Discovering Santorini

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Greece's great whites flow from volcanic soils of a legendary island

By Robert Camuto-- Wine Spectator  Nov. 15, 2014

Just a few miles from the village of Thira on the island of Santorini, home to a honeycomb of whitewashed hotels and infinity-edge pools set atop steep cliffs, Stefanos Georgas describes the harsh scene around him. Scant rainfall, strong winds and a landscape punctuated by prickly pear cactus give it a desertlike feel.

"This is Jurassic Park," says Georgas, manager of Estate Argyros, one of the Greek island's leading producers. The acres of Assyrtiko vines don't look much like a vineyard, growing amid bone-dry volcanic pebbles and sand between the barren, sun-scorched Profitis Ilias mountain and the Aegean Sea.

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

Umbria Time

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Exploring the wines of Italy's "Green Heart"

By Robert Camuto -- Wine Spectator  Oct. 31, 2014

With its perched medieval towns and its rolling hills covered with olive groves and vineyards, central Italy's Umbria can look like a twin of its northwestern neighbor, Tuscany.

But there is no Florence here, no cultural icons to rival Michelangelo's David or Brunelleschi's Duomo. And Umbrian wines have yet to achieve the stature of Brunello or Chianti. For wine lovers, though, Umbria's obscurity can be a good thing. The region, nicknamed "Italy's green heart" more than a century ago by Tuscany's Nobel Prize winning poet Giosuè Carducci is a bonanza of exciting diversity and excellent value.

Umbria is Italy's heartland—the only region that doesn't border the sea or a foreign country. The small region's annual wine production is roughly a third of Tuscany's.

Sicly's Top Culinary Craftsman

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Pino Cuttaia cooks his way to the top of Italian gastronomy by sticking to his roots

By Robert Camuto -- Wine Spectator  Oct. 31, 2014

Pino  Cuttaia left his native Sicily at 13. Following the death of his father, he quit school and went to live in northern Italy's Piedmont with his mother, where he worked a mono­tonous, soul-deflating job in a textiles plant. "I was just a number," he says. "I wanted to be something more."

The first step on the path to his destiny came in the form of a seemingly mundane offer: A friend asked Cuttaia to help wash pots and pans at a trattoria on New Year's Eve. Cuttaia connected instantly with the rhythms and life of the kitchen.

"It was a free ambience, where there was movement and noise and smells," recalls Cuttaia, 46, a big-boned man with a shaved head and enormous dark eyes. "It wasn't at all like the drone of a factory."

Cuttaia quit the factory job and went to work as a full-time pot washer, the lowest level of the restaurant hierarchy. But, he says, "I turned it into an art."

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

Italy's New Wave Chefs: Enrico Crippa of Piazza Duomo (Alba)

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by Robert Camuto -- Wine Spectator August 31, 2014

Enrico Crippa starts his day on a 5-acre plot wedged in the hills of Barolo. Two full-time employees tend the land, and Crippa comes to survey and to help harvest.

But Crippa is not a winegrower. He is a cook, and, at 43, is arguably the most important chef in the Piedmont region, a rising star in a generation of Italian culinary innovators. Here in this plot between the road and a creek is his main culinary weapon—a garden supplying almost all of the greens, vegetables, fruits, wild plants and edible flowers that flavor and color his cuisine.

On a bright spring morning, he moves quickly through a series of beds and makeshift greenhouses, kneeling to snip clover, rocket, chicory, baby spinach and several varieties of mustard, basil and mint. Nearby, violets, gentian and thyme flowers wait to be plucked. "This garden does for the restaurant what Barolo does for the wine of the area," Enrico Crippa says. "It drives everything."

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