Less than half an hour from Palermo, in a rocky valley filled with vineyards and the occasional outcrop of eucalyptus, lies Baglio di Pianetto, an 88 hectare estate of olive and grape groves and L’Agrirelais, a bright and elegant country house. We visited on an unseasonably warm and sunny late September day, the guest of Ginevra Notarbartolo di Villarosa, grandaughter of Count Paolo and Countess Florence Marzotto custodians of the Baglio di Pianetto estates.
After a week travelling in Sicily, we arrived weary from hours of driving and many early starts, yet from the moment we stepped into L’Agrirelais’s large sunny courtyard, we were enveloped in tranquilty. And as we were shown around the grounds we quickly realised how special this place is.
We heard talk that the land is intrinsic to the product and the experience of Baglio di Pianetto, and walking the land there’s an intuitive sense that this is truth. Quickly we felt a sense of peace; a richness and a solidity which is in the air yet of the ground and as we entered the guest house, we had arrived. Arrived not to a showy five star hotel, rather to a welcoming and grand family home, which doesn’t compromise on comfort, but allows you to simply be.
Ginevra explains the story of the guest house with great passion. Damaged by the 1960 earthquake, an inter-generational family project to restore the building began in 2002. Despite it’s relatively recent rebuilding, the original facade which is proudly depicted on bottles from this winery has been faithfully recreated on the garden side of the building. Rooms are elegantly furnished, with interiors chosen to compliment artworks which are unique to each room. All have sweeping views, some with balconies overlooking the pool.
She goes on to explain the product and business: the minerality of the soil, the history of furnishings, the sustainability of the operation and the rising tide of quality Sicilian wine which Baglio di Pianetto has been part of. Yet she’s quick to correct me when I inquire as to whether the guest house business is of her design, “I continue a tradition”, she says. While I don’t doubt this is true, I find her enthusiasm remarkable. This is both of her, and of her family.
We’ve been invited to lunch and to try wines and we’re soon ushered to an elaborately set space overlooking the gardens.
The first wine we try is a 2013 Ficiligno, a blend of Insolia and Viognier, it’s well balanced, there’s a crispness yet a florality. Three levels of ripeness (pre, for acidic, technical ripness for then slightly-over ripe to add the sweetness of the Sicilian sun) are combined to produce this flavour. It’s worth the effort, this wine is delicate yet easy to drink, complimenting the apperitif and starter course which the chef created.
As we progress into the heart of lunch a triumph of a pasta dish is served. It’s one of the best dishes I have eaten in Sicily. The broccoli is honoured in two ways: as a pureé and in slightly macerated form which retains some of the bite. Then the saltiness of the parmesan and pesto, a perfectly al dente fusilli, so good!
As a glass of Ramione 2011 Nero d’Avola Merlot was poured, we learned about the nomenclature of the wines. Each, after a member of the staff of the winery. This Ramione was just great. The Merlot bought a certain sophistication while the Nero bought a fuller body, combined, it was intense, earthy and dark.
For a moment, I wondered if this was how Sicilian reds gained their elegance, by combining with a grape from further north. As our main course arrived, this fleeting thought passed. The 2007 Cembali Reserve really blew my mind. It was complex, with blackberries, spices, even a subtle smokiness but it was also decided and intense, determined to make it’s mark.
It’s a tribute to Baglio di Pianetto’s traditional wine making methods. Fermented for 12 days at a constant temperature thanks to the winery being built into the hillside of this temperate micro climate, the wine is hand-picked, as you’d expect, but also processed through a gravity based system.
The Cembali was the perfect accompaniment to a fine Rossini fillet, which was the only food we ate that wasn’t local to the immediate region. While local meats tend to be eaten quickly, this fillet had been aged and matured. It was delicate and light, letting the wine come in after a meaty mouthful, to zing and enliven.
Although I’m not a regular meat eater I was happy to try this fillet. The wine, the beautiful surroundings and the sense of occasion warranted. That said, the chef catered well to the fully-vegetarian members at the table: everything aside from the fillet was locally sourced, with daily vegetable deliveries from a local provider, a local bakery produces sourdough and olive oil is grown and pressed onsite.
Dessert was similarly impressive, not least because there were two.
As the afternoon sank in and we finished our desert wine (a very good Moscato called Ra’is, which comes from Baglio di Pianetto’s other estate to the south of Sicily), tiredness overcame us. And we retired to the sun loungers by the quite extravagant and very refreshing 33m pool.
The ancients taught that life is constructed from five elements: earth, air, fire, water and ether. Reflections of these elemental archetypes are evident in an experience at Baglio di Pianetto. Of particular note, the richness and solidity of the earth and the spark, passion and intensity of fire. They erupt in the food, the wine, the building, and the people, all of whom have this wonderful terroir as a foundation. It’s an experience that words barely capture, and one which is not to be missed.
Baglio di Pianetto’s Pianetto estate and L’agrirelais guest house are under half an hours’ drive from Palermo, Sicily. Further information at www.bagliodipianetto.com. We were guests of Ginevra and her husband on the day.