Sicily and southern Italy in general, was long known for its high volume of wine production where quantity trumped quality. In fact, there was a time when more wine left Sicily in tanker than in bottle, destined to beef up wines from cooler climates up north.
While some regional producers continue to make wine in bulk, others have adopted a new philosophy. Sicilian producer Planeta is one such company, which has not only chosen to embrace quality, but does so in an unusual way.
At first glance, the Planeta winery seems like a huge operation. Yet, when you look closer, the Planeta brand is actually several boutique wineries strung together under the same banner. This family-run business, currently headed by cousins Francesca and Allessio Planeta, owns six different wineries, each located within a distinct area on the island.
Although the family has been in agriculture for many generations (and lived on the island for four centuries), wine is newer to them, but they have been at the forefront of Sicily’s renaissance. Francesca’s father saw that Sicily had the potential to create great wine if the focus was shifted. Following this philosophy, the Planetas planted international varieties in 1985. However, the family also sought to preserve the local grapes, initially conducting research on Grecanico and Nero d’Avola. Their first vintage was in 1995.
Acknowledging that Sicily is a big island, Francesca further explained that it is not one region, but rather several different regions, all located on the same island. Accordingly, only a few grape varieties –Grecanico, Nero d’Avola and Inzolia – are planted throughout the island. All other varieties grown by the Planetas are confined to a specific subregion. As further quality assurance, Planeta established wineries in each terroir.
The family’s original site is in Sambuca di Sicilia, in the northwest, where they grow their Chardonnay and Fiano grapes, among others. Nearby, in Menfi, they have two winery operations, one dedicated to international reds and the other solely producing their white blend (La Segreta) and rosé.
A smaller site was established in the northeast near the slopes of Etna, where Carricante and Nerello Mascalese do best. This volcanic area possesses richly, mineral soils with black lava sand. Further north is Planeta’s newest project in Capo Milazzo, near Messina. Here, a blend of Nocera and Nero d’Avola grapes are destined for Mamertino, a wine previously favored by Julius Cesar, and scheduled for release in 2013.
In Sicily’s southeast, the family maintains a winery in Noto and in Vittoria. In Noto, the emphasis is on Nero d’Avola and Moscato Bianco, the latter primarily used to produce Passito di Noto, which had almost disappeared due to the lack of a local market for this luscious dessert wine. Grapes are dried for 45 days, during which time they lose 55% of their weight and become increasingly concentrated in sugar and flavor.
West of Noto, Vittoria is home to Sicily’s only DOCG – Cerasuolo di Vittoria. This blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato displays bright cherry fruit, low tannins and is fresh and lively on the palate.
As an additional commitment to Sicily’s culture, the Planeta family has opened La Foresteria, a boutique hotel near Menfi. As a vacation destination for culinary and wine enthusiasts, La Foresteria offers cooking classes and the produces its own olive oil from a grove on the property.
As Vice President of the company (and also of the Prosecco Superiore DOCG consortium), Elvira Bortolomiol is often the face of her family’s winery. I first met her during my inaugural trip to the Conegliano Valdobbiadene denomination and then had the opportunity to dine with her on her visit to New York, where she accepted the award for Wine Region of the Year at Wine Enthusiast’s annual dinner. Thus, I was eager to see her winery firsthand when I next arrived in the region.
Nestled just off one of the main squares in the village of Valdobbiadene, Bortolomiol is hidden from view despite its moderate size. Here, the winery facility sits adjacent to a two hectare vineyard, which has been farmed organically for the past three years. The property also features modern sculptures and a beautiful alley of trees, creating a park-like atmosphere.
Established in 1949 by Giuliano Bortolomiol, the company remains family owned and operated with sisters Maria Elena, Elvira, Luisa and Giuliana at the helm, continuing to build on their father’s legacy. The organic project has been guided by Guiliana, who had been integral in replanting all of the family’s vineyards alongside her father several decades earlier. Grapes from the new venture are destined for the winery’s IUS Naturae Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Brut.
For their other wines, Bortolomiol has vineyards outside the village and also works with 70 growers, all of whom have been required to sign contracts with the company agreeing to implement new protocols for sustainable agriculture. This forward-thinking approach is not new to the company. Even under Giuliano’s leadership, Bortolomiol has always been a pioneer – whether it was founding the Confraternita del Prosecco or being the first to produce a Brut-style Prosecco.
Like many daughters, the women are proud of their father, but unlike most of us, they have had the opportunity to honor his memory by naming a wine after him. In this regard, the Motus Vitae Il Brut di Giuliano, is a perfectly fitting tribute. The grapes for this wine come from a highly regarded vineyard in San Pietro di Barbozza, which qualifies this wine under the DOCG’s Rive designation.
Another wine that pays tribute to this remarkable man is the Bandarossa. The significance of this wine is that Giuliano used to make a red mark on the labels of his best bottles as a sign that these were the ones he wished to share with friends and family. Today, in this same tradition, the best batch of Extra Dry wine is reserved for and bottled as the Bandarossa, which features a red band on the label.
Bortolomiol’s portfolio is quite diverse with a range of vintage-dated wines, their I Tradizionali (which are not vintage-dated) and several others such as a frizzante and a tranquillo (still wine).
I was impressed with all of the wines I tasted during my visit, but my favorite was the Motus Vitae 2010. The second fermentation is initiated on February 27, which was Giuliano’s birthday and the wine was then aged for a longer period of time before bottling (7 months as compared to 2 months). The result is a wine with aromas of flowers, wild herbs and minerality. The dry palate is beautifully structured, displaying citrus, melon and mineral notes throughout its long length.
Shakespeare told us that “A rose by any other name should smell as sweet” in Romeo and Juliet, well, by the same token, a wine by any other name, be it grape varietal, region or label should taste as good, or better; that is, if the region is as perfect for growing as Turkey and if the vintners are as adept, skillful and careful as we’ve met on this, our first leg of traveling Turkey for the WINE PORTFOLIO show.
… hmmm, perhaps this is what we should title our Turkey episode of Wine Portfolio. What do you think?
West Turkey is a region vast in stunning coastline and filled with an interesting combination of old-world archeological sites and new-world amenities. Known as the Aegean region, this is one of Turkey’s oldest wine areas, producing 55% of all of Turkey’s wine; and (perhaps by design!) an area that also boasts being home to Dionysos, the Greek God of wine.
Our Wine Portfolio television crew started out in Bodrum, a town renowned for its sexy, over-the–top boating and great night life. This was a chance for the team to relax from the flight, recharge and prepare for the regional filming of wineries soon to come. The Macakizi (or Queen of Spades) resort situated on one of the beautiful bays of Bodrum, is a boutique hotel with a laid back urban vibe that can be described as stylish Miami-chic. A stunning waterside bar, wonderfully comfortable corners to hide away in and a restaurant boasting a jaw-dropping view allowed us to go off and find our own way to rejuvenate. Hours later we met for dinner with Sahir Erozan, renowned Hotelier. He hosted us to an amazing 7-course tasting menu, each course perfectly matched with a Turkish wine. The young wine expert that designed our pairings was exemplary, and we came to learn that he had been designated Turkey’s second best sommelier two years in a row.
The wine we’ve been fortunate to try in the Aegean region has been vast in scope, we started at the Sevilen Winery in Ortaklar, a huge operation producing 900,000 bottles a year. Contrasting sharply, this winery produces one of the best Shiraz’s and Sauvignon Blanc’s in Turkey, which we got to discover during lunch under an ancient, hanging tree at the Winery’s own restaurant in Isabey.
We then spent a quick overnight at 7 Bilgeler (meaning 7 sages, referring to wise ancient philosophers from the region), a boutique hotel resembling a small open style castle. It’s a nice place to stay away from the crowds at the nearby UNESCO world heritage site of Ephesus.
Our next stop was Urla, where we met entrepreneur, arborist and wine maker Can Ortabas, owner of the world’s largest palm tree farm and Urla Winery. An enigmatic personality, we followed him through his farm and vineyard learning of his passion for horticulture, the earth and, of course, his wines. Urla winery is focusing its efforts on revitalizing lost indigenous grape varieties such as Urla Karasi, a delicious, robust red grape once thought to be lost forever. A rare treat is a glass of their Nero D’Avolo and Urla Karasi blend!
We then headed for Manisa, a picturesque three-hour drive inland, to Selendi Winery. Started by Akin Ongor, ex-COO of Turkey’s largest private bank, Selendi is a small winery featuring reds only, and primarily blends, their 2010 blend was our favorite, heavy on its Merlot content this first-rate wine is reminiscent of something you’d find from Bordeaux.
We’re on our way to the Thrace region now, or Trakya region if you’re Turkish. Stay tuned for more during our journey through Turkey, and Turkish wines!
- The Wine Portfolio Crew
Cork is harvested from the bark of trees as a renewable resource. As a readily biodegradable material, the use of cork promotes a sustainable agro-forest system and improves the biodiversity of the ecological environment. This natural material has been used for several centuries as wine closures. It is only as of recent that synthetic corks, and twist of tops have been introduced to the world of wine. To read more about the benefits of each option- read our article all about corks! http://www.wineportfolio.com/sectionLearnWineCorks.html
This solution on how to seal wine bottles brings forth a secondary problem. How do you remove the cork wedged tightly into the neck of the wine bottle?
The corkscrew was originally designed as a worm (the screw) with a Tbar and required manpower to pull it out of the bottle. This would take around 100 pounds of force to pull the cork out. More modern versions of the corkscrew use the models of physics and lever systems to assist with the force.
These wine openers are named for their common use in restaurants by wine stewards or sommeliers. Compared to all other forms of wine openers, theses are small, portable, and safe to keep in your pocket. Surely, you wouldn’t want to keep a traditional corkscrew anywhere near those family jewels. These wine openers have a worm (corkscrew) that unfolds in the center and single or double lever at the end. They often come equipped with a small knife to cut off the foil prior to removing the cork. With some practice it is easy to master this technique!
Butterfly/ Winged Corkscrew
As one of the easier methods, the butterfly or winged corkscrew has a frame with two long arms that move upwards as the worm is screwed in. Removing the cork is as easy as pushing the two arms back down.
Screwpull lever (Rabbit)
Speaking of easy, this model is nearly dummy proof. Doing all the work for you, this is the perfect gift for a new wine drinker. Opening the bottle is as easy as placing it over the neck of the wine bottle, lowering the lever and then raising it back up. I can guarantee you wont’ see a waiter pull one of these large contraptions from their pockets though.
Ah- So/ Twin Prong Cork Puller/ Butler’s Friend
The ah-so wine opener takes the cake for the most difficult to master. This contraption has a handle with two metal prongs that slide into either side of the cork along the inside of the bottle’s neck. With a slow twist and pull, you can pry the cork out. The Ah-So is most practical with older wines, when there is risk that the cork has dried out and could crumble. Since this technique doesn’t require you to puncture the cork, it works to prevent any of the brittle cork from crumbling into the wine.
The twist off cap
Place hand on cap and twist. (And you thought the Rabbit was easy!)
What is your preferred method of cork removal?
Foodies have long regarding Taiwan as being one of the world’s great culinary destinations. The island’s varied cuisine reflects the influences of China, Japan and world flavors, while the restaurant scene, especially in the capital Taipei, has been steadily gaining notoriety for its diversity, quality of service and exotic offerings. From hearty Chinese eateries to subtle Japanese restaurants; from classic French bistros to inventive Mediterranean Café’s, Taipei’s culinary scene is alive with innovative ideas and luxurious presentations. Service is definitely always in style.
Taiwan was known by the Portuguese as Ilha Formosa which meant beautiful island. The original European settlers immediately recognized Taiwan’s verdant beauty and rich bountiful seas. Today this helps to define the luxury restaurant scene on the island. Fresh locally grown fruits and vegetables combine with some of the world’s best seafood to give Chefs a treasure trove of raw ingredients and the results are spectacular. Seriously check out how many amazing dishes are uploaded to the social media site Instragram everyday from all across the island.
In addition to the amateur foodies, Taiwan’s burgeoning epicurean scene gets a major boost from the I See Taiwan Foundation, which is dedicated to being Taiwan’s window to the world by promoting Taiwan’s unique cultural touchstones to international travelers. Food is an important aspect of culture and the I See Taiwan Foundation is dedicated to promoting more tourism and enhancing the professionalism and scope of the island’s offerings. “This is how seriously the Taiwanese people take food. Food is an essential lifestyle. We love it and are justifiably proud of our culinary traditions” says Jessica Huang, the Chief Executive Director of I See Taiwan Foundation. “Taiwan is a very competitive market and we have smart and innovative luxury restaurants that impress travelers with taste, service, décor and of course, style. Hence, make sure you spend a few nights out to indulge your senses” Huang says.
And we sure will. Our team is looking forward to exploring Taipei’s bustling restaurants and sampling the latest twists on traditional Chinese dishes, tasting the hottest new Asian Fusion menus and indulging in world class Continental cuisine. It will be an evening of fashion, the finest wines, mouthwatering cuisine and being pampered with first class service. Taiwan’s restaurateurs have panache and a sense of style that has inspired foodies’ dreams. This is a food lover’s paradise.
So what are your fav restaurants and must-try dishes in Taiwan?
Summer is here and after blogging about backyard barbequing, it is only fit to write our next article on our second favorite summer activity, patios! We surveyed the Wine Portfolio team to find out what their number one patio drink choices were, and here is what we found.
Wine Portfolio’s top drink picks:
Mojito- simple syrup, lime, soda water, rum and a handful of mint leaves.
Sangria- either white or red wine, sliced lemons, sliced limes, orange, sugar, orange juice or lemonade, gin, ginger ale, raspberries and strawberries. Tip: Add in a can of pineapple for an extra kick
Caesar- Clamato juice, Worcestershire, vodka, Tabasco, with a celery stick to garnish. Add a jumbo tiger shrimp to jazz things up!
Shandy- An English drink. Mix beer with ginger ale, sprite, or frozen limeade
Strawberry daiquiri- Mix rum, strawberries, sugar, and lime in a blender over ice and blend it up. Garnish the glass with a fresh strawberry et voila!
Long island ice tea- Named for its resemblance to traditional, non alcoholic iced tea, this refreshing patio drink is deceiving with its far above average alcohol levels.Equal parts vodka, gin, tequila, rum, triple sec and lemon juice. Add a splash of simple syrup and coke, and a lemon wedge to top it off.
Stiff lemonade- 2 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice,1/2 oz fresh squeezed lime juice, 2 oz simple syrup, 1 oz vodka,1/2 oz Russo lemoncello, 1/2 oz cointreau. Add all ingredients in a blender over ice, and blend until all the ice chunks are smooth.
As grilling season is upon us, the task of pairing wines with your favorite backyard foods can be intimidating, but is actually quite simple. Grilling is centered around meat, which holds two characteristics that are important wine pairing. The first is flavor. For heavy red meats like steaks and lamb, the most dominant flavor will always be in the meat itself, even with the addition of marinades and spices. Chicken and fish, on the other hand can be easily overwhelmed by their marinades, sauces or spices. As such it is always important to recognize the dominant flavor of your foods and pair to those.
The second important characteristic is the heartiness of the meat itself. If you are grilling fish, vegetables or chicken, you will want to match those with a lighter bodied wine. Steak, burgers, or other red meats will pair well with heavy bodied red wines.
Here are some suggestions:
With Red Meats, Barbecues & Game
These meats call for fuller-bodied styles of wine. Beef and lamb in particular tend to be complemented by tannic red wines. However, the sauces served also affect the choice.
Powerful reds such as Shiraz or Zinfandel
Beef (hamburgers, steak au poivre, or in pastry)
Powerful, full-bodied Zinfandel from California.
Beef (roast beef or steak)
Full-bodied Shiraz, Cabernet or Cabernet-Shiraz blend.
A good-quality Pinot Noir from Oregon or Sonoma.
A good-quality Cabernet Sauvignon.
Good Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet-Merlot blend.
Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, or light red wines
Spicy reds like a peppery Shiraz
Lighter cool-climate reds such as a pinot noir from Oregon
An email arrives from WTSO and you immediately begin to salivate. Perhaps your heartbeat races and your pulse quickens. Thankfully, this isn’t porn-related spam, but rather a doorway into a semi-secret world of seemingly unheard of wine discounts. At 30-70% off original retail pricing, these time-sensitive deals offer up incredible values on a wide range of wines from lower-priced, large production wines to some of the world’s priciest such as Napa Valley Cabernets, Brunello di Montalcino and Bugindian Pinot Noirs.
So just who is this WTSO that sends such great e-mails? Cracking the code, WTSO stands for Wines Til Sold Out, a members-only, flash sale wine site and the brainchild of Elliot Arking. Elliot seems to have appeared from nowhere if you believe his LinkedIn profile. This is somewhat true since Arking launched WTSO in 2006. However, it only tells part of the story. Arking’s full resume encompasses work with several successful companies, including the purchase of Roger Wilco Wine & Spirits, a retail wine shop in southern New Jersey, with his brother, Joseph Arking, in 1982.
His son Jamie’s profile is more complete, chronicling his career in research and development and strategic marketing after receiving a Ph.D. in molecular pathology and, later, an MBA in Finance. Jamie logged in time at healthcare and biotechnology companies, taking up residency in D.C. and then San Diego, among other places. Sounding more like a Wharton professor than wine salesman, Elliot explained that he told his son to “always be on the income side of the ledger.”
With his own 30 years of experience in brick-and-mortar wine sales, Elliot was uninterested in online retailing when his nephew (Joseph’s son) first suggested it. But, his aha moment came when he viewed an electronics website that sold only one product at a time. He thought the idea made sense and offered a great value proposition.
Adopting the same concept, Elliot and Joseph unveiled WTSO in the summer of 2006, building up its membership slowly, but steadily, over time and learning along the way. About four months after the initial debut, he tweaked one of the offers to include free shipping and noticed a big impact on sales. As a result, all orders now ship free of charge.
By 2008, WTSO had clearly become a serious venture, at which point Elliot began to nag Jamie to return to the east coast and join the family business. As Jamie tells it, “He told me to stop … (expletive implied) … around and get home.” So he did, taking on the role of WTSO’s Chief Financial Officer.
Jamie jokingly complains that he doesn’t get taken along on tasting trips, but claims that his palate isn’t as sophisticated as that of his father and Uncle Joe. Despite his mock indignation about being confined to spreadsheets and numbers, Jamie seems quite giddy with the way things have evolved; clearly proud of the company his family has created.
Today, WTSO employs 30 people and has over $70 million in annual sales. The website generates $52 million, with the balance coming from sales through their app and other social media. Although their mailing list is quite extensive, approximately 140,000 active members account for the majority of purchases, who continue to buy again and again.
Given the Arkings’ devotion to customer service, such repeat business is to be expected. What might be surprising is the level to which they will go to make their members happy. Along these lines, WTSO uniquely provides a money back guarantee; if the customer has a problem with a wine for any reason –even if s/he just doesn’t like it – they will receive a credit for that particular purchase. Similarly, in tracking customers’ comments on the site, they discovered that a member had identified a corked bottle several months earlier, but not reported it. Elliot immediately reached out and offered a refund, much to the astonishment of the member.
Rather than sharing their opinions, by design, wines are marketed with their respective press scores since Elliot prefers third party endorsement to add legitimacy to a wine’s quality. On rare occasions, if a wine has been purchased in sufficient quantity, it may show up on the site again and will also be accompanied by members’ ratings.
While some have been critical of the flash site phenomenon, arguing that the approach is unsustainable long term, the Arkings disagree. They feel that wine will always be available to be sold in their business model. Moreover, they stress the positive influence that their site has on individual wineries – offering an important distribution channel with high impact and high thru-put to the consumer, such as the sale of 1,000 bottles in a single hour on one occasion.
Elliot further emphasized that they buy in large quantities and pay right away and was quick to note that, upon purchase, they take delivery of all wines. Consequently, they have full control of the product (as well as the risk). This differs from some of the other flash sale sites that market on behalf of the winery, but don’t ever take possession of the products. This point of differentiation ensures that WTSO maintains the highest quality throughout the process, but also translates as good cash flow for the wineries which don’t make any money on inventory sitting in their cellars.
Additionally, Jamie suggested that they are helping smaller wineries find new customers that they wouldn’t otherwise find. As a follow up, he believes that their WTSO clients may ultimately become wine club members of a given winery, having been exposed to those wines through WTSO.
Looking ahead, Elliot admits that he takes a conservative view, begging the question, if it works, why change it, but does acknowledge the significant potential in growing their customer base. Accordingly, while there are no plans to add or alter the company’s activities, member acquisition remains a priority for the foreseeable future. All of which means that there might be a lot more people salivating over their inbox.
Fonterutoli’s Castello is the reward for years of research into the biotypes of Sangiovese found throughout their estate. Blended from 50 separate parcels of vines aged 10-26 years, on a mix of Galestro and Albarese soils. The wine is aged in French barrique (60% new) for 16 months. A blend of 85% Sangiovese and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
92 Points — Wine Advocate