“Would You Like To Try My 2014?”


I was chatting to Daniele Portinari in Paris last summer. He explained how many Italians reply “oh no, no, no” to the question “would you like to try my 2014?” It was a notoriously wet and cold year in northern Italy with sporadic hail for the especially unfortunate. Many locals would rather forget this annus horribilis.

Daniele was enjoying being amongst Parisians who either didn’t know or didn’t care. They simply heard “Would you like to try my wine?” and the instant reply was “Yes, sure!”


On Wednesday, I had a whole spread of 40 or 50 wines to taste – it was a good day! – but the Guiry 2014 (100%  Sangiovese) from Tenuta Mara in Emilia-Romagna particularly stood out.  Leonardo Pironi, their winemaker, explains that because it had been a wet and difficult year, they didn’t make their high-end wine “MaraMia” and instead those old-vine, usually superior grapes went into this one, the Guiry. They selected only the very healthiest grapes, which meant that yields were exceptionally low, and they did a relatively short skin contact maceration but the result is a wonderfully drinkable wine.


In this day and age, a good winemaker is able to make a good wine regardless of how bad a year it was. A less talented winemaker, or maybe one who likes experimenting too much, will end up with a faulty wine regardless of what the elements threw at him or her.

Obviously some years are less stressful for the vineyard team and easier in the cellar than others. It’s also completely normal for one vintage to taste different from the next. You might prefer the balance in 2013 or heat of 2015 but don’t write off 2014 because everyone said it was a bad year.

Side note: if you’re looking for important wines to lay down (Barolo, Brunello, Amarone etc) you would, 99% of the time, be better off going for a different vintage. But, if it’s an everyday drinking wine that you’re after, chances are you might end up with something better than you expect.

TENUTA TERRAVIVA (Abruzzo) “Lui” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC 2014 Montepulciano (13.5%) 

Highly aromatic wine with tons of black fruit, morello cherries and spice. It’s meaty, earthy and almost smoky. Medium-bodied and continues with lashings of fruit – particularly blueberry and fresh blackcurrants – and super soft tannins. A crowd pleaser.

Incidentally, I also tried their 2015 which was just as exuberant – with just as much fruit – but at this particular time, it had a slight reduction and was a little more flabby.

IL GELSO MORO (Marche) Marche Rosso IGT 2014 Montepulciano 60%, Sangiovese 30%, Lacrima 10% (14.5%)

What style! From the dark-as-night colouring and the relatively high alcohol content, I was expecting a full bodied wine with potentially obtrusive tannins but I am stunned by its elegance. Fruit takes the leading role, with pepper and spice playing the supporting actor. Beautifully balanced and supremely elegant.

ROCCA RONDINARIA (Piedmont) “Spessiari” Dolcetto di Ovada DOC 2014 Dolcetto (12%)

I really like the wines from Rocca Rondinaria. They’re a small winery in this stupendous rocky cliff in Rocca Grimalda, in Monferrato, just north of Ovada and very near Gavi.

“Spessiari” means “pharmacist” in the local dialect and, incidentally, a pharmacist was exactly what I needed when I realised that my boyfriend had decided to pour this wine into my vinegar barrel “because there are too many bottles on your desk.”

I’d had a few sips before the bottle met its untimely end, but I prefer sitting with the wine in my glass for about 15-20 minutes before writing about it. In this case, I didn’t get that possibility.* What I remember is that this wine was more austere and a little more concentrated than its other vintages. This is surely the impact of this cold, wet vintage has had on the native characteristics of Dolcetto but it’s in no way a lesser wine.

* but I will get my own back in other ways….



In The Vineyards With: Franco & Giulia Masiero (Veneto)


When I think of the wine-producing regions in the Veneto, my mind goes to immediately to Valpolicella, Soave, Prosecco. After a short pause, I go to the Colli Berici (south of Vicenza, where there’s young, promising producer Sauro Maule) and the Colli Euganei (home to the eccentric Marco Buratti) but the truth is that there’s actually so much more.

I myself am now based in one of the smaller winemaking towns which was summarily  described by Nicolas Belfrage in “Barolo to Valpolicella” (1999) under the title “other garganegas of the Veneto.” We’re effectively satellites of Soave and that comes as a cutting blow because there is so much talent that deserves to be uncovered. Discovering and sharing these other areas in the Veneto is going to be my focus of the next year or so.


Franco Masiero

Let me introduce you, therefore, to Franco Masiero. His eponymous winery, Masiero, is based in the Lessini hills in what is essentially a viticultural no-man’s-land.

8 different wines are made from a gamut of grape varieties: garganega, chardonnay, pinot grigio, merlot, tai rosso, cabernet franc, pinot nero. In fact, there are so many micro-cuvées that many of them never get released onto the market but remain as treats for guests and friends.

These wines originate from just 4 and a half hectares of vineyards, which are split over two sites: in volcanic Selva di Trissino and limestone-and-fossil-heavy Sant’Urbano. The vineyards are farmed according to biodynamic principles and the cellar sees next to no sulphur, only natural winemaking. Speaking of winemaking, you’ll find all kind of receptacles: cement tanks, stainless steel, large old wooden barrels and even a doll-sized marble vat.


This is where Giulia comes in.

To construct a winery was Franco’s dream but it falls on his elder daughter Giulia’s shoulders to take it forward. Her first vintage was 2015 and whereas you might have expected her to be something of a puppet, in the shadows of her charismatic father, she’s actually shown herself to be highly competent. One of her first moves (implemented just in time for the 2016 vintage) was to install large, untreated cement tanks. A risky decision but it has paid off. She works in the fields, tending each vine manually – day in day out. Multi-lingual, poised, and she’s only a mere 24 years old!


Giulia Masiero

Winemaking is not something that’s been in the Masiero blood for generations so I wondered how this initial dream of Franco’s came about.

Apparently Franco’s best childhood memories are of him, with his father, going up into the hills for a week in November, hunting small game and drinking locally-made grappa. This precious week in the hills was essentially a moment of bonding between father, son and their guests. As I see it, Franco wanted to create an environment in which those same back-to-the-roots, simple pleasures were present in the modern day…. and what better way to spark conviviality than with a bottle of wine.

“Most people spend their disposable income on fast cars or fancy holidays. I could have bought a couple of Ferraris but instead I built a winery.”

I inquire as to the extent of his implication in the winery but whilst he maintains a strong interest, he has new dreams that he wants to see through. What I’m therefore looking forward to following closely is how Giulia will make her mark. They’ve had some difficult years recently – the elements have not been kind and the yields have been low – but this is a winery with huge promise.

Il Verdugo cresce, le annate cambiano, ma le emozioni restano. 💣💣💣 #Repost @perrikinobevevino with @insta.save.repost • • • Good people make good wines. I still remember when I tried this Merlot with @mathiasskovmand for the first time… we were immediately blown away. Without thinking to much, we both decided we had to bring some bottles back to Denmark! They told us we could buy as many as we wanted, but up 48bottles! The production of Verdugo still is so limited, but I eventually managed to increase the volume of my allocation year by year (now is 60bottles). A wine made by the most genuine family I know, where you breathe nothing but joy, and when you drink their wines you get it all. Yesterday I had the 2015 at Bæst: BOMBA!

A post shared by Giulia Masiero (@giuliamasiero) on

Visit: 11 January 2018

Official Website / Facebook

Terre di Pietra’s “Stelar” Valpolicella Classico 2017


Last week was a busy week in Verona because the who’s who in the wine world came to Romeo and Juliet’s historic city for the Anteprima Amarone.

As you may have deduced, Anteprima is a sneak peak at the just-released vintage, which this year for Amarone is 2014. But…. and this is a big but…. 2014 was a disasterous year in this part of the world and many quality producers chose not to make an Amarone.

The brave souls who came from all four corners of the world were secretly asked “but you’re not really going to drink and actually rate that, are you?” by the local wine trade.

Despite there being a bad year here or there, Amarone doesn’t need any help to be sold. Exports to Germany (its biggest market) are up 30%, + 15% to China and Japan, + 10% to the USA. Nomisma Wine Monitor reckons that the total value of Amarone sales in 2017 was an eyewatering 355 million euros (as reported in the local newspaper, link here.) Today, I wanted to stay in the Valpolicella region but to talk about something a little different: the most recent vintage from Terre di Pietra.

This might be a rather strange thing to say out loud but I prefer tasting entry level wines. A winery’s entry level gives me a better idea of the personality and the spirit of its other wines. High-end wines tend to be rather monotonous – mostly fruit forward, barrel aged, full bodied – but a base wine is more revealing and more telling. Also, if you are capable of making a good base wine, now we’re talking!

TERRE DE PIETRA “Stelar” Valpolicella Classico barrel sample 2017 (Corvina 40%, Corvinone 30%, Rondinella 20%, Molinara 10%)

Terre di Pietra is a relatively recent winery, based in the eastern section of the Valpolicella region. It started off in 2005 when a talented, passionate woman, Laura Albertini, just 25 years old, was given a bit of garage space at her father-in-law’s house in which she could make wine. Her own father had pushed her into a degree in chartered accounting and wanted her to lead a ‘conventional’ life. She, however, had her own mind.

It took 5 years to convince her father but finally, in 2010, construction started on a fully equipped winery. The first vintage at this new magnificent winery in Marcellise was in 2011. She was widely touted as one of Valpolicella’s upcoming winemakers to watch.

This story has a tragic twist because Laura died suddenly in March 2017. In the past year, her widow, Cristiano Saletti, has had to wrangle with the loss of his wife whilst also making important decisions about the future of the winery.


I managed to get my hand on a couple of barrel samples from 2017. This, therefore, is the first vintage of Cristiano calling all the shots. but it should be said that he was given a helping hand by reputed oenologue, Franco Giacosa. I wanted to get a taste of the direction that the winery was heading.

Initially, the most striking thing is its colour: a beautiful dark pink, reminiscent of wild raspberries or the ideal tint for a trusty, go-to lipstick. Aromas are vinous, spicy and inviting. Lots of morello cherry.

One sip becomes two and two sips become three. I catch myself reaching for the bottle and refilling my glass. Of the barrel samples that I tried (and there were several) this is my favourite. There’s nothing pretentious or out of place about it: very light, bone dry, easy-drinking, and despite having been such a hot, parshed year, it retains an amazing amount of freshness and minerality.

It is so light that it would probably be overwhelmed by most food pairings but it will excel on a hot day on its own or with a a slice of salami or a bit of cheese (like the local cheese Monte Veronese.)

Based on the previous vintages, I get the feeling that Cristiano will be continuing along the natural path that Laura started and maybe taking it even further. Time will tell.

I imagine the wine will be released for sale in the springtime. It’s wonderfully juicy and definitely up there on the drinkability level with the Poulsard that I wrote about last week.  Served slightly chilled, it would make for perfect summertime drinking. Retails for around 10-14 euros.

Tasted 7th February 2018.

Terre di Pietra official website and Facebook

A Self-Imposed Time Out


You may have noticed that I’ve taken a bit of a break from the blog. I’ve actually taken a break from most social media platforms because I’ve needed to turn off and disconnect in order to avoid being triggered by certain people, places or labels.

It’s been more than 6 months since the judges found Marc Sibard guilty of harassment and sexual assault and more than five years since I handed in my resignation but I still have nightmares and recurring dreams. Just last night I found myself justifying to some imaginary character why I moved away from France. 

It’s not only inanimate objects that trigger my subconscious; even real people in real life will call me a storyteller or a money-hungry witch to my face.

“Why did you make it all up?” they ask.
Continue reading

Beaujolais Nouveau Release Day


The third Thursday in November means the release of the latest Beaujolais Nouveau vintage. Another year and still the craze persists. Italians have Novello wine too… but, like with most things, the French are better organised and therefore more commercially successful. 

Well, commercially successful is a relative term. 

Photo (c) Paco Mora / owner of La Cave d’Ivry (the photo was obviously not taken in his shop!)

That supermarkets are plugging the new wine at 1,99€ a bottle devalues the work of the vineyard labourers, the winemaker and his equipment, and the price of the land and of the grapes.

Beaujolais is hugely successful in generating interest and increasing consumption for a couple of days, yes, but in a year like 2017 with unprecedentedly low yields across the board, shouldn’t we be making consumers pay a little more? 

I was reading a piece (in Italian) by my friend Angelo Peretti this morning in which he talks about his incomprehension of the unwavering support that people give to their favourite football team. He likens it to his bafflement at how the different sides in the wine world (conventional vs natural) also jeer, shout and mock the other. Whilst I most definitely fall on the natural end of the spectrum, I hope I succeed in keeping an open mind. I wholeheartedly agree with Angelo’s conclusion: if a wine is made well, I’ll drink it. (I mean, remember that I am English after all!)

That said, when I’m at home choosing which wine to open, I have very simple criteria: it must be made well, taste good and suit the occasion. There’s so much choice of wine out there today that I don’t understand why we still feel obliged to drink something we don’t enjoy. As some famous person once said: “Life is too short to drink bad wine.” 

Now I know the standard of Beaujolais Nouveau has vastly increased when you think back to the banana years but most of them are not my cup of tea. 

I like the Gamay grape; it has unique qualities that remain largely under-appreciated. Beaujolais was also the first French region for which I learnt all the appellations (Burgundy is impossibly complicated for a beginner, Alsace unpronouncable, but the 13 crus of Beaujolais, perfect!)

The problem lies in the fact that I am not a huge fan of carbonic maceration. I know that light and fruity red wines appeal to a certain sector of the market but there’s no getting over my predeliction for wines where you taste the soil, the roots, the minerals. 

It’s not that Beaujolais Nouveau wines are bad, it’s just that there are better alternatives. If you don’t mind, I’ll be drinking this Beaujolais today at lunch.

Naturae et Purae Conference – The Future of Viticulture


I had a change of scenery yesterday, spending the day in the stunning Castel Trauttmansdorff in South Tyrol, at the Naturae et Purae conference, discussing the future of natural wine and the potential place for biotechnology and genetically modified vines.

It’s not the first conference of this kind that I’ve attended this year but it is the most interesting. This piece may run on a little but I do encourage you to take a couple of minutes to read it.

The speakers: (L-R) Attilio Scienza, Werner Morandell, Giorgio Grai, Luca D’Attoma, Helmuth Koecher, Carlo Nesler, Angiolino Maule, Hayo Loacker, Angelo Carillo.

After the welcoming speeches from Angelo Carillo and then Helmuth Koecher, owner of the best eyebrows in the business and organiser of the Merano Wine Festival, we get underway!

We start on a pessimistic note with a speech from Giorgio Grai, a respected oenologue now well into his 80s. He sets out the current situation of our environment: the state of our air pollution and the prevalence of fine particles, that  64% of the world’s water is polluted and we have unprecedented levels of heavy metals in our alimentary channels. “How can you have an organic vineyard situated right next to a motorway with all the exhaust fumes?” he asks. The effort needed to clean up our environment is huge. We’re not starting at 0, we’re currently at -100. 

Next up is Luca d’Attoma, an oenologue in his 50s, who explains his belief that “organics is a form of respect between man and his environment.” He quotes some statistics about the rise of organic agriculture in Italy: an increase of 24% between 2015-2016 of certified organic vineyards and a 51% increase in the mass retail sector between 2015-16 in sales of organic produce. Unlike Giorgio before him, he beliefs that organic and biodynamic wines are “more original, authentic and therefore richer” than wines made from conventionally farmed grapes. That said, he acknowledges that the restrictions on organic vinification are too light. For example, 150mg/l of SO2 is allowed in conventional red wines and 100mg/l for organic red wines. He highlights problems with the controllers who certify if a farmer or winemaker is working to organic principles. There are too few controls and far too much disparity in the quality of these controls between the north and south of Italy.

Following is Hayo Loacker. The Loacker family own three wineries but the flagship is the Tenuta Schwarhof in Alto Adige. They were the pioneers in the area for organic then biodynamic agriculture (starting in 1978) and in the 90s and 00s the inspiration for many other local wineries (e.g. Lageder) to convert. What is interesting is that despite their homeopathic approach to viticulture, they have planted hybrid grape varieties as well as the traditional and autochthonous varieties; essentially incorporating modernity with the past teachings of Steiner.

After that came Angiolino Maule, guns blazing. Whilst it’s a positive step that the big players are now working their vineyards organically (Angelo Gaja, Bellavista, Ca del Bosco), how does a small guy survive? Increased knowledge and transparency is the answer. He talks about how VinNatur is carrying out scientific experiments to take natural viticulture forward. Essentially, they are conducting detailed research of determined microbial indices in the vineyard and using sophisticated algorithms to create mathematical models of what ideal soil fertility looks like. (Won’t go further as I’m stepping into work territory but email me if you would like more information on this.)

Angiolino puts forward a little-known nutritional argument for natural wines quoting a study by Dr Laura Di Renzo (Univ. of Tor Vergata) in which it was found that conventional wines only had negative side effects on the human body (pesticides, alcohol, sulfites.) Organic wine had some anti-oxidants which compensated the alcohol but was pretty nutritional-neutral. Unfiltered, low-sulphur natural wine, however, had so many positive benefits that it far outweighed the alcohol on balance. Responding to Luca D’Attoma’s comment, Angiolino tells the room how VinNatur’s own members have told the controllers how to conduct the tests and what to look for.

Werner Morandell

Next up is Werner Morandell from the organic Lieselehof Winery. His detailed speech explains what are called PIWI grape varieties (vines with new genotypes, resulting from the crossbreeding of fungi-resistant vine varieties.) Some of the newly-created varieties quoted (Bronner, Souvignier Gris and Merlot Khorus) are resistant to powdery and downy mildew, and the cold, allowing him to plant at high altitudes and bring the plant to full maturity whilst only doing 1 treatment even in bad years.

Attilio Scienza is next to take the stage. He’s an animated speaker and he comes alive during his presentation, which admittedly would have more suited to a university philosophy lecture. He puts forward the case for genetically modified foods and particularly cis-genetic vines, fortunately without going far into the scientific nitty-gritty.

Knowing that there was resistance to GMO in the audience, he starts by breaking down our preconceptions. Picking up on Giorgio’s gloomy state of affairs (the first speech), it’s natural that we want to save ourselves from the end of the world, he argues rather arrogantly, and understandable that we ignorant Muggles are clinging to organics and biodynamics as the solution. Why are we against genetics? It’s just science and we shouldn’t be afraid of science. It’s progress, the future.

Society is increasingly opposed to science, he continues, mentioning the increasingly common opposition to vaccines and the frequency that experts are being poopoo-ed in the media. After dipping into Greek mythology for a few choice quotes and metaphors, he gets to the point: we should accept that GM foods are already here. Strawberries, apples and tomatoes are all crossbreeds. Grains have been genetically engineered and improved. Nature does this itself, he argues, bringing up the complicated genetic lineage, with all the mutations, of the traminer variety. 

The moment, though, that a member of the audience asks a question – about repercussions and secondary effects – the response is that anyone who doesn’t believe in GM is ignorant and backward.

Last but not least, Carlo Nesler, talking about fermentation. He’s admits being specialised in food rather than wine but his insight comes at a particularly poignant moment after Attilio Scienza. He recounts how primitive human-beings and even primates knew how to ferment food and wittingly or unwittingly, it would have been an important part of their diet.

And yet, despite at least 3000 years of history, microbiotics (bifidus digestivum, kombucha and the like) have only recently been “discovered” by scientists as being essential elements for our well-being. We should always work with nature, is his conclusion, not against it.

My question was the last of the day. A simple yes-no in response to: is there a place in the future of natural/organic wine for genetically modified vines?

I didn’t really need to have asked the question. The most telling thing about the day’s conference was how it finished.

On one side of the room is Angiolino Maule, Luca D’Attoma and Carlo Nesler, closely huddled together. In the middle, distanced from the ‘Naturalists’ but seated diplomatically in his assigned spot is Werner Morandell. Loacker has already retreated to the back of the audience, which leaves us with futurist Attilio Scienza, arms-folded, seated as far apart as possible on the other side of the room.

It was startlingly obvious that we had just heard from two different worlds which seem to be mutually incompatible. That chasm was the elephant in the room.

It’s time to wrap up but Angiolino has the final say: terroir.

A picture is worth a thousand words


La Vigne du Perron – KATAPNHA 2009


Once upon a time, for a fortunately very brief moment, the wine world that I was surrounded by was full of English men in red trousers (tendentially) boasting about the old vintages that they’d recently (or not so recently) tasted.

The conversation would go something like:

> “Oh, don’t you remember how wonderful the Chateau So-and-So 1986 was…”

> “No, no, old boy, the 1982 vintage was far superior…”

It was a side of the wine industry that I didn’t like – firstly because I hadn’t even been born when these wines were bottled and by the time I knew how to work a corkscrew, they had become as rare as a pink unicorn.

The atmosphere was so ridiculously pompous and self-absorbed that I wanted none of it.

The thing is, in many markets, wine is seen as a luxury product. It is a status symbol and thereby, a subject about which many people aspire to be seen as knowledgeable.

Nowadays, the sector of the wine industry that I have chosen to immerse myself in (natural wine) seems to focus less on back vintages and more on figureheads. Instead of showing off which historic vintages you’ve tried, it’s a roll call of producers who have succeeded in developing a cult-like following.

I remember a card game called Top Trumps that my little sister liked to play in the playground at school. The behaviour of natural wine fans is remarkably similar: when you share a photo online (Instagram or Facebook are the main playing fields) you get 20 points for a Puzelat label, 50 points for Ganevat and Sélosse… but Overnoy trumps anything else that’s been played before.

I rejected the self-important bluster of nineteen hundred and something and I also reject this unfounded frenzy around certain names. I prefer to take my own way, discovering new producers, little-known regions and under-valued grape varieties.

LA VIGNE DU PERRON (Vin de France – situated in Villebois 01150) Katapnha / Katarina 2009 Chardonnay (13.5%) 

That said, there is something very special about old vintages. The way wine evolves over time is one of the main aspects that fascinates me.

On the odd occasion that I have something remarkable, I save it for a special occasion – birthday or anniversary – and only in deserving company.

However, today, Sunday lunch, for no particular reason, the boy pulls out a bottle from 2009. It’s written Katapnha but I’m pretty sure it’s pronounced Katarina. With no other information, we pop the cork and pour a glass. Just from the nose alone, it is quite evidently chardonnay.

Chardonnay has this fantastic quality – oxidation. Young, it is like going for a walk along a Scottish beach in January. Bracing winds, with your coat zipped up as far as your ears.

But by the time the wine has evolved (8-10 years will do the trick) it is as enveloping and intoxicating as dusk on a summer’s day. Aromatic, leafy, as you bask in the last of the sun’s rays. Rich, generous, bordering on opulent. There’s that tell-tale acidity but it is cooling, refreshing, and indulgantly pleasant. It is, quite simply, stupendous.

And on that note, I must away. Grapes need to be picked.