Terroir is the heart and soul of an agricultural product. After all, wine is only fermented grapes- a product of farming in its most pure and basic form. All those terroir- factors that go into growing grapes (sunshine, rain, soil types, exposition, temperature) affect the grapes and equally the wine.
Perhaps nobody understands how important terroir is to winemaking better than Alessio Planeta. I got a chance to talk with him recently in Los Angeles at Terroni, where he explained how as the family expanded their vineyard holdings all over the island, the difference in terroir between each property became glaringly apparent. This was the crux of the decision to invest in totally separate wineries for each area’s vineyards.
Today Planeta represents not just one, but six ways of developing Sicilian terroir, in six different agricultural zones. Ulmo, at Sambuca di Sicilia, Dispensa, at Menfi; Dorilli, at Victoria; Buonivini at Noto, Feudo di Mezzo at Etna in Castiglione di Sicilia, and finally, La Baronia, at Capo Milazzo.
This was an intelligent and necessary decision that allows the agronomists and winemakers at Planeta to study each region individually, and to make the right growing and winemaking decisions locally for each set of vineyards. A massive undertaking and investment, but one that has obviously served the family well.
Planeta on Etna
I was able to taste through Planeta’s Etna wines at Terroni, paired with a few typical Sicilian dishes. The wines were surprising and delightful- very traditional in ways I might not have suspected from such an avant-garde producer. The sparkling wine “Brut Metodo Classico”, was 100% Carricante, made in a traditional bottle-aged method, spending 14 months on the lees before disgorgement. The wine had an elegance, forged by tiny bubbles and a bracing minerality that could only come from a grape like Carricante, grown on the ashy, black lava-sand soils of Mount Etna. Stunning wine, with the potential to age well, alongside some of the best Franciacorta and Champagne.
Unsurprisingly I also loved the still Carricante, simply named “Etna Bianco.” It retained that saline character I love from Etna wines, framed withing a minerality which is again driven by the volcanic soil and the Carricante grape. This Etna Bianco is a study in Etnean terroir. Potentially also very age-worthy.
Another stand-out was the “Eruzione 1614” (named for the year of Etna’s biggest recorded eruption) is made from 100% Nerello Mascalese grapes. Bright and mineral, this wine has a lovely, crunchy acidity that I associate with the best Etna reds. The Eruzione 1614 is fantastic served slightly chilled, especially with a bit of seafood or a simple tomato sauce-based pizza. (The “Napoli” pizza from Terroni with capers and anchovies was practically singing with the wine!)
All in all I was impressed with Alessio Planeta’s view of Sicily and Sicilian wine. He seems to have an innate understanding of how difficult it is for stranieri (outsiders) to understand the peculiarities and subtle differences in Sicily’s difference growing regions. He wants you to see, taste, smell the differences. The only way to truly do this is to visit in person- which is why Alessio Planeta and his family have also developed a hospitality program at each winery.
To truly understand Sicilia, I think you would need to travel extensively all over the island. Ideally you would plan an agricultural tour of the major wine-growing regions, possible even just within the Planeta properties. At each property’s agriturismo there is particular attention paid to the local cuisine, other indigenous agricultural products, and of course, the wines. An amazing concept- and quite possibly the perfect format to deliver an ultimate experience of Sicilian terroir.