Tradition Rules at Giuseppe Quintarelli (by Paolo Tenti)

This hard-to-find Valpolicella estate is worth discovering, explains Paolo Tenti.
© Paolo Tenti/Quintarelli | Francesco is following in the footsteps of his grandfather, making dried grape wines
When wine lovers hear the name “Quintarelli,” they immediately think of Amarone. The association is understandable: Quintarelli’s famed bottlings are among Italy’s most sought-after wines, even if the family firm has never done any marketing or promotion. There’s not even a sign at the entrance to the estate. Yet the wines have attained cult status.

Read the article: Tradition Rules at Giuseppe Quintarelli

Gianfranco Soldera – Case Basse (by Paolo Tenti)

Paolo Tenti catches up with the Brunello di Montalcino producer who lost most of six vintages when his cellar was vandalized.

© Paolo Tenti | Gianfranco Soldera

Gianfranco Soldera established his Case Basse estate in 1972, leaving behind a successful career as an insurance broker. He’d looked for years for a Barolo estate, but as owners of good vineyards were not willing to sell, he searched elsewhere and found the perfect estate in Montalcino. Although the land was abandoned, with no vineyards, he had a strong feeling it would be perfect and his intuition proved right.

Soldera’s Brunello di Montalcino, almost always designated as riserva after five or six years’ aging, is among the most sought-after and expensive wines in the denomination.

Read the article: Gianfranco Soldera

“Shameful” Ruling Over Barolo Borders

The expansion of the Cannubi ‘cru’ could cast “doubt on the credibility of all the vineyard boundaries” in the region.

© Consorzio di Tutela Barolo e Barbaresco

Producers fighting to prevent the expansion of one of the most important vineyard sites in Barolo have lost their battle.

Rome’s High Administrative Court, the Consiglio di Stato, has overturned a decision that ruled the name Cannubi could only be used for the historic Cannubi area comprising 15 hectares (37 acres).

Read the article: “Shameful” Ruling Over Barolo Borders

Bruno Giacosa: Pioneering Precision in Piedmont

No discussion of Barolo and Barbaresco would be complete without mention of Bruno Giacosa, one of Italy’s most esteemed producers. Paolo Tenti reports on “the genius of Neive.”

He’s the producer who inspired a generation of winemakers. A pioneer in introducing single-vineyard bottlings of Barolo and Barbaresco. And a man who’s not afraid to say no to a vintage if he thinks the grapes are not good enough.

© Paolo Tenti | Bruno Giacosa

Born into the family wine firm, Bruno Giacosa started his career at the tender age of 15 as a grape buyer, sourcing fruit for his father and grandfather, and then for many of Barolo’s large houses. In 1960, he started his own company and soon became famous for both his golden palate and his ability to recognize the best vineyards in the Langhe.

Thanks to his vast hands-on experience with growers – and his years spent seeking out the best grapes – he was among the first producers in the area to bottle single-vineyard wines. They included the now legendary Barolo Collina Rionda.

Read the full  article: Bruno Giacosa

Whole-Bunch Fermentation Spreads to Piedmont

The technique already divides growers in Burgundy, and now producers in Barolo and Barbaresco are arguing over it, too.

While the debate over whether to de-stem or not has spread across the globe into New World pinot noir strongholds such as New Zealand, another celebrated Old World region is also experimenting with the technique. In Italy’s Barolo and Barbaresco denominations in the Langhe hills of Piedmont, producers are testing out whole-cluster fermentation.

Read the article: Whole-Bunch Fermentation Spreads to Piedmont

Bartolo Mascarello

The classically crafted Barolos of Bartolo Mascarello are cult favorites of Barolophiles around the world.

Unlike many of today’s top Barolo producers – growers who started making their own wines in the late 1970’s and 1980’s – the Mascarello family have been making and bottling their own wines for generations.

© Paolo Tenti | Maria Teresa Mascarello

Maria Teresa Mascarello, who runs the firm today, learned to make wine from her father Bartolo, an iconic producer who died in 2005. Bartolo joined the firm in 1945 and learned winemaking from his father, Giulio, who in turn had been trained by his own father, Bartolomeo.

Read the article: Bartolo Mascarello

Barolo 2009 and Riserva 2007

This year’s annual Nebbiolo Prima tastings in Alba showcased Barbaresco 2010, Barolo 2009, and the denominations’ Riservas – 2008 and 2007 respectively. A selection of Roero 2010 and Riserva 2009 were also displayed.

Clearly the media, representing the top publications from key international markets from around the world, were most interested in Barbaresco 2010, and – even more so – Barolo 2009.

The Barbarescos showed well overall, and 2010 – distinguished by a cool, wet summer followed by a warm, dry September that allowed nebbiolo a long ripening season – is living up to its reputation of being a classic vintage with the structure for laying down and mellowing.

The 2009 Barolos are a different story altogether. They represent a mixed bag of qualities and styles that depend not only the individual villages and vineyard areas, but also on the ability of the growers and winemakers to handle the difficult climatic conditions. Of all the recent vintages, 2009 is going to pose the most serious challenges for Barolo lovers – due to the irregular performance even among the usually most reliable estates.

Read the article: Barolo 2009 Riserva 2007

COS: A Sicilian Success Story

A young trio who started making wine during a long summer break, spurred a viticultural renaissance in southeastern Sicily. Kerin O’Keefe reports.

© Paolo Tenti | Giusto Occhipinti
© Paolo Tenti | Giusto Occhipinti

Hanging around waiting for the university term to commence in 1980, friends Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti and Cirino Strano came up with an unusual project to fill their vacation: using a small vineyard and abandoned cellars owned by Cilia’s father on the island of Sicily, they decided to resurrect a local winemaking tradition.

At the time, they had no idea they were embarking on an adventure that would not only change their lives, but also the destiny of an entire denomination.

Read the article: COS: A Sicilian Success Story

Biondi Santi

Drunk by the Queen, hidden from view during WWII: the wines of Biondi Santi. (The head of the renowned estate, Franco Biondi Santi, died suddenly at the weekend. This interview by Kerin O’Keefe was one of his last.)

© Paolo Tenti | Franco Biondi Santi

Read the article: Biondi Santi

Interview with Piero Antinori

There was little sign of the celebrated Tuscan sun in late February as I made my way through the rain-swept narrow streets of Florence towards Palazzo Antinori, to meet Italian wine scion Piero Antinori.

Not only was I going to taste the latest vintages of Antinori’s famed Super Tuscans – Tignanello and Solaia – I was also going to ask him his views on the latest happenings in Chianti Classico.

What, you may wonder, do much-sought-after Tignanello and Solaia have to do with generic Chianti Classicos? Absolutely everything is the answer.

Read the article: Interview with Piero Antinori

Brunello di Montalcino 2008 and 2007 Riserva

The latest releases from Montalcino’s cellars have had their first outing and they’re a mixed bag. The 2008 Brunellos and 2007 riservas shown at the annual Benvenuto Brunello tasting ranged from outstanding to unpleasant, and the two vintages could pose serious challenges for Brunello fans.

© Paolo Tenti | The Col d’Orcia Poggio al Vento vineyard, with Castello di Argiano in the distance

Read the article: Brunello di Montalcino 2008 and Riserva 2007

Q & A with Gaia Gaja

Gaia Gaja oversees the day-to-day running of her family’s prestigious 154-year old estate in Piedmont.

Gaia Gaja
© Paolo Tenti | Gaia Gaja

Are you adjusting your winemaking practices because of climate change?

Absolutely. But more than in the cellar, the real changes are being made in the vineyards. If in the 1970s and 1980s, vineyard management was geared towards achieving better ripening and eliminating humidity from the vineyards, we’re now doing just the opposite. So, we no longer top off the leaf canopy to help the sun ripen the grapes.

Twenty years ago, we planted grass between the rows to absorb water, and we cut it constantly to stimulate new growth. Now, we leave the grass but never cut it. We let it die, then press it down so that it covers the soil to keep it cool and moist. Since 2003, we’ve also been identifying those clones on our estate that perform best in dry, hot vintages. It’s a long process but we’re starting to see interesting results that should help us in the future.

Who or what inspired you to make wine?

Both my grandfather and my father. My grandfather, because he believed wholeheartedly in Barbaresco at a time when almost no one else did, and my father because of his great courage to make daring changes that revolutionized vineyard management and winemaking.

Has your winemaking style changed over time? If so, how?

The style itself has not really changed, but each vintage is approached differently in order to make the best wines possible. Changes are subtle but include adapting maceration times and how long the wines age in oak, for example. Also, my father used to make all the decisions on his own, but now we have a team; together we make all the strategic decisions after careful tastings.

Read the article: Q & A with Gaia Gaja

Ornellaia and Masseto: A Tale Of Two Wines

Kerin O’Keefe delves into the background of the famed Italian wines Ornellaia and Masseto.
© Paolo Tenti | Individual vineyard samples are tasted before the blend for Ornellaia is decided

When Lodovico Antinori founded his estate in 1981 on land his mother had given him from her holdings in Bolgheri, he was confident that he was going to make quality Bordeaux-styled wines. This scion of the famed Tuscan winemaking family can hardly have realized, however, that he was on the path to creating two of Italy’s most celebrated labels: Ornellaia and Masseto.

Read the article: Ornellaia and Masseto: A Tale Of Two Wines

Giuseppe Sesti: Brunello Written in the Stars

A medieval Montalcino castle inspires a stargazer to make his own wine.
© Paolo Tenti | Giuseppe Sesti rejects small barriques in favor of large Slavonian barrels

When Giuseppe Sesti, a historian of astronomy, purchased an ancient ruined castle in Montalcino, he did not realize he had just sealed his own destiny as a boutique Brunello maker.

Sesti, whose rich and powerful Brunellos are a cult favorite among fans of Italian wine, is Montalcino’s accidental winemaker; when he bought the splendid Castello di Argiano estate in 1975, wine was the last thing on his mind. The property came complete with a disintegrating but authentic medieval castle tower, a ninth-century church, and a stone country house with a tree growing through the roof and pecking chickens milling about the sitting room. Sesti and his English wife, Sarah, were captivated.

Read the article: Brunello Written in the Stars

Conterno: Tradition Underscores Celebrated Barolo

Barolo doesn’t get any better than Giacomo Conterno. Kerin O’Keefe explains why.
© Paolo Tenti | Roberto Conterno pictured at the Monforte d’Alba winery

The prized wines include Cascina Francia and the family’s crown jewel: Monfortino. Monfortino is not simply one of the best Barolos, whose name alone can make die-hard Barolo fans weak at the knees, it is one of the finest wines in the world. Italian wine expert Nick Belfrage MW wrote in his 1999 book “Barolo to Valpolicella“: “Indeed if I was given the choice of one bottle of Barolo before I die (I have more than once maintained that Barolo will be my deathbed tipple) I would choose Monfortino.”

© Paolo Tenti | Wooden barrels at the Conterno winery; nebbiolo grapes; Conterno’s sought-after wines

Read the article: Conterno

Tenuta San Guido

Sassicaia is the Italian wine world’s rock star, and not just because of the unusual rocky soils where the wine’s grapes are cultivated. A rebel when it was first released in 1971, Sassicaia – like the defiant rock musicians of the same period – shook up the status quo and spawned generations of imitators.

© Paolo Tenti | L-R: Cabernet Sauvignon grapes growing at Tenuta San Guido; a barrel of Sassicaia; Nicolò Incisa della Rocchetta

It can also claim the title of Original Super Tuscan as it was the first of Tuscany’s renegade wines to break with the antiquated rules that governed Italian winemaking in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Although no longer a revolutionary, Sassicaia is one of Italy’s most iconic and seductive wines.

Read the article: Tenuta San Guido

Check out my reviews of Tenuta San Guido wines