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Soave's Free Spirit

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Cantina Filippi sits at the highest part of northeastern Italy's Soave appellation in a Renaissance-era palazzo transformed into a sort of Bohemian lair.

"Most Soave gives me a headache," says poetically named Filippo Filippi, 44, who has made 11 vintages of small-production Soave Classico crus here on a 1,300-foot hilltop in Castelcerino.

Filippi has all the elements I love to write about: an iconoclastic winemaker, distinctive wines, varied terroirs and a long history in a beautiful setting. Even better, it's hiding in plain sight in Soave—one of Italy's largest vineyard areas, dominated for more than a century by large cooperatives and high output.

The 21st century has seen the growth of a small scene of quality Soave producers, and Filippi, a bear of a man with long, silver hair and beard, represents the eccentrically colorful wing. Read the full blog at Wine Spectator.

Bandol-- the Hard Way

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Jean-Marc Espinasse stood overlooking his day-old Bandol vineyard with an expression somewhere between exhaustion and bliss.

"It's been a fantasy for me to be here," said Espinasse on his hillside in coastal Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer, surrounded by olive trees, pine forest, sea views and 2,000 stubs of grafted Mourvèdre vinestock in an acre of freshly turned clay.

It was Sunday, a day of rest for the 47-year-old Marseille native and former Rhône winemaker (see our previous blog on him) who sold his Domaine Rouge-Bleu in 2012 to do Bandol the hard way. The day before, he and a team that included friends and his 19-year-old son planted the first vines at his Mas des Brun property—working from dawn and finishing under car headlights. This followed a year of clearing trees, removing boulders and preparing soils.

Exiled on Wine Street

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Yevgeny Chichvarkin is a big-shouldered guy who likes big wines—preferably in very big bottles.

When he opened a store in London nearly two years ago and decided to call it Hedonism Wines, he really meant it. Hedonism displays dozens of great wines—Bordeaux to Barolo to Spain and Sonoma—in huge formats that are at least eight times the size of a magnum.

Chichvarkin, 39, takes particular pride in a 27-liter bottle (equal to 18 magnums) that he commissioned of the 2010 vintage of his favorite Rioja, Bodegas Roda Cirsion, listed at $14,000.

What’s the idea of such a bottle? I ask. He looks at me like I'm crazy.

“Idea?” he shrugs. “Open and drink.”

Chichvarkin, a self-made business whiz turned political dissident who fled his native Russia five years ago, is one of wine retail’s most interesting characters.  Read more at the Wine Spectator

Antinori's Architectural Labor of Love

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Before Marchese Piero Antinori began work on one of the world's most expensive and daring wineries, the 75-year-old vintner approved an estimate of the cost. The final amount was nearly double.

"Piero was in love with the project. We were all in love," Marchesi Antinori's CEO Renzo Cotarella admits with a laugh. "And when you are in love, you find reasons to rationalize the love."

"Of course it was going to be more expensive," Cotarella says with a shrug, "but we wanted to believe otherwise."

After seven years of work, nightmarish construction problems and a budget that ballooned 170 percent to more than $130 million, Marchesi Antinori's flagship property opened last year on a hillside in Chianti Classico. It was immediately praised for its audacious environmental design, folded into the contours of a hillside in the town of Bargino...Read more at the Wine Spectator 

 

 

Letter from Lambrusco Country

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Trattoria La Busa, on the southern outskirts of Modena, is a window onto Emilia-Romagna's traditions: Italy's fastest cars, fantastic food and its most misunderstood wines. 

Ferrari-racing memorabilia cover the walls, platters of melt-in-your-mouth salumi lap around the dining room, and the kitchen turns out delicious handmade pastas drizzled with thick traditional balsamic vinegar. And dominating the wine list is fizzy red Lambrusco.

This Lambrusco is not the sweet red fizz that became Italy's most exported wine in the decades after the 1970s. It's the good stuff: dry, not-quite-sparkling, easy-drinking wine crafted from select grapes and offered at reasonable prices.

Fausto Altariva, 41, is the fourth-generation Lambrusco maker at his family's Fattoria Moretto in the rippling hills of Castelvetro di Modena. "Our goal is to make a wine of terroirs, like other fine wines," he says... Read more at the Wine Spectator 

 

Free Beppe!

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How new Italian wine labelling laws are stifling Barolo traditionalists.

Giuseppe Rinaldi has always danced to his own tune.

A producer of great old-school, cask-fermented Barolos, Rinaldi has been guided by his own gut and local tradition—not others rules or expectations.

When I first met him a couple of years ago, I asked a simple question: Was his 16-acre estate organically certified?

"I am nothing," scoffed Rinaldi, only half joking. "I am an anarchist!"

Letter from Europe: Talking vino and Parmigiano with Italy's maestro modernist chef

Photo Per-Anders Jorgensen

If there were a Nobel Prize for Parmigiano cheese, Massimo Bottura would certainly be its first laureate.

For more than 20 years, Bottura, Italy's most acclaimed modern chef, has worked to perfect a signature dish founded on the belief that this famous aged cheese made near his native Modena wasn't getting the respect it deserved.

"Why did we only use this incredible cheese—this symbol of our land—just to grate on pasta?" The 50-year-old Bottura, clad in chef's jacket and jeans, is nearly shouting.

That's a good question, and his Five Ages of Parmigiano-Reggiano in Different Textures and Temperatures is an even better response....Read more at the Wine Spectator. 

 

Letter From Europe: Après-Yquem: Not Down for the Count

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Ten years ago, when the board of Château d'Yquem fired him, president and former owner Count Alexandre de Lur Saluces was expected to fade into the Sauternes sunset.

Instead, Lur Saluces picked himself up off the mat. The 80-year-old aristocrat continues making great Sauternes a few miles away at his Château de Fargues. Here, since 2005, he has produced seven wines in the outstanding range or better by Wine Spectator. The most recently released,2009 (97 points), sold for $170.

Not bad for a man who doesn't even consider himself a winemaker.

"Here, we are farmer-poets," said Lur Saluces, flashing a boyish, gap-toothed smile as he greeted visitors in a tweed jacket and tie.

...Read more at the Wine Spectator...

Letter From Europe: The Son Rises at Biondi-Santi

The 2013 vintage was tough for all of Montalcino, Tuscany's premier wine region. But for Jacopo Biondi Santi, it was a moment of truth.

It was the first harvest at his family's legendary estate following the death of his father, Franco Biondi Santi, this past spring at the age of 91.

"I have been harvesting here since I was eight years old, first with grandfather, then with my father," Jacopo, 63, said in his office over the winery. "This was the first time I did it alone."  ...Read more at the Wine Spectator. 

Letter from Europe: My new blog for the Wine Spectator

This week my new twice-monthly blog called Letter from Europe made its debut at the Wine Spectator. My first post called "The Human Face of Wine" begins:

"There are lots of reasons to love wine, but for me the most important reason is people..."

if you are familiar with my books and work you know this is who I am. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to roam the continent (mostly Italy and France) and relate the human stories from the wine world. There will be some great ones coming up very soon, so stay tuned. I hope you'll join the conversation. 

You can read the first blog on the Wine Spectator site here

Robert Camuto

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