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Primo Franco, now a white-haired Prosecco statesman, recalls the moment the world changed for him.
More than 35 years ago, he was dining at legendary chef Gualtiero Marchesi's Milan restaurant. A customer had left an unfinished bottle of classic white Burgundy, and Marchesi offered it to Franco.
"Gualtiero said, 'Would you like a glass of Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche 1969?'"
"I said, 'Why not?'" Franco shrugs.
Today in his Nino Franco winery in Valdobbiadene, Franco doesn't even try to describe the complex sensations, flavors and feelings he experienced with that glass, though he says it changed his life. At the time, Italy's white wines didn't reach the quality levels they do today, and he had never tasted anything like it.
It was only a matter of time before I climbed Monte Sant'Urbano.
The ascent started at the dinner table in the heart of old Verona, where my wife and I supped with a velvety, complex Valpolicella Classico Superiore Sant'Urbano 2012 from Fratelli Speri, one of the oldest families making wine in this zone.
Two mornings after draining the bottle, we are on the small Monte Sant'Urbano, covered with 10-foot drywall terraces that climb to 1,100 feet. Tall pergola-trained vines dangle the dark grapes used in blending Valpolicella—Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella—above our heads. The views over the Fumane Valley stretch to Lake Garda on the southeastern horizon.
The Speris' history here in Valpolicella Classico dates to the mid-19th century, and the winery is now run by the sixth generation. Since the early 1980s, the Speris have produced a Sant'Urbano cru—their most prized vineyard—using grapes that are partially dried, but less so than those for Amarone.
Discovering the power and finesse of France's Catalan terroirs
by Robert Camuto -- Wine Spectator Nov. 30, 2015
Fifteen years ago, the Roussillon wine region, on France's Mediterranean flank near Spain, was a backwater. Today, more and more winemakers see Roussillon as France's next big thing. The area boasts terroirs that are often compared to those of Priorat, Spain's rising star some 150 miles to the south
"It's just a question of time," says winemaker Gérard Bertrand, 50, who is part of a wave of newcomers helping to transform this Grenache-rich region of rugged sea and mountain landscapes from a producer of fortified aperitif wines into a bastion of fine dry reds. "There's a rebirth of Roussillon happening now, with modern winegrowing, modern winemaking, a new way of thinking of about terroirs and a will to make high-class wines," explains Bertrand, a southern France native and leading biodynamic producer from neighboring Languedoc who moved to Roussillon in 2003 with a 20-year deal to manage the local Tautavel cooperative's grapegrowing, winemaking and marketing under his namesake label.
After Miraval and Brangelina an American in Provence continues his renovation spree
Tom Bove can’t help himself.
The 72-year-old American engineer and businessman–turned–wine producer continues to buy and restore neglected Provence wine estates.
“I love rebuilding things. I like not screwing things up,” Bove says one cloudless harvest day on a vineyard hilltop of his Château La Mascaronne. “I only touch them if I see there’s an underlying beauty to bring out.”
Bove has a rare touch. In 1993, he convinced his family to buy Provence’s historic Château Miraval, where he renovated miles of antique drystone terraces and the majestic 18th-century manor, replanted vineyards, converted to organic farming, and brought back winemaking. In 2012, he sold the 1,000-acre package for $60 million to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
A winemaking family ventures from the Rhone Valley to rugged Roussillon
The steep vineyards that rise up along southern France's Roussillon coast, near the border with Spain, bear a strong resemblance to Élise Gaillard's childhood stomping grounds in the Northern Rhône, with bush vines clinging to ancient terraces of schist.
"It looks a lot like Côte-Rôtie," says Élise, who learned winemaking from her father, the legendary Rhône winemaker Pierre Gaillard. "It's almost the same geological age, and the schist has the same iron content."
There are, of course, some dramatic differences. Behind her, down a 100-yard slope of red rock, are the aquamarine waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Here, in the Banyuls appellation, her father bought an old winery in 2002 and turned it into the family's Domaine Madeloc.
The Roussillon region, nestled between the sea and the Pyrénées and Corbières Mountains, has in recent years become a destination for adventurous winemakers seeking extreme mineral-rich terroirs for Grenache and other Mediterranean varieties.
How the Jura wine scene got trendy
By Robert Camuto -- Wine Spectator Nov. 15, 2015
In France's tiny, quirky Jura wine region, vintners have a happy problem. In recent years, Americans have discovered Jura wines, from crisp Chardonnays and sparklers to light, indigenous reds and Sherry-like vins jaunes. Stateside, Jura wines are fashionable. Yet for most of France, they remain obscure. "I sell more wine in New York than I do in Paris," laughs Stéphane Tissot, a leading producer in one of France's oldest appellations, the Jura's Arbois.
The family behind Italy's famous coffee is on the move
By Robert Camuto-- Wine Spectator Oct. 31, 2015
Andrea Illy holds a spoonful of dark liquid to his lips and slurps it in one quick shot. A moment later, after a ritual spitting, he notes, "It's the terroir that makes a difference in what is expressed."
Illy, 51, the high-octane president of Illycaffè, is explaining the nuances of coffee aromas and chemistry in the testing laboratory at the company's roasting plant and corporate headquarters in Trieste, Italy. With focused intensity, he examines each of the nine arabica coffee components in Illy's signature single blend.
Local climate and soils, shade from plants, and varying altitudes influence the beans and the final product-from the intense cocoa and slightly bitter flavors of Brazilian arabica to its aromatic Ethiopian counterpart.
"We get more linalool from Costa Rica," Illy says of the natural compound responsible for jasmine aromas, which, he adds, is also used in Chanel No. 5.
Chianti legend Paolo De Marchi's pursuit of knowledge
Paolo De Marchi is, at 64, considered by many Tuscan peers to be a dean of Chianti. So, what has he learned during four decades at his highly accomplished Isole e Olena estate in the heart of the Chianti Classico hills?
"After 40 years here, you don't know anything," he says, grinning broadly as he stands atop a hillside in this remote vineyard hamlet one hot morning in August. "That's the beauty of it."
Of course, that's an exaggeration. De Marchi has studied area grapes, soils and vineyards more than most anyone and is a font of information on subjects ranging from Tuscany's agricultural history to climate change to the digestive systems of vineyard hornets.
Heading south of Barcelona for the Costa Dorada's authentic flavors
By Robert Camuto – Wine Spectator Oct. 15, 2015
Sipping a glass of chilled cava on the sandy coast southwest of Barcelona, or a bold, complex red in the hinterlands of Priorat or Penedès, you're likely to ask, "Why haven't I been here before?"
This vast, varied stretch of Catalonia's Costa Dorada, or "Gold Coast" (Costa Daurada in Catalan), is off the beaten path for most Americans, who often visit Barcelona for a few days before heading off to other parts of Spain or Europe at large.
But this 130-mile stretch along the Mediterranean deserves more attention for its inviting sandy beaches, stunning natural parks, both on the coast and in the mountains, ancient cultural and historic sights, and terrific fresh seafood and Catalan specialties at prices that are a bargain by any standard. Add to these charms the area's proximity to ruggedly compelling inland wine regions such as Priorat and Penedès, and you may start planning your next visit.
A rising champion of Verdicchio reaches for the heights of elegance.
The first thing I noticed about Leopardo Felici was his footwear—the white retro Rivieras slip-ons completing his outfit of white slacks and a fitted blue patterned shirt.
As Felici, chic and smiling, descended a staircase at a countryside hotel in the Italian Marche for a private tasting of his Andrea Felici wines, I thought he could be the stylish establishment's director.
At 34, Felici is a rare blend: a suave and charismatic wine lover who is also a serious young farmer and winemaker from tiny Apiro (pop. 2,400). Under his direction since 2008, his family's small estate has been lauded in Italy for producing some of the most elegant examples of the Marche's signature grape, Verdicchio.
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