Andrea Franchetti’s Ethereal Passopisciaro Passorosso – Sicily’s Crown Prince

Fans of the greatest Italian wines of our generation are fondly familiar with Andrea Franchetti, among the most important, indeed the most passionate artists anywhere in Italy. As he describes his first visual encounter with the breathtaking Val d’Orcia when he arrived in 1970, his place here is evident. His estate of Tenuta di Trinoro – which he built in this southeastern corner of Tuscany one meter at a time, by hand – gained cult status with his first release.

Years later, Franchetti mastered the seemingly untamable Sicilian landscape as well. Galloni reported just as favorably,

“Andrea Franchetti wasn’t content to just make profound wines at his Tuscan estate, Tenuta di Trinoro, so he set out to replicate that success at Passopisciaro, his property on Mount Etna.”

I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, so the moment these utterly ethereal Sicilians became available for tasting, I seized an opportunity. I’ve witnessed the evolution of Passopisciaro, amazed at the relative values these prodigious treasures represent.

When Franchetti first arrived to the ominous, gloomy, desolate site which would eventually produce his glorious Sicilian concoctions, his visions for the future mirrored those from his first encounters in Val d’Orcia; he was ready for another labor of love. It was the winter of 2000; frigid cold, silent, inauspicious. Franchetti recalls the blackened streets, the churches buried with ash, wineries collapsed everywhere he looked.

Franchetti returned in the summer to find the perfect spot, glistening black in the sun, a wide, sprawling hump of black gravel. This would be the spot; this became the estate of Passopisciaro. This was where time stood still in 1947, where flowing lava simply stopped and it seemed as if the land awaited his arrival.

I have tasted so many versions of what was previously known as Passopisciaro Rosso – now renamed Passorosso – that to describe its nature is futile. It changes every year. One constant remains: the special sites. Upon his arrival in 2000, Franchetti discovered centenarian vines, bush-trained across the northern side of the volcano, altitudes between 1,800 and 3,300 feet; at the edge of that lava spill that went no further.

Franchetti experimented with various varietals at first, realizing the importance of the native, local Nerello Mascalese. Several individual crus are planted: Malpasso, Guardiola, Santo Spirito, Favazza and Arcuria. These single vineyards lend very specific characters to the Nerello Mascalese grapes. It is impossible to define this wine; multiple sites, a single varietal, and yet the ever changing activities of nature. At this altitude, you can lose everything in a night.

One thing however, which every critic and serious consumer of Passorosso / Passopisciaro Rosso agrees, is that there has never – EVER – been a vintage as special, as universally superior in this region as 2014. In the hands of the undisputed master, the wines are surreal…

2014 Passopisciaro Passorosso (Formerly Passopisciaro)

Bright red-ruby. The captivating nose combines strawberry, raspberry, minerals, violet and flint aromas. Creamy-sweet but amazingly light on its feet, offering palate-staining, perfumed flavors of soft red berries, ripe red cherry, vanilla, aromatic herbs and crushed rock. Rich, ripe and suave, but displays a penetrating, saline and energetic quality that gives this beauty a three-dimensional mouthfeel and a light-on-its-feet quality. Finishes with great length and wonderfully polished tannins. Absolute knockout wine: from a memorable vintage on Etna, this is most likely the best Passorosso ever (in earlier vintages, it used to be called simply Passopisciaro). Mainly Nerello Mascalese.

97 points – Antonio Galloni’s Vinous

2006 Salon Le Mesnil – One of the Greatest Salon Champagnes Ever Bottled

Salon 2006 – “Recalls the 2002”

2006 Salon – Greatest Ever?

While visiting the cellars at Salon a few years back, tasting back vintages, marveling at the precision and glorious collection in their frigid underground caves, Didier Depond made a point of showing us the quietly resting collection of soon to be released vintages. Before anyone else in the world would ever taste a single bottle, I had my first glimpse of those treasures to come: 2004, 2006, 2008…

Remember the 2004; the amazing bottles released last year? That cuvee spent an unheard-of 12 years resting on its fine lees. While other “fine” Champagne houses were celebrating the release of their 2008s, Salon was patiently awaiting perfection. Time stands still in the Salon cellars; no man was going to rush the strikingly pure 2004 to market.

It was incredible, was it not?

Friends, that was only a tease – a tiny precursor of the 2006. Didier spoke of 2006 while I savored one of the most glorious wines I have encountered in my life: the 1988 Salon (a wine requiring reverence, as well as an entirely new method of scoring wines – 100 points won’t cover it).

The cuvee now available for you – this Grand Vin with bubbles known as the 2006 Salon – will ease the memories of the 2004 right out of your prefrontal cortex. You will taste it and – if you are able to recall the perfection of its glorious sibling, the 2002 – you will be whisked away to nirvana.

Indeed, 2006 is easily the new 2002.

It may – in time – become my new 1988!

Here’s what Mr. Galloni had to say,

Salon 2006 Salon Le Mesnil Sur Oger, Champagne

The 2006 Salon is a very rich wine, almost uncharacteristically so. Deep and exotic the 2006 exudes richness in all of its dimensions, with myriad inflections of sumptuous fruit that fill out its ample, large-scaled frame. Today, the 2006 is surprisingly accessible for a young Salon, but it needs time to shed some baby fat. At times, the 2006 recalls the 2002, but it appears to have more phenolic intensity and overall structure. Even with all of its flamboyance and pure volume, the 2006 retains quite a bit of energy and freshness. I imagine it will be a fascinating, utterly compelling Champagne to follow over the next several decades.

97 points – Antonio Galloni, Vinous

2012 Melville Sta Rita Hills Estate Pinot | “Gorgeous, Radiant Wine” says Galloni

Thanks Nancy Pastor, The Wall Street Journal for the picture

Melville Estate – Tops in 2012 for Sta Rita Hills!

If Santa Barbara isn’t squarely on your radar, it should be.

Galloni opened his July 15 review with,

“A palpable energy and the thrill of discovery accompanied my tastings in Santa Barbara this year.”

Looks like big name Pinot producers from Napa and Sonoma have some competition on their hands. Melville in particular.

A long-time favorite, Greg Brewer and his team turned in a set of 2012s that flat out stunned Mr. Galloni. From fruit grown on their estate in the Santa Rita Hills AVA, Melville’s 2012 Pinot was the best of the bunch.

Galloni dubbed it

“One of the most polished, refined and aromatically expressive wines I have tasted from Melville…”

crowning it 94 points and saying

“What a gorgeous, radiant and totally sexy wine…”

Melville’s Lompoc estate, planted on various sub soils – predominantly Lompoc dune sand, clay loam and shale – performed brilliantly in 2012. The increased hang time allowed by the lazy, foggy mornings added up to picture perfect growing conditions. Brewer was able to harvest gorgeous fruit, with acidities to balance the striking fruit profiles and stunning aromatics.

Personally, these remind me of his ’07s – bursting with pleasure, balance like none other.

Gorgeous stuff, indeed!melville-2012-estate-pinot-noir-sta-rita-hills

Maison Lucien le Moine – Bygone Methods yielding Perfection in White Burgundy

“Dazzling pretty much sums it up" - Antonio Galloni

“Dazzling pretty much sums it up” – Antonio Galloni

 

The history of Burgundy includes the Citeaux of the Cistercian Monks – a beautiful, fine old Abbey south of Dijon – where wine was fermented on its fine lees in frigid cellars through summer months. The ancient fermentation practices recognized by the Monks of the Cistercian Order during the Middle Ages as well as the practice of selecting specific plots – or Crus – for the production of fine wines were the corner stone for today’s greatest wines of the Cote D’Or. Allowing wines to naturally ferment in barrel on their fine sediment – known as lees – produces beneficial levels of Carbon Dioxide (a natural preservative). This ancient practice allows modern proponents to avoid the overuse of Sulfur Dioxide in the winemaking practice.

 

Meet Mounir Saouma, a Lebanese monk who – along with his wife Rotem Brakir – established what has become the most talked about, Beaune-based micro-negociant in the Burgundy trade today. Mounir’s passion for great Burgundy was born from his work alongside Cistercian Monks not only in Burgundy at the Citeaux, but further blossomed during his time with the Monks while in Israel – where he met Rotem. Through the assistance of the Cistercians, the couple visited Citeaux many times together, and from there a mutual passion for the Cote’s great terroirs and the Cistercian’s vinification practices was ignited.

 

After leaving the order in 1999, Mounir established his micro-negoce with Rotem, naming it Lucien le Moine. Following the practices of old, their first guideline is to work exclusively with 1er and Grand Cru vineyard plots within the Cote D’Or – precisely as the Cistercians deemed appropriate. Taking this practice one step further, each vintage brings a new selection however as Mounir realizes that what makes Genevrieres perfect in 2004 might omit it from selection in 2007. And therein we find the magic that has made this micro-negoce the jewel of the Cote: a selection process to rival the greatest in the region.

 

Each harvest, Mounir visits his friends in Burgundy just after the harvest – when the first pressing has been completed. Once the selections have been made, the juice – jus-wine as it’s known – is placed in the Lucien le Moine barrels for aging. The le Moine barrels add yet another dimension, being from the Jupilles, which provide some of the most consistently tight-grained oak of any French forest. Toasted to the le Moine specifications, each barrel in the cellars is ordered precisely for Mounir, and Jupilles makes up 100% of the barrel selection Chez le Moine.

 

Once barreled, the juice rests on 100% of its fine lees without racking throughout its entire fermentation process. The wine is encouraged to feed upon these fine lees – through the ancient process of “battonages”, or stirring of the lees – which protects, balances and promotes complexity in the fermenting wine. During this process, the barrels are resting in the le Moine cellars, which are closed, cold, humid and very deep. And thanks to this, the malolactic fermentation process is able to last for many months – another aspect of the winemaking process that leads to exquisitely layered and profoundly flavored wines from Lucien le Moine.

 

Finally, when each barrel announces its readiness for bottling, the le Moine team bottles with respect for the ancient ways: never are their wines fined or filtered. This method allows for the naturally occurring Carbon Dioxide to be present in the finished wines, a natural element that ensures the ability for each of the Lucien le Moine wines to age gracefully for decades. And thanks to this element, Mounir recommends decantation for each of the wines when consuming them young. Each and every element of terroir – from the most sublime nuances of minerality to the brilliance of the Cote’s acidity – combine with the almost indescribable layers of extreme flavor alive in the very grapes themselves, and come together to build a taste sensation that one is not likely soon to ever forget. Tasting these wines is truly vinous perfection!

 

Just how good are they?

 

In the words of Antonio Galloni, when describing the 2010 le Moine White Burgundies, he would say:

 

“Dazzling pretty much sums it up…. This dazzling, drop-dead gorgeous wine is a pure pleasure to taste. Frankly, it is impossible to spit.”

 

And Steven Tanzer – after scoring the top wines here 99 points for 2010, succinctly summarized:

 

“The 2010s here should be extraordinary.”

 

Might be terribly difficult to locate – at a price suitable – but I assure you the search is worth it; exemplary wines!

Emidio Pepe, Godfather of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Emidio & Granddaughter Chiara, hard at work

Emidio & Granddaughter Chiara, hard at work

There’s Montepulciano, and then there’s Emidio Pepe’s Montepulciano. Much the same as there’s Valpolicella, and then there’s Giuseppe “Bepi” Quintarelli. I know there are many out there familiar with this sentiment; Emidio Pepe’s 2007 tops wine-searcher for popularity among all Montepulciano d’Abruzzo’s for the vintage. Price? Makes absolutely no difference.

It all began for this incredibly famous family in 1899. That was the year of discovery for the “original” Emidio, grandfather to current generation Emidio. In the far northeastern reaches of Abruzzo – very near the border with Marche, within 50km of the Adriatic Sea – Emidio Pepe discovered that the Torano hills offered the perfect terroir and microclimate for Abruzzo varietals. It would seem that no other place on earth would prove as perfect for the production of such ethereal Montepulciano.

For several generations – from grandfather Emidio on down – the Pepe family farmed their famous hills, producing the most sought after grapes in the zone. Content to sell their production, estate bottling would not enter the Pepe family business until the 1960s. Enter the “new” Emidio Pepe, grandson of the “original”.

Beginning with a single hectare of land in 1964, Emidio Pepe began completely replanting, rebuilding a family legacy dating to the 19th century. Steadfastly he honored strictly traditional methods; new wood never entered his cellars, cement vats his exclusive choice – even as the locals and press of the time derided his methods. As his estate expanded – now at a healthy 15 hectares – Emidio slowly, but surely became the envy of the zone. International press lauded him; vintages from the 1970s ‘till current releases have flirted with perfect scores.

Celebrating his 50th year of independent production – his wife, daughters and granddaughter all now working at his side – Emidio Pepe has secured a legacy for the wines from his estate near Torano Nuovo. He tells of his first adventure to Manhattan, attempting to sell his Montepulciano while speaking no English. He beams, recalling that in 1970 his first placement was at Felidia, Lidia Bastianich’s beloved eatery. Today, his 2007 marks another incredible high mark for the man from Abruzzo.

2007 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo  

Nearly impenetrable inky ruby color. Deep, brooding aromas of black cherry, violet, tar, shoe polish and botanical herbs. Sweet/sour flavors of black cherry, blueberry juicy, minerals and ink are complicated by a dusting of botanical herbs. This multilayered knockout of a wine finishes very bright and long, with repeating floral lift. Very clean and precise, and devoid of any funky animal aromas or flavors, it’s one of the best red wines from Pepe in years and a testament to the potential greatness of the Montepulciano grape.

96 points – Vinous (ID)

Precious few bottles make their way to retail of this great family’s heavenly Montepulciano. I’ve found mine, I hope your search is as successful…

Antinori Solaia 2011 – Double 96 Point “Super Exotic” – The Sunny One does it again!

Thanks to terroirs.ie for the barrel shot!

2011 Antinori Solaia | Double 96pts! | “Super-Exotic”

 

Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin calls it,

“The most prestigious wine within the Antinori stable.”

Only days ago, Galloni crowned it 96 points, gushing,

“Another super-exotic, racy 2011 from Antinori, Solaia is supremely beautiful…. Ripe and flashy to the core.”

Perhaps Italy’s most revered critic, Suckling also bestowed this beauty a whopping 96 points, defining it as

“A big, rich wine [with] lots of brightness and beauty at the same time…”

The Antinori family knows how to build excitement for their prized selections, and “The Sunny One” remains their most precious commodity.

Solaia was born from Tignanello. In 1978, from the sunniest portion of the limestone and calcareous clay hillside already known as the Tignanello estate, the Antinori’s culled their first blend of 80% Cabernet and 20% Cab Franc, appropriately named Solaia – Sunny One. The blend was repeated once more, altered over subsequent vintages to suit the variations of Mother Nature, and has sense been produced exclusively in exceptional vintages.

In terms of excitement, its release tops just about any other in the collector’s realm today. The 2011 was one of the most anticipated and difficult to secure.

 

Being released this week

with a special price for those who sign up to receive the offers:

http://www.b-21.com/     thanks huffpost for the btl shots!

 

2012 Melville Sta Rita Hills Estate Pinot | “Gorgeous, Radiant Wine” says Galloni

Thanks Nancy Pastor, The Wall Street Journal for the picture

Melville Estate – Tops in 2012 for Sta Rita Hills!

If Santa Barbara isn’t squarely on your radar, it should be.

Galloni opened his July 15 review with,

“A palpable energy and the thrill of discovery accompanied my tastings in Santa Barbara this year.”

Looks like big name Pinot producers from Napa and Sonoma have some competition on their hands. Melville in particular.

A long-time favorite, Greg Brewer and his team turned in a set of 2012s that flat out stunned Mr. Galloni. From fruit grown on their estate in the Santa Rita Hills AVA, Melville’s 2012 Pinot was the best of the bunch.

Galloni dubbed it

“One of the most polished, refined and aromatically expressive wines I have tasted from Melville…”

crowning it 94 points and saying

“What a gorgeous, radiant and totally sexy wine…”

Melville’s Lompoc estate, planted on various sub soils – predominantly Lompoc dune sand, clay loam and shale – performed brilliantly in 2012. The increased hang time allowed by the lazy, foggy mornings added up to picture perfect growing conditions. Brewer was able to harvest gorgeous fruit, with acidities to balance the striking fruit profiles and stunning aromatics.

Personally, these remind me of his ’07s – bursting with pleasure, balance like none other.

Gorgeous stuff, indeed!