This week began with a visit to one of our favorite biodynamic winemakers, Castello dei Rampolla. It’s hard to understand the logic of biodynamic winemaking, but it’s easy to enjoy the fruits of these producers’ labor. Visiting Castello dei Rampolla was an undisputed highlight of my first visit to Italy in 2011, and I’m never going to forget sharing a bottle of wine with its maker, Luca di Napoli. He and I and Eleanor Shannon sat on the shady piazza of the ancient estate, the bees drowsily buzzing, and the Conca d’Oro unfurling in striated lines below us. It was magical.
I’ve never formally introduced myself, but I’ve been the editor of Inside IWM since it began in the fall of 2009. It has been my privilege to work with IWM’s writers as they reflected on their wine experiences, narrated their trips around the world, gave wine recommendations, and shared with you, our readers, their passion for wine and wine culture. Over the past six-and-a-half years, I’ve learned a lot from working with our writers, and I hope you have too.
This week, I learned about the beauty of Bruno Giacosa’s Dolcetto from Sean Collins; I learned about why birth year wines matter and of the specialness of Fiorano from John Camacho Vidal; I learned about the ambition and the success of Burgundy’s Domaine Faiveley from Michael Adler; and I celebrated the magic of Josko Gravner’s amber wines with Crystal Edgar. Each of these posts contributed a little more to my understanding of and love for wine and the people who dedicate their lives to making it.
Almost 2,000 posts later, this is the final blog post for Inside IWM, at least for now. I want to thank you for reading, and I want to thank all of the IWM writers who have contributed over the years.
On behalf of all of IWM, let’s raise a glass and toast to Inside IWM, the story behind the people and the wines that makes Italian Wine Merchants so very special.
We collect wine for different reasons and one is that the wine’s vintage holds sentimental value. Be it a birth year or anniversary, it’s nice to open a bottle that commemorates an event or a memory. Through the years I have been able to acquire bottles of my son Lucas’s birth year, always choosing wines from producers who are special to me and whose passion shows in their wines. This past Sunday I opened one of these special birth year bottles for Lucas’s graduation from UNC Chapel Hill. It was a special moment and I needed a special wine.
I have always been fascinated by the wines from the Fiorano Estate in Lazio made by the prince of Venosa, Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi. The story of how the Prince meticulously tended his vines and then later burned them down to ensure that his legacy gives a fairytale-like explanation for why these wines are a rarity. Their scarcity makes them more special, but even if you don’t know their backstory, these wines are majestic elixirs in a bottle. If you are not familiar with the story of the Prince and his wine, I encourage you to read about it.
To celebrate Lucas’s graduation, we had a family dinner at Lantern, a local Chapel Hill restaurant. The chef was the 2011 winner of the James Beard award for Best Chef for his unique marriage of Asian flavors and North Carolina ingredients that he sources from local farms and fisheries. We were all looking forward to a great meal, and I brought the 1994 Fiorano No. 46 Bianco and 1994 Fiorano No. 47 Semillon to pair with it. The wines showed spectacular with the family-style dishes accented by Asian spices, making the evening even more enchanting.
Fiorano 1994 No. 47 Sémillon $124.00
This Fiorano shows a golden yellow hue and offers a nose full of melon and honey tones followed by caramel mixed with apricots and kumquat. Airing the glass gives you baked green apples and slight tropical notes. This Sémillon has a soft, creamy palate with slight tangy acidic minerality with lingering sherry-like notes of almonds on a nice, soft, long, mineral-inflected finish. Drink now and for the next decade.
Fiorano 1994 No. 46 Bianco $165.00
This Bianco was a little brighter than the Semillon with a nose of apricot and crushed stones mingled with melon and honey. With air, the wine opens up layers of herbal notes followed by soft peach and tropical fruits. The palate is crisp with a soft, balanced acidity that lingers nicely on a long, nutty, tangy finish that does not let go. Drink now to 2041.
This past weekend was Mothers Day,and we all honored our mothers for raising us, loving us, and supporting us. Honestly, is there a better way to show your appreciation than with a bottle of wine? You really can’t go wrong when the name Bruno Giacosa is on the bottle, so I chose the delicious, yet affordable Casa Vinicola Bruno Giacosa 2014 Dolcetto d’Alba.
Bruno Giacosa is one of the finest producers of Barolo and Barbaresco. His highly sought-after wines are often intense in character and rich in flavor. This Dolcetto, however, represents the more approachable side of Giacosa; it’s a balanced everyday wine that’s under $30 a bottle. Giacosa’s estates have been crafting high quality wine for decades, so it may surprise you that Giacosa once purchased all of his grapes from outside suppliers. This explains why the name Casa Vinicola appears before his name on this wine. The Giacosa estate does not own the vineyards in its Casa Vinicola bottlings; rather, it hand-selects the finest and most desirable grapes from farmers whom the Giacosa team trusts.
Dolcetto roughly translates to “little sweet one,” but this translation does not do the wine justice. This Dolcetto bursts with fruit, but it’s balanced by a bright acidity. The result is an easy, approachable wine that goes well with pretty much anything. I had mine with grilled chicken and vegetables, but, due to its versatility, it can just as easily be enjoyed with pasta or even pizza. This wine is an instant crowd-pleaser and an ideal wine to have on hand for any occasion.
Based in Nuits-St.-Georges, the family-owned Domaine Faiveley has been making wine since 1825. Led by the charismatic Erwan Faiveley, the estate has been investing heavily in improving its quality in both the vineyard and cellar, and in the process, it has redefined itself in the eyes (and palates) of wine professionals and collectors. Erwan has committed the estate to a spare-no-expense campaign to increase the estate’s quality in every vintage, and he’s done quite a commendable job. It also helps that the estate has gone on a huge buying spree, picking up several additional acres of grand cru holdings and really strengthening the top end of its portfolio. It also used to be that Faiveley’s grand cru wines needed decades before true approachability, but that’s no longer the case.
It’s quite rare for one Burgundy estate to own the entirety of a classified vineyard and be the sole producer of wines from that site; when this happens, it’s known as a monopole. Domaine Faiveley is much more than your typical Burgundy house, and two of its monopoles, Clos des Myglands and Clos de Cortons Faiveley are outstanding. Today I’m pleased to introduce you to a pair of Faiveley monopoles that will knock your socks off—and do it in style.
The Pinot Noirs of Mercurey are known for being somewhat denser and fuller bodied than the average red Burgundy, and this ‘13 Clos des Myglands is no exception. It shows lovely notes of raspberry, cherry and minerals, with hints of forest floor and a long, spicy finish, and it offers exceptional value for a premier cru monopole. Trust me when I tell you this ’13 Mercurey is an absolute steal under $60, and it’ll be quite versatile in terms of its drinking window.
Perhaps Faiveley’s most prized and sought-after wine is its Corton “Clos de Cortons Faiveley” Grand Cru, a powerful, tannic beast of a Pinot. Dark and intense with an alluring, ethereal perfume, this is a wine that will enjoy a very long life. The ’13 bottling of Clos des Cortons Faiveley is a textbook example of the “iron hand in a velvet glove” cliché, seamlessly balancing finesse and elegance with explosive power and energy. Spicy and woody notes abound on top of its gorgeous red fruit and subtle mineral notes, and this wine will easily live for 20 to 30+ years when cellared properly.
Farmers who use biodynamic growing methods choose to plant, weed, treat, harvest and, if they’re winemakers, vinify in concert with the movement of the planets. The point of biodynamic growing, an agricultural movement that looks at organic farmers as folks who do something right if somewhat incompletely, is to look at the growth cycle of the entire field as one holistic unit. To those of us who bear an empirical mind and like to see cold, calculating and clear evidence to support assertions (and I do count myself among that number), biodynamic practices with their airy-fairy reliance on manure-filled and cow-horns that are buried and exhumed, water’s circular memory, and a vague tie between planetary movements and “energy” can make us roll our eyes.
Some people decry the ability of biodynamic agriculture to actually make a difference in winemaking. It’s too magical, too lacking in substance, too weird, and too unscientific, they argue. It is hard to understand exactly how or why water that has moved in one direction rather than another would affect a plant’s hydration, and it’s hard to see how burying a cow horn would do anything to affect a vineyard’s production. Being fairly empirically minded, I might accept these arguments had I not spent an afternoon with Luca di Napoli Rampolla at his biodynamically maintained Tuscan estate, Castello dei Rampolla. This afternoon changed my thinking about biodynamic methods, and even if I don’t understand them, I became a believer.
It might have been spending a couple of hours walking around the estate as Luca pulled up tufts of grass and named each plant in his hand. It might have been his patient explanation of the ways that his vines interact with the trees that surround them, with the soils that support them, and with the weather that touches them. It might have been the clear, unremitting commitment that Luca makes in every choice for his estate—from the solar panels on top of the vinification area to the placement of his chicken coop.
It might be all of that talking, walking and looking helped me grasp that choosing to prune according to how the alignment of the planets will affect the plants. Or it might be sitting on Luca’s terrace, drinking the wine that he made helped me believe. But on that Thursday afternoon, I became a biodynamic convert. I don’t really care how the science works. It’s clear to me that there’s something very special, very alive and very unique about this wine.
Italy, unlike the United States, is a place where people continue to believe in magic. I’ve never lived long enough in other areas of the world to make further comparisons, but while Americans might wistfully wish for magic, Italians feel it. It’s in the mountains and in the sea. It’s in the cities, like Venice and Rome, that shouldn’t exist, not as they do, not after all these centuries. It’s in the food and in the wine. And sometimes, I think, you just have to put science on hold, sit back, exhale, and enjoy the magic. It’s ephemeral, beautiful and vital. If it’s biodynamic, then it’s simply all the better.
IWM has the new 2011 Sammarco release coming from Castello dei Rampolla. Don’t miss this extraordinary biodynamic Super Tuscan!
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