Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk | AspenTimes.com

Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk

Kelly J. HayesAspen Times Weekly

In Italy, wine is a daily habit.The Italians regard wine as a condiment, something that is as much a part of every meal as salt, pepper and olive oil. They drink it young, they drink it fresh and, most of all, they drink local. If you live near Verona, you may drink the Soaves made from the Garganega grape. If your home happens to be in Tuscany, then the wines you have with your dinner are likely the Sangiovese-based Chiantis. If you hail from the north in Piedmont, the wines that you most often pour are those made from the Nebbiolo grape, referred to with pride as the grape of kings.But here in America, despite our national insecurity and our self-perceived lack of wine sophistication, we actually have a much larger world view of wine. While it is true that our tastes run toward Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, at least we drink those varietals from places both near and far. Even the relatively amateur wine consumer in America buys bottles from California, Washington and Oregon, and perhaps even the other lower 45 states. But just about everyone here has tried wines from the Barossa Valley of Southeastern Australia, or from Mendoza in Argentina, or even from the storied vineyards of Burgundy, Bordeaux or Champagne in France. The truth is, while our wine culture may not focus as intently around wine on a day-to-day level as the Italians, we more than hold our own when it comes to our exposure to global wine.It was with this thought in mind that I sat down this past weekend at the extraordinary Cayman Cookout to sample wines from Planeta, a Sicilian-based winemaker that is taking full advantage of the ample resources and terroir of that southern Italian island to make wines from both indigenous grapes and varietals that are from other regions of the world.The Cayman Cookout is an event much like our own Food & Wine Classic; it is sponsored by Food & Wine Magazine and held in January at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Grand Cayman Island. The event brought together an impressive array of wines and provided me with a deeper introduction to wines I had only a passing knowledge of before. Flavio Andreatta, the Caribbean distributor for Planeta, explained to me as I took a sip of the 2006 Planeta Santa Cecilia, a wine made from 100 percent Nero dAvola grapes, that the company began to plant international varietals such as Chardonnay, Syrah and Merlot about 20 years ago. These vineyards have produced some wonderful wines and the vines have gotten even better as they have matured in the southern sun and rocky soils of Sicily.But Planeta, a family-run company based on the island, came to recognize the value of the grapes that have been growing for centuries in Sicily: The white grapes called Fiano and Grecanico, and, of course, the aforementioned Nero d Avalo, which grows in abundance in the southeastern most section of Sicily in a region called Noto. With earnest they began to bottle both 100 percent versions of the wines and to blend them with the other varietals that they grow.The result has been a boost in appreciation of an emerging new/old wine region a place that has produced wines since Roman times but has just in the last decade introduced the treasures of their local grapes to the rest of the world.That night at dinner in The Ritz-Carltons steakhouse, called 7 Prime, I had an opportunity to discuss Planeta with our sommelier, a very young and knowledgeable wine guy (he hopes to pass his Master Sommelier exam this year) named Luciano de Riso, who hails from Naples, just a hop, skip and a five-hour ferry ride across the Mediterranean to Sicily. Luciano grew up drinking local wines and when pressed he said in perfect English (with a perfect Italian accent), Of all of Planeta wines, of course, I like the Nero d Avalo best. Then he gave a perfect shrug and uttered as though it were a given, The wines of region are always the best expression of a place.We here in America are lucky that we have access to so many best expressions when we go to enjoy wine.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and a black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at malibukj@wineink.com.


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