Tag Archives: Nero d’Avola

Wine Review: Planeta, “Santa Cecilia” Nero d’Avola Sicilia IGT 2006

Today’s review will focus on one of my two favorite varietal Nero d’Avola wines, namely Planeta‘s “Santa Cecilia” Nero d’Avola Sicilia IGT 2006 ($35).

The Bottom Line

Overall, the Santa Cecilia was an outstanding varietal Nero d’Avola, which delivered plenty of structure coupled with an enticing bouquet and juicy, delicious flavors. The wine was silky smooth with tannins that were marvelously gentle and integrated, lacking any of the harshness or aggressiveness that can instead be found in other varietal Nero d’Avola wines. Its still discernible acidity ensures a few more years of aging potential. Also, for its price point, this wine delivers plenty of bang for your hard earned bucks. Like I said, it is definitely one of my two favorite 100% Nero d’Avola wines. If you are curious which one is my other favorite… well, stay tuned as it will be reviewed (and revealed) later this year!  😉

Rating: Outstanding and definitely Recommended given its great QPR Outstanding – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

As usual, let’s now provide a brief overview of the Nero d’Avola grape variety.

About the Grape

Nero d’Avola is a black-berried grape variety that is widely grown in Sicily and that, apparently, was first brought there by Greek migrants during the Greek colonization of Southern Italy (so-called “Magna Graecia”) in the VI century BC. This makes Nero d’Avola essentially an indigenous grape variety to the region of Sicily, where it has been cultivated for centuries (the first official descriptions date back to the end of the XVII century) and where it is also known as “Calabrese” – however, this is not because it came from Calabria (which it did not), but because that name is thought to be a contraction of two words (“Calea” and “Aulisi”) which, in the Sicilian dialect, mean “grape from Avola” (Avola is the name of a Sicilian town).

Nero d’Avola makes wines that are generally deeply colored, full-bodied, distinctly tannic and with good aging potential. The use of Nero d’Avola grapes is permitted both in the only DOCG appellation in Sicily (Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, a blend in which Nero d’Avola can be used between 50 and 70% in combination with Frappato grapes) and in several of the Sicilian DOC appellations (among which the Noto DOC appellation), where it can be used to make varietal wines or in the context of blends. However, many of the best Nero d’Avola wines around are marketed under the more loosely regulated Sicilia IGT appellation, which affords serious producers more flexibility in experimenting and creating excellent wines out of Nero d’Avola grapes, especially by blending them with international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah to tame certain aggressive traits that varietal Nero d’Avola wines sometimes exhibit.

(Information on the grape variety taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012)

About the Estate and the Appellation

Getting back to the specifics of the Santa Cecilia, this wine was produced for the first time by top quality Sicilian producers Planeta in 1997 under the Sicilia IGT appellation from mostly Nero d’Avola grapes blended with a small percentage of Syrah grapes coming from their vineyards in Menfi and Sambuca. However, in 1998 the good guys at Planeta identified a plot of land (known as Buonivini) in the vicinity of the town of Noto (somewhere in between the towns of Avola and Pachino) that was ideal for growing Nero d’Avola grapes. Over time, they completely renewed the Buonivini vineyards and built from scratch an underground winery with a view to shifting the production of the Santa Cecilia from Menfi/Sambuca to Noto.

The Buonivini winery became operational in 2003, which was also the first vintage of the “new” Santa Cecilia which since then has become a 100% Nero d’Avola wine made exclusively from grapes grown in the Buonivini vineyards. The new Santa Cecilia was still made under the Sicilia IGT appellation up until the 2007 vintage. However, in 2008 the area where the Buonivini vineyards are located was awarded DOC status also for black-berried grapes under the name “Noto DOC and therefore, as of the 2008 vintage, the Santa Cecilia has been produced under the Noto DOC appellation (more information is available on Planeta’s Website and in the Noto DOC regulations).

More specifically, the Noto DOC had originally been created in 1974 under the name “Moscato di Noto DOC” and was restricted to the production of sweet white wines made from white-berried Moscato Bianco grapes. In 2008, the Moscato di Noto DOC appellation changed its name into “Noto DOC” and was extended to red wines based on Nero d’Avola grapes, because the area was recognized as a traditional one for growing such variety – to be precise, it is believed to be the area where the cultivation of Nero d’Avola grapes in Sicily originated from. Nowadays, the Noto DOC regulations require that the wines made under such appellation be produced from grapes grown in an area encompassing the towns of Noto, Rosolini, Pachino and Avola, in the Siracusa province, and that red wines branded as “Noto Nero d’Avola DOC” (such as the Santa Cecilia) be made from 85% or more Nero d’Avola grapes.

Our Detailed Review

The Planeta, “Santa Cecilia” Nero d’Avola Sicilia IGT 2006 that I recently tasted was a red wine made from 100% Nero d’Avola grapes grown in the Buonivini vineyard and had 14% ABV. It is available in the US where it retails for about $35.

The wine fermented in steel vats and aged 14 months in French oak barrique casks used once or twice before (i.e., not new casks). As you probably know, the reason for this practice is to limit the interference of the oak with the organoleptic profile of the wine, so that the tertiary aromas developed during the barrique aging period do not overwhelm but rather coherently complement the fruity secondary aromas developed by the wine in the fermentation phase.

As usual, for my review I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher.

In the glass, the Santa Cecilia poured ruby red and thick.

On the nose, its bouquet was intense, complex and fine, with aromas of blackberry, plum, black cherry, tobacco and cocoa.

In the mouth, the Santa Cecilia was drywarmsmoothfreshtannic and tasty. It was a full-bodied, perfectly balanced wine and its mouth flavors were intense and fine, with notes of blackberry, wild cherry, cocoa, tobacco, black pepper and licorice. Its tannins were supple and wonderfully integrated, counterbalancing (along with its pleasant acidity) the silky smoothness of the wine. The Santa Cecilia had a long finish and its evolutionary state was ready, meaning absolutely enjoyable now (I sure loved mine!) but it may probably evolve even more and add additional layers of complexity to its already outstanding flavor palette with a couple more years of in-bottle aging.

Sicilian-Style Stracotto – Recommended Wine Pairing

Donnafugata, "Tancredi" Sicilia IGTA while back Francesca posted the mouth-watering recipe for a Sicilian-style stracotto: it is finally time to find a good wine pairing for her dish. Based on its ingredients and preparation, we can identify the main organoleptic qualities of this dish as latent sweetness, latent sourness and juiciness; it is also a structured dish.

In light of the ISA wine pairing criteria that we have discussed on a previous post, we can therefore conclude that the wine we should pick to complement Francesca’s dish should have good acidity, smoothness, well defined (but not aggressive) tannins and/or good ABV, and should be a full-bodied wine.

Based on the above characteristics and the geography of Francesca’s dish, I would pair the stracotto with a good Nero d’Avola. Before we get to the actual recommendations, however, let’s just take a quick look about this grape variety.

Planeta, Noto Nero d'Avola "Santa Cecilia" DOCNero d’Avola is a black-berried grape variety that is widely grown in Sicily and that, apparently, was first brought there by Greek migrants during the Greek colonization of Southern Italy (so-called “Magna Graecia”) in the VI century BC. This makes Nero d’Avola essentially an indigenous grape variety to the region of Sicily, where it has been cultivated for centuries (the first official descriptions date back to the end of the XVII century) and where it is also known as “Calabrese” – not because it came from Calabria, but because that name is thought to be a contraction of two words (“Calea” and “Aulisi”) which, in the Sicilian dialect, mean “grape from Avola” (Avola is the name of a Sicilian town).

Nero d’Avola makes wines that are generally deeply colored, full-bodied, distinctly tannic and with good aging potential. The use of Nero d’Avola grapes is permitted both in the only DOCG appellation of Sicily (Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, a blend in which Nero d’Avola can be used between 50 and 70% in combination with Frappato grapes) and in several of the Sicilian DOC appellations, where it can be used to make varietal wines or in the context of blends. However, many of the best Nero d’Avola wines around are marketed under the more loosely regulated Sicilia IGT appellation, which affords serious producers more flexibility in experimenting and creating excellent wines out of Nero d’Avola grapes, especially by blending them with international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah to tame certain aggressive traits that varietal Nero d’Avola wines sometimes exhibit. (Information on the grape variety, cit. Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, HarperCollins 2012)

Morgante, "Don Antonio" Sicilia IGTIn terms of specific recommendations, in my view these are among the best Nero d’Avola-based wines around for their quality/price ratios:

Donnafugata, “Tancredi” Sicilia IGT (a blend of Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat and other grape varieties, with aromas of roses, cherries, leather, tobacco, chocolate – a density of 4,500 to 6,000 vines/HA is another very good feature worth pointing out)

Donnafugata, Contessa Entellina “Mille e Una Notte” DOC (a wonderful blend of Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, which can be considered the “bigger brother” of the Tancredi – it is more expensive but delightful, with a bouquet of plum, blackberry, black cherry, pepper, cocoa, vanilla, tobacco and cinnamon; a great wine)

Cusumano, "Noa" Sicilia IGTPlaneta, Noto Nero d’Avola “Santa Cecilia” DOC (100% Nero d’Avola, with aromas of wild cherries, plums, blackberries, licorice, cocoa, graphite – kudos to the owners who obtained a very good density of 5,000 vines/HA)

Morgante, “Don Antonio” Sicilia IGT (100% Nero d’Avola, with aromas of potpourri, ripe red fruit, licorice, leather, chocolate and minerals)

Cusumano, “Noa’” Sicilia IGT (a blend of 40% Nero d’Avola, 30% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, with complex scents of violets, red fruit, sandalwood, leather, chocolate – even in this case, we want to acknowledge a producer who attained a commendable density of 5,000 vines/HA)

Feudo Maccari, "Saia" Sicilia IGTFeudo Maccari, “Saia” Sicilia IGT (100% Nero d’Avola, with scents of violets, herbs, wild cherry, pepper, juniper berries and leather, slightly toasty – once again, a special note of commendation to the owners who invested the energy and the resources to achieve an excellent density of over 5,500 vines/HA)

Tasca d’Almerita, Contea di Sclafani “Rosso del Conte” DOC (a blend of Nero d’Avola, Perricone and other permitted varieties, with aromas of violets, blackberry, plum jam, black pepper, tobacco and licorice)

That’s all for today: have you tried any of the above wines? If so, did you enjoy what you drank?

WineNews from Planeta Vino ;-)

I am glad to share with you a few interesting pieces of news that I have received from the guys at Planeta, one of the truly outstanding Sicilian producers who have marked the rebirth of quality winemaking in Sicily since the Nineties. Planeta has quite a differentiated offering of wines, with traditional peaks of excellence in their Sicilia IGT Chardonnay and Cometa wines (the latter being made out of 100% Fiano white-berried grapes) and very solid performers in their Noto Nero d’Avola “Santa Cecilia” DOC (on which, see our Veal Skewers – Recommended Wine Pairing post) and Syrah “Maroccoli” Sicilia IGT, to name a few.

Well, on to the news:

  1. Planeta’s latest addition to its array of wineries just became fully operational this year: it is called Feudo di Mezzo and is located on the slopes of Mount Etna (Sicily’s notoriously active volcano). This latest property complements Planeta’s four pre-existing Sicilian wineries: Ulmo in Sambuca (1995), Dispensa in Menfi and Dorilli in Vittoria (2001), Buonivini in Noto (2003).
  2. The 2012 harvest from Planeta’s Mount Etna vineyards is the first one to be processed at the new Feudo di Mezzo winery, where four of Planeta’s wines will be produced: (i) two Sicilia IGT wines, a Carricante IGT and a Nerello Mascalese IGT, from the Sciara Nuova vineyard (which features an excellent density of 5,000 to 10,000 vines/HA and lies outside of the Etna DOC area), in which Planeta’s enologists have been experimenting by adding small quantities of Riesling and Pinot Noir (respectively) to the base grapes; as well as (ii) an Etna Bianco DOC wine made from white-berried Carricante grapes and an Etna Rosso DOC wine made from black-berried Nerello Mascalese grapes.
  3. A first “pilot” batch of just 6,000 bottles of the 2010 Nerello Mascalese Sicilia IGT, the first vintage from the Sciara Nuova vineyard, has recently been released. It is made out of 100% Nerello Mascalese grapes (unlike future releases which might be blended with Pinot Noir), it has 13.5% VOL and it is supposed to have an “intense and elegant aroma” coupled with well-defined tannins: I hope I will be able to lay my hands on a bottle of it and get to try it for myself next year, when hopefully volumes will be greater.
  4. The first vintage of Planeta’s first Spumante Metodo Classico has also been recently relased: Planeta’s first attempt at a Classic Method sparkling wine is a Sicilia IGT wine made out 100% Carricante white-berried grapes from their Montelaguardia vineyard on Mount Etna, rests on its lees for 15 to 18 months and is available only in the Brut variety. It is supposed to give out fine pear, grass and mineral aromas and to be “vibrant and lean on the palate“: I would certainly be interested in giving this very peculiar wine a try, if I can get hold of a bottle.
  5. The guys at Planeta reported that the recently completed 2012 harvest had peaks of excellence in the Menfi and Sambuca vineyards, yielding amazing quality in their red wines, especially Nero d’Avola, Syrah and Cabernet Franc, which are rich and varietal with an excellent tannic structure. In the Noto and Vittoria vineyards the harvest was also memorable for Nero d’Avola, thanks to the dry and cool month of September. Planeta’s 2012 Nero d’Avola is said to exhibit structure, balance, bright colors and exuberant nose accompanied by high alcohol, which makes them “expect unique Cerasuolo and Santa Cecilia wines.” Definitely something to be looking forward to!

For more information, please refer to Planeta’s Web site or contacts.

As always, let me know if you get to try any of these wines and want to share your views on them. Cheers!

Veal Skewers – Recommended Wine Pairing

As a good pairing to Francesca’s tempting veal skewers, I suggest going for a full-bodied red wine with defined (but not aggressive) tannins, good acidity and smoothness – I would pick either a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo or a Nero d’Avola (the latter in homage to the Sicilian roots of Francesca’s recipe). Let’s take a closer look to each of them.

Montepulciano is a grape that is indigenous to Central Italy and that is extensively cultivated in several Central Italy regions, such as Abruzzo, Marche, Umbria and Lazio to name a few. The presence of Montepulciano vines in the Abruzzo region has been documented since the XVIII century and nowadays it accounts for almost 50% of the vines that are grown in Abruzzo (Montepulciano is also the fourth most cultivated grape variety in Italy). Due to the ample supply of Montepulciano grapes, the quality levels of the wines that are made out of it unfortunately vary quite significantly (although it must be recognized that, in the last fifteen years or so, there has been a conscious effort on the part of most producers to raise the average quality of the wines made out of Montepulciano grapes), so buyer beware: you have to do your homework first and pick the best producers if you don’t want to be disappointed.

In Abruzzo, the use of Montepulciano grapes is permitted both in the only local DOCG appellation (Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG, which requires the use of 90% or more Montepulciano grapes, in addition to a maximum of 10% of Sangiovese grapes) and in all of the Abruzzo DOC appellation except only Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC which is reserved to white wines mostly made out of Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (also known as Bombino Bianco) grapes. All of the wines which we are about to recommend fall within the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC appellation, which encompasses an area surrounding the towns of Chieti, L’Aquila, Pescara and Teramo and which requires the use of 85% or more Montepulciano grapes in the winemaking process.

Among the best Montepulciano d’Abruzzo with a solid quality/price ratio are Valle Reale, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC (with aromas of violet, plums, blueberries, blackberries licorice); Masciarelli, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “S. Martino Rosso Marina Cvetic” DOC (with scents of violet, rose, blackberries, cherries, cocoa, vanilla, pepper, nutmeg); Pietrantonj, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Cerano” Riserva DOC (with aromas of cherries, wild berries, vanilla, tobacco, cocoa); Dino Illuminati, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Ilico” DOC (with scents of blackberries, cherries, tobacco, leather, licorice, soil, slightly oaky); Torre dei Beati, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Cocciapazza” DOC (with aromas of rose, violet, cherries, plums, blueberries, redcurrants, licorice, cocoa): unfortunately, Torre dei Beati does not have a Web site as at November 2012: as usual, should you be interested in reaching out to them, just drop me an email. All of the above wines are varietal, that is made out of 100% Montepulciano grapes.

Nero d’Avola is a black-berried grape variety that is widely grown in Sicily and that, apparently, was first brought there by Greek migrants during the Greek colonization of Southern Italy (so-called “Magna Graecia”) in the VI century BC. This makes Nero d’Avola essentially an indigenous grape variety to the region of Sicily, where it has been cultivated for centuries and where it is also known as “Calabrese” – not because it came from Calabria, but because that name is thought to be a contraction of two words (“Calea” and “Aulisi”) which, in the Sicilian dialect, mean “grape from Avola” (Avola is the name of a Sicilian town).

The use of Nero d’Avola grapes is permitted both in the only DOCG appellation of Sicily (Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, a blend in which Nero d’Avola can be used between 50 and 70% in combination with Frappato grapes) and in several of the Sicilian DOC appellations, but many among the best products are marketed under the more loosely regulated Sicilia IGT appellation, which affords serious producers more flexibility in experimenting and creating excellent wines out of Nero d’Avola grapes, especially by blending them with international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah to tame certain aggressive traits that varietal Nero d’Avola wines sometimes exhibit.

These are among the best Nero d’Avola-based wines around for their quality/price ratios: Feudo Maccari, “Saia” Sicilia IGT (100% Nero d’Avola, with scents of violets, herbs, wild cherry, pepper, juniper berries and leather, slightly toasty – a special note of commendation to the owners who invested the energy and the resources to achieve an excellent density of over 5,500 vines/HA); Morgante, “Don Antonio” Sicilia IGT (100% Nero d’Avola, with aromas of potpourri, ripe red fruit, licorice, leather, chocolate and minerals); Cusumano, “Noa'” Sicilia IGT (a blend of 40% Nero d’Avola, 30% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, with complex scents of violets, red fruit, sandalwood, leather, chocolate) or also very good “Sagana” Sicilia IGT (100% Nero d’Avola, with scents of wild cherry, anise, chocolate, leather, tobacco), even in this case, we want to acknowledge a producer who attained a commendable density of 5,000 vines/HA; Planeta, Noto Nero d’Avola “Santa Cecilia” DOC (100% Nero d’Avola, with aromas of wild cherries, plums, blackberries, licorice, cocoa, graphite – once again, kudos to the owners who obtained a very good density of 5,000 vines/HA); Donnafugata, “Tancredi” Sicilia IGT (a blend of Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat and other grape varieties, with scents of roses, cherries, leather, tobacco, chocolate – a density of 4,500 to 6,000 vines/HA is another very good feature worth pointing out).

Enjoy, and as usual let us know by leaving a comment below if you happened to try out any of the wines mentioned above or should you wish to suggest a different pairing!