Beautiful Label, Beautiful Wine (Again) from Donnafugata

I love love love wine labels. Mostly because I had to sell/see so many bottles with crap ones. There is a winery in Sicily that always impresses me with what’s inside and outside the bottle. The Donnafugata Floramundi carries on that tradition.

Perhaps you may remember Donnafugata from such bottles with great labels as Anthìlia, a white wine made from the indigenous Catarratto grape. (Went a little Troy McClure there.) I was sent an sample of the winery’s new red wine from the Cerasuolo di Vittoria region. Where is it, you might ask? Here’s a charming map from the winery:

There’s Vittoria in the lower righthand corner of Sicily. One of my favorite red wines from Sicily (and the world) comes from this neck of the woods, made from the Frappato grape. (I can never remember if it’s got a double “p” or “t” and I guessed wrong again. Going to have to come up with a pneumonic device for my brain.) It’s one of my favorite dinner wines. Frappato also plays a role in this wine, so let’s get to it.

Donnafugata Floramundi 2016 Cerasuolo di Vittoria

Beautiful Label, Beautiful Wine (Again) from DonnafugataWhat makes Cerasuolo di Vittoria unique is it’s a blend of two indigenous grapes, said Frappato and Nero d’Avola. In the case of the Floramundi, it’s 30% Frappato and 70% Nero d’Avola. The Frappato is the lighter grape while Nero adds some brooding depth. Combine the two and you have a really compelling wine.

Drinking this wine, I get a fresh pop of Frappato (Fra-pop-oh!) followed by some deep darkness from the Nero d’Avola.  It finishes with a peppery, sage-y kick. Reminds me of a great stew, like drinking a melange of many seasonings and flavors coming together harmoniously after hanging out in a confined space (in a friendly manner) for quite some time.

As rich as this wine is, I was surprised that it sees no oak. That’s the (literal) power of Nero d’Avola. The ABV is 13.3%, which is cool by me. Price is 30 bucks.

Let’s learn a bit about the label, shall we? Here’s what the winery has to say:

Floramundi is a fantastic figure of a woman who is giving the gift of wonderful interlacements of flowers and fruits with velvety tones. It is a dialogue between two souls, the elegant and sophisticated one of Floral Liberty, of which Vittoria is rich in testimonies, and the fascinating and suggestive one of the tradition of the Pupi Siciliani (Sicilian Puppets). A dialogue between Nero d’Avola and Frappato to listen to with pleasure. 

I like the idea of the Donnafugata Floramundi as a dialog between the two grapes and it’s certainly a pleasure to listen to the two grapes “speak.”

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Getting to Know Nocera: A Visit to Sicily’s Capo Milazzo

Getting to Know Nocera: A Visit to Sicily’s Capo MilazzoOne of the delights of Sicily, and Italy in general, is the sheer amount of unfamiliar wine grapes you come across. This was no exception while on a media trip with Palm Bay International to visit all six of Planeta‘s properties on the island. My first full day introduced me to the Nocera (No-CHAIR-a) grape, a lovely portion of a blend (30%) with Sicily’s well-known Nero d’Avola.

The 2014 Planeta Nero d’Avola/Nocera was a perfect lunchtime red. Seved slightly cool, it clocked in at a midday friendly 12.5% alcohol. Kind of reminded me of Cerasuolo di Vittoria, where the lighter Frappato chills out the more burly Nero d’Avola. This is not to surmise that Nocera=Frappato, though. The Nero d’Avola in this bottle is handled in a manner befitting more of a leaner-style wine. Akin to a long-distance runner versus a power weightlifter.

Getting to Know Nocera: A Visit to Sicily’s Capo MilazzoWhat else made this lunch memorable? One of the best things I’ve eaten, ever. Well, make that two things at Esposito Pizzeria in the town of Milazzo. The first was porcini carpaccio: thinly sliced, barely adorned raw mushrooms. I revered this dish so highly I didn’t  bother to photograph it. (DID IT REALLY EXIST?!?)

The second was preserved tuna, eggplant, green chiles, and olive oil. It was stupendous! And easily the best preparation of eggplant in the history of the world. Bravo! Strangely, we did not have pizza. (Not complaining. Pretty sure there’d be some major eye-rolling from you if I did. Moving on….)

Joining us for lunch was Winemaker Patricia Tóth. I should also mention along for the ride were Sophie Menin and Rachel Signer. To travel with these two was an awesome delight. Please follow them! And I can’t forget our fearless leader, Bethany Burke from Palm Bay. We were united by our newfound, swoon-worthy love for Bronte pistachios. ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTES! (Pistachio rant over.)

Oh, I need to back up to mention one more wine. We started our lunch with the 2014 Planeta Moscato di Noto. (Noto being a wine region of Sicily.) Tóth described the wine as “crispy but not in a hurtful way.” (I love that description.) In other words, lively without searing acidity. Fresh and floral. And dry. A delight! Definitely a wine to drink outdoors in the sun. Or shaded from the fiery orb’s punishing rays (<–Feeling very Seattle here.)

After all the lunchtime good vibes, food, wine, and company, we headed to Planeta’s pretty darn brand-new winery at Capo Milazzo: La Baronia. It’s located in the northeast corner of Sicily. How cool was it that when we arrived the Nocera grapes were coming in?

Getting to Know Nocera: A Visit to Sicily’s Capo Milazzo

Even cooler? The location of La Baronia on Capo Milazzo. Talk about a dramatic landscape with views! Damn. The ocean is literally a stone’s (a grape’s?) throw away. Let’s have a look, shall we?

Getting to Know Nocera: A Visit to Sicily’s Capo Milazzo

“If I sneak past this fence and crouch down in the shrubs and olive trees, I wonder if I can stay at Capo Milazzo forever?”

Getting to Know Nocera: A Visit to Sicily’s Capo Milazzo

Windy much?

Getting to Know Nocera: A Visit to Sicily’s Capo Milazzo

So there’s a beach AND a winery here? Can I sublet?

Getting to Know Nocera: A Visit to Sicily’s Capo MilazzoI’d like to close with a couple thoughts from Tóth, pictured at our lunch. She’s actually from Hungary but ended up staying in Sicily a lot longer than planned because, as she revealed, “I didn’t have time to quit.” She said this in jest, of course. (Tóth has a great sense of humor, BTW.) Her harvest schedule plus the miles (er, kilometers) accumulated criss-crossing the roads of Sicily to check on many of Planeta’s wineries would, however, make many beg for mercy. Or at least a good night’s sleep.

Another interesting thing about Planeta we discussed was the wine that put it on the world map: Chardonnay. Though Sicily is chock-full of indigenous grapes that produce stupendous wines, the Planeta Chardonnay does deserve some credit when it comes to the perception and acceptance of Sicilian wine. And people’s willingness to try indigenous grapes. As Toth explained, “We can’t forget that it has opened doors to show other varieties.”

Stay tuned for more from Sicily and the rest of Planeta’s wineries on the island. Including a podcast featuring Tóth along with Alessio Planeta. In the meantime, check out my podcast with the authors of “The World of Sicilian Wine”.

Nerd Alert: The 2014 Planeta Nero d’Avola/Nocera says “Sicilia DOC” on the label rather than the local Mamertino wine region. This is because the winery at La Baronia was not yet completed so the wine was made elsewhere. So you can’t claim the regional DOC on the label in that case, thus the Sicilia desgination. But that will be changing with the winery up and running.

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