Planeta, Sicilia (Italy) Carricante, Sciara Nuova Vineyard, 2009 (Palm Bay International, $40):
The moment had an air of ceremony to it: Alessio Planeta was about to pour the first bottle of his Planeta Carricante ever opened in New York City. What brought drama to the occasion was the improbability of Planeta, one of Sicily’s largest private wineries and the most well-known in this country, venturing to the heights of volcanic Mt. Etna to grow the obscure but highly-regarded white Carricante grape.
The wine validated my expectations. It is a fresh, vibrant, dry, unoaked white wine with the depth and intensity of its high altitude origin, a credit to the reputation of Carricante as one of Italy’s finest white grapes.
The Planeta company purchased the land called Sciara Nuova — which in dialect refers to a new eruption, such as an area with distinctive soils — in 2006 and planted only Carricante. This land had grown vines twenty years ago, but at the time of purchase only olive trees grew there. The company also began constructing a winery there, which will likely be operational as of the 2011 harvest. (This 2009 wine carries the designation, IGT Sicilia, rather than the DOC Etna, because the grapes were vinifed outside the Etna DOC zone, in another Planeta facility.)
The property is in northeastern Sicily, at almost three thousand feet in altitude, a far cry from Planeta’s four other estates, which dot the southern part of the island. “We are in Sicily but in a very different environment than we are used to,” Alessio said. “Harvests at the end of October, cool — if not downright cold — temperatures, and thus different wines, different aromas, a completely different approach. I am excited to make a white wine here.”
Carricante is a native grape that grows only in the Mt. Etna area, and occupies a tiny but glorified place in Sicily’s viticulture. It is usually vinified without oak. “Carricante to me is similar to Timorasso or Arneis,” Alessio noted, referring to two white varities of Piedmont. “It has great acidity, smells of green apple, wheat, honey, and has a very mineral taste. It has a great aging potential.” (Carricante is not to be confused with Catarratto, the island’s most planted, quite unremarkable, white grape.)
The 2009 Planeta Carricante shows its distinctiveness right from the aroma. It has a delicate floral scent, and a stony note a bit like flint, along with fruity notes of green apple and lemon, which are pure but not pronounced. In your mouth, the wine is dry and medium-bodied, with high acidity and yet enough viscosity of texture to distract you from the acidity so that the wine does not seem austere. The flavors of green apple, lemon and earthy, mineral notes are concentrated and carry long across your mouth and on to the finish. The wine is alive with energy.
This is an unoaked white, made by gently crushing and pressing the grapes without de-stemming, and fermenting the juice at a fairly cool 59 degrees over 20 days, with lees contact in tank until February. Nothing particularly special about it except the grapes, “so beautiful, clean and pure,” as Alessio describes them.
Alessio Planeta made only 6,500 bottles of this 2009 vintage, which he calls a “preview production.” His expectation is that this 2009 will not have as long a future as subsequent vintages (about three to five years for the 2009) because the vines are so young. He is proud of this debut vintage, and at the same time he has set his sights high for the future. While I happily savored the wonderful 2009, he dryly remarked, “I think we are at thirty percent of our potential with this first vintage.”