Tag Archives: Sicily

Italy 2017 – Menfi – Planeta

18 Nov

After 6 days in Tuscany, we took the short (90 minute) flight to Palermo from Florence. As ‘under development’ as Florence Airport was, Palermo’s airport (Falcone-Borsellino) was the finished product – shiny and clean. A beautiful atmosphere at the shoreline in the shadow of mountains.

We stayed 5 days at an Airbnb outside of the small town of Menfi – directly south of Palermo on the south shore of Sicily. Having never Airbnb’d it before we were a little nervous about how this might all end up. And, we had the recent experience of Wrong Date Dufton in Volterra to give us pause.

In Tuscany it seemed that most everyone you would  bump into spoke some English. In Menfi, the opposite may be true. Those involved in hospitality certainly speak some English but most other people don’t. Our host didn’t. Then there’s Sicilian which is a nothing like Italian. Ah, but there was Google Translate.

I had used Google Translate to find words or phrases for this blog or in a previous life – typing in the English to read the translation. I hadn’t used its spoken functionality on the fly though. Agostino, our Airbnb host (an absolutely charming guy) met us at a preordained spot with his cell phone at the ready. He greeted us with, “Hello, Beel.” and then proceeded to speak Italian quickly into his phone. Then turned the phone toward us where a lovely lilting UK-accented woman said, “I now take you to the house.” Got it. It was a discovery that was of great assistance on the rest of our journey. I like my new friend GT, she’s cool.

The home in Menfi

The accommodation was beautiful – a purpose-built home on a hill overlooking an olive grove that flowed down to the Mediterranean Sea – south-west facing for the sunsets (below). Four minutes to the shore.  There was an organic farm on the property where we could avail ourselves of fresh organic pomodoro, melanzana, basilico, etc. We harvested and ate several meals from the garden served along with the prior year’s olive oil from the grove surrounding the house. If you’re ever heading that way, the Airbnb link to this property is at the bottom of the post. Highly recommend it.

Sunset in Menfi

On the wine front, there were many options and opportunities to explore in the area. There is a huge and I mean yuuuge, Carolyn, wine co-op in Menfi. Settesoli is the biggest wine operation on the island.

Settesoli wines are marketed under the Mandarossa or Inycon labels and include: Pinot Grigio; Zibibbo; Grillo; Chardonnay; and, Nero d’Avola among many others. There is even a ‘life-style’ magazine put out by ‘Mandarossa’. A neat little boutique with knowledgeable staff at the winery property is easy to find in the southeast corner of Menfi town .

As we looked out at the sea from our house, there was a rolling grove of olives trees that led all the way to the shore. Those olive trees were part of Planeta’s operation. Planeta is a wine, hospitality, and olive oil operation. They have wineries throughout Sicily (Noto, Etna, Vittorio, Capo Milazzo), the olive oil farm (Capparrina) and a beautiful agriturismo (Foresteria) the latter two just outside Menfi town. And, it all started just outside Menfi below the town of Sambuca di Sicilia on the shores of Lake Arancio.

Planeta, the family, has been involved in agriculture for 17 generations beginning on the site near Sambuca. The ethos of the whole Planeta family of wineries is: (from their website):

Planeta at Ulmo – Vines leading down to Lake Arancio

“The ethics of production and the protection of the environment, the countryside and the culture of each place, through sustainable long-term viticulture, wineries perfectly integrated in the landscape and wines which perfectly represent each territory, are common to our presence everywhere. The spontaneous impulse to pursue beauty pushes us to seek ever new ways to be witness to them, not only with our wines and olive oils but also through the projects for hospitality, art and social responsibility in which we continue to invest.”

Strada del Vino Terre Sicane

So, we were off to Planeta at Ulmo below Sambuca di Sicilia. After but one turn around on the Strada del Vino, we arrived at the town of Sambuca di Sicilia – I never did find out if the anise-flavoured flaming digestif was named after the town but I somehow doubt it. Prior to setting out, The Director had asked if I needed to get ‘real’ directions to the winery. In a misplaced sense of confidence (and unfortunately being a man), I replied, “No worries. It’s a pretty big operation. There will be directional ‘PLANETA’ signs all over the place.” That would be wrong, Bill. To arrive there, I had to perform as a wine diviner sans rod – a virtual wine dowser, if you will. Because I can indeed find the wine is all I’m saying. I’m good. It’s intuitive. I have a gift. How can I monetize it?

Barrels of Chardonnay

At Planeta, we were met by a lovely woman (who’s name my notes don’t reveal. Damn). She apologized profusely as her English was a ‘disaster’.  Not at all. She was great! After a tour of the winery – in the midst of fermentation – which was cool, we toured the barrel room where we were treated to the small cave of Traditional Method Blanc de Blancs made from Menfi Chardonnay.

The road down to Lake Arancio flanked by vines

Then back to an al fresco tasting room for the main event. Well, here we go.

We started with a sparkling wine from Etna – Planeta Metodo Classico made from 100% Carricante. A big hit with us. Not really a food wine but an above grade bubbly for toasting, appeftif, or just sipping afternoons by the lake. Crisp, clean, mineral, apples and citrus.

Then followed the 2015 Planeta Cometa. The Cometa is made with  100% Fiano from the Menfi area. Fiano is pure Southern Italy. It shines predominantly in Campania but this Sicilian take is representative of the grape – herbal, floral nose – crisp at first sip (nice acidity) then rounding out a bit as it progresses – minerality, citrus vibe. Medium finish. Very nice effort.

The crown jewel of Planeta at Menfi is their Chardonnay. They make it at Ulmo, hence the barrel room above. It is the wine that put Planeta on the map initially and, I’d have to say it’s the best Chardonnay that I’ve ever tasted from Italy (notwithstanding the Frescobaldi offering I’ll talk about next post). We tasted the 2016 Planeta Chardonnay €20. Toast, lemon on the sniff. Oak evident on the palate – nice lip smack on the finish. Balanced, not overly oaky (French oak – 50% new), opens nicely in the glass. A very classy sip. Did not present as being from a hot climate as in the fruit wasn’t as ripe as you might expect – restrained. Well made wine.

On the red front, we led with the 2016 Santa Cecilia €20 from their Noto operation. This was a 100% Nero d’Avola wine. Wine Enthusiast gave the 2011 vintage a 94 and said, “Always one of the finest expressions of Nero d’Avola.” That’s a pretty good endorsement. The most evident thing in this wine was the chalky, minerality – both on the sniff and the gargle. It presented as a more mature wine taste-wise than it’s real age might have predicted – dried fruits, leather, raspberry. But, the tannins were still a bit hard and the wine needs some time down below to reach its full potential IMHO. We saw how that might work out when they popped the cork on a 2007 Planeta Santa Cecilia N/A. This wine smelled of stony prunes and tasted like blueberries – big time on the finish, pomegranates. Tannins well integrated. Verrrry nice wine. Truly Old School Nero d’Avola. Just typing this makes me wish I had brought a few bottles of the 2016 home.

The last wine tasted was the 2013 Planeta Burdese €18. This wine made from 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Cabernet Franc was intriguing. After my time in Bolgheri, I was interested in seeing how Bordeaux grapes translated further south. This smelled of earth, dark fruit with a hint of the 14.5% ABV wafting up. Full on cassis on the gargle – very fruit forward – international style dominated by the Cabernet Sauvignon. This was the only wine that we tried that didn’t really do it for me. It could have been the fact that it was late in the tasting. Or, my lack of enthusiasm at times for Cabernet Sauvignon. So, I’ll give this one another chance all on its own.

They make a 100% Syrah at Sambuca – 2013 Planeta Maroccoli Syrah €30. Our host was very insistent that I take a bottle home – spicy, toasty, ready now or hold for 7 to 10 years. I’m an easy target on stuff like this.

Planeta makes wines from other grapes at this site as well –  Grillo, Grecanico, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

We also picked up the 2008 Planeta Chardonnay €30. Our guide threw in a 375 ml Chardonnay, “Madam, you must”, and an apron. She was fabulous. We left with a stash that was going to prove problematic on the flight back to Florence. I long for the olden days when you could bring liquids on to the flight. Back then, that was me with the tinkling 85 pound carry-on.

Returned home for a glass on the terrace.

When we checked out after 5 days, our host came in to the kitchen, took one look at the empty wine bottles on the counter smiled and said, “Ah, Beel.” Not sure if that was meant as, “Ah Beel, you crazy bugger. You are my hero.” Or, “Ah Beel, time for an intervention.”

Southwest Sicily is truly amazing! If you do go, word of advice: bring along GT.



Settesoli website

Menfi Holiday House

Planeta website



NY’s Resolutions and the Red Daily Slosh

3 Jan

I always flirt with New Year’s Resolutions. They most frequently deal unsuccessfully with moderation, exercise, and propriety. This year, I decided to stick to wine:

montesshelftalker#1 NY’s Resolution – No More Reading Shelf Talkers. Shelf talkers are those little tags that hang in the liquor store in front of wines with the score and maybe a description of the wine made by an accomplished wine critic. Wait a minute I’ve never seen my scores! Second wait a minute – I don’t provide scores. What I mean is: when I’m on a mission, I do not want to be subverted by the shameless marketing of unknown people. I hate it when that happens (all too frequently). I get that scores provide some way of distinguishing wines and ascertaining value. But, I’m not buying it anymore. I love all wine and I want to feel like I can just pick a bottle without fear of ‘making a mistake’. To hell with Mr. Parker and the lot – I’ll decide what wine is worthy of my cash all by myself, TYVM.  I mean, how can you make a mistake with wine? More on the obvious answer to that question in a later ramble.

#2 NY’s Resolution – Go For The Unusual. Now if you know my personal life, you’ll realize that this is not as sexy as it sounds. I’m not suggesting handcuffs, nyotaimori (and, if you know what that is without Googling, let’s talk), or whips. More, I’m thinking that I should try a broader range of wines. If I was ambitious, I’d try the Wine Century Club – but, to quote Groucho Marx, “I would never be a member of any club that would have me as a member”. So, it’s going to have to be searching out and drinking wines that I haven’t tried before. Where or where would I learn about these wines? Well, I follow many weird and adventurous wine bloggers and I know that they’ll help me.

#3 NY’s Resolution – Drink The Good Stuff. OK, if you’ve been following this informative blog, you’ll know that I’ve rambled on this a number of times. But, this time, I’m serious. I will open all my ’99 Chateau de Beaucastel. Well, baby steps – maybe some Cotes du Rhone?

That’s it! Pretty easy to follow – no weight targets, no difficult exercises, no need to practice my pathetic golf game (just a tweak with my pre-shot routine, I’m thinking?).

cosumanoNow on to the wine.

In life, you discover that you’ve been missing stuff. It always happens when you stumble on something that you didn’t know was so bloody good. Remember that time in the back seat – a revelation, right? Well, in wine, my revelation has been Sicilian wines. I came to it late in life. I have never been to Sicily but everyone I know that’s been there is effusive in their praise. The wine, the people, the land, the wine, the food. Then, there’s the wine. So, when I saw that there was one of my favourite Sicilian wines released this weekend, I had to recommend it. I enjoyed the 2010 Cosumano Noà #109512 $19.95 this fall – well, officially last fall. It is made with Nero d’Avola, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a very aromatic, substantial wine. It has a nice tannic edge and is dark in the fruit department. Absolutely not speaking from experience here but I don’t think you can just swill this. OK, you saw through that and I definitely am speaking from experience – I did just swill it and it was great but would have been better with food –  something acidic, tomatoey, sausagey. Love it! I can’t wait to travel to Sicily.

guilty menI realize that I have been neglect in recommending Ontario wines. I’m going to right that wrong starting today. In that vein, and because I love it for what it is, I’m saying get thee to the 2011 Malivoire Guilty Men #186247 $19.95. This is a cabernet/merlot blend made by one of the more consistent wineries in Niagara. It’s a drinkin’ wine. I should correct that as all wines are for drinkin’. What I mean is that this red is medium bodied, made for enjoying now, often, and on almost any occasion like all guilty men. You don’t need to fuss with food – would go well with any typical red wine fare. Just pop, correction – twist, and pour this refreshing red. Great idea for host(ess) gift or for a crowd. Get a case.

clifford bayI’ve been on a bit of a New Zealand Pinot Noir kick lately – Mount Riley (yum and reasonably priced), Sacred Hill (oops all gone), Amisfield (très yum and not so cheap), and just last week Quartz Reef (mega yum and priced accordingly). So, I had to try just one more – 2011 Clifford Bay Pinot Noir #309500 $19.95. I could tell you how it represents Marlborough pinot but I would have to know what Marlborough pinot typically carries. I don’t but will find out in good time. But, this is a nice example of how I like pinot – lean, powerful, and a bit earthy. I don’t usually let pinot breathe much but this needs a bit of air to settle the acidity down, if that makes sense. I guess I mean that the second sip is better than the first. Red fruits, some stoney stuff, and just enough bite. Lovely.

riscalI attended a Secret Santa this year. I lucked out and got a lovely bottle of Spanish Rioja 2008 Marques de Riscal Reserva #32656 $22.55. I have to say that this is as smooth and satisfying a Rioja as you’ll find for this price – spicey, cedary, and chocolaty. Beautiful stuff. If you love Rioja in an old-fashioned style, this is for you. I’m feeling that the description above isn’t effusive enough. How about “this is good sh*t!”

I am on my way to Providence next week. So, if anyone has recommendations for wine shops and restaurants, please let me know.


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