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High on Cinque Terre

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A native son’s heroic efforts in Italy’s mythic coastal vineyards

Heydi Bonanini is a rare type—a young Cinque Terre native willing to work the hard, vertiginous vineyard terraces near his home.

Standing on Possaitara, the Mediterranean seaside cliff into which his family's farm is cut, Bonanini, 37, remembers the entire landscape once covered with grapevines. By the 1990s, it was all but abandoned.

Over the last 20 years, Bonanini has fought to reverse the trend as a way "to honor my grandparents." He has restored about 5 acres—the maximum he believes one person can cultivate in the Cinque Terre, an enclave of five ancient fishing villages between sea and mountains on the Ligurian coast of Italy.

"My father cut down my grandparents' vineyard to plant fruit trees. Then I cut down the fruit trees to plant vines," says Bonanini, a strapping man with short-cropped hair, a goatee and the easy smile of someone who starts some days fishing at dawn off the rocks below.

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. 

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.

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.

Wine Therapy

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A wild Sardinian settles down

A decade ago, Alessandro Dettori was a young, crazy winemaker making wild, unpredictable wines on his family's farm at the northwestern tip of Sardinia, off Italy's western coast.

Dettori made surprisingly big reds from what's considered an easy-drinking grape, Monica, and some tamer wines from Cannonau (the local name for Grenache) which typically makes full-bodied inky reds on this Mediterranean island.

They were exciting, often confusing wines—the vinous equivalent of an artist hurling paint at canvas. When you opened a bottle, you quickly understood that they were made by a talented winemaker who definitely had an edge.

Today at 39, Dettori has mellowed. And so have his wines "You can live your life in peace or at war," Dettori says, trying to explain his evolution as a winemaker. "I realized I was at war"...read the full blog here

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