Arriving at Stella di Campalto was a curious moment. As I stepped out of the car and felt the intense blast of heat something didn’t seem quite right. We’re in the middle of a very extended heat wave here in Tuscany, but I had just left the north side of Montalcino where the weather had been substantially cooler. How was it that I was about to enter the home of arguably the most featherweight and famously dubbed “Burgundian” estate in all of Montalcino? But as all things go with Stella di Campalto, this is a winery where since inception conventions have been broken.
Today, I'm very happy to offer the 2010 Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, both in 750ml and 1.5L formats, as well as the 2012 Rosso di Montalcino (100% de-classified Brunello di Montalcino). Today's offer is also the only in the entire country for each wine.
The moment you taste a Stella di Campalto wine you realize these defy any preconceived notions you may have of the rich Sangiovese Grosso varietal in Montalcino. I learned there are many keys to the surprisingly fine and lifted personality of Stella’s wines. Many of these parcels contain high concentrations of sand and white quartz, and strong breezes come from down from the Mount Amiata, a former volcano. A river in very close proximity to the estate also plays a role especially helping temperatures dip quite low at night, preserving the much needed acidity.
We tasted parcel by parcel (a rare opportunity) and could see how these elements from various soils worked together to create the grand image of this tiny estate. Some showed high toned with white pepper spice, and others darker and more savory. But, each had a common thread of weightlessness and a beautiful sense of agility.
The very young Stella had been living in Milan with her family and began to fall in love with traditional wines. Serendipitously, she was gifted by her father-in-law an un-planted property on the southern side of Montalcino. After exploring the rundown former farmhouse, and finding the quiet setting very comfortable, she made the move to plant vines. Her heart was adamant about 100% Sangiovese and farming the land with organic and biodynamic principles - now certified.
The birth of Podere San Giuseppe Stella di Campalto dates back to 1910 when Giuseppe Martelli had a sharecropping estate. It was abandoned in 1940 and then acquired by Stella’s family in 1992. Today, 6 parcels of vines comprise these 6.7 hectares, each being fermented on its own prior to blending.
Fermentations are in old open top wood casks, with 45-minute pumpovers 4 times per day, surely an element to the soft tannins. The wines follow traditional methods of long, slow ferments (30+ days) and are aged in botti with a very small addition of old barrique.
I’ve never come across another Brunello which showed so well each time it was poured, no matter the vintage, no matter weather decanted or popped-and-poured. To me, this is always the true sign of a great producer.
The wines are unfortunately made is very small quantities, and allocations are usually counted in bottles, not cases. I’m always working to acquire more even with the challenges due to quantity, but after this visit my determination had a new sense of rejuvenation. Again, today's three bottlings are the only offered in the U.S.
Volnay and its high limestone content sit in rare company with Chambolle-Musigny as one of Burgundy's most ethereal and delicate examples of Pinot Noir. Looking at the duo of D'Angerville and De Montille we're at the apex of what's proven possible here over many decades. While there may be no Grand Crus in the village, savvy collectors know these top Premier Crus transform and go the long haul as well as nearly anything from the Côte de Nuits.
Pronounced structure and tightly-coiled mineral tension make D'Angerville and De Montille perfect domaines to stash in the cellar, yet each has a more open-knit style than has been standard in the past. Today's list covers 2016 through 1985.
D'Angerville's protocol on excluding punchdowns and relying solely on pumpovers for fermentation give these wines a plush and soft-fruited personality that meshes brilliantly with the chalky terroir of Volnay. This combo brings enough slight austerity to make these both delicious and supremely thought-provoking.
De Montille has always been associated with whole cluster ferments, and, in turn, that elevated exotic spice component and stemmy crunch had made these famous for their fortress-like persona of the Hubert de Montille era. As son Etienne has taken over, these past decades have been moving to round their structure out a bit and provide an earlier drinking window. The style here is not a huge shift from one generation to the next as much as it is simply keen on allowing wines to offer more joy and expression in the early-going.
Visit any cellar filled with Northern Rhone greats like Jamet and Chave, you're likely to find a small amount of Domaine Clusel-Roch. At 3.5 hectares. small is the critical factor as to why the domaine's wines are scarcely found. But, in quality they sit atop the scale of Northern Rhone Syrah. The highlight of their range is the Les Grandes Places, sourced from 1935-planted Serine vines.
Today, I'm happy to offer for 2012 Clusel-Roch Côte Rôtie Les Grandes Places for the lowest price in the U.S., and the 2010 Côte Rôtie, the only listing in the world.
The small berries found in bunches of Serine planted in Côte Rôtie produce wines of both immense concentration and intense perfume. Just one hectare of 84-yr-old Serine planted on iron and mica-schist form the foundation of Les Grandes Places. Looking at Clusel-Roch's tête de cuvée, one might expect a powerhouse wine as compared to their others, however it's truly the vivid floral and secondary traits that make this wine one of most celebrated of the Rhône.
Violet, smoke, bitter chocolate, and roasted meats with black pepper stand out first and foremost. Blue and black fruits with licorice tones fill the mid palate, and the persistent mineral conclusion is everything you expect to find with classic Côte Rôtie, the coolest of all the Northern Rhone appellations.
The domaine diverges from other traditionalists in their partial de-stemming and use of some new barrique. 50% for Les Grandes Places and 20% for the Côte Rôtie classique. If there was a model in the entire Northern Rhone for how best to illustrate deft incorporation of some new wood I am taken to Clusel-Roch far quicker than the other usual suspects, such as Guigal and Ogier. Clusel-Roch has really formed their following by appealing first and foremost to traditional-leaning palates, while still being admired by those who regularly chase the La La's.
With the lowest and only price offered, respectively, this is a combo not to be missed. I've also taken things down even further by offering special pricing on mixed 2-packs.
2012 throughout Piedmont gave us open-knit wines with tremendous purity. While most wines have been released some time ago, and quantities long gone, those from Alto Piemonte's Rovellotti family in Ghemme were the last to arrive. Each year I'm all-in on this alpine Nebbiolo-based star, and 2012 has an upfront magic that cannot be missed.
Today, I'm happy to offer the flagship wine from Rovellotti, the 2012 Ghemme Chiosi dei Pomi for $47 per bottle.
Rovellotti was introduced to importer, Neal Rosenthal by the Ferrando family of Carema. When you taste Rovellotti it's clear these two estates are cut from the same cloth. Chiosi dei Pomi is a prime three hectare vineyard located in the center of Ghemme's Baraggiola zone on red clay. Comprised of 85% Nebbiolo and 15% Vespolina, this traditional blend lets the latter variety provide some softness in this cooler, high altitude zone.
I find a huge range of styles in Ghemme (and Alto Piemonte as a whole), with many examples showing grippy tannins that call to mind the tar rather than roses. What I love about the wines from Rovellotti (and Ferrando) is the softness of the fruit and elegance of the structure both still completely driven by its sense of place.
Rovellotti's exclusive protocol of pumping over during fermentation and avoiding punchdowns of the cap plays a huge role in this more sensual and graceful texture. Each vintage tasting Rovellotti it's their light-handed touch and supreme drinkability that stand out so much from the pack.
Chiosi dei Pomi sees traditional vinification and aging in large Slavonian oak for 12 months, then racked into smaller (but still quite large!) five hectoliter barrels for 18 months. And then, of course, the wine is aged in bottle for an extended period of time at the estate prior to release.
In the 2012 edition, notes of dried black cherries, cinnamon, and orange peel jump out of the glass. And the famous floral rose quality of Nebbiolo melds with an alpine mint inflection that lingers on the long finish.
Introducing Rovellotti to customers who love Barolo and Barbaresco has given me a huge sense of gratification. In every circumstance there's a mix of joy and revelation, as the extended aging means this release is always so easy to drink from day one. Pricing for the Ghemme Chioso dei Pomi at $47 is always one of the great values in Piedmont, and in 2012 the mid-weight charm of this inviting Nebbiolo is crystal clear.
An epic retrospective tasting of the wines from Giuseppe Rinaldi were featured by Antonio Galloni in Vinous in May of 2017. This dinner in London was complete with vintages spanning 1990-2010. Looking back at these notes recently was the impetus for today's offer. A visit just before harvest in 2012 to the cantina was one of my very fondest memories of travels on the wine route. It was a true privilege to meet the family and taste the wines, including the monumental 2010's still in botti.
Today, I'm happy to offer a wide range from Giuseppe Rinaldi stretching back to the epic 1967 Brunate Riserva.
The first wines labeled under Giuseppe Rinaldi came in 1921 (pictured below). Battista Rinaldi continued the tradition at the estate in 1945, and after his passing his son Beppe returned home in 1992. Beppe's spirit over the last decades has been even more immortalized than the legendary wines he's produced. It was over this span that worldwide attention on Piedmont had gradually increased, and even in the last 15 years pricing and scarcity of the wines has drastically changed. In 2010 Beppe's daughter's Marta and Carlotta began making the wines, continuing in the same traditional fashion.
Along with drinking the wines of Bartolo Mascarello and Giacomo Conterno, Rinaldis are among the most memorable I've had in Barolo. They appeal to every aspect of the senses and continually remind me that no matter how articulate experiences can be conveyed the true magic of them is a deeply personal one.
As noted by Galloni, most of the production from this cantina had been sold to private customers. Finding back-vintage wines is not a common occurrence today. I was thrilled to be able to work over the last year with Rinaldi's US importer, Vinifera Imports, to acquire several older wines directly from the Rinaldi estate.
Rinaldi is a revered traditionalist, following the techniques Battista and Giuseppe had employed in the early and mid 1900's. Wines are macerated on their skins for a long time, and aging takes place large botti. The results are powerful, deep Barolos that are met with the precision and aromatics that make them incomparable. They offer wild spices, gamey notes, and of course Nebbiolo's tell-tale tar and roses.
Essentially two Barolos were made, the Brunate-Le Coste and the Cannubi (San Lorenzo)-Ravera. Laws recently changed and now multiple crus aren't permitted on labels. Starting in 2010 the Brunate-Le Coste was bottled with a higher 85% Brunate and just 15% Le Coste (the maximum legal addition). The Cannubi (San Lorenzo)-Ravera began to implement wine from Le Coste and the new name for the bottling is "Tre Tine" (three vats).