Alessio Planeta, Sicily, and Frappato

Alessio Planeta is amiable, direct, and very Sicilian.  That’s all immediately apparent.  As his story unfolds, he bares an even more adventurous lining.  He is one of Planeta Wines family shepherds; opening wineries and tending vineyards like explorers criss-crossing Sicily’s southern slice of the Italian peninsula.  Forget the easier approach of vineyard and fruit contracts inside wide spread regions and vineyards to be trucked and vinified all under-one-roof.  Instead, Alessio and his family subscribe to “for each terroir, it’s own winery”; boots, bricks, concrete, steel, and wood all assembled in close proximity to varietal comfort zones.

Allesio PlanetaI always imagined it would be easy to get down to business quickly with explorers, and talking with Alessio Planeta did not disappoint.  As we sipped the Planeta Etna Brut NV (only 600 cases and not available in the US) made from the indigenous white, fresh, mineral-infused Carricante grape farmed at his newest vineyard hundreds of meters high on Mount Etna’s black volcanic soils, Alessio talked forlornly about the struggle to match Sicilian wines to internationally trained wine palates.  Why bother?  With Frappato, Nero d’Avola, Fiano, and Carricante, and more there are enough homespun southern Italian varieties to paint an authentically deserving Sicilian winescape that should be able to stand on its own merits.

Explorer like…bouncing from one Sicilian folk tale to the next…I managed to steer our conversation to Frappato. Wines made from this varietal have captured my attention and I wondered what his thoughts were on age-worthiness.  Happily immersed in Frappato for only a few years now, the grape’s cellaring track record remains elusive.  Allesio, consistent with most people I ask, reminded me that Frapatto is not a grape that is characteristically built for cellaring.  Its beauty is expressed through youthful brightness and red cherry character.  We were at least able to agree that varieties not universally recognized for their aging potential can produce unique tertiary flavor results that, while possibly not acceptable in the mainstream, can be completely interesting and tantalizing.

Allesio PlanetaAs if scripted, our lunch included a course of lobster sherry soup and puff pastry paired with the ($18) 2010 and ($?)2004 Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria.  While not a true test of pure Frappato age worthiness (Cerasuolo includes 60% Nero d’Avola and only 40% Frappato), it was a step towards an education about Frappato’s cellar worthiness.

The 2010 Cerasuolo di Vittoria made at his renovated 100 year old winery smack dab in the middle of the vineyard, is crimson red with a deep cherry nose that requires serious coaxing at its youthful stage.  But it produces a balanced and middle weight palate impression that finishes with deep and lingering black cherry and ripe juicy strawberry flavors.  It’s a ravishing drink, more tight than voluptuous now.  Will it improve with age?

Planet Cerasuolo VittoriaIt’s obviously inconclusive to taste the 2004 version with the hope of knowing exactly how the 2010 will age.  2004, according to Alessio, was less interesting young, less bright, from a harvest producing fruit with less freshness compared to 2010.  He clearly prefers the 2010 following bottling for it’s early vibrancy.  The 2004 was turning dark and dirty brown, signs of advancement just eight years into its life. The nose offered raisins and deep black cherrry.  Sweet stewed fruit dominates a flavor combining with earthiness and mushroom.  While many favored the 2010 on this afternoon, the advancing fruit, continued balance, and aromatic funkiness of the older wine captured my preference.  It reminded me of how southern Rhone wines age in less ripe vintages.

While it’s not a complete experiment dictating the immediate stashing of a dozen cases of mixed Frappato, it does indicate there is life after release for the Cerasuolo blends that include Nero d”Avola and even possibly, for 100% Frappato wines.  At roughly $30 and under, the bottles of  Planeta, Cos, and Occhipinti wines sitting in the cellar feel like good bets.