Planeta – Fines wines from Sicily


Penny Murray defines lovely.  Aside from the fact that she’s a beautiful woman with a charming accent, she loves her wines and has a way of sharing this love with you as you taste through her line-up. At our tasting on March 13th, I asked Penny for a few words about the story of Planeta.  Here is what she had to say:

As we all know Sicilian families are not small and with 7 brothers and sisters and 15 nieces and nephews Planeta is no exception to that!!  The Planeta story, being a family that has always been in agriculture, starts many generations ago with grape growing. Diego Planeta knew what incredible and magical wines could be produced in the Sicilian terroir that could stand proud next to the top wines from around the world, but it was only in the mid eighties, that the family decided to plant their first vineyards of quality. It took ten years of experiments to find the most ideal grape varieties for their terroir but also for the younger generation to learn about winemaking, marketing and sales.

Finally, Alessio Planeta who is winemaker, Francesca Planeta the export and marketing director and Santi Planeta the national director were ready to embark into their venture. The first wines were produced in 1995 on the shore of lake “Arancio” between Sambuca di Sicilia and Menfi in the province of Agrigento. Today, they now own five boutique wineries and apart from Sambuca and Menfi, the Planeta decided to go also to the other most interesting viticultural areas of Sicily such as Vittoria, Noto and Etna. The extension of their vineyards are 975 acres of vineyards where they cultivate classical Sicilian varieties like Grecanico, Frappato and Nero d’Avola, as well as national and international varieties.

And the wines …
Planeta 2006 La Segreta Bianco $16/case $12.80
Nice nose with fruity flavors of apple, lemon and some mild melon. Fresh. Good sipper as weather warms.

Planeta 2006 Cometa $41/case $32.80
A favorite at the tasting.  This wine is much more dramatic than the first, with full flavors of citrus, especially grapefruit, yet still round, with hints of minerality & spiciness. Lovely to sip or complement a simple baked chicken dinner.

Planeta 2006 La Segreta Rosso $16/case $12.80
Recently added as a glass pour at the Portalis Wine Bar, this red is a balanced combination of round cherry notes and dark smoke that lingers.

Planeta 2007 Cerasuolo Di Vittoria $28.50/case $22.80
This red sold out at the tasting; people loved it.  Penny describes it best: Fruity, reminiscent of red berries, strawberries, cherries, prickly pears, dog rose and fruit drops. Very distinctive and recognizable. Juicy, displaying a fresh texture and pleasing contact. A velvety red.
Planeta 2005 Syrah $46.50/case $37.20
Red fruit flavors with a nice earthy complexity and a hint of tobacco. Gambero Rosso (Italian wine guru) describes this wine as “a marvel.”

Planeta 2005 Merlot $46.50/case $37.20
Another very nice wine.  Nose of rich, dark fruit, prunes even. Well-balanced with a firm tannic structure.

Planeta 2005 Santa Cecilia Nero D’Avola $47/case $37.60
This wine was a treasure. Very complex & well-balanced. Jens’ favorite in the line-up: “Elegant, flavors of blackberries & plums. Acidic but very nicely done. Fine tannins. A beautiful wine!”  Unfortunately we didn’t have any of this wine to sell at the tasting, which is a shame as it would have done well.

Contributor:  Julie Howe

Seasonal Food Note: Root Vegetable Gratins

cheers_holiday-party_websiteIt’s the earliest days of spring and there are not a lot of options for seasonal local produce … with the exception of root vegetables. In January , Brussels sprouts were beautiful and so we put a Brussels sprout gratin on the menu, to rave reviews.  So that gave me the idea of suggesting root vegetable gratins as a nice, easy side vegetable option. The following is a whole host of gratin possibilities that you can mix and match per your taste:

Brussels sprout gratin with hazelnut crumble Mixed root vegetable (kabocha squash, sweet potato, rutabaga) gratin with almond topping Classic potato caramelized onion gratin with butter bread crumb topping Parsnip gratin with butter bread crumb topping Mashed sweet potato gratin with butter, graham cracker, brown sugar topping

Directions are general and easy.  Dice your vegetable and sauté in butter.  Place in gratin dish.  For your sauce, reduce heavy cream with 1 bay leaf, 1 clove, & a sprig of thyme until it coats the back of a spoon.  Take off the heat and whisk in a little grated cave-aged gruyere to taste as well as salt and white pepper. Pour sauce over chosen vegetable.  For the topping, coat bread crumbs with a little melted butter.  Combine with chopped nuts and sprinkle topping on gratin.  Bake in 400 degree oven until the edges bubble, approx. 25 minutes.

Pair this with any grilled or braised meat or game and you’ll be pleased with your results.

Chef Tracey

Malbec – The Dark Horse

courtesy of
courtesy of

Due to recent press of this grape from the celebrated wine region of Mendoza, Argentina, Malbec has become one of the most popular red wines among both connoisseurs and novices. It wasn’t always available on the shelf, never mind in different styles ranging from juicy and silky or bold and spicy. Malbec is indeed making a comeback. Comeback you say? What if I told you that the dark, mouth-filling, robust and hip wine, known for its power and uniqueness has a sordid past? That its beginnings were in old world soil, and that it struggled to have an identity of its own?

Malbec had its start in Bordeaux, France where it is known as “Cot or Pressac” and is one of six original grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, and Carménère permitted in red Bordeaux wines. Malbec’s thin skin and dark fruit wasn’t able to produce rich wines in Bordeaux, so its traditional use was to provide color and tannins. After a bad frost in the mid 1950’s destroyed 75% of the Malbec vines in Bordeaux, usage has continued to dwindle. Its main home in France is now the warmer southwest region of Cahors, where it thrives as Auxerrois (not to be confused with Auxerrois Blanc) as well as a small presence in the Loire Valley. If you haven’t had a chance to try Malbec from either of these regions, I highly recommend you do so. The Cahors version is so dark and tannic that it’s known simply as, “black wine,” and has great character and potential for aging. In the Loire Valley, Malbec takes a lesser role to Gamay and Cabernet Franc, producing elegant and food friendly reds.

Despite its early plantings in Argentina in 1868, Malbec lay virtually unknown for over a century to the rest of the world. In Argentina, the combination of warm sunshine, the long growing season and irrigation from the Andes was a natural climate for Malbec. Combined with the high altitude of Mendoza, (Argentina’s flagship region) Malbec was able to flourish and finally become harmonious with a region it could call home, with its new incarnation being an inky, velvety and rich wine.

Oh what a difference a century makes. Malbec has become one of the most buzzed about grapes in the modern wine age. Not only is it the benchmark of quality wines from Argentina, Malbec is currently produced all over North America, including 60 appellations spread throughout 12 states & Canada, along with plantings in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Chile. It’s still rare to see 100% Malbec wines outside its native France or it’s adopted home of Argentina, but there is no doubt its influence on our wines today. Take a look at the next red blend you drink. Don’t be surprised if there is a little Malbec in it, bringing character and firmness to wines as it has for so long. Malbec has had a long journey, mostly in obscurity. Who doesn’t like a good comeback? I’m putting my money on the “dark horse” to become a world-class competitor!

Come taste Malbec at one of our upcoming tastings:  Argentina Tasting Wednesday, March 18th  or Loire Valley Tasting Friday, March 20th (line-up includes one Malbec from the Loire)

Click here for available Malbec wines from our website.

Contributor:  Gina Gregory

Dinner Party Suggestion from Chef Tracey

Originally posted on website: January 25, 2009
A dinner party with friends, delicious food and a couple well-paired bottles of wine is a great way to survive these dark, cold days, and for this event, I’m suggesting Goose à l’Orange.  This is a fun twist on the classic French recipe of Duck à l’Orange.  This recipe has a million steps when done according to your cookbook, but I’ve kept in mind that home cooks want to enjoy their evening, too, so I’ve tried to streamline the process.

Why à l’Orange?  Satsuma mandarins are in season and they are sweet, firm, a beautiful color and not as acidic as regular oranges, making them a great substitute for oranges as they add a lovely orange essence as opposed to an acidic flavor.  Use the zest and juice from 6 Satsuma mandarins, adding the same amount of honey as the amount of juice you get.  To the mandarin juice/honey mixture, add a cup of organic chicken stock.  Simmer to reduce by half and finish with a pat of butter.

Why goose instead of duck?  First, it’s larger than duck (easily feeding 6 for your dinner party) and most Americans have never had goose, so it’s an interesting change of pace.  You can get goose at Ballard Market in the frozen section or most butchers can order one for you.  How to roast your goose:  Salt the cavity, put on a roasting rack with breast side up and place in a 425 degree oven for 15 minutes.  Turn oven down to 350 and roast for about 2 hours, basting the skin with approx 2 oz of boiling water every half an hour.  Don’t omit the boiling water basting as goose is a fatty bird and this renders the fat, allowing the skin to crisp up nicely. The goose is done when the drumstick moves easily at the joint.  To serve, put the roasted goose on a serving platter.  Pour half of the orange glaze over the goose and put the rest in a gravy boat on the table. Suggestions for sides: mashed potato & celery root and Brussels sprouts with bacon lardons.

Wine Suggestions:  The dish is classic French and we’re sticking with the theme.  Reds from the Southern Rhône, especially Chateauneuf-du-Pape, are traditional pairings for Duck à l’Orange, but since goose is less gamey (though still rich), we’re going to suggest Burgundy.  Domaine du Prieure 2005 Côte de Beaune Villages Rouge $27 and Henri Delagrange 2006 Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Beaune $28 are both reasonably priced selections.  If you want to splurge, we have the Domaine Gabriel Billard 2004 Pommard 1er Cru Les Charmots on sale: REG $64 / SALE $48.99 (while supplies last).  For six people, we suggest 3 bottles as this would be 2 glasses per person. 

Note:  This article was originally posted at the end of January 2009, but it’s seasonal through early spring.

Contributor:  Chef Tracey Stoner

Marcus Goodfellow: Indie Oregon Winemaker @ Matello


Unlike so many stories you hear about how wine guys got into the business, Marcus laughingly says that he didn’t get the bug until much later in life because the wine that his parents drank in his house growing up was more punishment than pleasure.  It wasn’t until he moved from rural Oregon to LA to go to college that he met a friend who worked in a wine shop and at an orphans Thanksgiving one year, the friend showed up with two bottles of wine:  a bottle of Columbia Crest Merlot and a bottle of 1990 Cuvee Theo Weinbach Gewurztraminer.  He remembers thinking that the Merlot was fine, but for him the Gewurztraminer was revolutionary.  His springboard from getting the wine bug to getting the Pinot bug happened when visiting London a few years later.  He was lamenting his birthyear (1968) with a friend as the vintage was not notable.  The friend (who also worked in a wineshop) pulled out a bottle from his birth year (1947) and together they drank a Louis Jadot Bon Mares.  His infatuation with Pinot began and has done nothing since then but expand. 

We had the pleasure of having Marcus at Portalis last month for a tasting.  He’s the head winemaker at Bishop Creek Cellars and we currently serve their Pinot Noir by the glass at the wine bar.  But the tasting was dedicated to his side job and probably his love … the Matello label that he started in 2003 with just 183 cases.  He told me that the hardest thing about being an indie winemaker on a shoestring budget is getting your name out there.  So we’re trying to help as the wines were really good!

Matello 2007 Pinot Blanc $21/case price $16.80
Flavors of pear, melon & white flower blossoms. Rich mouthfeel.  Made for scallops and Dungeness crab. This wine makes you think of summertime.

Matello 2007 Pinot Noir Rosé $21/case price $16.80
Marcus was going for the color of strawberry juice, so it’s a much richer pink than other lighter rosé. Nice creaminess, but still crisp & fruity.
Matello 2006 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir $29.50/case price $23.60
Marcus fondly says that this is the least good wine that he makes.  By that he means that he just works with the grapes he has and that this is a nice introductory wine.  Pretty, drinkable & good with food. Can manage the oiliness of salmon. Won’t overpower chicken. Calls for game (pheasant, quail, rabbit) with mushrooms.

Matello 2006 Whistling Ridge North Pinot Noir $37.50/case price $30
This wine is made from grapes grown on 1 3/4 acres in Ribbon Ridge (a sub-appelation).  Marcus made this wine with 50% of the fruit left on the stems and 50% de-stemmed(de-stemmed is more typical in modern winemaking.) This really adds to the structure and gives it a sense of depth and potential. Beautiful nose of cherries & earth.  Great fruit. Rustically made. This wine was a favorite at the tasting.  It’s a wine to drink now or to hold onto for up to another 10 years, but will really be best in around 2012-2015.

Matello 2006 Reserve Souris Pinot Noir $43/case price $34.40
This wine is a blend of Marcus’ favorite barrels in the cellar.  It has beautiful pie spice (cinnamon, all-spice, and perhaps a little cardamon as well) in the nose, lush strawberry and cherry in the mouth with a perfect texture blending weightlessness, richness, persistence, and finishing with juicy ripe acidity. The winemaker’s personal favorite. This is a great wine to hold onto for a few years.

Contributor:  Julie Howe