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.

Go-To-Wine Tuesday: Il Conventino 2014 Rosato

A delicious organic under $20 rosé made from Sangiovese!

ROS26-2Spring is finally kicking in, so it’s time to get ready for some serious aperitivi! Italian rosé can have the reputation of being too rich and heavy, but not all of them are. I recently enjoyed Il Conventio 2014 Rosato, a fantastic under $20 rose that is fresh, aromatic and much lighter that you would think. It’s exactly the bright, succulent rosato you’re looking for for your long summer nights.

Il Conventino winery was acquired in 2003 by the Brini brothers, who started their career as attorneys but eventually realized their dream to operate a winery right in their native Tuscan region of Montepulciano. Under the guidance of a great oenologist, Il Conventio now produce high quality organic wines they ship in more than 20 different countries; these wines include Montepulciano, Bianco, Vin Santo, Grappa, and, of course, today’s Rosato!

This beautiful Rosato is made with 100% Sangiovese, which might surprise some of you because this grape is more famous for the Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino and Super-Tuscan blends, but when you vinify Sangiovese with brief skin contact it actually makes an outstanding Rosé. Clean, fresh aromas and flavors of strawberry and flowers abound, and this wine is both crisp and juicy in the middle palate. Although not very complex, this rosato has quite a persistent finish and offers an incredible value at $19.99. I recommend you served it chilled in an ice bucket–it will be your best companion for the summer!

Expert Picks: Valdicava and…Valdicava!

Two expert selections from Garrett Kowalsky

Garrett_8.6.14_72dpiValdicava is one of the most revered names in all of Montalcino. Though the estate dates back several generations, contemporary owner-winemaker Vincenzo Abbruzzese unlocked the property’s potential and took it to new levels in 1987, when his grandparents turned the estate over to him. Over the past decade, the estate has grown even better, producing some of its finest wines. Today I wanted to give you two looks at this property, the first being Vincenzo’s scrumptious Rosso and the second being a 13-year-old example of Valdicava Brunello. Both of these wines are sure to put an ever-widening smile on your face.

Valdicava 2013 Rosso di Montalcino $44.99

All Montalcino winemakers will tell you that their Rosso is like their business card—the least expense and most easily accessible wine, it’s your first introduction to the estate and as such should give you a glimpse into the house style. Valdicava’s Rosso is large scale and possesses a tremendous about of depth and complexity, truly earning the nickname “Baby Brunello.” Drink to 2020.

Valdicava 2003 Brunello di Montalcino $139.00

Some will tell you that ’03 was a warm vintage and that you should avoid it. I am here to tell you that in the case of Valdicava’s wine, those naysayers are way off base. I had the opportunity to taste this with the winemaker a few weeks ago, and I found it to be opulent and generous, with loads of fruit from front to back on the palate. Drinking it was an immensely enjoyable experience. Drink to 2022.

Expert Picks: Il Palazzone and Fontodi

Two expert selections from Michael Adler

Michael Adler 5.29.15One of my favorite things about the Sangiovese grape is its versatility. From the humblest $8 bottle of table wine up through the timeless Brunello Riservas of Soldera and Biondi-Santi, Sangiovese offers pure pleasure to wine lovers across the globe and it’s always a perfect companion to food. Today I’m featuring two Sangiovese wines on nearly opposite ends of the spectrum; one is the entry-level non-vintage Vino da Tavola Rosso from Il Palazzone in Montalcino, while the other is one of Tuscany’s most emblematic wines, the always impressive 2004 Flaccianello from Fontodi, presented in magnum.

Il Palazzone sits west of the town of Montalcino and produces phenomenal, classic Brunellos that are traditional in style. Owned by American businessman Dick Parsons since 2000, this three-hectare estate is committed to crafting its Brunellos with the time-honored traditions of Montalcino. Rather than bottling a Rosso di Montalcino, the estate makes a Rosso del Palazzone instead, and it’s a unique, wonderful treat that’s quite affordable. The current interation of the non-vintage Rosso del Palazzone was bottled in January 2015 using juice from the 2004, 2009, 2012 and 2014 harvests to create a round, balanced expression.

Located in Panzano, the most prestigious subzone of Chianti Classico, the Fontodi estate crafts some of Italy’s very best and most sought-after wines. From its $35 Chianti Classico up through its flagship wine Flaccianello, Fontodi makes dazzling, expressive Sangiovese wines. To share a bit of personal history, when I first tasted Fontodi’s 2001 Chianti Classico back in 2008, I got my first epiphany of how insanely delicious Italian wines could be. This experience set me on the path that led me to IWM (thanks, Fontodi!).

Il Palazzone NV Rosso del Palazzone $27.99

Mid-weight and supremely delightful, the non-vintage Rosso del Palazzone bursts from the glass with expressive aromas of succulent red fruits, dried flowers, tobacco, spice, minerals and earth, and its jaunty acidity keeps the palate lively and energetic through its bright, juicy finish. An ideal wine for a Tuesday night, this Rosso del Palazzone always over-delivers its humble price, and it pairs well with just about any meal. Drink through 2018.

Fontodi 2004 Flaccianello (1.5L) $580.00

There isn’t much I can say about Fontodi’s iconic flagship Flaccianello that hasn’t already been said, but I can say this: it is incredibly delicious and will make those lucky enough to own a bottle very happy. A mono-varietal Sangiovese that’s been aged in new French oak, Flaccianello marries the very best of Toscana viticulture with French viniculture to dazzling results. A massive wine upon release, this 2004 has softened considerably, and it has settled into an ideal drinking window. Presented in 1.5L magnum, the ‘04 Flaccianello has many years left ahead of it, as the lower ratio of air to wine in the magnum bottle slows the maturation process. Those who are seriously passionate about Sangiovese should not miss out on this gem from Fontodi!

Gianfranco Soldera, the Man, the Estate, Same Difference

You can’t explain the mysteries of Case Basse; you can only enjoy them

Gianfranco Soldera

If Montalcino is a magical place (and I believe that it is), then Gianfranco Soldera’s Case Basse estate sits at the center of its mystical convergence. Much has been made about how the eco system of the vineyard works to create an insanely perfect spot to grow grapes. The vineyard has been studied by agriculturalists, microbiologists, botanists and enologists. No one can explain why, exactly, it is so ideal.  The estate seems to function as a perfectly balanced organism of water, insects, birds, flowers, trees and, of course, grape vines. It all revolves around one man, Soldera.

It’s almost less important what Soldera said in the few hours that I and my friendEleanor Shannon spent with him. He spoke in streams of Italian uttered in comforting tones and repetitive phrasing. He spoke of opera and how, as in opera, everything in nature must work in concert, and how if there is one discordant note, the entire piece falls flat. He spoke of Italy, the importance of its peninsular shape, the ranges of mountains and how they direct the air currents, and the way that the seas on all sides affect the climate. He spoke of bees and of water and of knowing how many yeast parts per million his wines contain at various stages of development. He spoke about his wine, all wine, wine throughout time, and yet what he said the loudest he didn’t say in words.

In the cellar with Gianfranco Soldera--no spitting!

It happened twice, actually. Soldera bent down, grabbed a handful of soil, and crumbled it through his fingers. He said something in Italian too, something about how the minerals in the soil is what makes the wine taste the way it does, something about how the vines need to suffer to produce good grapes (when he said this about suffering, I got an image of Degas’ ballerinas, their fatigue and their beauty). But I didn’t find the meaning in the words he was saying—though they had import—rather, I found meaning in his old man’s hands, the almost caressing way he held the soil, and the way that he reluctantly let it dribble through his fingers.

And then it came to me: This is a man who doesn’t just know his estate; this is a man who is his estate.

IMG_1033I had the chance Soldera’s cellars, and I got to smell them in all their grape-cardboard-wet-rock-and-wood glory. I got to drink wine out of his botti, wine a few years old, and wine just a few months, and it was bright and beautiful. (In fact, it occurs to me now that I got to taste the 2008 Rosso IGT, just recently offered–would I have tasted it differently had I known then what I know now? Probably.) I got to do things that most Brunello lovers never get to do, but imagine when they look at books of Montalcino or dreamily sip a bottle of Brunello. I got to ask Soldera questions, and as I did, I got to feel inadequate. How often do we have the opportunity to take up the time of a genius? And how can we do it without feeling the pains of our own ordinariness?

Yet what I’ll remember is the magic of Montalcino filling the air, the presence of its greatest magician, and the hush of it all held in this unforgotten moment.

In today’s eLetter, IWM proudly offered the latest release from Gianfranco Soldera, the Casse Basse Soldera 2008 Rosso IGT, called thus because Soldera left the Brunello Consortium in 2012.

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