Discovering Santorini

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Greece's great whites flow from volcanic soils of a legendary island

By Robert Camuto-- Wine Spectator  Nov. 15, 2014

Just a few miles from the village of Thira on the island of Santorini, home to a honeycomb of whitewashed hotels and infinity-edge pools set atop steep cliffs, Stefanos Georgas describes the harsh scene around him. Scant rainfall, strong winds and a landscape punctuated by prickly pear cactus give it a desertlike feel.

"This is Jurassic Park," says Georgas, manager of Estate Argyros, one of the Greek island's leading producers. The acres of Assyrtiko vines don't look much like a vineyard, growing amid bone-dry volcanic pebbles and sand between the barren, sun-scorched Profitis Ilias mountain and the Aegean Sea.

Letter from Europe: Beauty in the Beast

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Coaxing Elegance from an Italian Monster

"The trouble with Sagrantino is to understand Sagrantino," says Giampaolo Tabarrini, who grows the indigenous red grape in Montefalco, in Italy's Umbria region. "It's much easier to make a Sangiovese, Cabernet or Merlot than Sagrantino."

Why?

"Because Sagrantino has too much of everything!" He seems to shout with his whole body, from his skinny torso to the standout ears on his near-shaven head. "There are a lot of polyphenols. A lot of tannins. A lot of sugar. It is many times over: A lot! A lot! A lot! So how do you balance it?"

To Hail and Back

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A freewheeling Provence winemaker's ride from ruin to recovery

Raimond de Villeneuve grins like he's won the French Loto as he looks over rows of Syrah vines loaded with dark, healthy grapes.

"It's my first real harvest since 2011," says the 52-year-old producer, who is in his 20th vintage at his Château de Roquefort in Provence.

It's a happy chapter in a story that looked like a tragedy two years ago after a hail storm destroyed his entire 62-acre crop and left half his vines damaged for the next vintage.

Just after the storm, de Villeneuve faced financial ruin. He was saved by the rallying of 35 Provence and Rhône producers (and the flexibility of French authorities) who contributed grapes for a special rosé and two reds labeled Grêle (Hail) 2012, under his name rather than the château's.

De Villeneuve's survival is a good thing for Provence wine: Château de Roquefort is a one-of-a-kind place run by a singular category-defying winemaker…Read the full blog at Wine Spectator

Umbria Time

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Exploring the wines of Italy's "Green Heart"

By Robert Camuto -- Wine Spectator  Oct. 31, 2014

With its perched medieval towns and its rolling hills covered with olive groves and vineyards, central Italy's Umbria can look like a twin of its northwestern neighbor, Tuscany.

But there is no Florence here, no cultural icons to rival Michelangelo's David or Brunelleschi's Duomo. And Umbrian wines have yet to achieve the stature of Brunello or Chianti. For wine lovers, though, Umbria's obscurity can be a good thing. The region, nicknamed "Italy's green heart" more than a century ago by Tuscany's Nobel Prize winning poet Giosuè Carducci is a bonanza of exciting diversity and excellent value.

Umbria is Italy's heartland—the only region that doesn't border the sea or a foreign country. The small region's annual wine production is roughly a third of Tuscany's.

Sicly's Top Culinary Craftsman

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Pino Cuttaia cooks his way to the top of Italian gastronomy by sticking to his roots

By Robert Camuto -- Wine Spectator  Oct. 31, 2014

Pino  Cuttaia left his native Sicily at 13. Following the death of his father, he quit school and went to live in northern Italy's Piedmont with his mother, where he worked a mono­tonous, soul-deflating job in a textiles plant. "I was just a number," he says. "I wanted to be something more."

The first step on the path to his destiny came in the form of a seemingly mundane offer: A friend asked Cuttaia to help wash pots and pans at a trattoria on New Year's Eve. Cuttaia connected instantly with the rhythms and life of the kitchen.

"It was a free ambience, where there was movement and noise and smells," recalls Cuttaia, 46, a big-boned man with a shaved head and enormous dark eyes. "It wasn't at all like the drone of a factory."

Cuttaia quit the factory job and went to work as a full-time pot washer, the lowest level of the restaurant hierarchy. But, he says, "I turned it into an art."

Letter from Europe:The Wrath of My Grapes

A hard-learned winemaking lesson: Growing is the tough part

This was the year I coulda been a contender. Instead, here I am crying in my grape juice.

The 2014 harvest was going to be the one when my small, 100-vine plot of Syrah on a patch of earth in southern France was going to shine. I am not a professional winemaker so there was no hope of my wine being tasted and scored 95 points by Wine Spectator. But it was going to put a smile on the faces of friends and vignerons who drank it.

Today I have one word: fuhgeddaboudit.

What happened? Grape rot. While I was waiting for those little dark beauties to ripen in September, the Provençal sun disappeared, clouds came in, rain followed and voilà. Less than 10 percent of the crop was salvageable—enough to fill one picking basket. The rest? Damaged grapes oozing juice that was already turning to vinegar.

Before you start saying that winemaking is difficult, let me say: It's not.

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