A Barolo maestro's Mediterranean dream

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Elio Altare has been up since dawn, working in a vineyard rooted on terraces about 600 feet above deep-blue Mediterranean waters.

Altare, the legendary Barolo winemaker, officially retired nine years ago. But at 65, he still works in his vineyards and finds time for the love of his later life: making small amounts of white wine in the rugged—and once endangered—vineyards of the Cinque Terre on Italy's Ligurian coast.

"I have a very big problem: I love this job," says Altare, tying up new vine growth as a few of his also-retired cousins hoe away weeds and repair drystone walls. "I can't stop. I work 12 hours a day. I am a very stupid man."

This year marks Altare's 50th vintage, and the eighth for his Campogrande wine label in the Cinque Terre. 

Lisbon's New Dawn

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The Portuguese Capital emerges as Europe's latest culinary hot spot

By Robert Camuto-- Wine Spectator July 31, 2015

Today Portugal is the stage for one of the world's most dynamic wine scenes—but that's only part of the story. Portuguese terroir is booming beyond vineyards and wine, with other produce and the creativity and modern techniques of a handful of innovators helping to transform the nation's lively capital of Lisbon into an exciting culinary destination.

Lisbon is so naturally positioned to be a gastronomic center, one wonders why it didn't happen sooner. Located at the mouth of the Rio Tejo (Tagus River), on the Atlantic Ocean in southern Portugal, Lisbon was the departure point for 15th-century Portuguese explorers. Portuguese ships returned home with not only gold but also culinary treasures such as potatoes and tomatoes, tea and coffee, coriander and curry.

Tasting Lisbon's modern flavors

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Less than a day into a long weekend trip to Lisbon, strolling down a wide sun-splashed boulevard, I came to a conclusion: "I could live here."

"Why?" asked my wife (who knows me too well). "Because it's a sunny place with great food, and you can drink wine all day?"

Well, yeah.

Portugal's capital is Europe's latest urban bloomer, with a new generation of chefs—still under 40—enlivening southern Portugal's seafood- and olive oil–based cuisine with modern techniques and a lighter touch. Lisbon (see my travel article, "Lisbon's New Dawn," in the July 31 issue of Wine Spectator) is now a great place to eat beautiful food full of intense flavors and drink complex, varied wines at a fraction of the prices in most of the continent.

Funking off!

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Keeping it clean with a top young Penedes talent

Eduard Pié Palomar's winemaking techniques are out there.]

Here in the Baix Penedès along Spain's Catalan coast, he uses local varieties from single vineyards, fermenting all his wines with wild yeast in terra cotta amphorae. Some amphorae are sunk in the ground between vineyard rows, where they spend the winter under rain, snow and grazing sheep.

"It's a romantic concept," says the fresh-faced, 29-year-old winemaker, who calls his vineyard-made wines "liquid terroir."

Similar "romantic concepts" often make something called vinegar.

Here's the amazing thing about Pié Palomar: In these raw circumstances, he makes limpid, pristine wines with none of the oxidation, funk, murk or abundance of volatile acidity you might expect. "I am very strict with the wines I sell under my brand," he says.

The France of Plenty

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A gastronomic journey through the Dordogne

By Robert Camuto-- Wine Spectator June 31, 2015

Much has been said about the decline of traditional agricultural France and its once-revered cuisine. But it only takes about a day—and a meal or two—in southwestern France's Dordogne to be convinced that la France profonde is alive and deliciously cooking.

The Dordogne, named for its winding and alluring river, is the modern designation for what was historically called the Périgord. It spans some of France's most evocative countrysides, with dramatically sculpted limestone cliffs, lazy riverscapes, dense forests, rippling vineyards, hundreds of medieval châteaus and some of the world's best-preserved prehistoric cave paintings.

Small is Big

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How an Italian espresso heir changed a piece of Montalcino

Francesco Illy has done many things for love.

In Montalcino, his muses have been art, wine and a woman.

Illy, 62, is the eldest son of the third generation of Italy's high-end espresso clan. A professional photographer, he is also considered the family's eccentric artista.

In 1987, he was shooting the interior of the New York Italian restaurant Palio, known for its stunning murals painted by Italian artist Sandro Chia. "I fell in love with Sandro's art," says Illy, his blue eyes shining brightly, not looking the part of an Italian industrial scion in his rumpled red wool jacket, scraggly white beard and ponytail.

Illy befriended Chia, who invited him to stay at his highly regarded wine estate, Castello Romitorio, near Montalcino.

Illy fell for the landscape and began thinking of buying his own place. He found it 10 years later when Chia's winemaker, Carlo Vittori, called about a farm being sold by a retiring shepherd.

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