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.
Finding satin-textured, über-young Nebbiolo that calls to mind Foillard's Morgon Cuvée Corcelette more so than a customarily tannic Barbaresco is something I never considered possible. Stay with me here. Hunting down this silk-fruited trait simply was not on my Nebbiolo radar, as usually it's only conveyed by the ultra-modern Piedmont examples, which, stylistically, are not for me. But, when an iconic Burgundy producer tipped me off to this Barbaresco name I made sure to taste immediately.
Today, I'm happy to offer Paolo Veglio's Cascina Roccalini Barbaresco Roccalini. Including the supremely approachable 2015, 2014, and the rare 2013 Riserva.
Barbarescos from Roccalini flip preconceived notions of the region and its capabilities upside down. There's an up-front, plush immediacy of the fruit profile that's just so easy to drink, yet with complexity and a mid-palate grip that's true to Nebbiolo and this heralded zone of Piedmont. As far as the delicious-factor is concerned, this is a total knockout - Among Piedmont discoveries I've made since opening in 2015, this is atop my list.
Paolo Veglio's story meanders through the cellars of Bruno Giacosa where Paolo's father, an architect, took him as a young boy. Years later in 1991, Paolo returned to Giacosa and asked if he might be interested in purchasing grapes that he was now tending on his home property. A skeptical Giacosa asked, "And, which vineyard is this?" Paolo told him it was Roccalini. And Giacosa replied, "I'll see you in the morning."
The surprisingly fresh, approachable and remarkably seamless Barbaresco from Roccalini is undoubtedly derived from Paolo's natural approach. Living above the cellar and vines, Paolo knew early on that organic farming was not only necessary for producing the best possible wine, but also for a healthy family life on this estate.
Paolo's insistence on taking the road less traveled in Piedmont leads him to question conventional thinking. He says, "Every time I see something that's too easy, something's not right, something we don't know yet." And, his philosophy at every stage is to take the longer path, one that requires more time, effort, and patience. And, I promise you, what you will find in this bottle will be a revelation unlike any you've had from Piedmont.
Roccalini is a special vineyard, just as Bruno Giacosa knew. It was 10 years of trials before Paolo finally chose to bottle his own family label. Any trepidation about drinking current release Barbaresco can be tossed aside right now. This wine is ready to go and will open your eyes to a very unique spirit in Barbaresco. As holiday season is in full gear, I highly recommend you pair Roccalini with your favorite winter recipes and prepare to be floored.
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.
2018 in Beaujolais marks a much-needed return for growers to good yields and very high quality with a dry harvest. The last couple vintages have not been kind for vignerons in each of these areas. Massive amounts of spring rain actually proved a blessing as July and August heatwaves came next, meaning reserves of accumulated ground water was more than sufficient during through this stretch. 2018 is a ripe vintage for sure, but as compared to the bombastic 2015's, the alcohol is lower, acidity higher, and freshness a big part of the finished product.
As compared to other titans of Cru Beaujolais, Foillard and Lapierre, I find Dutraive's often lighter in color, with a more concentrated, lifted spice, and a more wild natural element that stands out from the pack due to his lower sulphur protocol. Waiting several years after release to get into top cuvées has been a big goal of mine, as the rare aged Dutraive is pure magic when fruit begins to fall more to the background and exotic spices become more prominent.
Of all the discoveries for the shop there's none that have captured my attention more than the Côte Rôtie of Chambeyron-Manin. The secret is out on this tiny jewel of a domaine. At under 165 cases produced annually the Chambeyron-Manin domaine is small-production on a wildly different scale. They farm just a 0.5 hectare of a rare clone of Syrah named Serine in the decomposed granite, iron rich soils of the Côte Brune.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2016 Chambeyron-Manin Côte Rôtie Côte Brune in both 750ml and magnums.
While Côte Rôtie is the most seductive end of the Northern Rhone Valley, the Chambeyron's expression of Serine harnesses the dark and feral characteristics of the Côte Brune. With all the brawn and scorched earth elements of this combo it's the violet and lavender that still speaks to this slice of the most sensual Syrah on the globe.
I had thought visiting the Calmont vineyard in Mosel's Bremm would surely be the most jaw-dropping site of my wine travels, it being the world's steepest. But, when I descended into Ampuis, driving along the Rhone river and gazing up I realized this was a different animal. Immediately visualizing the hands-only work required on these towering terraces that stretched completely vertical from the river to the clouds brought on a sense of anxiety. Something like when Chief Brody saw that shark up close for the first time at the back of the boat.
The Chambeyron-Manin family historically, like many here, sell meats, cheeses, and vegetables. The minuscule plot of vines they have just behind their home only supplement their "main" work operating their Les Jardins de la Côte-Rôtiemarket. Tasting their wine for the first time it's hard to imagine they would devote their lives to anything except ramping up production and getting it into as many hands as possible. But, alas, half a hectare is what it is, and I'm just so fortunate to have been introduced.
The dark expression of Serine and the Côte Brune feature smoke, bacon fat, crushed rocks, dark plum, black pepper, and black olive notes with the vivid tell-tale florality that separate Côte Rôtie from its southern neighbors. I'm always on the hunt for more bottles from this domaine's current release, but finding wines with bottle age was a huge surprise.