Two expert selections from John Camacho Vidal
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.
What you learn from drinking mature bottles
I used to prefer New World, full, oaky wines with lots of vanilla and fruit. But the more I taste, the more I have come to appreciate not only a plethora of varietals, styles, regions and producers. Above all, I have also grown to love old, mature wines.
A common question that people always asked in the showroom is “How long do you think this wine will last?” The truth is that there are so many factors at play that it is really difficult to measure how a wine will age. Most of the time, all we have to go on is by tasting older vintages next to younger ones to compare past performances, but wine is a living thing and each vintage has its own personality, making this method inexact.
Putting aside vintage, the main factor that we tend to miss is our own personal preference. The more wine we taste, the more our palates change. I believe that appreciating old wine is an acquired taste that comes with experience. I have also found with little exceptions that someone who is new in the journey of wine will tend to not like the taste of older wine, preferring instead the fresh fruit and the primary aromatics of young wines. However, with time, anyone can come to appreciate the nuances offered by a well-aged bottle with its secondary and tertiary aromas. And, of course, there is an ideal period where the flavors of both youth and maturity are balanced, although finding that sweet spot is hard to gauge.
One important fact is this: 95 to 99 percent of all the wine produced in the world is intended to be drunk while it is young and fresh (within five years of release). Although all wines change and usually improve with some age, wine maturity does have its limits. Because wine is a living thing, it too will die. It’s not just the wine’s type, grape composition, vinification protocol or vintage that decides its lifespan; chemical composition and storage conditions also contribute to a wine’s evolution.
Young wine drinkers don’t really know what to expect when they have a mature wine—and here I’m going to limit my discussion to red. (While whites can age too, they have a very different, possibly even stranger evolution–that said, the organic whites of Fiorano are extraordinary.) As a wine evolves, its primary aromas of blackberries, cherry, plum and cassis fade or dissipate and with time they give way to notes of tobacco, truffle, earth, smoke, cedar wood, cigar box, forest floor, chocolate, licorice, and leather—just to name a few. These earthier, more complex scents are prized by some collectors because they indicate maturity and complexity.
If you are an average wine drinker that enjoys a glass of wine every now and again or mostly on special occasions and holidays, save your cash and save the mature wine for someone who will appreciate it. But if you’re curious and want to expand your palate, be patient. If you truly get passionate about wine, you will develop a hunger for fine matured wine; you’ll seek it out, and you’ll learn about it. And to answer the question as to how to know when a wine has reached its peak or begun to fade away pull the cork and take a taste and judge for yourself. It’s a personal preferences, and what one wine lover adores, another may pour down the sink.
Two expert selections from Crystal Edgar
Spring is officially upon us—at least that is what I am telling myself here in New York. It’s time to bring out the whites wines to welcome the warmth! Today I am excited to introduce two wines that dwell far off the beaten path. I do love a nice, crisp Chablis, Sancerre, Friulano, Gavi and other bright and refreshing whites; however, I like variety. Seeking a bit of adventure, I find myself reaching for unique producers, grapes, or styles of wine. Here are two of my favorites, an Erbaluce, which can be enjoyed anytime, and a Fiorano, which requires more attention and a few very good friends to share the magic with.
This fresh, dry, mineral-driven wine is produced exclusively from the Erbaluce grape in the northernly Canavese region. Technically part of Piedmont, Canavese is located at the frontier of the Valle d’Aosta, the very edge of Piedmont, an area renowned for its steeply terraced vineyards, which offers distinctive character and quality to the wine. The Erbaluce grape is an ancient white variety that originates in these alpine foothills. This ‘12 has a bright acidity, an elegant underlying minerality, and a complex structure that makes it the ultimate flexible wine. This wine is delightful to enjoy with a range of fresh seafood and antipasti but also acts as the perfect aperitif on a warm day.
Last night I tasted this “cerebral” white from 1988 with a few clients, and once again, I fell in love with the fairytale of Fiorano. Of all of the white wines that we offer, Fiorano’s Semillon might just be the most unique and complex, carrying one of the best wine stories ever told. It’s hard not to contemplate the notions of death, myth and legacy while approaching Tenuta di Fiorano, a sprawling noble estate southeast of Rome and bordered by the Via Appia Antica. “The greatness of Fiorano is a secret shared by a few,” wrote Burton Anderson in “Vino,” his 1980 guide to Italian wine. This statement has remained true because there are not many bottles to go around! The elderly proprietor, Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi, the prince of Venosa, decided to tear out his vines and abandon his estate to live in a hotel, where he spent his final years. He passed away in 2005, and the last of the remarkable wines he made was produced in 1995. There may never be more wine made like this (although Allegra Antinori is revamping the estate—fingers crossed!), so now is the time to get your hands on the few precious bottles that still remain in our cellar! Enjoy it now or over the next few years with roasted seafood, pasta carbonara, mushroom risotto, quiche, or a simple croquet monsieur.
Two expert selections from Robin Kelley O’Connor
The Fiorano estate is a true fairytale property sitting on the outskirts of Rome, near the Via Appia Antica in the region of Lazio (Latium), 25 miles from the center of Rome. One of the great winemaking stories, Fiorano was an Italian wine-producing estate owned by the Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi, a prince of Venosa of the millennia-old Ludovisi family, active during a period from the late 1940s to 1995. Famed wine critic Burton Anderson dubbed Fiorano’s wines “the noblest Romans of them all” in his 1980 anthology Vino, and this is just one of the many authorities singing the estate’s praises. Approaching his death, the Prince ripped up all of his vineyards, convinced that no one else could make wine as he did. He was wrong, and his granddaughter Alessia Antinori, a 26th generation winemaker, is proving it.
In 2004, the fabled wines of Fiorano came to IWM, their first time at a US wine retailer, and they caused a sensation in the wine world; IWM has the deepest inventory in the States, a point of pride for us. Following the death of her grandfather in 2005, Alessia Antinori, assumed the project of restoring the Prince’s vineyards, making them biodynamic, and slowly, with a lot of grit, she is returning the estate to its former magnificence. My picks today—Fiorano No. 47 Bianco 1992 and Fiorano No. 48 Sémillon 1995—represent just two selections from IWM’s holdings of the Prince’s fabled wines.
Fiorano No. 47 Bianco 1992 $124.00
More than two decades old, Fiorano No. 47 Bianco 1992 is made from organically grown Malvasia di Candia grape. A dark, deep bright golden yellow, this ‘92 still shows signs of youthfulness. The bouquet is full and intense with aromas of white flowers, candied fruit, pear, spice and earthiness. On the palate, the flavors are concentrated and complex, enveloping the mouth with a rich texture and spiced fruits of apples, pears and minerals. The finish is long balanced and harmonious.
Fiorano No. 48 Sémillon 1995 $124.00
Just shy of 20 years old, this Fiorano No. 48 Sémillon is one of my favorites in this unique and historic collection of wines. I’m a huge fan of old Sémillon and have had the great fortune of experiencing aged Bordeaux and mature Hunter Valley Australian Sémillon. This Fiorano 1995 brings all the excitement of drinking older Sémillon, as this grape offers some of the most compelling flavors and a bouquet that is endlessly intriguing. Powerful, full bodied and rich, this wine is drinking perfectly right now and has years of life ahead of it.