Wine of the Week: Who Needs Another Merlot When You Have Cerasuolo di Vittoria?

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Did the world really need another Merlot and Chardonnay in 1995? Evidently, the Planeta family thought so, and when the younger generation of this Sicilian clan launched the eponymous winery in the mid-1990s, they delivered bold, oaky, concentrated, and highly alcoholic Chardonnay, Merlot, and Syrah to a world already saturated with California-inspired wines. But intelligently designed consumer-friendly labels, brilliant marketing savvy, aggressive pricing, and a feature in the The New York Times fashion magazine have helped to make the wines household names in the New World.

And, hey, if New World Chardonnay, Merlot, and Syrah are your thing, more power to you. (Clearly, they're not my thing.)

But once the new generation of this family -- whose winemaking roots stretch back hundreds of years to feudal Sicily -- had firmly established its new presence and shiny new labels in the U.S. market, it also began to ship wines made from native Sicilian grape varieties across that vast misunderstanding otherwise known as the Atlantic Ocean.

Was this a response to the growing interest in indigenous Italian grape varieties? Was it the answer to a call to return to the family's roots? Or was it another brilliant marketing move that appealed to a new generation of U.S. sommeliers and wine buyers who increasingly appreciate the value and food-friendliness of wholesome European wine? All of these factors surely came into play when the family made the bold move of making a truly Sicilian wine. But, hey, when the wine is good, who cares about its ideological pedigree?

The Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria (2008 is the current vintage available in our market) is made from two Sicilian grapes, Nero d'Avola and Frappato. Where the Nero d'Avola gives this wine tannic structure and earthiness, the light and bright Frappato imparts notes of red berry fruit and cherry. And therein lies the rub: The wonderful balance of savory earth and sweet fruit in the wine go together like peanut butter and jelly. The alcohol weighs in at a judicious 13.5 percent, and the aging regimen is 100 percent stainless steel. No super-charged, oaky wine here. Just lip-smacking acidity, fruit, restrained alcohol, and the ineffable balance of lightness and power that makes wine interesting (at least to me).

At less than $25 a bottle (Spec's), I can turn off my ideological meter for a dinner or two.

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