The Future Of Wine Writing: GrimDark

The future of wine writing: kill, or be killed?

The future of wine writing is kind of like… GrimDark.

No, I don’t mean that wine writing is headed for GrimDark as a cultural style of expression. Though that conceivably could happen as a symptom of where things are headed.

What I mean is that the future of the wine writing profession is f*cking bleak. As in, step-over-the-dead-bodies-of-your-former-comrades bleak.

Sorry to bust up your Holiday Cheer, but this topic has been weighing on my mind since my friend and wine-marketing-maven Tom Wark published the latest incarnation of Wark Communications’ Wine Writers Survey. He also took the time to add a bit of additional commentary on the more influential wine writers (as cited by other wine writers) on his Fermentation blog. Full disclosure: I happen to be among those writers cited, for reasons that I still don’t fully comprehend.

I love me some Tom Wark, but I am in a state of some disagreement with the Wark Communications conclusions from the survey; specifically, this tidbit:

The Future Of Wine Writing: GrimDark
from warkcommunications.com

If wine continues to grow in popularity, if the now fully adult Millennial generation is as committed to the beverage as they seem, and barring any economic catastrophes, I’m confident that the wine writing project will continue full speed ahead. More new voices are coming. More new publishing exercises meant to meet the needs of new generations will arrive. Even new ways of understanding and communicating about wine are likely to appear.

from warkcommunications.com

While it’s of course true that more new voices are coming, the Millennials are devoted to the beverage, and that new ways of understanding and communicating about wine will appear, I have severe doubts as to the viability of the “wine writing project” in the future. Why? Well, that same survey serves up some very compelling reasons in some of the take-away commentary on the aggregated survey responses…

-No more than just over a quarter of wine writers earn 50% of their income from wine writing.

-Most writing about wine earn very little income doing so.

-No more than just over a quarter of wine writers earn 50% of their income from wine writing.

-Most writing about wine earn very little income doing so.

-Maintaining a living writing in the wine genre is the greatest concern.

-Two-thirds of those who primarily write for their own blog or publication earn 10% or less of their annual income from wine writing.

-Despite the rise in digital publishing, there has been almost no change in the breakdown of publishing frequencies from the 2004 survey.

In the end, the viability of wine writing as a profession will, like other literary and journalism genres, depend on the financial health of the publishing industry going forward.

from warkcommunications.com

Ok… sooooooo… Wark’s rosey future is based on what, exactly? The facts that a) most wine writers cannot make a living now, b) wine writers are worried about ever being able to make a decent living, and c) wine writing is tied to the viability of writing as a profession, which has seen a decline as precipitous as a Mosel vineyard slope?

Well, F*CK ME, then.

There are more people wanting to write and communicate about wine, with fewer outlets outside of personal blogs and social media, and even fewer that are willing (or able) to pay anything even close to resembling a living wage for it.

You’ll forgive me for not getting the warm and fuzzy feeling all over about this theoretical future that Wark is seeing on the horizon, in the hopes that, hey, something is bound to come along and make all of this ok, despite the ever-mounting volume of evidence to the contrary! That’s not really hope, that’s… well, I want to write “delusion” but that seems a bit harsh. But then, if we’re headed for wine-writing-dystopia, then sure, let’s go with “delusion.” To quote Interstellar‘s Cooper, “that doesn’t even qualify as futile.”

Of course, I am hoping that Tom is right, and that I’m wrong; it would have helped if Wark had offered up more insights as to why those conclusions were drawn despite what seems like a much grimmer perspective from the survey respondents. Personally, I’m not quitting my gig any time soon, but I’m not about to recommend the wine writing path to budding enthusiasts of the written word – and the grape – as a means for building any kind of wealth, either.

Cheers (I guess)!

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at The Future Of Wine Writing: GrimDark from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Wine Product Review Roundup, 2018 Holiday Edition

We’re going to end the year with a bang on the Wine Product Review Roundup front, given that my travels in November necessitated that I miss that incarnation of this monthly post, and double-up on the number of products put under the review microscope. Hopefully this “holiday edition” (in terms of timing and volume, at least) will point you in the direction of a great stocking-stuffer (or two) for your greedy-ass self that wine geek on your Nice List.

(image: Amazon.com)

First up is a product that, to this reviewer, at least, has an incredibly limited use-case scenario: the PortoVino Wine Messenger Bag (about $70). The premise here is that someone (presumably you) needs to a) be able to tote around an entire bottle of wine, b) keep it the appropriate temperature for as long as possible, c) pour it at a moments notice without drawing attention, and d) look incredibly stylish while doing all of the above. I don’t get it, either, but the PortoVino sample that I was sent is more handsome than just about any other piece of luggage that I own. It can function as a normal cross-body messenger bag, with a well-designed and modern interior, but also contains a “secret” compartment into which 1.5L of wine can be poured via removable plastic bag, with a bag-in-box style nozzle pourer that pops out of a flap-closed area on one side of the bag. A rather pricey novelty, I suppose, but one with classic good looks. If you’re a style-minded booze-hound. OK, whatever…

Wine Product Review Roundup, 2018 Holiday Edition
(image: Amazon.com)

Next, we’ve got Amber Revolution: How the World Learned to Love Orange Wine (Interlink Books, 304 pages, about $35), a new book by Simon J. Woolf (Author) and fiend-of-1WD Ryan Opaz (photographer). This is a beautifully constructed, deftly designed, approachable, and well-written tome with one of the most flawed premises in the history of wine writing. The bottom line is that orange wine, as a category, has not been, is not now, nor will it ever be loved by the majority of wine drinkers. Having said that, the level of acceptance of the most capable examples of that much-maligned category has never been higher, and so the release of a good book that masterfully tells the stories of the regions and producers making the best orange wines – which as heart is what Amber Revolution truly is – has never been more timely…

Wine Product Review Roundup, 2018 Holiday Edition
Probably more like “7 minutes,” but still…
(image: Amazon.com)

Another noteworthy new book release (c’mon, bear with me, I get tons of these, folks) worth checking out – and one with arguably much more broad-brush appeal for even casual wine drinkers – is Choose Your Wine In 7 Seconds: Instantly Understand Any Wine with Confidence (Universe, 228 pages, about $24) by Stephane Rosa (Author), Jess Grinneiser (Illustrator). Sure, it’s part of the ever-crowded how-to-sort-of-pick-wine-the-easy-way book market, and you’ll need your reading glasses to make out the curiously chosen undersized text in this otherwise pleasingly-designed paperback. BUT… I’ve rarely seen a choose-your-drink self-help guide with a better premise; start 30,000 feet up by dividing wines by body category (Crisp & Fruity, Powerful & Balanced, etc.), and start to zoom in like a hawk on the hunt from there by typicity of region. Along the way, each regional wine “cheat sheet” contains illustrations of the area, a sliding scale of Firmness/Heat/Crispness, food pairings, and further recommendations. 7 seconds might be a stretch, but this fun little book could very well have visual learners trying new wines in no time.

Wine Product Review Roundup, 2018 Holiday Edition
Abandon hope, ye who enter here
(image: Amazon.com)

We’ll bookend (ha ha!) that recommendation with another that has an incredibly limited use-case: Deborah M. Gray’s How to Import Wine: An Insider’s Guide (Wine Appreciation Guild, 200 pages, about $25). This is the second edition of Gray’s guide, and she’s been in the importing biz for over 25 years. It reads like a brain dump of her thoughts and ideas, organized over the entire spectrum of wine importation steps – from building a portfolio, to shipping, to navigating distribution and marketing (not surprisingly, these last two thorny issues constitute the meat of the book). If that sort of sounds like a wine importation class being taught, that’s because Gray teaches the topic at San Diego State, and I suspect this book is as close to attending her class as you can get without, well, actually attending her class. Probably essential reading for those of you in the weeds (or considering entering the weeds) of the wine importing business.

Wine Product Review Roundup, 2018 Holiday Edition
TRON meets wine preservation in the ZOS HALO

Finally, we have a mini wonder of a wine preservation gadget (I know, I know…): the ZOS HALO Wine Preserver (about $65). On the surface, I should be hating on this thing: it sits awkwardly atop an open wine bottle, requires batteries for its admittedly-ckinda-cool LED halo/rim lighting (which tells you the status of the preservation and readiness of the unit), and works on cartridges that you can reuse a few times but eventually have to replace (they run about $16 per set). BUT… I set this sample up, and popped it atop another sample: a 2012 Quinta da Muradella Gorvia Blanco Monterrei, which is a white that’s already on to showing all kinds of glorious secondary and tertiary aromatic action upon release, and theoretically should have been deader than Lincoln in no time even with the help of more expensive preservation systems. Nope. After a couple of weeks with the ZOS, the Muradella tasted nearly exactly the same as the day I first opened it. It took a solid month under the ZOS in the fridgebefore the wine was on the decline. YMMV, of course, but a month of drink-ability? Daaaaaahhhhaaaammmmnnn!

Cheers!

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at Wine Product Review Roundup, 2018 Holiday Edition from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Wine Reviews: Weekly Mini Round-Up For December 10, 2018

I taste a bunch-o-wine (technical term for more than most people). So each week, I share some of my wine reviews (mostly from samples) and tasting notes in a “mini-review” format.

They are meant to be quirky, fun, and (mostly) easily-digestible reviews of (mostly) currently available wines (click here for the skinny on how to read them), and are presented links to help you find them, so that you can try them out for yourself. Cheers!

 

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at Wine Reviews: Weekly Mini Round-Up For December 10, 2018 from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Return To Forever (Immortal Estate’s Inaugural Release)

The steep slopes at Hidden Ridge, back in 2010

Sometimes, the wine business is a very, very small place. Also, I am about to talk about jellyfish. You’ve been warned…

While in San Francisco recently for the SF International Wine Competition (more on the results of that in a couple of weeks), I caught up with wine marketing maven Tim Martin. Longtime 1WD readers might recognize Tim’s name from way back in 2012, when apparently (according to Tim, anyway) I was the first person to write about Tim’s Napa Valley project, Tusk. “We’ve got a ten year waiting list on Tusk now,” Tim mentioned, which I suppose is much more a tribute to that brand’s cult status, and the prowess of winemaker Philippe Melka than it is to my influence. I mean, as far as I know, even my mom doesn’t read 1WD.

Anyway…

Return To Forever (Immortal Estate’s Inaugural Release)

The late Lynn Hofacket (photographed in 2010)

It turns out that in the five-plus years since we last met, Martin has been busy lining up another potential cult classic, and this one already has some connection to previous 1WD coverage – it happens to be the next iteration of Hidden Ridge, which even longer-time 1WD readers might recall from when I visited that stunning Sonoma estate, on the very edge of the Napa Valley border, back in 2010. At the time, I marveled at why the prices for their reds were so low.

After Hidden Ridge patriarch Lynn Hofacket – who planted the vineyards on the steep hills of that estate (some of which literally match the great pyramids in slope percentage) – passed away, his wife Casidy ward eventually (though not without some trepidation, as I’ve been told) sold the vineyards to what would become the team behind what would become Immortal Estate (Hidden Ridge winemaker Timothy Milos remains a part of the team).

It was Hofacket’s passing, which nearly coincided with the death of Martin’s father, that became the genesis of Immortal’s brand name. “I started to think about legacy, and what we leave behind” Martin told me, and he noticed that Wine Advocate’s 100-point review of the 2013 Hidden Ridge Impassable Mountain Cabernet included the phrase “This wine is nearly Immortal.” And thus, a brand (or, at least, the idea of one) was born.

Which brings us to the jellyfish…

Immortal Estate’s flagship Cabernet Sauvignon has a jellyfish on the label. Not just any jellyfish, of course, but the small Turritopsis dohrnii, which possesses the Medusozoa equivalency of near immortality. There’s no good way of explaining this, so I’ll point you to an excerpt from www.immortal-jellyfish.com:

Turritopsis dohrnii is now officially known as the only immortal creature. The secret to eternal life, as it turns out, is not just living a really, really long time. It’s all about maturity, or rather, the lack of it. The immortal jellyfish (as it is better known popularly) propagate and then, faced with the normal career path of dying, they opt instead to revert to a sexually immature stage.

Sexual immaturity? Forever? That’s not exactly a wine marketer’s wet dream, but check out how the innards of this nigh-undying look to the human eye; namely, almost exactly as if it’s carrying a wee little glass of red wine:

Return To Forever (Immortal Estate’s Inaugural Release)

Turritopsis dohrnii (image: amnh.org)

Now, that kind of is a wine marketer’s wet dream right there.

One of my first questions to Martin, because this is the kind of guy I am, is why, if the vineyard site and winemaker are the same, should anyone feel compelled to pay three-to-four times the Hidden Ridge asking prices for Immortal Estate. Martin’s answer was obviously well-considered, and just as obviously wasn’t marketing fluff: “Lynn just didn’t have the same resources to elevate the farming practices as we do.”

Return To Forever (Immortal Estate’s Inaugural Release)In other words, Immortal’s Randy Nichols has the funds to farm their unique vineyard site to its fullest potential. And personally, I think you can already taste it.

Return To Forever (Immortal Estate’s Inaugural Release)2014 Immortal Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma County, $303)

Available by acquisition only because, well, cult wine. Densely packed, in terms of palate weight, complexity or aromas, and intensity of mouthfeel, this is immediately identifiable as a Napa Valley styled classic, but of course in a blind tasting we’d all get it wrong since it’s technically from Sonoma. Cassis, pencil lead, cocoa, dried herbs, black and red plums… the stuff just keeps coming and coming.

Interestingly, while this is drinkable stuff now, the palate has hints of reservation. There are nice laces of acidity through the leather of the tannins and the density of the fruit, but it’s the tannin action that has the most depth to it. Deceptively so, however; those tannin chains are nice and long, so you’re getting a silky experience now, and so it’s easy to miss just how much structural scaffolding is built into this puppy. The tannin Force is, indeed, strong with this one; and it has many, many, many years of excellent drinking ahead of it.

Cheers!

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at Return To Forever (Immortal Estate’s Inaugural Release) from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Wine Reviews: Weekly Mini Round-Up For December 3, 2018

I taste a bunch-o-wine (technical term for more than most people). So each week, I share some of my wine reviews (mostly from samples) and tasting notes in a “mini-review” format.

They are meant to be quirky, fun, and (mostly) easily-digestible reviews of (mostly) currently available wines (click here for the skinny on how to read them), and are presented links to help you find them, so that you can try them out for yourself. Cheers!

 

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at Wine Reviews: Weekly Mini Round-Up For December 3, 2018 from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Does Wine Still Matter?

Does wine still excite you?

I mean, does it really matter to you these days?

I don’t mean matter in that classy way to get trashed way, though given the state of world affairs and divisive US politics these days, I’d be one of the last people to begrudge you that kind of temporary salve.

What I mean is, do you still get the same thrill out of wine that you did when first discovering a great unsung producer, or a killer bargain, or a fortunate run-in with one of the unicorns?

I ask this not because I’ve personally lost that fire (as proof, I submit every article written on these virtual pages over there last two years), but because it’s tough to ascertain if normal people care anymore.

There are a shit ton of terrible things happening in the world as I write this. And while we’re unquestionably richer, safer, and just plain better off as a whole compared with, say, forty years ago (just take a look at any statistical measure in developments such as infant mortality rate as captured by the United Nations), the trend towards normalizing rampant nationalism globally has got to have any rational person more than a little concerned these days. If you engage in behavior that we wouldn’t tolerate from six year old kids – denigrating people, wasting money, isolating your friends, and  abdicating personal responsibilities – the best you can do on America is… become President? And don’t get me started on the “post-fact era” of media consumption (a term that utterly loathe, as if facts were ever candidates for exclusion as a matter of normal adult behavior).

We’re kind of through the looking glass at this point, aren’t we?

In this environment, it’s a bit tough to justify writing about fermented grape juice.

The kicker is that I’ve got reams of material to share – I’ve yet to write up travels to Israel, Idaho, the Rhone, Romagna, a new Sonoma cult wine release with historical ties to previous coverage here on 1WD, and very likely Asti (since I’m in route there as I pen this very opinion piece). And I’m excited about all of them… That is, until I make the mistake of catching the news.

I’m not going to stop, of course. But I’m reflective by nature, and I can’t help but take some pause and think, “does this stuff really matter?” – knowing full well that it never stopped mattering to those in the wine biz, that the product has a history much longer than our current political woes, that there are vines (and some wines) that will outlive everyone reading these words, that just maybe because of all of that, wine actually matters more now than ever before.

So… are you still as excited about vino as I am? Because I think that I could really use a drink right now…

Cheers!

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at Does Wine Still Matter? from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Wine Reviews: Weekly Mini Round-Up For November 26, 2018

I taste a bunch-o-wine (technical term for more than most people). So each week, I share some of my wine reviews (mostly from samples) and tasting notes in a “mini-review” format.

They are meant to be quirky, fun, and (mostly) easily-digestible reviews of (mostly) currently available wines (click here for the skinny on how to read them), and are presented links to help you find them, so that you can try them out for yourself. Cheers!

 

Grab The 1WineDude.com Tasting Guide and start getting more out of every glass of wine today!

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at Wine Reviews: Weekly Mini Round-Up For November 26, 2018 from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Mail Order Bride, Mail Order Vines (Plaisance Ranch Recent Releases)

The (3rd) Joe Ginet, of Plaisance Ranch, demonstrating the art of vine propagation

The third Joe Ginet is a bit of a torch-bearer.

He and wife Suzi preside over Plaisance Ranch, a former dairy farm, now turned organic beef cattle ranch, which also happens to be a twenty-acre vine nursery (now with over twenty varieties), and (since 1999) a vineyard as well, in keeping with the tradition of his father Joe and grandfather Joe. It’s grandad Joe who lived a the-kids-are-gonna-be-talking-about-this-one-for-generations portion of this little tale or Rogue Valley viticulture.

Mail Order Bride, Mail Order Vines (Plaisance Ranch Recent Releases)One hundred years before the third Joe Ginet planted vines at Plaisance, his grandfather Joe Ginet made his way from France’s Savoie to the USA, after having been discharged from the French military, and established Plaisance Orchard near Jacksonville. About six years later, he made his way back to France to pick up his fiancee. Instead of a bride, however, a jilted Joe G. returned to Oregon alone. Well, alone apart from some vine cuttings from his family vineyards.

Not to be deterred, ol’ Joe eventually did get hitched in 1912 – to a French Canadian bride that “he mail-ordered” according to Plaisance Ranch’s Joe G., who now makes about 2,000 cases of wine annually from 21 different grape varieties, derived from “about 42 different selections, if you count all of the clones involved” (apparently, the third Joe G. is into complexity). One of those varieties (a Savoy specialty), in particular, is so geekily and entertainingly interesting, that I felt compelled to write about Plaisance after my visit based on that varietal wine alone…

But before we get to that, it’s well worth taking a deeper look into some of the other 21-some-odd wines that Ginet now offers, many of which encapsulate both a sense of deep history and an undeniable charm (check the Plaisance website for availability).

Mail Order Bride, Mail Order Vines (Plaisance Ranch Recent Releases)

Mail Order Bride, Mail Order Vines (Plaisance Ranch Recent Releases)2017 Plaisance Ranch Viognier (Applegate Valley, $20)

My notes indicate that this lovely, lively, and peach-and-pear-filled white is “floral AF!” NOt my most eloquent descriptor, but if you like your Viognier less on the overripe-melons-in-yo-face side, and more on the zesty, white flower-laden side, this one is your jam (without the jam).

 

Mail Order Bride, Mail Order Vines (Plaisance Ranch Recent Releases)2015 Plaisance Ranch Mourvèdre (Applegate Valley, $30)

Joe G. digs on Bandol, and so this red ended up being one of his passion projects. “I don’t get to make a red wine out of this every year,” he told me, due primarily to the difficulties in getting it properly ripe in the Southern Oregon clime. In the case of 2015, however, this is on-point: inky, with notes of green tobacco and herbs, dark berries, black pepper, and a lithe, beguiling mouthfeel.

Mail Order Bride, Mail Order Vines (Plaisance Ranch Recent Releases)

Mail Order Bride, Mail Order Vines (Plaisance Ranch Recent Releases)2015 Plaisance Ranch Cabernet Franc (Applegate Valley, $25)

In my not-so-humble opinion, it’s a rare thing to find a Cab Franc in the USA that nails a sense of balance on the palate, but this one does just that. The mainstream critics will likely hate on the green herbal notes here, but I love that this red manages to keep those while also flaunting some of CF’s darker, plummy fruit flavors. There’s ample jump to the palate, and the end result is just a fresh, tasty, honest homage to European expressions of the grape.

Mail Order Bride, Mail Order Vines (Plaisance Ranch Recent Releases)

Mail Order Bride, Mail Order Vines (Plaisance Ranch Recent Releases)2013 Plaisance Ranch Mondeuse Noire (Applegate Valley, $30)

Now we get to the main event, an ancient grape known primarily from granddad Joe Ginet’s native Savoie, and a labor of love for the modern incarnation of Joe Ginet, who has been making a varietal labeling of Mondeuse since 2013, but began his journey in bringing this grape (once nearly wiped out by phylloxera in France) about fifteen years before that vintagee.

Mail Order Bride, Mail Order Vines (Plaisance Ranch Recent Releases)Naturally, the vines are from his family’s vineyard in Savoie, and had to spend a few years in quarantine, after which began what seems like a simple, 97-step process of vine cuts and plant propagation, taking roughly five years to get enough vines to actually make up an entire row in the vineyard. Apparently, the TTB also had some issues understanding that Mondeuse noire was an actual fine wine grape variety, and so (today’s) Joe G. also found himself having to make a case to convince a government agency that his Mondeuse vines were, well, actually for wine grapes and all that.

Generally, only a few barrels of this get made, so coming by it will not be easy. It’s worth seeking out, particularly if you find yourself in the Applegate area, because it’s got uniqueness to spare. Minerals, cranberry, cola, earth… the nose is characterful, rustic, and fun, with notes of meat, violets, and red plums, and it wears its age with aplomb. This one is deceptively versatile, and I found myself wanting to grill up some of the Plaisance Ranch burgers after getting a mouthful of this stuff…

Cheers!

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at Mail Order Bride, Mail Order Vines (Plaisance Ranch Recent Releases) from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Wine Reviews: Weekly Mini Round-Up For November 19, 2018

I taste a bunch-o-wine (technical term for more than most people). So each week, I share some of my wine reviews (mostly from samples) and tasting notes in a “mini-review” format.

They are meant to be quirky, fun, and (mostly) easily-digestible reviews of (mostly) currently available wines (click here for the skinny on how to read them), and are presented links to help you find them, so that you can try them out for yourself. Cheers!

 

Grab The 1WineDude.com Tasting Guide and start getting more out of every glass of wine today!

Shop Wine Products at Amazon.com

Copyright © 2016. Originally at Wine Reviews: Weekly Mini Round-Up For November 19, 2018 from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

[ Editor’s note: here’s one more from the vault of pieces sent to a magazine that didbn’t publish it or pay me; I’m running it here so that it’s not lost to posterity. Enjoy! ]

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany

One of Tuscany’s most dynamic – and endangered – wine regions is hiding in plain sight

Donatella Cinelli Colombini could be your Italian grandmother. Affable, generous, and quick-witted, Colombini is the matriarch of Fattoria del Colle, her family estate in the almost unbelievably charming area of Tuscany’s Trequanda, replete with accommodations on an estate that dates back to the late 1500s, cooking classes, three pool, a spa, and an upscale-farmhouse restaurant. She also also oversees production of the Tuscan wine label that bears her name.

But Colombini has another job: in some ways, she’s trying to save the future of what the Consorzio del vino Orcia calls “the most beautiful wine in the world.”

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

Donatella Cinelli Colombini

“The landscape here is a perfect harmony between history, man, and nature,” she remarks. “We have to preserve that. Every month, every wine producer here receives a call from a realtor asking them to sell.”

While you will almost certainly have heard of the winemaking gems of Montalcino and Montepulciano, you probably aren’t familiar with Orcia, the winemaking area that sits between them near Tuscany’s southern tip. The problem isn’t that Orcia’s twelve municipalities, formally recognized as a wine region in 2000, don’t make excellent wine; in many cases, Orcia’s reds rival those of its more famous neighbors, planted on vineyards that have been literally designed from the ground up for producing small quantities of high quality fine wine grapes, primarily Tuscany’s “native son” of Sangiovese. The problem is that Orcia is almost too amazing of a place in and of itself.

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

Thermal baths in Orcia

Orcia boats the kind of beauty that makes you think that you’ve stepped directly into a scene from Under the Tuscan Sun. Think sun-drenched hillsides lined with cypresses, dotted with tiny ancient towns like Pienza (housing a terracotta museum), terme thermal spas like those in S. Casciano dei Bagni and S. Quirico d’Orcia (yes, some of the spa treatments involve wine), and no shortage of gorgeous castle tower ruins along the routes between them all, replete with deep history and past political intrigue (the region once played host to the duke of Tuscany, who ordered the draining of the the valley in the 1700s to spur agricultural growth, but also used his time there to liase with his mistress). Orcia has seen travelers since the time of the Etruscans, and its castle and fortress ruins are a testament to the popularity of the routes within the area, where bandit attacks once were frequent. It has hosted religious pilgrims, popes, poets, archbishops, mercenaries, dukes, the Medici clan, and even Charlemagne. The landscape has remained relatively unchanged for the last four hundred years…

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

Vineyard views at Terre Senesi

Given its embarrassment of natural riches, it’s not surprising that Orcia now sees nearly one and half million tourists per year. Agritourism is big business in Orcia, where visitors can experience firsthand the direct connection to the land and the historical perspective of farmers who, as local winemaker Roberto Mascelloni puts it, “produced everything for themselves.” Most of the wine purveyors in Orcia also make boutique quantities of olive oil. You can find handmade pecorino cheese production (which dates back to prehistoric times in the area), such as that offered by the Podere Il Casale farm (yes, some of the cheeses involve wine grapes). Orcia boats a small but booming white truffle economy, which is the focus of lunch-and-tasting tours offered by winemakers and truffle hunters such as Loghis Farm’s Valentino Berni, who started farming truffles with his family’s pets when he was six (“I loved the relationship with the dogs” he notes, in a characteristically charming Tuscan way).

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

Truffles at Fattoria del Colle

Truffles are so important to the area that San Giovanni d’Asso has a small museum and an annual festival devoted entirely to the expensive subterranean mushroom. There are enough such quaint spots in Orcia to almost lose count of them all, and we haven’t even mentioned the stunning views available from the region’s various hillside medieval ruins, Orcia’s saffron production, its several art/culture festivals, or the area’s innumerable possibilities for biking and hiking tours.

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

Terme in Orcia

The main challenge facing the region’s wine producers is that, despite the high quality of their wines and their focus on organic, sustainable viticulture, Orcia’s status is the wine world hasn’t kept pace with its notability as a tourist destination. Orcia is dwarfed in this regard by Montalcino and Montepulciano, in terms of recognition and in availability; only about two hundred fifty thousand bottles of wine per year carry an Orcia designation on the label. Most of Orcia’s sixty wine producers are tiny in scope, and so are catering to tourism, local restaurants, and olive oil production to help them stay in financially in the black.

The irony is that Orcia’s success has garnered so much interest from businesses and the wealthy that one of its now key components – its excellent and diverse wine scene – is almost endangered. In many ways, Orcia’s wines are well deserving of the attention of any Italian wine lover; they offer authentic alternatives to the more ubiquitous (and too often industrialized) Chianti on one end, and to the pricey Montalcino on the other.

Ultimately, it’s the unique connection to Orcia’s land, foods, and people that can draw wine lovers in and, quite possibly, give you a new favorite go-to Tuscan sipper. “Each bottle,” notes Colombini, “gives you a story of this wonderful territory.” Here are a few of those stories.

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

Donatella Cinelli Colombini 2015 “Cenerentola” Rosso

The Cinderella of this wine’s name refers, in part, to the round-leafed grape Foglia Tonda, which makes up thirty-five percent of this blend (the rest being Sangiovese). For nearly a century, Foglia Tonda was all but abandoned in Tuscany, due its difficulty to ripen. Cinelli helped to lead a charge to bring the grape back, and there are now about twenty hectares of the grape planted. Cinelli describes this blend as “well-married,” and her take is spot-on. The Sangiovese brings delicate floral notes, tart dark cherry fruit flavors, and earthiness, while the Foglia Tonda adds unique brambly spice and black licorice tones.

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

Truffle hunting at Loghi

Loghi 2013 “Cinabro” Rosso

The fanciful name is an homage to Loghi Farm’s vineyard soils, on which the grapes for this Sangiovese and Colorino blend are grown. While much about Loghi’s production and truffle farming harken back to rustic times, this is a more modern take on Tuscan red wines. It sports plummy, juicy cherry fruit flavors, and aromas of orange peel, vanilla, and dried herbs. It’s fresh, vibrant, and almost sinewy in its powerful mouthfeel.

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

Sasso di Sole’s Roberto Terzuoli

Sasso di Sole 2016 Rosso

Sasso di Sole is in an enviable spot, even by Tuscan standards; not only do they have breathtaking views of their UNESCO area hillside vineyards, but their organically-farmed property overlaps the northeastern edge of Montalcino. This gives them the luxury of being able to use either the Montalcino or Orcia designation on their labels. In contrast to most of Orcia’s other producers, Sasso di Sole use their youngest vines and shortest wood aging period for their Orcia label, resulting in a supple, vibrant, tangy, and fruity Sangiovese that’s ready to drink now. The hints of tobacco spice and rose petals are an added bonus.

 

Campotondo 2015 “Tavoleto”

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)This tiny outfit (producing only eight thousand bottles of wine per year) sits near an extinct volcano near the small hamlet of Campiglia d’Orcia. It’s helmed by Paolo Campotondo, who hand-tends Orcia’s only goblet-trained vineyards (a recommendation by the elderly locals, who recalled similar vine training systems used near mountains in France). The unique training helps to protect the vines, planted nearly five hundred meters above sea level, from the strong winds of the area, and helps to retain warmth from the soil and concentrate the grapes’ flavors. Paolo’s daughter Helena inspired his focus on organic farming principles: “my father says, ‘my daughter is the first consumer of my product, so I want it to be healthy!’” Uniquely, their Tavoleto is a white made entirely from Chardonnay, and it’s beguiling with flavor and aroma layers of peach, white flowers, tropical fruits, toast, wet stones, ripe yellow apples, and ginger spice.

 

Campotondo 2013 “Il Toco”

One of the specialties of Campotondo is a focus on Tuscany’s indigenous red grape Colorino, which makes up ten percent of this blend with Sangiovese. This is a full-on, Brunello-style red, with dense black cherry fruit flavors, intense aromas of dried herbs, orange peel, wood and cigar spices, balsamic, and dried rose petals. You’ll want a healthy portion of wild boar ragu pasta to go with this.

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

Racing horses at Poggio Grande

Poggio Grande 2015 Syrah

Luca Zamperini seems to have a permanent smile etched onto his face, and you might, too, if you lived his life. His Poggio Grande winery started as a hobby seventeen years ago, and now produces twenty-five thousand bottles of wine per year. It includes sweeping views of the area near Ripa d’Orcia, and is the home to horses that run in Sienna’s famed and ancient Paleo race. Zamperini has a love of French Rhone wines, and so auspiciously decided to try out Syrah, which has taken splendidly to the Orcia climate and shows off the region’s diversity. Like Poggio Grande’s horses, there’s a tamed wildness to this focused and delicious wine, which is mineral, savory, plummy, and juicy, with hints of wild herbs and even game meat.

 

 

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

Enrico Paolucci artwork at Podere Albiano

Podere Albiano 2011 “Tribolo” Sangiovese

 

Alberto Turri and Anna Becheri moved from the banking and media worlds in Milan to a picturesque spot in the heart of Orcia’s terracotta country, producing wine, truffles, and twenty thousand bottles of wine per year (with whimsical labels designed by local artist Enrico Paolucci)as a labor of love. They make for an unassuming couple, who have very clear ideas of what they want from their wines, and the results are excellent. Their Tribolo Sangiovese is layered, supple, and sexy, but despite its modern appeal doesn’t lack for structure, vivacity, complexity, or precision.

 

 

 

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

Capitoni amphorae

Capitoni 2016 “Troccolone” Sangiovese

From five hectares of hand-worked vines comes one of the most unique Sangiovese offerings that you’re likely to ever encounter. The Capitoni family ages this particular wine in the region’s famed terracotta amphorae, and using what they describe as “slow and low” fermentation (taking longer than normal, and at lower temperatures). The result is a rustic, intriguing take on the purity of Sangiovese, highlighting its bright, tart red-berry and cherry flavors, its vibrant texture, and its dark tobacco spice notes.

 

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

Roberto Mascelloni shows a Foglia Tonda leaf in his vineyards

Mascelloni Family Estate 2015 “01” Sangiovese

The amiable Roberto Mascelloni is a stickler for old-school farming, producing spicy and herbal olive oil and organically farmed wines on his family estate in Castiglione d’Orcia. A former archer in a regional festival, “01” marks the last year that he won the archery tournament (“and then I retired”). This wine sports an intensely purple color for Sangiovese, and it strikes a great balance between that grape’s herbal, spicy, and rustic side, and its elegant, lively, and supple side.

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

Terre Senesi’s Antonio Rovito

Val d’Orcia Terre Senesi 2010 “Ripario” Rosso

Valdorcia Terre Senesi winery’s Antonio Rovito and Gabriella Ginetti seems to always be laughing at something. You’d be pretty happy too, if your daily view included stunning views of the Orcia gorge, Ripa d’Orcia woodland wildlife sanctuary, and Mount Amiata. Terre Senesi began with olive oil production in 1998, and started producing wine in 2010. Their Ripario is a Sangiovese blended with a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon, and aged in new French oak barrels. While the result is on the woody side, the wine has enough complexity in it black licorice and black cherry fruit flavors, dried herb and balsamic notes, and palate freshness to age well (and pair well with a good steak off the grill).

 

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