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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Around Sicily in Four Days: Preview My Planeta Wine Journey

A quick post to let you know that I am headed back to Sicily. As I’ve said before, when it comes to wine there is no place more exciting than Sicily right now. I’m traveling there on a media trip with Palm Bay International to visit the properties of Planeta.

Here’s where I’ll be:

  • La Beronia, Capo Milazzo (northeast coast)

Around Sicily in Four Days: Preview My Planeta Wine Journey Around Sicily in Four Days: Preview My Planeta Wine Journey


  • Feudo di Mezzo, Etna

I recently attended a lunch where I tasted the EXCELLENT wines (red, white, and sparkling) from this volcanic landscape. Curious? THE DETAILS.

Around Sicily in Four Days: Preview My Planeta Wine Journey

  • Buonivini, Noto (southeastern corner, very close to the ocean)

Noto is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I’ll also get to explore the “Invisible Wine Cellar” at Buonivini.

  • Dorilli in Vittoria (southcentral-ish)

I am so excited to be in Vittoria because Cerasuolo di Vittoria is one of my favorite red wines. It’s a blend of Frapatto and Nero d’Avola. The lighter Frappato chills out the burly Nero d’Avola. It’s an amazing pizza wine and that’s what’s on the menu for dinner that night. (YES!) Also, I love Frappato on its own. A wonderful red to serve with a slight chill. We’re visiting Ragusa, too; it’s another UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Do you sense a theme here?)

  • Ulmo, Sambuca di Sicilia (east, on the shores of Lake Arancio)

This is Planeta’s first winery and home to its Chardonnay, which brought a lot of attention to both the winery and Sicily. Read Francesca Planeta’s thoughts on the transformative effect of this wine in my interview with her.

  • Dispensia, Menfi

There’s a library here; hundreds of wine books dating back to the 18th Century.

OK, a lot more on my itinerary and I’ll fill in all the details via my blog and some podcasts. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. I may Periscope if I have wifi, as it would probably cost a billion dollars in data fees to stream video from my phone.

And would you like to get more acqquainted with Sicily? I highly recommend my podcast with the authors of “The World of Sicilian Wine”, Frances Di Savino and Bill Nesto.

All photos courtesy Planeta.

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Exploring Mount Etna Wines via Planeta

Exploring Mount Etna Wines via Planeta

Is there a more exciting wine region in the world right now than Sicily? And, within this island, anything cooler than what’s happening in the area surrounding Mount Etna?


It was a pleasure to be invited to a lunch given by Planeta, whose six wineries ring Sicily. Our special guest was Alessio Planeta and our focus was on five bottles from their Etna winery, Feudo di Mezzo.

[I’d also like to mention this lunch literally whet my appetite for Sicily as I’ll be headed there at the end of September on a media trip to visit Planeta’s properties. I am mega-stoked!]

Right after this lunch someone asked me which wine was my favorite. I had to be extremely wishy-washy and say, “I loved them all.” Seriously. It’s an impressive lineup. Speaking of, here are the Mount Etna wines I tasted:

Planeta Metodo Classico Brut NV (100% Carricante grapes) $40

What?!? Sparkling wine from Mount Etna. I first tried this in Sicily and fell hard for this bottle of bubbles. Interestingly enough, I was queried if I enjoyed it as much in Seattle. This is always the fear regarding a wine you enjoy while on romantic travels (well, a press trip but the setting was uber-romantic): it will taste (much) better on-site than back at home. I am pleased to report this was not the case. The Planeta Brut was soft like linen, citrusy like lemon curd, and lingering like the ending of a great novel. This Metodo Classico was made for all of the finest fried foods. You can also drink it with abandon on its own.

Planeta Etna Bianco 2014 (100% Carricante) $24

Lively, textured, with richness from the lees stirring (you know, the dead yeast and other grape solids hanging out at the bottom of the juice that get agitated for their pleasure-enhancing qualities) and a portion of the juice hanging out in big-ass barrels. For under $25, hard to think of a more impressive white wine. So cool.

Planeta Eruzione 1614 Carricante 2014 (90% Carricante/10% Riesling) $32

Ok, the vintage is 2014 not 1614. The latter year references the start of a Mount Etna eruption that lasted ten years straight. Whoa. The vineyard where the wine comes from, Sciara Nuova, is pictured at the top of this post. The Eruzione 1614 hangs around on your palate post-imbibe longer than the Etna Bianco and you do get a touch of Riesling-ness as well. Interesting note: the wine area on the label is not Etna but rather Sicily because the grapes are grown at an elevation too high to use the regional appellation name. (Same with the upcoming Eruzione 1614 Nerello Mascalese.)

We also got to try the 2011 version of this wine (95% Carricante/5% Riesling) which was golden, rich, and almost Gewürztraminer-like in its spiciness.

Onto the reds.

Exploring Mount Etna Wines via Planeta

Planeta Etna Rosso 2013 (100% Nerello Mascalese grapes) $25

First, this label is awesome. (The white has the same one with yellow instead of red.) Light in color, Pinot-Noir/Nebbiolo-esque, and delicious. Spicy. Seriously, $25? Damn.

Planeta Eruzione 1614 Nerello Mascalese 2013 (100% Nerello Mascalese) $35

Exploring Mount Etna Wines via Planeta

Alessio Planeta

The Eruzione 1614 Nerello Mascalese is much richer than the Rosso but certainly not overboard in that department. A wonderful confluence of said riches, zip, and chilled-out tannins. Again, very Nebbiolo-esque. Not like a bruiser of a Barolo, but a Nebbiolo from the broader region of Lange that’s not all pumped-up with added-on brawniness.

We also tried the 2011 which has a nice minty quality to it and, after just a few years in the bottle, is at a beautiful place.

Many of the things Alessio Planeta said stayed with me. Probably the most memorable concerned Sicily as a whole, to try and figure it out not just regarding its wines, but climate, culture, history, and more. “Sicily is like a puzzle,” Planeta explained. “To finish the puzzle is the most difficult thing.” Who will ever put it all together in one lifetime? Maybe no one and certainly not me. But after today I feel like I’ve found a corner piece, am working on the border, and hope to someday fill in the gaps.

All photos courtesy Planeta.


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Sweet Wine from Sicily: The Scintillating Donnafugata Ben Ryé

Sweet Wine from Sicily: The Scintillating Donnafugata Ben Ryé
I may retire the phrase “dessert wine” on this blog. Because it compartmentalizes a wine like the Donnafugata Ben Ryé to occasions when dining out and ordering something sweet to eat at the end of the meal. Don’t get me wrong, I love dessert and have nothing but respect for pastry chefs. (I actually did an internship at Chicago’s Blackbird eons ago and came very close to pursuing pastry full-time. But I chose love over career. That’s a story for another day blog. Spoiler alert: Sad ending.)

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah. No more “dessert wine”. Maybe I’ll even eschew “sweet wine” (uh, after this post) because wine is wine. So this is a call to vinous arms. Gather up your stemware and corkscrews! Drink wines that just happen to be sweet whenever and wherever you please.

My bottle of Donnafugata Ben Ryé was sent to me as a sample and was languishing for a while as I thought I needed some kind of moment to open it. Like someone would come by, knock on my door, and have baked a chocolate cake or pecan pie for me. We’d sit down and share a slice and I’d open this half bottle and suddenly we wouldn’t be strangers anymore. Love would bloom (ferment?) over a shared 375ml. (Jeez, I am ultra-sentimental today.)


 2012 Donnafugata Ben Ryé ($45/375ml)

Sweet Wine from Sicily: The Scintillating Donnafugata Ben RyéSo this wine is made on an island, Pantelleria, about 100km off the coast of Sicily. Naturally sweet, Ben Ryé gets its luciousness from sun and wind-dried Zibibbo (Moscato d’Alessandria) grapes. It’s a 20 to 30 day process. So after that period of time the grapes have a lot less water in them and the remaining juice is precious and concentrated. Boom. Now make that sweet wine.

And when you drink it, try this wine with just a slight chill. I pulled my bottle from the depths of my fridge which registers arctic-like temperatures. (Bad wine blogger!) As Ben Ryé warms up, it really struts its stuff. There are caramel and toffee notes galore. Spicy cinnamon and ginger. An orange-y, lemon-y citrus zip comes on at the end, like a languorous and tender ocean wave cleansing your palate. Rinse and repeat, indeed.

Sweet Wine from Sicily: The Scintillating Donnafugata Ben RyéThough I mentioned sweet confections as a partner for this Zibibbo, the best accompaniment might be something savory: blue cheese. Or any strong, stinky-ish fromage. And nuts. I am in the fortunate position of having a giant bowl of roasted walnuts that my roommate acquired from an Oregon farm. (It’s a charmed life, isn’t it?) So I spent an afternoon drinking a glass of Ben Ryé and cracking walnuts. It’s not the kind of wine you gulp like water, so there’s middle-of-the-day appeal. (Dare I suggest happy hour?) Chill out with a glass alongside a thought-provoking periodical of your choosing. And be sure to call me.

I’ll bring the walnuts.

More Zibbibo from Donnafugata: Try this dry version with an alluring label

Explore the world of Sicilian wine via podcast with the authors who wrote the book on it

Map via Norman Einstein

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