From Fossil to Fashion

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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.

Illy's winning blend

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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.

A Moving Target

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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.

Catalan Classic

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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.

Style and Substance in Marche

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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.

That's Verdicchio!

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A leader for whites in Italy's "next" place

Michele Bernetti pauses in the shade of an oak tree overlooking the rippling landscape of the Italian Marche. The hills between the Adriatic Sea and the Apennine Mountains are covered with a patchwork of wheat fields, sunflowers, chickpeas and vineyards planted with the area's signature white, Verdicchio.

"Verdicchio is not a trendy variety," says Bernetti, 49, the athletically trim scion of the family that owns the region's leading winery, Umani Ronchi, and the official ambassador for Marche wines at the massive 2015 Expo Milano exhibition. "Also, it is complicated to pronounce."

Verdicchio had its moment of fame in the 1970s, when the Marche (pronounced Mar-kay) produced lots of inexpensive wine sold in glass amphorae and fish-shaped bottles and served in stateside Italian eateries.

Parched in Provence

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With southern France Frying, a winemaker fights to save his infant vines

Jean-Marc Espinasse rolls out of bed at 4:30 a.m., slips on a pair of faded swim trunks and a t-shirt, and prepares to work by day's first light.

This summer, Espinasse is dedicated to an urgent mission: saving his newly planted vineyards from the two-month drought and summer heat wave that has been baking southeast France.

"Every day I look at the forecast, and for the last six weeks it says it will rain next week, but then the rain doesn't come," says Espinasse, sitting in his rustic farmhouse kitchen and dunking a piece of baguette in his predawn cup of coffee. "I don't want my vines to die."

The 48-year-old former Rhône winemaker, who followed his dreams to coastal Bandol, has been planting vineyards from scratch for the past two years and farming them organically. His goal is to focus on making rosé at his stunningly picturesque Mas des Brun. (Read my previous blog on Espinasse, "Bandol—The Hard Way.")

High on Cinque Terre

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A native son’s heroic efforts in Italy’s mythic coastal vineyards

Heydi Bonanini is a rare type—a young Cinque Terre native willing to work the hard, vertiginous vineyard terraces near his home.

Standing on Possaitara, the Mediterranean seaside cliff into which his family's farm is cut, Bonanini, 37, remembers the entire landscape once covered with grapevines. By the 1990s, it was all but abandoned.

Over the last 20 years, Bonanini has fought to reverse the trend as a way "to honor my grandparents." He has restored about 5 acres—the maximum he believes one person can cultivate in the Cinque Terre, an enclave of five ancient fishing villages between sea and mountains on the Ligurian coast of Italy.

"My father cut down my grandparents' vineyard to plant fruit trees. Then I cut down the fruit trees to plant vines," says Bonanini, a strapping man with short-cropped hair, a goatee and the easy smile of someone who starts some days fishing at dawn off the rocks below.

A Barolo maestro's Mediterranean dream

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Elio Altare has been up since dawn, working in a vineyard rooted on terraces about 600 feet above deep-blue Mediterranean waters.

Altare, the legendary Barolo winemaker, officially retired nine years ago. But at 65, he still works in his vineyards and finds time for the love of his later life: making small amounts of white wine in the rugged—and once endangered—vineyards of the Cinque Terre on Italy's Ligurian coast.

"I have a very big problem: I love this job," says Altare, tying up new vine growth as a few of his also-retired cousins hoe away weeds and repair drystone walls. "I can't stop. I work 12 hours a day. I am a very stupid man."

This year marks Altare's 50th vintage, and the eighth for his Campogrande wine label in the Cinque Terre. 

Lisbon's New Dawn

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The Portuguese Capital emerges as Europe's latest culinary hot spot

By Robert Camuto-- Wine Spectator July 31, 2015

Today Portugal is the stage for one of the world's most dynamic wine scenes—but that's only part of the story. Portuguese terroir is booming beyond vineyards and wine, with other produce and the creativity and modern techniques of a handful of innovators helping to transform the nation's lively capital of Lisbon into an exciting culinary destination.

Lisbon is so naturally positioned to be a gastronomic center, one wonders why it didn't happen sooner. Located at the mouth of the Rio Tejo (Tagus River), on the Atlantic Ocean in southern Portugal, Lisbon was the departure point for 15th-century Portuguese explorers. Portuguese ships returned home with not only gold but also culinary treasures such as potatoes and tomatoes, tea and coffee, coriander and curry.

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