The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Expert Picks: Ca dei Mandorli and Paolo Bea

Two expert selections from John Camacho Vidal

CamachoWith Valentine’s Day around the corner, I’ve been focusing on wines to pour at the end of that special romantic meal. I wanted to showcase two different wines that will lend to a sweet ending to a great meal—and perhaps something more. While the origin of Valentine’s Day remains up for debate, today, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates are the custom. This is mostly due to chocolate having a reputation for having aphrodisiac qualities and the genius marketing of the chocolate industry. In the mid-1800s, Cadbury began producing chocolate boxes with popular sentimental images as well as red heart-shaped boxes and the rest has been history. Today’s wines will help you and your beloved enjoy those chocolates in style!

Ca dei Mandorli 2014 Brachetto d’Acqui $22.00

Brachetto d’Acqui is a red DOCG wine named for the Brachetto grape, a variety that is native to Piedmont and the Acqui district in southern Piedmont. It has a long history often mentioned in Italian theater, and legend also tells that Julius Caesar and Marc Antony gave this wine to Cleopatra. Bursting with a floral nose full of rose and violets followed by raspberry, cherry and strawberries, this wine is bright and almost refreshing with a slight fizz to get you in the romantic mood. The palate is pleasant not overly sweet with a good acidity in the background and an elegant, fizzy finish. The combination of a moderate degree of alcohol along with the fresh, fruity, floral aromas and slight carbonation make for a wine that is perfect with chocolate and fresh strawberries.

Paolo Bea 2008 Sagrantino di Montefalco Passito $94.99

There are two things that make this wine special for Valentine’s Day. The first is that it is from Umbria, the putative home of St Valentine himself, and the second is that this Sagrantino wine is made in a passito style, which consist of harvesting the grapes late in the season and then drying them out on straw mats until 40% of the moisture has evaporated. As the grapes dry and almost become raisins, they concentrate their sugars and flavors. The semi-dried grapes are then gently pressed and the juice fermented until it reaches the desired level of sweetness and alcohol the producer wants making a wine that is intense, aromatic, and rich. I love to pair this wine with chocolates or enjoy it with a nice aged cheese. Deep, dense, thick, ruby red, this wine’s nose is Port-like with hints of cedar wood mingled with loads of black fruit, blackberry and plum, opening up to some lovely chocolate and slight smoky herbal notes. The palate is sweet and almost savory at the same time with a freshness that leads to a decadent finish that you wish would never end. Drink now to 2023.

Expert Picks: Paolo Bea and…Paolo Bea!

Two expert selections from John Camacho Vidal

CamachoThere is a belief that wines made from older vines will produce a better wine. Old vines, people say, produce less fruit, typically making more intense, complex and concentrated wines than those from younger vines in their prime of production. I always thought that this was all matter of opinion, but after tasting many wines made from old vines I have found that to me there is a perceptible difference in the character of the wine.

If you look at vines from the root system, it makes perfect sense. Over time, the roots dig deep and spread out—some old-vine roots can be as deep as 25 feet, compared to younger vines, whose root system averages 6 to 10 feet. During a wet vintage, the young vines that have roots closer to the surface will tend to absorb lots of water, producing large, beautiful fruit, but that fruit will be full of water and produce thin wine. The deeper root system of an old vine means that rainwater won’t filter all the way down, and the lack of moisture helps these vines produce a more even, mature crop. In a dry vintage, younger vines do not get enough moisture and the crop may not ripen at all. The deep roots of an old vine can tap into deeper moisture supplies.

It’s as if old vines learn to work smarter, not over-producing in a wet year and producing an even crop in a dry year. Furthermore, old vines have grown deep roots that followed the path of least resistance as they burrowed into the soil, allowing them to wind through pockets of minerals and different soil compositions, and this complexity in the wine.

One of my favorite producers is Paolo Bea in Umbria. Some consider him to be one of Italy’s great cult winemakers, and I love his two white wines, Bianco Santa Chiara, which is a blend of Grechetto, Malvasia, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon from younger vines, and Arboreus Umbria Bianco, which is made from 120-year-old vine Trebbiano and is a perfect expression of place and fruit. I’ve chosen one of each of these “orange” wines for you to enjoy.

Paolo Bea 2012 Bianco Santa Chiara $49.99

This wine also spends over two weeks on the skins, giving it a nice yellowish hay color. The nose is concentrated and almost tangy or hoppy, with aromas of apricot, peach and white flowers followed by hints of tropical notes mixed with minerality. The palate is bright with balanced acidity and noticeable tannins and finishing off dry. Drink 2016 – 2020.

Paolo Bea 2010 Arboreus Umbria Bianco $59.99

This wine is made from 100% Trebbiano Spoletino, an indigenous variety of Trebbiano that grows in large bunches and has a thick skin and high acidity; Bea’s vines are 120 years old and traditionally trained on wires. The wine has a long maceration of 21 days, then two years of aging on the lees in stainless steel without temperature control and without the addition of sulfites. Even more interesting is that 2% of the harvest is left to dry in a passito style, then fermented before adding it back to the rest of the Trebbiano, which helps bring richness and intensity. The wine is powerful and elegant; the nose is at first full of river stone, with some air floral notes emerge mingling with melon, honey, orange peel and other citric notes. The palate is perfectly balanced with acidity and minerality, and the finish lingers with deep flavors that continue to expand as it coats your mouth. Drink 2016 – 2030.

The Haunting of Orange Wines

Finding strange beauty in skin-contact wines


Paolo Bea’s range

Orange wines are a style that I’m very fond of for myriad reasons. Orange wines sit in an unusual position; they come about when winemakers treat white wine grapes with the same kind of protocol that they treat red wine grapes. In this, they’re the inverse of rosé wines, which treat red grapes like white, and it’s why some people refer to these wines as “skin-contact” wines.

It’s not merely the weirdness of so-called orange wines that draws me to them, however. Weirdness is a factor; I’m drawn to the unusual and strange, the unconventional and the, Bacchus help me, outside the box. It’s also that orange wines confound expectations. Everything about drinking a white wine tells you to expect a certain prescriptive set of sensations and flavors—even leaving room for a range of producer styles, grape varieties, vintage variations and regional differences.

Orange wines confound those expectations. There’s white wine freshness and red wine tannins. There’s white wine fruit—citrus, tropical, white-flesh or otherwise—and there’s red wine thrumming of earth, underbrush and wildness. There’s white wine scent and red wine weight. And on top of all of that sensory confusion, there are aspects that only orange wines have, a strange oxidative, sometimes caramelly, often funky-dirty-woodsy quality.

Gravner's "orange" Ribolla Gialla

Gravner’s “orange” Ribolla Gialla

These are wines that know no boundaries (at least when they’re good—and the ones by Paolo Bea, his son Giampiero’s project Monastero Suore Cistercensi, Josko Gravner, Movia, Radikon and IWM’s other producers of long-macerating whites are excellent). Likewise, they know no season. They feel right on a winter night with a nice roasted chicken or pork loin. Moreover, orange wines are pretty much the provenance of natural winemakers, and being a longstanding advocate of wines that come from organic grapes, made with little intervention, this appeals to me.

I remember the first time I drank Paolo Bea Santa Chiara. It was at the 2011 ViniVeri wine festival, held the same weekend as the enormous and sprawling VinItaly. Sergio Esposito and I tasted through the line of Paolo Bea, and it was like a symphony; each wine built on the one we tasted before, one musical line picked up by another, complicated, intensified, and reinterpreted. It was a beautiful experience, even in the middle of the big hall, even with the migraine I was suffering at the time.

Drinking these wines over the past couple of years, I’m reminded of that song I felt as I first experienced Paolo Bea’s skin-contact wines. I heard it again when I had this 2012 Santa Chiara, and I heard it most recently when I drank this 2006 Gravner Ribolla Gialla Anfora, which is, by the way, like drinking salty velvet. Orange wines are like haunting songs, and some melodies, no matter how strange, no matter how unusual, never leave you.

Inside IWM, November 2-5, 2015: Explore the Unusual

A look back at the week that was

There's Sangiovese Grosso in them there hills

There’s Sangiovese Grosso in them there hills

This week began with a salute to Sangiovese Grosso and ended with using your four senses to guide you to better tasting (spoiler alert: it’s everything but hearing). In between, we enjoyed a lovely $22 Rosato from Italy’s North and broadened wine horizons by venturing into French territory.

Our experts explored the unusual this week. Michael Adler poured out two bottlings of Italian Chardonnay from Gaja and Antinori. Will Di Nunzio responded to this fall’s weird weather with two all-temperature reds. John Camacho Vidal embraces autumn with biodynamic amber bottles from Paolo Bea and Josko Gravner. And Garrett Kowalsky says, “Viva la difference!” and picks two very different wines.

Cheers to you and your exploration, wherever it takes you and your wine glass!

Expert Picks: Paolo Bea and Josko Gravner

Two expert selections from John Camacho Vidal

CamachoBiodynamic winemaking looks at the vineyard as a whole, the soil under the vines, the flora and fauna and how they symbiotically coexist and are in tune to the spiritual forces of the cosmos. Everything is interconnected and gives off energy, including celestial bodies like the moon, planets and stars; biodynamic viticulture practices the balancing of energy among the vines, earth and stars.

These are not new, recently discovered vitcultural techniques; in fact, there is nothing new behind the theory of biodynamic agriculture. From ancient Greeks and Egyptians to current editions of the Farmer’s Almanac, farmers engage in these practices. Whether these techniques work might be up to debate, but people in the wine trade seem to agree that biodynamic viniculture produces wines that are more expressive of their place of origin, and I believe that this is especially true for producers who are passionate about the land. I have had the opportunity to meet two winemakers who are well established in making wine using biodynamic practices. Both Paolo Bea and Josko Gravner make majestic wines with biodynamic practices that are unique to themselves, and today I picked two of my favorite orange wines from these two winemakers.

Paolo Bea 2012 Bianco Santa Chiara $49.99

Paolo Bea’s estate lies in Montefalco in Umbria, the only landlocked region of Italy. Bea’s philosophy is to seek the balance between nature and human action without using chemicals or fertilizers. IWM’s recent Halloween tasting featured the Santa Chiara 2012, a blend of basically equal parts of Grechetto, Malvasia, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Garganega. The juice spends about one year on the lees to give us a beautiful, interesting, copper-color wine with a complex nose: apricots, citrus notes, and a slight minerality is followed by herbal notes, honey and forest flowers. The palate is tart and dry with earthy mineral tones on the finish. Drink now to the end of the decade.

Gravner 2006 Breg Anfora $94.99

Located in Friuli, Josko Gravner is a perfectionist who makes wines like no others in the world. These deep orange wines are magical with very smooth edges and a seamless mouth-feel, pure flavors, liveliness, elegance and complexity. The winemaking process that Gravner uses includes macerating on the skins for up to nine months in amphora, large clay post buried in the ground. The results are white wines that are more like reds sometimes requiring time in a decanter. I poured the Gravner Breg Anfora 2006 this past Saturday, and the deep Josko lantern orange color was perfect for the Halloween theme. The nose of this wine is both intense and restrained, with slight traces of apricot and honey framed with a light tannic mineral-driven background and soft white flower notes. The palate was tight and tannic with pleasant acidity that gives way to some caramel and a lengthy almond finish that seems to linger for hours. Drink 2018 to 2025.


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