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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

Slovenian Rhapsody

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Damijan: Unearthing white gold in an Italian border region

Growing up in Gorizia, on Italy’s northeastern border with the former Yugoslavia (now Slovenia), Damijan Podversic dreamed of following his father’s path making wine for the family’s local eatery, Osteria Ronko Bienic.

But in his twenties, after Podversic planted his own vineyards and intentionally slashed production to get better flavor concentration in his grapes, his father disowned him.

“My father didn’t believe in quality,” recalls Podversic, 47, a bear of an ethnic Slovenian with laugh lines around gentle blue-green eyes. “He said, ‘That is stupid. You will die of hunger.’”

The two men didn’t talk for eight years.

Now, Podversic’s meticulously produced skin-contact whites—labeled Damijan and classified Venezia Giulia IGT—can be found in elite restaurants across Europe, Asia and the United States. In the 2008 vintage (the last sampled), Wine Spectator rated three of Podversic’s wines—each $50—at 91 or 92 points.

From Mechanic to Winemaker in the Northern Piedmont

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Tiziano Mazzoni spent most of his adult life as a mechanic, working on engines for race cars and boats.

Now he makes wine. In fact, very good red wine in the relatively obscure Ghemme appellation in Italy's northern Piedmont region.

“I decided to do something crazy,” says Mazzoni, 55, explaining why he retired his wrenches when he turned 40 and bought some vineyards to indulge his passion for red wine—particularly Nebbiolo.

Mazzoni, a compact man with clear blue eyes and a graying mustache, is today a leader for quality in Ghemme.  Read the full blog at winespectator.com

A Youthful Obsession

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Norther Piedmont's wine wunderkind goes deep into Nebbiolo

As a teenager in northern Piedmont, when most boys were enthralled by soccer, girls and cars, Cristiano Garella developed another obsession: Italian wine.

At 13, Garella bought his first wine guide, by the influential Italian writer Luigi Veronelli. A couple of years later, he spent his Christmas money on his first two bottles, one of them Barolo Brunate from Enzo Boglietti.

"Wine was like a sensation from a new world," says Garella, who can't pinpoint the origins of his precocious interest. "My father was a gymnastics teacher, my mother was a secretary, and my grandmother drank a lot of bad wine."

But this he knew: He wanted to be part of the booming Italian wine scene. He enlisted his older brother to drive him about 100 miles to southern Piedmont and knocked on the cellar doors of Barolo and Barbaresco producers—from Elio Altare to Angelo Gaja. He tasted wines and soaked up all the knowledge he could.

To Boca With Love

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Exploring the Northern Piedmont Part 1

Christoph Künzli discovered northern Piedmont's Boca appellation at the end of the 1980s, it was, in a word, "dead."

="It was the end," says Künzli. "Everybody was gone. Most of the wines were undrinkable."

At the time, Künzli was a Swiss importer, guided by his friend Paolo de Marchi—the northern Piedmont native who created Tuscany's legendary Isole e Olena.

De Marchi introduced him to a Boca exception—retired farmer Antonio Cerri, who bottled elegant Nebbiolo-based reds from an acre he had worked for 40 years.

"Cerri made these incredible wines from another time," explains Künzli, now 54 and a gray-bearded bear of a man. "That is why I am here. I lost my heart here."

Before World War II in Italy, the hills around Boca and four other towns were covered with more than 10,000 vineyard acres. After the war, waves of locals left vinegrowing to work in local textile and plumbing industries. By the mid-1990s, only 25 acres remained under vine.

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