The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Expert Picks: Fiorano and…Fiorano!

Two expert selections from John Camacho Vidal

CamachoWe 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.

Expert Picks: François Gay and Fiorano

Two expert selections from Will Di Nunzio

will expertLast week, I had the pleasure of hosting one our longtime clients and his family for a dinner. After some bubbly and a little tour of the cellar, we sat down and enjoyed Chef Mike Marcelli’s amazing food—from his never-ending antipasti to the Waygu sirloin, it was all just an incredible meal. Of course, the wines were just glorious, and the two that stood out for me in particular were the François Gay Aloxe Corton 2013 and the Fiorano Sémillon N 42 1987. While very different, these two wines were exceptional in their own.

François Gay Aloxe-Corton 2013 $59.99

This little estate on the north face of the Côte de Beaune is run by François Gay, a man who seems to really care less about status and prestige. François makes great wine, and all he wants to do is make his wines the best he possibly can. Interestingly enough, he has no premier cru vineyards, although all of his vines grow in premier cru locations, meaning that his wines carry all the quality of this AOC level without the price. This Aloxe-Corton should be twice the price at least. Light, elegant, silky and a wine you can drink all night, this 2013 Aloxe-Corton is a magical little bottle of wine for any occasion.

Fiorano 1987 No. 42 Sémillon $149.00

The story of Fiorano is now well known, and this bottle is a cult wine that you would be hard pressed to get your hands on. Fortunately for everyone, Sergio Esposito, IWM’s founder, was able to get an incredible allocation many years ago, so our cellars are one of the guardians of this estate’s odd, astounding, and impossible wines. Why impossible? There are not many wines in the world—white wines that is—that show the way this 1987 does. That night, we opened an ‘88 and an ‘87 side by side. While the ‘88 showed great notes of nutmeg and almonds, some earth and port-like aromas, it was a little tired. The ’87, however, was brilliant, clear, bright and fresh. As we tasted this wine, we couldn’t believe what our heads were whispering to us. “This is a 1987?” we kept asking. It didn’t make sense; it was impossible. That is Fiorano at work—an unbelievable experience.

Springtime Ramps Pesto Recipe

Springtime is here–celebrate it with this simple ramps recipe

Gourmet Magazine, where this image is from, has a great piece on ramps.

Gourmet Magazine, where this image is from, has a great piece on ramps.

Ramps are a validation that spring is here. This wild “baby leek” has a wonderful mild garlicky flavor. I like to quickly sauté and sprinkle a little salt on top, but the ramp pesto recipe is delicious and pairs very well with a variety of wines. Best known as a Genovese dish, pesto can be made with a variety of ingredients. In true Italian fashion, demand the absolute best ingredients. The ramps at the farmers’ markets right now are beautiful and will only be around for a few more weeks.

Ramp Pesto:

One bunch of ramps, about 6 or 7 ounces

Half a cup of toasted pine nuts

Half a cup of very high quality olive oil

Two thirds cup of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Squeeze of lemon


Blanche for one minute and rinse thoroughly in cold water

Blend toasted pine nuts and blanched ramps in food processor

Add cheese with salt and freshly ground pepper

Turn on food processor to low, then slowly drizzle olive oil until the texture is a smooth.

Add a small squeeze of lemon to brighten up.

Use this pesto for pastas. It’s also delicious spread on grilled bread.

I do love the Monastero Suore Cistercensi Coenobium 2012 from Lazio as a pairing with this pesto. This broad-shouldered, full-bodied white wine is a brilliant blend of Trebbiano, Malvasia, and Verdicchio. The winery, run by nuns and managed by Giampiero Bea, follows biodynamic practices in its viticulture. Once the grapes are crushed, the juice is fermented in concrete and aged in stainless steel. The ’12 Coenobium is complex on the nose to say the least; it’s unusual and seductive with hints of spice, honey, citrus, rosemary and a slight hint of oxidation.  It has a chewy mouthfeel full of stone fruit and subtle herbs.  Enjoy!

Go-to-Wine Tuesday: Monastero Suore Cistercensi Coenobium Ruscum 2011

A sinfully delicious under $27 organic skin-contact wine made by nuns

WH1911-2There’s no question that wine and religion share a common history. Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, fertility, and theatre, had a literal cult following, and Bacchus, the Roman version of the same god, had likewise. The Catholic Church was pivotal to the quality and development of viticulture and viniculture, and it’s apparent all over winemaking. For example, Clos du Vougeot owes its start to the hard work of Cistercian monks, evident in the wine’s precision and quality. Pope Charlemagne in the ninth century reportedly so loved the red wines made in his land that his long white beard was stained red by the wine; his wife ripped out the red grapes to plant white grape varietals instead, thus creating one of the best Chardonnay vineyards in France—Corton Charlemagne—or so goes the legend. It’s likely not true, but it’s nice to think it is.

One connection between religion and wine that’s absolutely true is the estate Monastero Suore, run the nuns of the Cistercian order in Vitorchiano, about 90 miles north of Rome in Lazio. The estate is overseen by Giampiero Bea, the son of Umbria’s eminent artisanal producer Paolo Bea, who are both well known proponents of the Italian school of non-interventionist winemaking. Monastero Suore’s wine is evidence of that influence; its eighty Cistercian sisters work the vineyards and orchards organically in this beautiful, pristine, and quiet outpost.

A gorgeous amber-orange in the glass, Monastero Suore Cistercensi Coenobium Ruscum 2011 is an intriguing wine. The wine gracefully demonstrates a vivacious acidity, with subtle notes of mango, passion fruit, eucalyptus, and almonds on the mid-palate, culminating in a gorgeous mineral streak on the finish. It has a strong yet barely detectable backbone, a quality that stems from a meticulously made organic white wine. A blend of 45% Trebbiano, 35% Malvasia, and 20% Verdicchio, Ruscum is balanced, precise, and surprising. Only 4,000 bottles of this wine were made in 2011, and it delivers a massive value at less than $27.

bertot ruscum photoAlthough this food-friendly, skin-contact wine will complement lots of food, this ’11 Ruscum paired beautifully well with a mushroom risotto my wife and I enjoyed on Friday night. I used morel and royal trumpet mushrooms, along with tiny cubes of Jamon Iberico Pata Negra de Bellota, and of course plenty of aged Parmigiano Reggiano in this recipe. This was a mind-bending pairing that I didn’t want to end.

A Look at Lazio, from Est! Est!! Est!!! to the Rebirth of Fiorano

A look at an unsung Italian wine region that’s poised for a comeback

IMG_1489 Lazio is most famous for being the region where Rome is located. It’s hard to shine in the presence of the Eternal City, but Lazio does have some wine gems that make it stand out. The home to Frascati, Est! Est!! Est!!!, Fiorano, and more, Lazio is one of the unsung Italian wine regions, though Lazio is definitely perched for a comeback. Lazio is a winemaking region with esteemed past that’s marked by frequent mention in literary works and legends, but it’s not merely the stuff of romance. For the past several years, Lazio has been in revival mode, setting the stage for the entrance of some wines, both white and red wines, that suggest a shining future for Lazio.

The Alban Hills establish Lazio’s viticultural credentials, given their well-drained, potassium-rich volcanic soils. The Frascati zone, one of the nine DOCs comprising the Alban Hills, enjoys a modified Mediterranean clime, enabling its wines to retain essential acidity. While most Frascati uses the Trebbiano grape, some producers endeavor to craft more distinctive wines by using Malvasia, an aromatic varietal, to provide a more substantive contribution; in fact, Frascati may be a mono-varietal Malvasia.

Trebbiano also enjoys the key position in the Est! Est!! Est!!! designation, another of Lazio’s success stories (according to legend, its name, meaning “It is,” comes from the critical reaction of a 12th-century bishop’s scout, under charge to find quality wines en route to the Vatican). These fresh, quaffable whites are central Italy’s answer to the whites of Cinque Terre or Pinot Grigio.

While Lazio’s producers work hard to raise the profile of the region, it also possesses one of the wine world’s most compelling legacies: the wines of Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi, the prince of Venosa. Ludovisi’s wines—a Bianco, Sémillon, and Rosso—are hard-to-find treasures whose full story can be read here. Utilizing an early form of organic viticulture and maintaining exceedingly low yields, the prince crafted mystical wines; he destroyed the vineyards when no longer able to tend them so that his story could be told only by the wines he himself crafted.

IMG_3824This story, however, has sequel, as fairytales often do. Today, Fiorano is the personal project of 26th generation winemaker Alessia Antinori, one of Marchese Piero Antinori’s three daughters who inherited a good portion of the estate after the death of their grandfather, Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi. A trained enologist, Alessia, in conjunction with her sisters Allegra and Albiera, took on the project of restoring the estate of her grandfather, the Prince, to its former majesty. Like her grandfather, Alessia is devoted to using organic protocol to grow her grapes, as well as the estate’s surrounding olive trees and vegetable gardens; in fact, Alessia is going even further, taking the estate biodynamic. Since beginning her renovations, Alessia has discovered rows of forgotten vines, and she has replanted the rest using old clippings and original rootstock. While the output of the estate is excruciatingly tiny, Alessia and the world’s wine-lovers are optimistic for the renaissance of this great estate.

Lazio’s red wines constitute a minority category at present, but many believe that red is Lazio’s true color. For now, it’s doing quite well with Merlot and Cab bottlings, the most well-known of which are crafted by Riccardo Cotarella—the Italian star of the consulting world. In addition to working with international grapes and Italian standards like Sangiovese and Montepulciano, several producers are working with the indigenous Cesanese, previously used only in frizzante wines, through both single-varietal offerings and blends.

Many will, perhaps, be on familiar terms with some staples of Lazian cuisine, dishes like spaghetti alla carbonara, bucatini all’amatriciana, and abbacchio (milk-fed lamb) alla romana. Lazians are particularly devoted to abbacchio, which serves as both a year-round specialty and signature dish of Easter), and the region’s chefs specialize in a few denizens of the garden like peas, zucchini, fava beans, and most notably, artichokes. All roads lead to Rome, the saying goes, and you can’t get to Rome without traversing Lazio. Here’s hoping you enjoy drinking some of the region’s wines on the way!

IWM’s December 2, 2014 eLetter will feature wines from Alessia Antinori’s Fiorano project.

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