It's really easy to glom onto the fashionable attractiveness and the energy of the Planeta phenom. In a recent posting, I mentioned how I thought Diego Planeta must have felt when he first looked out and thought about the road that he was taking his family down. What I was also talking about was my vision of 35+ years ago and how hard it looked, as an outsider (albeit with a DNA window), to get the Sicilian engine stoked into the next generation of wine making. I grew up in California and we moved as fast as the waves offshore. Sicily was just awakening from a post war slumber.
America was entrenched in a war across the world and I was cannon fodder standing in line to take my turn. When I walked into Palermo with patched jeans, desert boots and some crazy shirt, along with my lengthy curls, peace signs and surplus army camera bag, folks looked at me as if I were from another planet. I was.
Looking around then, all I saw was the future running from the past. Looking around now, all I see is the future then.
From Palermo my uncle would cram us into his little Cinquecento and we would head off into the hills. Those hills would have hectares of wheat or artichoke, depending on where we were on the island. Now we see the beginning of the California sequence in Sicily. It is very wonderful for the innovation of the new world and the absolutely wonderful tradition of this palimpsest we've come to see as Sicilia (for can any of us ever "know" this island?). What Zio Peppino would tell me with his tours no language could ever, ever begin to explain.
We made a little tour of Sicily once, and when we did it was to "run errands". And to taste wine. First stop was Sambuca di Sicilia, where one of our cousins had some vines. He grew Cataratto, Grillo and Inzolia, white wine varieties. The idea was to grow as much as he could, for the local co-op would pay for bulk. Somewhere around the corner the germ of this wine was being dreamed up out of the astral mindscape of Diego Planeta.
Cometa, the first time I saw this wine was in Pantelleria and it fired me up! I love white wine, and in the summer climate of Sicilia and Texas this kind of pleasure is taken, often and willingly. For me, this is a red wine trapped in a white wine body. Look, you can go to the Cernilli's and the Maroni's of the current scene and get your scores and your stars. Frankly, the Planeta machine is moving quite fast without someone like me (or them) to sing their praises.
I like this wine, I really like this wine. I could have only hoped, once I went back to California wine country and witnessed the birth of that scene there and then, that Sicily would "get it"...To "see" it is one thing to get there is another.
Yes. Yes. Yes... to plagiarize Joyce...
We followed the southern coast to Vittoria on the next day, Zio had a friend who grew tomatoes and Zia Vittina wanted to put some up for the fall. I don't know how we hauled all those pomodori back in that tiny Fiat. Along with the wine.
A Jesuit priest who lit the fire under me for Sicily was a gourmand and he told me this story of how he loved to say mass in the little parish towns along the southern coast. Every town had a different wine for the mass, and in Scoglitti he recalled a red wine they supplied, all he could remember was the word Cerasuolo. So over the years when I was in Sicily I'd hunt down a bottle or two of Cerasuolo and take it back with me, one for him one for me. This padre was able to tell me more stories about Sicily and when we opened a bottle of wine, this Cerasuolo, though it was rustic, the genie came out of the bottle and onto his lips. History, wars, eras, empires rose and fell with every glass of Cerasuolo. I only wish my Aunts tomato sauce and her wonderful arancini could have made the trip back to America with me and the Cerasuolo. This is a historical wine from what many of us consider the heart of Ancient Greece. Yes it is now Sicilia, but the Louisiana Homer taught this student more about the Ancients when this wine was opened than I ever learned out of the books.
Before we returned to Palermo, Zio had one last stop in Noto. Zia Vittina needed some special potion from a man who mixed herbs into a potion. She had the softest skin I had ever seen.
Noto, this little gem of a town, now almost as quiet as it was in the last century. The herb man is there and the almond milk man is there. This is a town Unesco has established for protection as a heritage center. Go there...just go there. Forget about Taormina..go to Noto, make a note to go to Noto...ok?
My first love, I still remember how she smelled. I have never, ever smelled that aroma, ever since the last time I kissed her. I still remember that wonderful sensation of her skin and her perfume. Something evoked that olfactory memory, dredged it out of the hulls of my skull. Maybe it was the herb man and his concoctions, Maybe the almond milk man's delicacy or maybe it was the dessert wine from this little treasure, this Moscato di Noto. This would be my mass wine, this would be my almond milk, this would be my lost aromatic memory of first love. I cannot tell you or even myself why these sweet things mean what they do to me, but this opened up a door and swept 40 years away!
Suntanned Sicilian Tricolore ( all photos by the author)
Viaggio in Sicilia ~ Art and landscape project inspired and created by Planeta and Nuvole