At I Vigneri, production is mainly split between Carricante on Etna's Mediterranean-influenced, southeast-facing vineyards and old-vine Nerello Mascalese on the high-altitude northern side of the volcano. Salvo Foti's Nerello Mascaleses are Mt. Etna benchmarks in their respective price points!
From some of the highest-altitude vineyards in Europe, here you'll find the most structured and deeply concentrated examples of Nerello Mascalese. Vino Rosso is fermented and aged in concrete, giving this young wine an approachability that makes it impossible to resist upon release. Vinupetra comes from just a single hectare of century-old vines. And the latest bottling to our selection, Vinudilice Rosato comes from an century-old field blend planted to at least 10 red and white grape varieties, including Alicante, Grecanico, and Minella.
Foti's impact on Mt. Etna is monumental. For many years, he worked as an oenologist and vineyard consultant with top estates, like Biondi and Benanti. He began to focus nearly exclusively on his project in 2001. The name I Vigneri derives from the 1435-established Maestranzi dei Vigneri, a collective of vineyard workers who influenced the foundation of these magnificent vines atop Etna.
"The world of Savoie wine would be much poorer without him and owes him a bigger debt of gratitude than is evidenced today. I salute you, Michel." — Wink Lorch, Wines of the French Alps
Last week, I wrote about Les Mémoires, Thierry Germain’s soulful, old-vine Cabernet Franc. I’m switching gears today and heading to the French Alps. If you enjoy white wines from the Jura but haven’t dipped into Savoie, you're missing out. One of the most important names to know is Michel Grisard.
This vigneron started Prieuré Saint-Christophe in the late 1970s, after running his family's domaine for a decade. His new sole intention was to produce high-quality, ageable Mondeuse, a powerfully deep red grape variety native to the area. Grisard succeeded but didn’t stop there: He was the Savoie’s first vigneron to adopt Biodynamics, played a key role in the local movement to revive the region’s many abandoned vineyards, by replanting them with indigenous varieties, and he also founded Domaine des Ardoisières.
Grisard devoted his career to championing Savoie, and the wine region is as popular as ever, largely thanks to his pioneering work. He retired after the 2014 vintage and gave his vineyards to the Giachino brothers (Currently my favorite producer in the Savoie). They have carried on Grisard's legacy and continue to produce wines from his former estate under the Prieuré Saint-Christophe label.
In addition to Mondeuse, Grisard also planted 1.4 hectares of Altesse—the finest indigenous white grape variety of Savoie, according to Wink Lorch, author of Wines of the French Alps. (If you don’t know about Lorch, she is a leading expert on this alpine region). Comparable to Burgundy’s Aligoté or Italy’s Trebbiano, Altesse offers an intriguing concentration of fruit with floral and nutty tones.
From the foothills of the Massif des Bauges, on clay and limestone soils, this estate produces one of the most linear examples of Altesse we’ve encountered. It interplays succulent pear with striking minerality, and a slight texture of fresh almond—a pleasing combination that’s compelling and delicious. The wine spontaneously ferments and ages in large oak casks to avoid any oak flavors.
On my trip to Spain in June 2019, none brought more anticipation than my drive to Haro from San Sebastián. Among the historic estates in Spain, few conjure a sense of awe like Rioja's Lopez de Heredia, and for me, they're simply the pinnacle of tradition.
I've always found Lopez de Heredia wines stand out from the pack for their elegance and subtleness. Although not light in color, they see less extraction than many of their neighbors. In short, they are the best case made in the world today for Tempranillo's ability to transmit terroir in the most delicate framework possible.
Traditional winemaking here relies on American oak, but the influence of new wood is minimal, if at all. The Bosconia sees five years in wood prior to additional aging in bottle, and the Tondonia is aged six years. The inherent value in this estate-aging is really without peer in the world of wine.
Founded in 1877, the winery has maintained a level of excellence and held onto a deeply traditional winemaking philosophy that's the model for Rioja today. When Don Rafael López de Heredia y Landeta began his venture, he quickly realized that there was simply no way to ensure high quality by purchasing grapes. With that, the Tondoñia Vineyard was planted in 1913.
"Giovanna's wines are pure, bright, fresh and juicy, with bracing acidity and lingering flavors of red fruit and flowers." — Eric Asimov, NYT
When I have the opportunity to prove that Chianti Classico can show grace and pristine fruit quality akin to Red Burgundy, I use Giovanna Morganti's Le Trame as my first example. I implore you to trust this will be your moment of clarity for Sangiovese.
Importer Neal Rosenthal's Montevertine is a benchmark for the region, but his other discovery, Le Boncie, better illustrates Sangiovese's sometimes elusive, fruit-forward profile and silken tannins. Earlier this year, Eric Asimov of the New York Times included Le Trame in his top ten list of Chianti Classicos.
Giovanna farms her fives hectares using organic and biodynamic principles. I could go down the rabbit hole on farming, fermentation, and aging specifics, but I'd like to cut this one short and say: This is a profound wine that's a joy to drink. I've lost count of the number of times I've used this bottling to convince friends that Sangiovese can be fun, approachable, and deadly serious. Below is a photo from my 2017 visit and the gorgeous color of the barrel sample that had me in love.
The Jura has remained quietly tucked in a sleepy corner of France an hour's drive east. This region certainly has its enthusiasts, but for the most part, the wines historically had been sold in France. However, one evening at a Parisian restaurant set in motion a series of events that would ultimately be a turning point for the Jura.
It was at this Parisian restaurant that Guillaume D'Angerville of Domaine Marquis d'Angerville in Volnay asked the sommelier to blind pour him a glass of wine. The one rule Guillaume had that evening was that it couldn't be from Burgundy. The sommelier poured him Stéphane Tissot's Arbois Les Bruyères, and the rest was history.
At first, locals in Arbois weren't thrilled about D'Angerville's arrival. However, his true fondness for the wines and the history of the small region quickly revealed itself. He made it clear that his goal was to bring worldwide awareness to the great and incredibly unique wines of the Jura. Several properties were purchased and converted to organic and biodynamic practices, including some of Jacques Puffeney's holdings.