robert's blog

Mountain Men

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Climbing the heights of Pic St.-Loup

I’ve visited a lot of vineyard estates, but when it comes to inspiring awe, few compare to the Ermitage du Pic St.-Loup in southern France.

Size makes a lot of the difference. On a clear day around Pic St.-Loup—a craggy 2,159-foot-high, sharkfin-shaped mountain in the Languedoc region—the sky seems as big and blue as it gets. In all directions are the rugged lands of the Ermitage.

Southern Star Rising

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A difficult birth for France's newest appellation

The 2016 vintage was a rollercoaster for France’s newborn appellation, Languedoc’s Pic St.-Loup.

In September, nearly 2,500 vineyard acres on the lower flanks of the jagged mountain “Pic,” some 15 miles north of Montpellier, achieved the independent appellation status its winegrowers had sought for more than 20 years. On the surface, the change is subtle: Red and rosé wines that had been labeled as the subappellation Languedoc–Pic St.-Loup will become simply Pic St.-Loup with the 2017 vintage.

Wild About Burgundy (and DRC)

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Edmond Asseily doesn’t make halfway decisions. He goes all in.

As a young high-flying currency and metals trader in Europe in the 1990s, Asseily dove into Bordeaux’s top growths—amassing thousands of bottles in his Paris cellar, studying châteaus and drinking every vintage he could find.

“Within seven years, I drank everything you could drink in Bordeaux back to the 19th century,” he says. “I was on a learning binge.”

But Asseily, now 48, wanted more. Tall and lean, the French-Lebanese hedge-fund manager has an intense personality, fluency in seven languages and a hyperactive curiosity.

A well-dressed Sicilian

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Salvatore Geraci is one of the world’s most well-tailored winemakers.

With his soft-shouldered suits from Naples and handmade shoes and shirts from London, the 60-year-old architect and wine producer is also one of Sicily’s most colorful characters.

“Coco Chanel said, ‘Fashion fades. Style endures,’” says Geraci in his new “garage-wine” vineyard in Passopisciaro, on Mount Etna’s north face. “I want to make wines of style.”

It is a compelling scene: Geraci waxing about style, smartly attired as a country gentleman in an old double-breasted blazer, while in the middle of dilapidated vineyards on Etna’s rustically terraced volcanic slopes.

Heirloom Etna

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Michele Faro loves plants. Especially old ones.

Faro, the production manager of his family's large and successful Sicily-based plant nursery, fell in love with Mount Etna vineyards 15 years ago. In 2005, he began buying up very old, low-yielding vineyards to start his boutique wine label, Pietradolce.

Today, the most striking thing about Pietradolce is its vineyards—not the rows of young, head-trained ("alberello") vines in front of its sleek new lava-stone winery on Etna's north face, but the small old vineyards on the slopes behind it. Here, ungrafted Nerello Mascalese bush vines were arranged haphazardly on lava terraces a century ago.

Benanti's "Brutal" Comeback

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Twin brothers Salvino and Antonio Benanti, 42, have spent their lives side by side: growing up in Sicily, studying at business school, working banking jobs in London and then returning to Sicily to take over the family winery.

In 2012, their father, Giuseppe, handed them Benanti, one of the most important precursors for quality wineries in the now-fashionable region of Mount Etna, on the slopes of the island’s volcano. At the time, Benanti had lost some of its identity, producing too many wines of varying quality.

The brothers knew what they wanted to do and wasted no time.

My "Drinking Problem"

Friends, I’ve got a drinking problem. I am not drinking enough wine to keep my wine cellar current.

You see, almost 16 years ago, when I moved to Europe, I began collecting wine. Not really collecting wine so much as amassing.

Collecting implies a strategy. I’ve been much more random than that. For years, as I traveled through France, Italy and beyond, I bought wines—the more obscure the better.

Vino: The Road Ahead

Three weeks ago, a swath of the Italian wine business assembled in Verona to take stock of the state of vino and exchange ideas about the future.

At the third-annual edition of Vinitaly International's Wine2Wine business forum, some 1,600 participants—wine producers, marketing and sales professionals, importers and others—conferred on topics ranging from the latest in viticulture techniques to digital trends and what brain science tells us about consumers in the new frontier of "neuromarketing."

Because this is Italy—a country where individualism is an art form—there is rarely what you'd call "consensus," especially when it comes to Italy's complicated and often wacky rules for wines bearing one of its more than 500 DOC, DOCG and IGT designations.

Wine Without Borders

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The Keber family makes provocative white blends in Italy’s Collio region and a stone’s throw away in Slovenia

The hills of Collio in northeastern Italy are an awe-inspiring patchwork of steep, terraced vineyards, forests and fruit orchards that wind through 25 ancient towns along the Slovenian border.

The area is a dizzying blend of microclimates, grape varieties and culture at the dividing line between Italy’s Friuli region and central Europe.

Orange Crush: Revolutionary Friuli producer Radikon after the death of an icon

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At the end of this summer, a weakened Stanislao “Stanko” Radikon reflected with his son, Saša, about their family estate and the long, controversial run of his edgy, dark-hued wines made from white grapes.

In the cellar of the family’s hilltop house in Oslavia, Italy, a town of 600 nestled on the Slovenian border, the men talked about how after struggling for years, “The wines are selling. We have no problems. Everything is OK,” recalls Saša, 34.

Then, on Sept. 11, just days before harvest, Stanko Radikon died after a long battle with cancer.

“We never talked about my taking over,” explains Saša, an enologist who worked side by side with his self-taught father for a decade. “In the cellar, it was just me and him. We did everything together, and we spoke about wine all the time.”

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