Today’s review will focus on one of my two favorite varietal Nero d’Avola wines, namely Planeta‘s “Santa Cecilia” Nero d’Avola Sicilia IGT 2006 ($35).
The Bottom Line
Overall, the Santa Cecilia was an outstanding varietal Nero d’Avola, which delivered plenty of structure coupled with an enticing bouquet and juicy, delicious flavors. The wine was silky smooth with tannins that were marvelously gentle and integrated, lacking any of the harshness or aggressiveness that can instead be found in other varietal Nero d’Avola wines. Its still discernible acidity ensures a few more years of aging potential. Also, for its price point, this wine delivers plenty of bang for your hard earned bucks. Like I said, it is definitely one of my two favorite 100% Nero d’Avola wines. If you are curious which one is my other favorite… well, stay tuned as it will be reviewed (and revealed) later this year! 😉
(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)
As usual, let’s now provide a brief overview of the Nero d’Avola grape variety.
About the Grape
Nero d’Avola is a black-berried grape variety that is widely grown in Sicily and that, apparently, was first brought there by Greek migrants during the Greek colonization of Southern Italy (so-called “Magna Graecia”) in the VI century BC. This makes Nero d’Avola essentially an indigenous grape variety to the region of Sicily, where it has been cultivated for centuries (the first official descriptions date back to the end of the XVII century) and where it is also known as “Calabrese” – however, this is not because it came from Calabria (which it did not), but because that name is thought to be a contraction of two words (“Calea” and “Aulisi”) which, in the Sicilian dialect, mean “grape from Avola” (Avola is the name of a Sicilian town).
Nero d’Avola makes wines that are generally deeply colored, full-bodied, distinctly tannic and with good aging potential. The use of Nero d’Avola grapes is permitted both in the only DOCG appellation in Sicily (Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, a blend in which Nero d’Avola can be used between 50 and 70% in combination with Frappato grapes) and in several of the Sicilian DOC appellations (among which the Noto DOC appellation), where it can be used to make varietal wines or in the context of blends. However, many of the best Nero d’Avola wines around are marketed under the more loosely regulated Sicilia IGT appellation, which affords serious producers more flexibility in experimenting and creating excellent wines out of Nero d’Avola grapes, especially by blending them with international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah to tame certain aggressive traits that varietal Nero d’Avola wines sometimes exhibit.
(Information on the grape variety taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012)
About the Estate and the Appellation
Getting back to the specifics of the Santa Cecilia, this wine was produced for the first time by top quality Sicilian producers Planeta in 1997 under the Sicilia IGT appellation from mostly Nero d’Avola grapes blended with a small percentage of Syrah grapes coming from their vineyards in Menfi and Sambuca. However, in 1998 the good guys at Planeta identified a plot of land (known as Buonivini) in the vicinity of the town of Noto (somewhere in between the towns of Avola and Pachino) that was ideal for growing Nero d’Avola grapes. Over time, they completely renewed the Buonivini vineyards and built from scratch an underground winery with a view to shifting the production of the Santa Cecilia from Menfi/Sambuca to Noto.
The Buonivini winery became operational in 2003, which was also the first vintage of the “new” Santa Cecilia which since then has become a 100% Nero d’Avola wine made exclusively from grapes grown in the Buonivini vineyards. The new Santa Cecilia was still made under the Sicilia IGT appellation up until the 2007 vintage. However, in 2008 the area where the Buonivini vineyards are located was awarded DOC status also for black-berried grapes under the name “Noto DOC“ and therefore, as of the 2008 vintage, the Santa Cecilia has been produced under the Noto DOC appellation (more information is available on Planeta’s Website and in the Noto DOC regulations).
More specifically, the Noto DOC had originally been created in 1974 under the name “Moscato di Noto DOC” and was restricted to the production of sweet white wines made from white-berried Moscato Bianco grapes. In 2008, the Moscato di Noto DOC appellation changed its name into “Noto DOC” and was extended to red wines based on Nero d’Avola grapes, because the area was recognized as a traditional one for growing such variety – to be precise, it is believed to be the area where the cultivation of Nero d’Avola grapes in Sicily originated from. Nowadays, the Noto DOC regulations require that the wines made under such appellation be produced from grapes grown in an area encompassing the towns of Noto, Rosolini, Pachino and Avola, in the Siracusa province, and that red wines branded as “Noto Nero d’Avola DOC” (such as the Santa Cecilia) be made from 85% or more Nero d’Avola grapes.
Our Detailed Review
The Planeta, “Santa Cecilia” Nero d’Avola Sicilia IGT 2006 that I recently tasted was a red wine made from 100% Nero d’Avola grapes grown in the Buonivini vineyard and had 14% ABV. It is available in the US where it retails for about $35.
The wine fermented in steel vats and aged 14 months in French oak barrique casks used once or twice before (i.e., not new casks). As you probably know, the reason for this practice is to limit the interference of the oak with the organoleptic profile of the wine, so that the tertiary aromas developed during the barrique aging period do not overwhelm but rather coherently complement the fruity secondary aromas developed by the wine in the fermentation phase.
As usual, for my review I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher.
In the glass, the Santa Cecilia poured ruby red and thick.
On the nose, its bouquet was intense, complex and fine, with aromas of blackberry, plum, black cherry, tobacco and cocoa.
In the mouth, the Santa Cecilia was dry, warm, smooth; fresh, tannic and tasty. It was a full-bodied, perfectly balanced wine and its mouth flavors were intense and fine, with notes of blackberry, wild cherry, cocoa, tobacco, black pepper and licorice. Its tannins were supple and wonderfully integrated, counterbalancing (along with its pleasant acidity) the silky smoothness of the wine. The Santa Cecilia had a long finish and its evolutionary state was ready, meaning absolutely enjoyable now (I sure loved mine!) but it may probably evolve even more and add additional layers of complexity to its already outstanding flavor palette with a couple more years of in-bottle aging.