Merlot vines, Alessio was able to point out the contrast in some of the particular grape vines. Directly alongside the Merlot there was an area of Nero d'Avola grapes, and the difference in colour of the leaves was remarkable - something that had never occurred to me before.
The farming homestead has now become an outdoor tasting and dining area and Alessio had chosen six wines from their range for us to taste. He started with the Alastro 2014 from the very winery we were in. A blend of two local ancient grape varieties, 70% Grecanico and 15% Grillo, with the remaining 15% being Sauvignon Blanc. A light, floral wine, the two local grapes were hard to distinguish against the Sauvignon Blanc but this was a lovely refreshing start to the afternoon. It was followed by the Cometa 2014 made from 100% Fiano grapes (a variety native to Campagnia) from their Dispensa winery in nearby Menfi. A wonderful smooth buttery finish from a second, malolactic fermentation, Alessio explained that the 2014 harvest in Sicily proved to be an excellent vintage. With no rain through June, July and August and a fresh sea breeze meant that this light & fresh wine will age very well. It's good acidity and length of finish made its firm favourite with me. I couldn't say I'd had a lot of Fiano before, and certainly not one which had left such a good impression. This is one I'll be hunting down once I get home.
Next up, we moved onto the Reds. You'd probably imagine that drinking red wine on a warm Sicilian afternoon might not but ideal, but once we tried the Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2013, a slightly chilled, light red wine full of cherry flavours, we were convinced. This blend of 60% Nero d'Avola and 40% Frappato, the first wine created outside their Ulmo base from their Dorilli vineyard in Vittoria, is the only Sicillian wine to have attained the D.O.C.G. mark for guaranteed control or origin giving a uniformity or production each year. The Sito dell'Ulmo Merlot 2011 was my favourite wine of the day. Produced from the original Merlot vines planted opposite their winery back in 1985, this deep ruby red wine is full of luscious black fruits and a hint of thyme with a very long finish. When we got to the shop, this was the one that came home with me!
Alessio's next choice was the Burdese 2010, Planeta's homage to Bordeaux. Made with 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Cabernet Franc, this low production wine is aged 14 months in oak barriques and gives remarkable complexity of black fruits, leather and herbs. Our final wine was the Santa Cecilia 2010, considered their benchmark wine, and created from 100% Nero d'Avola, the most important native, Sicillian variety. This grape thrives in the calcerous rich soils of the southernmost corner of the island. A fragrance of orange and jasmine to the nose and cherry on the palate, this wine is truly a product of it's terroir.
Following our tasting Alessio welcomed us to lunch with a Moscato aperitif, and accompanied an incredible meal with their Chardonnay, another of their original plantings back in 1985.
As we said our farewells we couldn't help but wonder if we had just met the 'Don' of Sicillian wine making. A family producing such quality and variety of wines surely leads the way forward for the islands wine reputation.
After a short journey, we were glad to take a dip in the hotel pool before dinner, and wonder what lay ahead for the rest of our trip.