How Do You Get Justice

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I’ve been very quiet on the blog because it’s been a hard couple of months for me.

I was back in Paris a week ago to testify in court against a very well-known figure in the wine industry. Because the verdict will not be pronounced until early July, I cannot make any of the details around the case public.

One of the hardest things about last Friday’s hearing and of the five year procedure as a whole is the gut-wrenching, all-consuming desire for justice to be done.

The hurt you endure when victim of a crime – the tears, the breakdowns, the hopelessness – while no longer raw, is carried around like a shadow that you cannot shift until you have the verdict.

The endless statements at the police station, the questionings. “We’re counting on you to be strong,” an officer said to the teary-eyed, curly-haired ball, crouched on the Haussmannian street, hugging her knees outside the commissariat, during a pause in the confrontation in 2013.

Now that the pain is no longer so acute, the main agony is actually due to the act of putting your faith in an unknown entity. You hope that he will be found guilty and therefore be made to suffer even just a fraction of what you went through. The anguish comes from it being completely out of your control; you don’t know who the judges will be and if they will be in any way understanding to your cause. Has the district attorney (procureur, in French) done enough? At the hearing, you just have a couple of hours to show who you are, convince them as best you can, and then wait to see what the result will be. Everything lies in the balance.

“But what does your boyfriend think about it?” an Italian friend recently asked. “If it were me, mine would have already flown to Paris and bashed the guy’s head in!”

Despite there being as many lawyers in Milano as in the whole of France, the system here seems different. Lawyers trade firmly worded letters as frequently as little yellow balls pass over the net at Wimbledon. Issues are more often solved out of court than in the presence of a judge.

Within the viticultural sector in Italy, the stakes are even higher. The levels of jealousy, revenge and cruelty have shocked me in their ugliness. For having crossed someone, maybe having cut down a tree on a territorial boundary, sold wine to the wrong person or at the wrong price, matters will be taken into their own hands.

In December 2016, a producer in Oltrepo Pavese’s property was broken into and the burglars opened the taps in the cellar, meaning that the equivalent of 400,000 bottles was poured down the gutter.

It’s not just a one off, in 2012, a producer in Montalcino suffered an even larger loss – 60,000 litres of Brunello di Montalcino, which had an estimated worth of 13 million euros.

I’ve spoken to a producer in Alto-Adige who was in the middle of harvest. He left his harvested grapes in a trailer in one side of the field while he went to pick the grapes on the other side… and during that small window of time, another person came up and poured petrol into the trailer-load of freshly picked grapes!

It’s not unheard of for another farmer to come with a chainsaw in the middle of the night and destroy part of your vineyard, just over a small debate. Valuable cars have gone missing in Valipolicella in what the police believe is an inside job.

Now, I know that militant groups in the south of France have done similar acts… but in the years I lived in France, I didn’t ever hear of it being so widespread as the stories I’m hearing now I’m in Italy, or if it were, it was for commercial gain rather than pure malevolence.

Is Italy alone in this or are there other countries and wine-making regions in which this is an issue?


P.S. This piece is no way intended to be an incitement to violence – I hope that is clear and will not be used against me in any future legal proceedings. It is just a reflection on contemporary society and cultural differences.

“Vintage 2017 Report” Or “How To Protect Against Frost”

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It’s becoming an all-too-familiar scenario: a beautiful springtime with plenty of warm sunshine but followed by a sudden dip and freezing temperatures.

A cold winter does marvels for the vineyard but once bud-burst has taken place, a cold snap can have catastrophic results.

You may remember that I wrote about this already in 2016.

Vintage 2016: Awful news for winemakers in Burgundy and the Loire

Vintage 2016: Disaster strikes again in Burgundy

In the Loire Valley, “at least 50%” of the 2016 production was lost due to frost. (info-tours.fr)

Unfortunately, 2017 has already hit hard. Loire, Burgundy, Champagne, Beaujolais… areas which are already fragile after successive poor harvests have been struck again.

Nicolas Reau (Anjou) reported this morning (on Facebook) that last night’s frost has caused him to lose 80% of his crop.

Benoit Tarlant (Champagne), similarly, has lost all of his chardonnay in the area around in village of Oeuilly.

They are far from being the only ones affected.  Continue reading

#YoungtoYoung17: The Next Generation Will Be Female!

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I was expecting to see ​Francesca Binacchi, from Poggio al Mandorlo at Young to Young this year but she had unfortunately been taken ill.

As it happens, I met her father instead and a very interesting discussion ensued….

He and his wife set up a winery in 2001. Originally from Lombardy, they fell in love with this area of Tuscany, 12 kilometres from Montalcino, near the Val d’Orcia, on the extinct volcano Amiata.


Their local denominazione is that of “Montecucco” and if you don’t know of it yet, you ought to! I often find the sangiovese of Chianti difficult to digest – the tannins and wood barrels tough and chewy bedfellows. Montecucco’s expression of Sangiovese is that of freshness, elegance and very integrated tannins. 
Anyway, back to Francesca. She’s 20 years old and studying sciences at university. Passionate about wine and oenology, and importantly, the only daughter, she looks likely to inherit the winery when her parents retire.

What I particularly liked, talking to her parents, was their conviction that a girl has the potential to take over a winery. It is far too common for a son to be the ‘chosen’ one to manage the estate – especially in such a traditional country as Italy. 

The right to be taken as seriously as a man is something I myself fight for all the time. 

They very much hope that Francesca will take forward their work.

The Poggio al Mandorlo have 12 hectares of vineyards from which they make 40,000 – 50,000 bottles per year. (To put this into perspective, it’s a very small winery for the area.) Half of their production is what they call “territory wines” – i.e. made with sangiovese grapes; the other half are international blends of merlot and cab sauv. 

We tried Le Querce 2011. It was a very interesting wine. Wonderful red garnet colour, an enchanting nose of redcurrant jelly and wild herbs. The beautifully balanced mouth, remarkably fresh is full of prunes and pomegranates. The acidity is very typical of sangiovese with rounded tannins and an impressive salinity at the end, hailing from the mineral soils of the extinct volcano.   

As I mentioned before, sangiovese is not my variety of predilection but this particular expression I liked very much. I look forward to following Francesca’s progress over the coming years.

Poggio al Mandorlo, Montecucco, Tuscany

Tasted at Young to Young 2017, during Vinitaly.

#YoungtoYoung17: Spotlight on Sustainability

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The memorable discovery of this year’s Young to Young session (during Vinitaly) was ​Alessandra Quarta, a young producer in the boot of Italy: Puglia. 
She is twenty-something daughter of a successful winemaking family (who make approx 400,000 bottles per year.) Yet, in this post – for once! – I’m not going to talk about the wine but more about the vision. 

Under the auspices of the Cantina Moros near Lecce, Alessandra has her own line: “Qu.ale.” 

“Quale” in Italian means “which” and apparently the name was partially inspired by her initials but mainly from the set of questions that she was asking herself when starting up this business. 
Which bottle to choose? Which wine? Also deeper, more meaningful questions such as “in what kind of world do I want to live?”

Accordingly, her Salento Rosso IGP wine, named “Qu.ale”, is a sustainable, ecologically and sociologically conscious wine. 

Ecologocial because the weight of the bottle is as light as possible. Packaging is kept to a minimum, but what there is is all recycable and eco-friendly. Other materials (corks, labels etc.) are sourced responsibly. 

Sociological because 5% of the sales go to a charity and on the website qualevino.it you can choose the beneficiary. Children’s health, protecting the environment, access to clean water or social inclusion are some of the possibilities….

Not only that… but Alessandra has put together a “Manifesto per una Democrazione del Vino” which includes lines such as: 

  • Everyone is a citizen and they deserve to drink well and in a healthy way.
  • Quality of wine is closely and fundamentally related to the quality of life. 
  • Everyone should be able to drink good wine at an affordable price.
  • We should use eco-packaging and encourage recycling.  
  • Every one of us should look after planet Earth and those who live on it.  
  • You help humanity every time you drink a glass of red wine!

30,000 bottles of Qu.ale are made every year. I’m certainly going to keep a look out for it and do my part in supporting the community of upcoming, sustainble, conscientious winemakers.  

http://www.qualevino.it/en/join-the-wine-democracy/

In The Vineyards With: Isabelle & Jean-Yves Vantey (Les Rouges Queues, Maranges, Burgundy)

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It was on one distinctly grey and damp afternoon in late January that our car wound its way through the vineyards of Burgundy, up towards the small area of Maranges, just south of Beaune.

I was with two of the Maule brothers (producers of natural wine in the Veneto) accompanying them as a translator and willing drinking companion on a short road trip through France.

Maranges is one of the lesser known appellations in Burgundy. Strictly speaking, it’s a Village Appellation in the southernmost point of the Côte de Beaune, and within it are 7 Premier Crus. (These 7 climats are: Clos de la Boutière, Clos de la Fussière, La Fussière, Le Clos des Loyères, Le Clos des Rois, Le Croix Moines, Les Clos Roussots.) Continue reading

What Is Prosecco?

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For a Brit like myself, Prosecco basically means cheap Champagne. We don’t care how it was made, or that the grape varieties are completely different from Champagne… it’s fizzy and it’s cheap!

However, if you’re reading my blog, it’s already a sign that you’re above hoi polloi and that we should dig deeper.

If you know anything about Prosecco, it may well be that Prosecco is made using the charmat method (in contrast to Champagne and Cava.) “Charmat” means that the secondary fermentation takes place in a tank and the subsequent sparkling wine is filtered and bottled under pressure to maintain the bubbles. The majority of Prosecco that you find in conventional supermarkets is indeed made using charmat. But if you’re into your natural wines, you may have heard of col fondo prosecco, which is very different. (More about that very soon.)


What is Prosecco? Well, it’s also the name of a grape variety. Helpfully enough, the prosecco grape is the dominant variety for making Prosecco wine. Less helpfully, the prosecco grape is also known as glera. *eye roll* Continue reading

Lusenti’s Bianca Regina 2010

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I went to Venice yesterday. Had a delicious lunch at Estro (highly recommended, by the way!) and then decided to see if I could retrace my steps to a cute, little wine bar that I stumbled across in December.

Fortunately, my trusty nose / ability to find wine / sense of direction is pretty good and, even though I didn’t remember the name or address, I was able to find my way back to the Cantina Arnaldi (also totally worth the visit.)

Andrea at Cantina Arnaldi, Venezia

Andrea of the Cantina Arnaldi, Venezia

I actually had a secret agenda – I wanted to bring a bottle of something a little different back for my boyfriend, “A”. I asked Andrea at Arnaldi (pictured above) for a suggestion… and it turns out to have been spot on. It’s one of the most interesting wines I’ve drunk recently.


LUSENTI (Colli Piacentini DOC, Emilia) Bianca Regina 2010 Malvasia di Candia Aromatica (13.5%)

Lusenti is an organic winery and part of the VinNatur association but one that I didn’t know of before. They’re located near Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna, set in a unique micro-climate between the Po river and the Apennine mountains.

Once harvested, the grapes are left for three or four days for a skin-contact maceration at controlled temperatures.

I’m actually a pretty mean girlfriend because, once I got home, I put some aluminium foil around the bottle and poured a glass for “A” to taste blind.

On first impressions, it smells sweet: lots of ripe apricot, honey, quince and fresh nutmeg. “A” got it straight away, “Malvasia!”

With a traffic-light amber colour, the wine’s vintage was harder to guess. It’s clearly relatively mature because the juice is completely in place but there’s no hint of oxidation. Timeless.

What I found particularly enjoyable about this wine is the gustatory sensations. Despite the sweet nose, the wine is almost completely bone dry. It seduces you in phases: starting with fleshy fruits and almonds, moving through tannins, acidity and mentholated freshness and finishing on a slight bitterness, very typical of skin-contact wines. Lipsmackingly moreish!


Tasted: 13th March 2017

Price: €€

Rating: ****


Lusenti website and Facebook