Thivin's Côte de Brouilly has been a staple in our Cru Beaujolais category since day one. The value at $32 per bottle is always refreshing, as top producers in the region continue to climb. These 50-year-old vines are situated on blue volcanic soil and an unusually steep 48% grade slope. There's a blue-fruited quality to the Gamay that leads one to believe terroir can impart an undeniable sense of place.
Château Thivin’s roots date back to the 15th century, though it was in 1877 when Zaccharie Geoffrey purchased the two-hectare estate at auction that it began as we know it today. Geoffrey's grandson, Claude, was pivotal in creating the Côte de Brouilly appellation during the great depression, and the family has continued the production of this benchmark Côte de Brouilly. Kermit Lynch visited the domaine during his first trip on the wine route with Richard Olney in 1976.
The drive from Mt. Etna to Vittoria reminded me just how varied the landscape and terroir of Sicily were. Temperatures rose, and the climate turns arid. It was hard to believe the place I was heading was beloved for the freshness and clarity of its wines. Still, there's no better introduction to Vittoria than the dream project brewed up by Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti, and Cirino Strano (COS) in 1980.
There's a constant breeze going through the Hyblaean mountains, and the vines here are on red clay and sand over a deep bedrock of limestone. The wind helps moderate the inland temperatures, the red sand cooling immediately after sunset, and the limestone is responsible for low pH levels in the wine, giving high acidity and nervy minerality.
I met with Giusto Occhipinti just as they were starting to bottle a new vintage. The wines we tasted were fermented in cement and aged in large Slavonian oak casks, similar to one's used for traditional Barolo and Brunello. This technique ensures the wines accentuate crisp, refreshing notes that make the wines a joy to drink. COS has put the region's once obscure Frappato and Nero d'Avola on the world map!
Naples is famous for its Neapolitan-style pizza, but truth be told, its real magic is seafood. Situated just west of Mt. Vesuvius on the Mediterranean coast, the volcanic soils here and in Avellino are home to the white variety, Fiano, a perfect match for the ultra-fresh fare in Naples restaurants. Larger producers litter every wine list, but there's one particular small producer that's developed a cult following.
Ciro Picariello's wines come from parcels in Montefredane and Summonte (1,600 feet and 2,100 feet above sea level, respectively). His secret is fastidious vineyard work, of course, but he's also exact in the cellar, from pressing plots individually to undisturbed aging on the wines' fine lees. The wines ferment by native yeast, something commercial wineries in Campania view as risky.
Fiano has notes of apple, peach, almond paste, and a flinty mineral quality. With time, the grape variety ages similarly to Loire Chenin Blanc, revealing honey, beeswax, and lavender notes. It's one of the most age-worthy white wines in Italy, and I always stock up on Ciro's top Fiano bottling, 906, which comes from his highest elevation plantings and sees an extra year of aging on fine lees.
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.
I stepped out of the car and was hit by an intense blast of heat when arriving at Stella di Campalto. Tuscany was in the middle of a very extended heatwave, and the north side of Montalcino had been substantially cooler. How was this the home of the famously dubbed Burgundian estate in all of Montalcino? However, Stella di Campalto wines defy any preconceived notions you may have about Montalcino Sangiovese Grosso.
There are many keys to the surprisingly fine and lifted personality of Stella’s wines. Many parcels contain high sand and white quartz concentrations, and strong breezes come down from Mount Amiata, a former volcano. A nearby river also plays a role, helping temperatures dip low at night and preserving much-needed acidity. We tasted parcel by parcel (a rare opportunity) and could see how these elements worked together to create this tiny estate's grand image; some were high-toned with white pepper spice, and others darker and more savory.
Young Stella grew up in Milan, fell in love with Italian wine, and inherited her property on the southern side of Montalcino in 1992. (Podere San Giuseppe dates back to 1910 when Giuseppe Martelli had a sharecropping estate and abandoned it in 1940). After exploring the rundown farmhouse and finding the quiet setting comfortable, Stella planted vines. She was adamant about growing 100% Sangiovese and farming the land with certified organic and biodynamic principles.
The estate comprises six hectares of vines, with each parcel fermented on its own before blending. Fermentations are in old, open-top wood casks, with four pump-overs per day, an element of the soft tannins. The wines age in botti with a tiny addition of old barrique. It is rare to come across a Brunello that shows well each time it's poured—no matter the vintage, whether it's decanted, or popped open and served.