robert's blog

This Italian olive oil gets stoned!

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I've thought a lot about olive oil. I've visited dozens of mills around the Mediterranean, harvested olives and even produced small quantities of (decent) family oil. 

My preference is for the intense stuff—near-phosphorescent green nectar, as aromatic as a spring meadow and packing a throat-tickling, phenol-fueled pungency the Italians call pizzicante. I thought I'd tasted most all of the greats—from Umbria to Tuscany to Sicily, and from Spain to Croatia.

Then I met Gianfanco Comincioli.

Tree Huggers! Italy's hot new white

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Something is happening around Montefalco.

And it's not just the rising quality of hefty red Sagrantino, the signature wine of this town in Central Italy's Umbria region.

A quirky heirloom white grape variety called Trebbiano Spoletino has been rediscovered in recent years by winemakers who have brought it out of local family farms and into international distribution.

In the past dozen years, the number of producers of Trebbiano Spoletino has grown from a handful to more than 30, making examples that are deliciously bright and complex, layering fruit, minerals and salinity.

The Simple Life

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Marco Casolanetti's beard has grown long and gray, giving him the look of a yogi as he stands in a high vineyard of central Italy's stunningly verdant Sant' Egidio valley, a blue strip of the Adriatic Sea visible in the distance.

"It is a beautiful situation here," Casolanetti says.

Indeed, his life in the Marche region with his partner, Eleonora Rossi, looks like Eden. Their estate, Oasi degli Angeli, comprises 160 acres on which they cultivate wheat, fruit, livestock and olives, along with vineyards from which they make minute quantities of wine with a cult following.

Machiavellian Adventure in Tuscany

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When Glynn Cohen was shopping for a Tuscan estate, he wanted vineyards, beauty, history and a nearby airport.

In 2001, the globetrotting Zimbabwe-born businessman and philanthropist bought all that in Villa Mangiacane—a deteriorated estate that was the 15th-century country home of the Machiavelli family. 

Revitalizing it "has been a personal growth journey," says Cohen, 57, toned, tanned and wearing shorts and polo shirt. It's late summer when we chat, and he sits on the villa's loggia, which is decorated with Renaissance frescoes and offers views to Florence's Duomo about eight miles away. 

Flop-Flip in Provence

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Jean-Marc Espinasse sat on the terrace of his new home in the French Provençal coastal town of La Ciotat and contemplated what went wrong.

Three years earlier, Espinasse had launched a daring boutique winery less than five miles to the east, in the heart of Bandol. He began planting Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Ugni Blanc vineyards from scratch with the help of friends and family. Eventually, he planned to build a small cellar on the hillside below the 19th-century farmhouse in which he and his American wife, Kristin, lived.

The 2017 vintage should have been the first from which Espinasse bottled a Bandol appellation rosé under his Mas des Brun label. Instead, he and Kristin sold the farm with its 6 acres of organic vineyards in August and moved.  

A New Age in Abruzzo

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Something is happening in Abruzzo.

Year by year, this wild, sparsely populated and earthquake-prone region of central Italy is making more wines worthy of attention. 

"Abruzzo has grown," says Stefano Papetti Ceroni, 43, a former lawyer from Bologna who in 2010 began making wine labeled De Fermo at his in-laws' sleepy farm in Loreto Aprutino. "Now, there are more smaller producers." 

Peace, Love and Amarone?

Could there be peace in Amarone-land this holiday season?

After years of infighting in the vineyards around Verona, in northeastern Italy, the answer appears to be a resounding "Maybe."

In late October, an Italian court in Venice sided with the Valpolicella wine consortium in its years-long battle to stop a group of prominent producers from using the Amarone name to identify themselves as Amarone Families, or Famiglie Dell'Amarone d'Arte.

Pushing the envelope in the Piedmont

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Marco Parusso is never quite content.

In the three decades since he took over his family's small, obscure estate in Monforte d'Alba, Parusso has built it into a noteworthy producer.  

Yet what really distinguishes Parusso are his unusual approach to winemaking, his restless curiosity and his daring experiments. He is constantly tweaking his methods to coax more from his Nebbiolo.

"Marco is a person who is never quiet. He is like a volcano," says Giacomo Conterno, the young winemaker at Aldo Conterno, Parusso's neighbor in Monforte. "We always need people who are hungry, and Marco is hungry. He always wants more from his wine."

The Collio Problem: Too much of a good thing

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Northeastern Italy's Collio has a problem. A problem that, on its face, many wine regions would love to have: Too many grapes do well here.

Its terraced, hilly vineyards, which hug the Slovenian border, produce unique white wines from a long list of varieties—from international grapes like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay to local stars Friulano and Ribolla Gialla, the backbone of many "orange wines."

And that's only the dry white wines. The area also produces a range of reds, from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to Cabernet Franc, along with a sweet white from Picolit.

The trouble is, with such a wealth of grapes and varied winemaker styles, it's been near-impossible to define the region to the world.

An offer he couldn't refuse

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How a famed Tuscan enologist was lured to Tuscany

Paolo Caciorgna, the acclaimed Tuscan enologist who makes wines for stellar estates like Montalcino's Altesino and La Serena as well as for music stars Sting and Andrea Bocelli, never planned to make wine on Sicily's Mount Etna.

But 15 years ago, longtime friend and American importer Marco de Grazia invited Caciorgna to his newly founded Tenute delle Terre Nere on the volcano's north-facing slopes.

That was at the very beginning of the renaissance of Etna's once-forgotten vineyards—a rebirth that has since made it one of Italy's hottest wine areas. 

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