Brothers in Wine

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In the shadow of Cannes, a monks' island turns out soulful reds and whites

Winemaker Frère Marie stuck his nose into a glass of Syrah and grinned. Then he swirled some wine in his mouth and spat into a floor drain.

"It's velvet," the 59-year-old Frenchman with short-cropped hair and beard proclaimed, eyes sparkling.

For more than 20 years, Marie has made some of coastal Provence's most prestigious wines—served in the glittering luxury hotels of the Côte d'Azur and at the Cannes Film Festival. But while his wines travel, Marie doesn't get out much.

He is monk-cellarmaster of the Abbaye de Lérins—a Cistercian monastery on the tiny (less than a mile long), idyllic island of Saint Honorat, about two miles and a 15-minute ferry ride off the yacht-jammed Cannes coast.... Read the full blog at the Wine Spectator

The Etna Job

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Rescuing a Sicilian cru in the middle of the night

At four o'clock one morning in April 2012, a small tanker truck pulled up to what had been Ciro Biondi's winery on Sicily's Mount Etna and made off with more than 2,000 gallons of wine. The haul included the first two vintages—2010 and 2011—of a red single-vineyard cru from Biondi's ancestral vineyard known as Cisterna Fuori.

When Biondi learned the wine had been taken, he was relieved.In fact, he had organized the whole furtive operation to retrieve barrels that had been stuck in the winery after a bitter split left him on the outs with his decade-long business partners.

"It was my wine," says Biondi, 55. A boyish grin crosses his face, and he shrugs with everything from his large shoulders to his polished, shaved crown. "And nobody was looking after it!"  Read the full blog at Wine Spectator.

Tickling Pink

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What you didn't know-- or even think about rosé

If you're like me, you don't reflect much when sharing a bottle of good summer rosé. You chill, open, pour and drink.

But in Provence, the leader of fine rosé, a lot of thought goes into rosé—right down to the shade of pink that attracted you in the first place.

"Today people like rosés that are very pale that give the impression of lightness," explains Gilles Masson, one of the world's foremost rosé thinkers. "It's aesthetic—the idea that rosé should not only be good, it should be beautiful."

"Why deny the pleasure of the eyes?" adds the blue-eyed Frenchman, throwing in the obligatory reference to beautiful women...Read the full blog at the Wine Spectator. 

Soave's Free Spirit

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Cantina Filippi sits at the highest part of northeastern Italy's Soave appellation in a Renaissance-era palazzo transformed into a sort of Bohemian lair.

"Most Soave gives me a headache," says poetically named Filippo Filippi, 44, who has made 11 vintages of small-production Soave Classico crus here on a 1,300-foot hilltop in Castelcerino.

Filippi has all the elements I love to write about: an iconoclastic winemaker, distinctive wines, varied terroirs and a long history in a beautiful setting. Even better, it's hiding in plain sight in Soave—one of Italy's largest vineyard areas, dominated for more than a century by large cooperatives and high output.

The 21st century has seen the growth of a small scene of quality Soave producers, and Filippi, a bear of a man with long, silver hair and beard, represents the eccentrically colorful wing. Read the full blog at Wine Spectator.

Chateau Miraval: Of Superstars and Rosé

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"i'm a farmer now," says Brad Pitt. here's the story of how he and Angelinia Jolie came to become wine partners with the Perrin family at an historic Provence estate

By Robert Camuto-- Wine Spectator June 30,2014

One of the biggest wine stories in recent memory comes in the form of a squat Burgundy-shaped bottle of rosé from Provence. Not just any rosé, but one that arises from the winemaking passions of Hollywood's most famous celebrity couple—Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

For Pitt, 50, a longtime wine lover, the Miraval rosé is the culmination of a dream. "We became impassioned with this place, which could produce its own wine, its own food, and become a place where artists could congregate and share ideas," Pitt told Wine Spectator. After renting Miraval for several years, he and Jolie bought the property in 2012 for an estimated $60 million. Read the full story in the Wine Spectator. 

Wine Country Travel: En route in Provence

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By Robert Camuto-- Wine Spectator June 30, 2014

When it comes to dream destinations, few have been mythologized as much as France's Provence. This sprawling, sun-splashed Mediterranean region—bursting with olive groves, orchards, wild herbs, vineyards and antique stone villages where pastis and rosé flow—has for generations drawn moguls, movie stars and legions of tourists in search of a piece of the good life.

Yet Provence has managed to keep its authentic heart intact as it has evolved. A boom in worldwide rosé demand has brought recognition to regional wines and given a boost to producers and investment. (See "The Rosés of Summer".) The region's capital, Marseille, is undergoing a renaissance with some of Mediterranean Europe's boldest and most ambitious architectural and restoration projects along its stunning waterfront. A new generation of chefs is not only preserving Provence's classic market cuisine, but also celebrating it with modern twists.

Bandol-- the Hard Way

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Jean-Marc Espinasse stood overlooking his day-old Bandol vineyard with an expression somewhere between exhaustion and bliss.

"It's been a fantasy for me to be here," said Espinasse on his hillside in coastal Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer, surrounded by olive trees, pine forest, sea views and 2,000 stubs of grafted Mourvèdre vinestock in an acre of freshly turned clay.

It was Sunday, a day of rest for the 47-year-old Marseille native and former Rhône winemaker (see our previous blog on him) who sold his Domaine Rouge-Bleu in 2012 to do Bandol the hard way. The day before, he and a team that included friends and his 19-year-old son planted the first vines at his Mas des Brun property—working from dawn and finishing under car headlights. This followed a year of clearing trees, removing boulders and preparing soils.

Exiled on Wine Street

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Yevgeny Chichvarkin is a big-shouldered guy who likes big wines—preferably in very big bottles.

When he opened a store in London nearly two years ago and decided to call it Hedonism Wines, he really meant it. Hedonism displays dozens of great wines—Bordeaux to Barolo to Spain and Sonoma—in huge formats that are at least eight times the size of a magnum.

Chichvarkin, 39, takes particular pride in a 27-liter bottle (equal to 18 magnums) that he commissioned of the 2010 vintage of his favorite Rioja, Bodegas Roda Cirsion, listed at $14,000.

What’s the idea of such a bottle? I ask. He looks at me like I'm crazy.

“Idea?” he shrugs. “Open and drink.”

Chichvarkin, a self-made business whiz turned political dissident who fled his native Russia five years ago, is one of wine retail’s most interesting characters.  Read more at the Wine Spectator

Map Man

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Italian cartographer Alessandro Masnaghetti charts vineyards from Barolo to Bordeaux

By Robert Camuto -- Wine Spectator June 15, 2014

When Alessandro Masnaghetti looks at vineyards, he sees things most of us don't.

Standing atop a hill in the middle of the Barolo appellation at noon on a late winter day, he faces some of Italy's most renowned vine-planted hillsides. He analyzes the way the sun and shadows fall on every contour, considers each exposition and notes the grade of each slope. Then he melds this information into his knowledge of where Nebbiolo grapes ripen to produce the deepest, most complex wines.

At 52, Masnaghetti is Italy's leading vineyard cartographer and a meticulous student of geography's influence on wine. Sturdily built with a trimmed, white Hemingway beard, he points to the long ridge that forms Cannubi, less than a mile away.

All in the Family

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A New Generation at Saint-Emilion's Beau-Séjour Bécot

By Robert Camuto -- Wine Spectator May 31, 2014

The vineyards that gently slope from the heights of the picturesque medieval village of St.-Emilion produce some of Bordeaux's most prized wines. Yet this famed plateau is also home to some of the region's most divisive family intrigues.

In recent years, dissension and fallings-out, fueled by what are among the wine world's highest real estate prices—topping $1.5 million per acre—have led many a château to be sold to deep-pocketed outsiders or corporate conglomerates.

In this environment, Château Beau-Séjour Bécot is a rarity. This prestige estate created in the 1960s by merging the Bécot family's own ancestral property with a neighboring estate is now passing to yet another generation, without controversy. The Bécots themselves have the rare distinction of tracing their roots in St.-Emilion winemaking back more than 200 years to the French Revolution.

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