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Read my two recent stories from Tuscany in the Oct. 31 Wine Spectator:
COVER STORY: THE PRODIGAL ANTINORI
Lodovico Antinori made the self-confessed "biggest mistake" of his life selling his renowned Tenuta dell'Ornellaia to Robert Mondavi Winery in 2002. Now he's mounting a comeback with Tenuta di Biserno, switching his focus from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to stunning expressions of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot from the Tuscan coast...Read the full story in the Wine Spectator
PROFILE: HIS OWN DRUMMER
Andrea Franchetti, who hails from a long line of Italian eccentrics, stumbled on an abandoned corner of The Val d'Orcia and turned it into a stell producer of Cabernet Franc. More than 15 years ago, he tripped on Sicily's Mount Etna....Read the full story in the Wine Spectator
Carlo Ferrini is one of Tuscany’s great winemakers. But you probably have not heard of his tiny Montalcino estate, Podere Giodo.
In fact, I didn’t know anything about Giodo until Ferrini drove me there along a rutted, unpaved forest road outside the medieval hamlet of Sant’Angelo in Colle—population around 200.
“I must be discreet,” says Ferrini, 62. A tall, soft-spoken Florentine with silver hair and a thick salt-and-pepper mustache, he is one of Italy’s top consulting enologists. Giodo is his personal project, started over a decade ago, totaling about 1,000 cases a year of Brunello di Montalcino and a simpler IGT Sangiovese. But he keeps the wine low-key so as not to compete with his high-profile clients in Tuscany, which include Barone Ricasoli, Fonterutoli, Brancaia and Talenti.
Along an alley of cypresses, he pulls his dust-covered station wagon up to an abandoned farmhouse surrounded by vineyards with stunning views over the rippling hills to the towering Monte Amiata.
“After more than 35 years of work, this is my dream,” Ferrini says. “I thought it was one of the most beautiful places in Montalcino.”
The son of a bus driver, Ferrini began his enology career in 1979 as a consultant for the Chianti Classico consortium. After 12 years, he struck out on his own...read the full blog (free) at winespectator.com
Italy's fanatic of Grappa thirty years on
I don’t need another liquid pleasure—the world of wine is big enough.
But I recently visited Vittorio Gianni Capovilla in northern Italy and discovered another realm of complex aromas and flavors, in Capovilla’s prized grappas and other distilled spirits.
“Taste this,” said Capovilla. At 70, with his bushy eyebrows and gleaming gray eyes, he looked like a mad scientist as he held out samples of some of the world’s most sought-after distillati. Over 30 years, Capovilla has helped raise grappa—traditionally a lowly spirit made from the grape pomace (skins, pulp, seeds and stems) left over after winemaking—to distinctive levels. Part of his success comes from his slow, low-temperature distillation technique and part of it from impeccable ingredients.
What kind of ingredients? His grappa di Amarone is distilled from the pomace of legendary Amarone producer Romano Dal Forno and his grappa di Ribolla from another legend, Friuli’s Gravner.
After a few sips—and then a few more—I became a believer. Great grappa can show off nuanced flavors.
In his centuries-old farmhouse-turned-distillery near Bassano del Grappa, in the Veneto region, he also produces other distillati from a variety of fresh fruits such as wild raspberries and blueberries, heirloom variety peaches, mirabelle plums and loquats, as well as from beer. “The world of distillati is infinite..." read the full blog (free) at winespectator.com
Taking Pink Wine to its trendy heights in Saint-Tropez
It's an early summer day in the Saint-Tropez port, which is lined with mega-yachts and suntanned tourists, and Grégoire Chaix fills my glass with a pink liquid he predicts I will not like.
“You are not the target market for this—at all,” the Tropezien winemaker and entrepreneur says at a table of his restaurant, the Bar du Port.
He is pouring—over ice—his 10-year-old invention called Ice Tropez, a sweet and fizzy pink wine cocktail flavored with peach extract that comes in a cylindrical clear glass bottle or a pink can. It tastes like a cross between rosé and Snapple and comes in two versions: one with a low alcohol level of 6.5 percent and a non-alcoholic one made with grape juice.
“The target is young, mostly women, who want something festive and sweet,” he explains. At 45, with a shaved head, tails-out white shirt and jeans, he is the image of a southern French businessman. “Today we need new ways to get young people into wine.”
So, why am I here?
Because pink wine is booming and fashionable, and Chaix represents a wing of the trendy camp here in jet-set Saint-Tropez....read the full blog at winespectator.com
Bandol's Chateau Pibarnon bucks the trend of rosé lite
It’s summertime, which can mean firing up the grill, switching off the brain, and pouring lots of rosé—sometimes even over ice.
The world has developed a thirst for highly quaffable, ultrapale rosé, and Provence is its main supplier. By today’s fashion, the lighter the better. (See my blog post on how research into aesthetic preferences has shaded the color of Provence rosé.)
Now, I don’t mean to be a Provence party pooper, but I want to talk about a smaller school of winemakers—let’s call them rosé resisters—who are bucking the trend by making darker, more substantial and complex rosés.
One noteworthy resister is Eric de Saint Victor of Château de Pibarnon in Bandol—the small coastal appellation neighboring the much larger Côtes de Provence. Since 2000, when he took over his family’s stunningly gorgeous 130-acre spread high in the hills above the Mediterranean coast, he has focused not just on Bandol’s flagship powerful reds, but on rich rosés meant to stand up to the local cuisine’s strong flavors, like garlic, saffron, anchovies, sea urchin and roast peppers.
"In Côtes de Provence the higher up you go [in price], the lighter the wine—to where it’s almost a white,” says the blue-eyed Saint Victor, 52, from a hilltop vineyard on a breezy early summer day. “In Bandol, that’s not our way. In Bandol we are used to looking for concentration—even in rosé.”
The broken heart behind Cantine Lunae Bosoni's success
As Paolo Bosoni tells it, he was born in a Vermentino vineyard overlooking northwest Italy’s Ligurian coast during the 1946 harvest.
“My mother was bringing lunch for the harvesters when her water broke,” he says. The birth was complicated: His umbilical cord had wrapped around his neck in the womb. “When the doctor arrived, I was blue, and he told my mother, ‘This baby will never be normal.’”
The infant Bosoni quickly recovered and grew into a strapping youth who took the location of his birth as a sign of his destiny—to work in the vineyards.
At 13 years old, Bosoni's plan for the future was given a boost by heartbreak, after he proposed marriage to his first love—a local schoolgirl.
“It was pure love,” he says, a boyish smile creasing his weathered face, accented by his white mustache. “We were engaged, but she broke up with me because I was a contadino [peasant]. Nobody wanted to marry a contadino. She wanted a future.”
Bosoni says that incident drove him “to do something with my life—to be someone.”
Today, at 70, Bosoni is very much somebody—regarded, among Italy’s star winemakers, as the maestro of Vermentino...read the full blog (free) at winespectator.com
Italians have a thing with bubbles. A big thing.
France still consumes more sparkling wine, but in my non-scientific observations over 15 years living in Europe, Italians seem to enjoy it more.
Go to any restaurant or bar terrace on a warm evening in northern Italy and watch the endless flow of Prosecco, Franciacorta, other vini spumanti or frizzanti and spritzes. Italians don’t sip daintily at their bubbles or serve them in little flutes. Look at those generous glasses and see the way people seem to simultaneously swirl, drink, talk, laugh and gesticulate.
Some attribute bubble-mania to the Italian temperament.
From a high slope on the east side of the Adige Valley that cuts across the Dolomite foothills, Martin Foradori explains some of northern Italy’s strangely un-Italian terroirs.
“My winery is built on two pillars—Pinot Noir and Gewürztraminer,” Foradori says. Gewürztraminer dominates on the western side of the valley, around the village of Tramin, which gets morning sun. Pinot Noir is more adapted to the eastern side. “The evening sun is cooler than the morning sun, so the microclimate is fresher,” he explains. “Here we are in Pinot-land.”
Pinot Noir? Gewürztraminer? In Italy?
Welcome to the Alto Adige, Italy’s bilingual Tyrolean stepchild, adopted nearly a century ago after World War I—and now known for some of Italy’s top white wines and intriguing reds.
Foradori, 46, is deputy mayor of Tramin (or Termeno if you use the Italian name over the German one), which is home to his J. Hofstätter winery. It’s a postcard-perfect village, population 3,300, that looks like it came right out of the Sound of Music.
Foradori is considered a gifted interpreter of the vineyards here...read the full blog at winespectator.com
Terlano sets the bar high in the Italian Dolomites
In Italy, “wine cooperative” can be a pejorative, synonymous with grape-buying collectives that produce oceans of basic wine destined for supermarkets.
Northeastern Italy’s Alto Adige is an exception, known for co-ops that produce wines as good as those from top independent winemakers. Here, on the edge of the Dolomites, just six miles northwest of the regional capital, Bolzano, Cantina Terlano produces some of Italy’s most prized—and most historic—white wines.
How good? Since it began exporting its wines in the mid-1990s, this cooperative has released 73 wines that scored 90 points or higher in Wine Spectator's blind tastings. Something special seems to happen to white grapes—particularly Pinot Bianco—grown in the quartz-rich volcanic soils (known as red porphyry) at up to 3,000 feet in the hills above sleepy Terlano (pop. 4,200).
“It’s a different culture here,” says enologist Klaus Gasser, 48, who has been the winery’s public face for 20 years. He is maneuvering a four-wheel-drive up steep, narrow roads flanked by terraced vineyards and tidy, white stucco Tyrolean farmhouses. “It’s a little bit more organized. It’s the German spirit of taking care of the land.”
Indeed, the Alto Adige, or South Tyrol, was annexed by Italy from the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918....read the full blog at winespectator.com
The battle over who controls an elite wine name
“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare’s tragic-romantic heroine Juliet lamented, mournfully questioning the Verona family feuds that kept her from her Romeo.
Now, centuries later, the families of Verona are embroiled in another drama over a name: Amarone della Valpolicella.
The conflict began in 2009, when 12 longtime Amarone producers, led by Masi patriarch Sandro Boscaini, banded together to create a new elite confederation called Amarone Families (Famiglie Dell’Amarone d’Arte).
The Amarone Families—Allegrini, Begali, Brigaldara, Guerrieri Rizzardi, Masi, Musella, Speri, Tedeschi, Tenuta Sant’Antonio, Tommasi, Venturini and Zenato—signed a manifesto calling for voluntary higher production standards and creating a hologram sticker to identify their wines.
See the Video Trailer for PALMENTO on You Tube....
Robert reads from and discusses Palmento at McNally Jackson books in NY Sept. 2010.
Robert on radio