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Letter from Europe: Beauty in the Beast

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Coaxing Elegance from an Italian Monster

"The trouble with Sagrantino is to understand Sagrantino," says Giampaolo Tabarrini, who grows the indigenous red grape in Montefalco, in Italy's Umbria region. "It's much easier to make a Sangiovese, Cabernet or Merlot than Sagrantino."

Why?

"Because Sagrantino has too much of everything!" He seems to shout with his whole body, from his skinny torso to the standout ears on his near-shaven head. "There are a lot of polyphenols. A lot of tannins. A lot of sugar. It is many times over: A lot! A lot! A lot! So how do you balance it?"

Letter from Europe: To Hail and Back

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A freewheeling Provence winemaker's ride from ruin to recovery

Raimond de Villeneuve grins like he's won the French Loto as he looks over rows of Syrah vines loaded with dark, healthy grapes.

"It's my first real harvest since 2011," says the 52-year-old producer, who is in his 20th vintage at his Château de Roquefort in Provence.

It's a happy chapter in a story that looked like a tragedy two years ago after a hail storm destroyed his entire 62-acre crop and left half his vines damaged for the next vintage.

Just after the storm, de Villeneuve faced financial ruin. He was saved by the rallying of 35 Provence and Rhône producers (and the flexibility of French authorities) who contributed grapes for a special rosé and two reds labeled Grêle (Hail) 2012, under his name rather than the château's.

De Villeneuve's survival is a good thing for Provence wine: Château de Roquefort is a one-of-a-kind place run by a singular category-defying winemaker…Read the full blog at Wine Spectator

Letter from Europe:The Wrath of My Grapes

A hard-learned winemaking lesson: Growing is the tough part

This was the year I coulda been a contender. Instead, here I am crying in my grape juice.

The 2014 harvest was going to be the one when my small, 100-vine plot of Syrah on a patch of earth in southern France was going to shine. I am not a professional winemaker so there was no hope of my wine being tasted and scored 95 points by Wine Spectator. But it was going to put a smile on the faces of friends and vignerons who drank it.

Today I have one word: fuhgeddaboudit.

What happened? Grape rot. While I was waiting for those little dark beauties to ripen in September, the Provençal sun disappeared, clouds came in, rain followed and voilà. Less than 10 percent of the crop was salvageable—enough to fill one picking basket. The rest? Damaged grapes oozing juice that was already turning to vinegar.

Before you start saying that winemaking is difficult, let me say: It's not.

Letter from Europe: Timorasso Tonight?

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How Piedmont pioneer Walter Massa revived Italy’s newest celebrated white wine

In a corner of eastern Piedmont you probably haven't heard of, Walter Massa is considered something of a prophet.

At 58, Massa is known as the farmer and visionary in Monleale (pop. 600+) who resurrected the local white Timorasso grape from near extinction with wines celebrated in Italy and beyond. In the U.S in recent years, his bottlings have found an important niche on top Italian wine lists.

"Walter is a pioneer and a hero for his dedication to reviving Timorasso," says Gianpaolo Paterlini, wine director of San Francisco's Acquerello. The variety, he adds, has "the potential to make one of the top five most important Italian whites."  Read the full blog at Wine Spectator.com

 

Provence's Bubble Question

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Ready for southern France’s new wave of Champagne-style rosé?

Summer rosé season is nearly over, Champagne time is coming, and more Provence winemakers are thinking about bubbles and pink.

To sum up the trend: Why not make traditional Provence rosé sparkle à la Champagne?

"Bubbles are festive, and our idea is to make them with the lightness and elegance of Provence," says Alain Combard, 70-year-old patriarch of Domaine St.-André de Figuière in the rolling vine-covered hills above the Mediterranean coast of La Londe Les Maures.

More than 60 winemakers and co-ops in the heart of Provence now make limited quantities of sparkling rosé in the méthode traditionelle, as it's known outside Champagne. Under current French appellation laws, the wines are labeled humble Vin de France, with their Provence appellation nowhere in sight...Read the full blog at Wine Spectator

Etna Rhapsody

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A journey from classical music to melodic Sicilian reds

At 32, Giuseppe Russo was a classical pianist and doctor of letters who knew nothing about making wine.

Now in his 10th vintage, the soft-spoken, unassuming Sicilian is one of the most acclaimed winemakers on Mount Etna—clearly the top local-born producer of Nerello Mascalese on the volcano's north face.

"For me, Giuseppe is the leader of the area," says Alessio Planeta of Planeta, the sprawling family-run wine company, which located its fifth Sicilian winery on Etna in 2012. "He has the right approach. He is like a poet."

Such high neighborly praise isn't common. But it's clear Russo's winemaking is deserving of the recognition that has spread across Italy to the rest of the world…..Read the full blog at Wine Spectator

Brothers in Wine

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In the shadow of Cannes, a monks' island turns out soulful reds and whites

Winemaker Frère Marie stuck his nose into a glass of Syrah and grinned. Then he swirled some wine in his mouth and spat into a floor drain.

"It's velvet," the 59-year-old Frenchman with short-cropped hair and beard proclaimed, eyes sparkling.

For more than 20 years, Marie has made some of coastal Provence's most prestigious wines—served in the glittering luxury hotels of the Côte d'Azur and at the Cannes Film Festival. But while his wines travel, Marie doesn't get out much.

He is monk-cellarmaster of the Abbaye de Lérins—a Cistercian monastery on the tiny (less than a mile long), idyllic island of Saint Honorat, about two miles and a 15-minute ferry ride off the yacht-jammed Cannes coast.... Read the full blog at the Wine Spectator

The Etna Job

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Rescuing a Sicilian cru in the middle of the night

At four o'clock one morning in April 2012, a small tanker truck pulled up to what had been Ciro Biondi's winery on Sicily's Mount Etna and made off with more than 2,000 gallons of wine. The haul included the first two vintages—2010 and 2011—of a red single-vineyard cru from Biondi's ancestral vineyard known as Cisterna Fuori.

When Biondi learned the wine had been taken, he was relieved.In fact, he had organized the whole furtive operation to retrieve barrels that had been stuck in the winery after a bitter split left him on the outs with his decade-long business partners.

"It was my wine," says Biondi, 55. A boyish grin crosses his face, and he shrugs with everything from his large shoulders to his polished, shaved crown. "And nobody was looking after it!"  Read the full blog at Wine Spectator.

Tickling Pink

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What you didn't know-- or even think about rosé

If you're like me, you don't reflect much when sharing a bottle of good summer rosé. You chill, open, pour and drink.

But in Provence, the leader of fine rosé, a lot of thought goes into rosé—right down to the shade of pink that attracted you in the first place.

"Today people like rosés that are very pale that give the impression of lightness," explains Gilles Masson, one of the world's foremost rosé thinkers. "It's aesthetic—the idea that rosé should not only be good, it should be beautiful."

"Why deny the pleasure of the eyes?" adds the blue-eyed Frenchman, throwing in the obligatory reference to beautiful women...Read the full blog at the Wine Spectator. 

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.

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