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Piedmont Palate Protection Plan

  My wife, Andrea, and I live in northern Portugal now, but we spent the previous year in Salerno, an ancient southern Italian port city sandwiched between the Amalfi and Cilento coasts. We just received a few care packages from some good friends over there; you know, the usual provisions, like Amalfi Coast lemons, anchovies and colatura from Acqua Pazza, our favorite restaurant in Cetara, flour from Caputo, a Napoli-based flour mill (Andrea has taken on pizza making), parmigiana and canned San Marzano tomatoes. But maybe the grand prize was the organically grown tomatoes from volcanic soils, peeled and preserved by one of our great winegrowers in the Basilicata, Madonna delle Grazie. Suffice it to say, we’re so grateful for what the Italians have brought to our lives.Personally, I’ve never experienced a wine culture as committed to wine’s place at the table with food than Italy. While they have plenty of cantinas that have explored the merits of a wine independent of how it pairs with a given meal, most of the country remains as true to its diverse culinary heritage, with wine as the secondary concern at the table. Wine is food—a true and lasting Italian perspective. It’s treated more like an ingredient for what is served up for lunch and dinner. Many Italian wines meant for food won’t bring the same level of inspiration as others when tasted or imbibed alone, but with the right combination of food and wine, the experience of both can be irrefutably heightened. Since we know you’re likely exploring your kitchen, trying recipes that you haven’t done before—probably involving the occasional pasta, pizza, braised meats or full-flavored vegetable dishes inspired by Italian cuisine—we’ve assembled a short list of six wines that will enhance your meal. They are all reds from Piemonte, that place in the northwest we like to think of as our second home in Italy for food, but the first for wine. We start with the most elegant wine in the bunch, Luigi Spertino's Grignolino d'Asti. Mauro, Luigi’s son, is in control of the family operation now, and I like to refer to him as The Alchemist of Asti. He is one of the most artistic and technical craftspeople in our entire collection of growers, and the diversity and skill demonstrated throughout his range forecast the inevitability of his future place among other Italian luminaries. His rendition of this typically easy quaffing wine that pairs magically with more elegant food is nothing short of spectacular. The aromas are almost theatrical in their exuberant display of personality; they’re mercurial, hypnotic and beguile with scents of Aperol, Persian mulberry, lemon zest, orange peel and exotic spices. The palate is fine, fresh, light and taut with a cool, nectary finish that binds everything into perfect harmony. There are few wines as lovely to drink as this and while it seems like a wine from another dimension, it maintains an unmistakable Piemontese taste. It’s one of my absolute favorite wines in our collection. (Please note that Mauro says that this wine is not meant for the long haul in the cellar, so don't wait too long once it's in your hands.) Though Alto Piemonte is quite different from the Langhe—home to the famous Barbaresco and Barolo—Nebbiolo is also king; in fact, this northern territory, where Ioppa's Nebbiolocomes from, is one Nebbiolo's historical starting points. Despite sharing the same noble grape, there are many differences between these two Nebbiolo-focused areas that render quite different wines. In the Alto Piemonte, located at the foot of the famous alpine mountain, Monte Rosa, precipitation is significantly higher; it’s colder, and the growing season longer. The soils are nearly the complete opposite too. The Langhe is white limestone soil and soft bedrock, which leads to more power, and the Alto Piemonte is more elegant and perhaps more minerally (and metallic in a refreshingly delicious way) and is mostly igneous-derived soils, like porphyry, volcanic sands, and in the case of this wine, glacial moraines, alluvial sands and cobbles derived from what appears to be granite. These differences bring much more elegance to the Nebbiolos from the north. This organic wine from the Ioppas is supremely elegant and its time spent exclusively in stainless steel accentuates its natural and bright personality. Continuing on with the Alto Piemonte, we have Fabio Zambolin's Costa della Sesia "Feldo." Named after Fabio’s mild-mannered grandfather, Feldo is a blend of ancient Piemontese red grapes and is the ultimate party wine for an Italian feast. It has gobs of festive aromas and flavors (at least compared to other wines in an area known for often producing more solemn, strict wines in their youth), with not a single dash of pretension—it’s well-made Northern Italian glou glou. Its rustic, playful flavors evoke those of an ancient Italian culture and are perfect for full-flavored food, like cured ham, braised meat, pasta and pizza. There’s a lot of seriousness tucked in there too—no surprise considering the perfectionism with which these guys organically farm their vineyards and work in the cellar. It’s a blend of 70-year-old vines on a single acre plot mixed with 50% Nebbiolo (the serious and noble side), 25% Croatina (the rustic and jovial barbarian) and 25% Vespolina (one of Nebbiolo’s rough around the edges parents that brings even more expanse and aroma to the wine). As I’m now entering my twenty-fifth year of obsession with wine, I am much more open to blended grapes than I used to be. Perhaps it’s just a phase, but when considering the effects of a terroir (the bedrock, soil, climate, etc.) the grapes just don’t seem as important to me as they used to be. Ancient terroirs and intuitive caretakers chose the grapes that best express their regional characteristic traits, not the other way around. Feldo is a beautiful expression of this unique terroir of volcanic sands that were beachfront property a few million years ago. I just can’t help putting two of Mauro Spertino’s wines in this lineup because they are just so darn compelling. The Luigi Spertino Barbera d'Asti once again demonstrates his alchemistic touch and the unique signature on his wines. I never imagined that a Barbera could taste and evoke such emotion like Mauro’s. He’s somehow managed to create duality between bright light and deep darkness in the same wine. It’s aged for half a year in old 5000-liter botte and expresses aromas of a thick, dank and fresh wet green forest, with taut but mature wild black berries, black currant and a potpourri of underbrush. The palate is powerful, supple and refined, like the final polish on a marble sculpture. The naturally bright acidity inherent to Barbera keeps this brooding wine in perfect harmony. Like all of Mauro’s wines, this is singular unto itself and must be experienced, just like the next Barbera in our lineup from Dave. Between Mauro Spertino and Dave Fletcher (an Aussie transplant with a serious affinity for Nebbiolo and other grapes from the Langhe), they’ve given Barbera a fun and welcome new face. While I spoke of easy to drink and classic Italian wines, Fletcher Barbera d'Alba took a soft left turn, Mauro’s took a slight right, and most everyone else kept on straight. While Dave’s Nebbiolo wines (including a smoking, small production Barbaresco stable, check them out here) are made with little deviation from tradition, he wanted to bring to Barbera a little more crunchy fruit characteristics, making for a wine that delivers instantly to the drinker instead of the slower evolution needed from a more traditionally-styled Barbera, or what Mauro's wine would bring. The grapes are hand harvested and fermented with a third of their whole clusters—a method of production that makes this wine atypical for these parts. The result is something wonderful. It’s lively on its own and still perfect with food (just as Barbera always is) but has a little more in the afterburner once the food is gone. I love this wine, and Dave has done a service for this grape’s image by showing its diversity and creating something discreet that brings the aroma up just a touch to match the innate explosive freshness Barbera ceaselessly brings to the palate. By far, our most big-time Italian grower is Poderi Colla. And while the Colla family has wines from some of the world’s greatest appellations, Barolo and Barbaresco, their small wines are as equally attended to and impressive. Dolcetto (the main grape in Poderi Colla's Bricco del Drago) is hardwired for soft acidity, delicious richness, full flavor and impressive versatility at the table. It also happens to be the most commonly drunk wine at a family lunch or dinner in this part of Piedmont, home to the famous Nebbiolo wines, Barbaresco and Barolo. Dolcetto is one of the world’s most undervalued wines and from any decent estate—and Colla is much more than just decent—it represents the absolute best value on average in all of the Langhe for the price. Just across the road from Barbaresco territory is Cascina Drago, home to this legendary Dolcetto wine blended with 15% Nebbiolo, the historic mix for this wine since 1969. Over a special dinner, Tino, Pietro and Bruna Colla demonstrated to us Bricco del Drago's nearly indestructible age-worthiness and breed. It was a bottle of 1970 that still appeared youthful and bright that toppled some juggernaut wines made by the late Bepe Colla next to it that were absolutely fabulous too—see the picture below. This is truly a mythical wine for the Collas and for the Langhe, and anyone with the privilege of tasting (but preferably drinking!) an old one knows this to be true.

Newsletter June 2021

Saint-Aubin vineyard facing Chassagne-Montrachet (maybe En Remilly?) Containers are finally landing As mentioned in last month’s newsletter, wines from Hubert Lamy, Simon Bize, Guiberteau, Brendan Stater-West, and Justin Dutraive are here. Due to the unpredictable delays at the port, Berthaut-Gerbet’s 2018s will unexpectedly arrive in June ahead of many others that were ordered a month earlier! The quality of Amelie Berthaut’s wines continue their ascent, and 2018 will be no exception. As usual, quantities are especially limited on all the wines except the first three Fixin in her range: the Fixin appellation wine, and the two lieux-dits, Les Clos and Les Crais.  Also on the docket are a few Italian goodies. Poderi Colla’s 2017 Barolo Bussia Dardi le Rose is still the Barolo to beat for classically-styled wines with higher tones and a trim but substantial palate feel and structure. While in very close proximity, there is often some separation between Barolo and Barbaresco in overall style and level of success in each vintage. For any of you who already experienced Colla’s 2017 Barbaresco and its beautiful Nebbiolo perfume and quick-to-evolve tannins that everyone is ready for with this vintage, the 2017 Barolo is right in the same line. It was a warmer year, especially toward the end, which these days just means delicious earlier on with producers like Colla, whose sharp winemaker, Pietro Colla, appropriately adapts the program by working around any specific “recipe winemaking” agendas when the grapes are received. It also helps that his father, Tino, carries the family’s three hundred years of passed-down knowledge about how to manage the vineyards to achieve great results no matter what Mother Nature throws at them. And once again, the critics acknowledged the consistency of the work these days at the cellar and have rewarded them with complimentary reviews that continue to demonstrate Colla’s knack for consistency and reliability.  Riecine’s 2016 single site wines (Riecine di Riecine and La Gioia) are here too. It’s a vintage not to miss from the team at Riecine. Once Alessandro Campatelli was given the reins to do as he felt he needed, starting with the very clever move to bring back Carlo Ferrini, the enologist who put Riecine on the map in the 1970s and 80s. He also completely removed any new wood from the Riecine di Riecine wine and went all-in on concrete eggs for three years of cellar aging to preserve and also showcase all that beautiful fruit supported with nuances of savory characteristics. La Gioia is the bombastic wine in the range with unapologetic big red fruit and a sappy palate. The team has a lot of fun with their work and it shows in the wines.  Another real highlight is Chevreux-Bournazel (La Parcelle) is also finally reaching the shores of California. We’ve decided that we will call this Champagne “La Parcelle” because the pronunciation of the last names of Julien and Stéphanie are pretty difficult for most Americans. Rachel Kerswell, our National Sales Manager and New York Lead Salesperson, has the most experience with La Parcelle, outside of the many bottles I’ve been able to drink over the last two years here in Europe. My first taste was while I lived in the Amalfi Coast, in 2019. I asked Stéphanie to send some samples over, and there are few wines in the history of our company that were such obvious no-brainers to add to our list. Rachel has written a teaser on the wines, the allotment of which is extremely limited: 48 to 120 bottles of each of the three wines imported for the US. Champagne La Parcelle by Rachel Kerswell “Biodynamic rules seem simple for us. Working without chemical products, without mineral fertilization, without products in the wine and with life, with our animals, with the wild plants of our land, with cosmological influences …” – Stéphanie ChevreuxAmong the multitude of producers who have been looking beyond Champagne’s initial grower-producer movement—a movement of growers that began to break free of the big houses and to produce their own wines, typically focused on single plots—are two young and enthusiastic winemakers, Stéphanie Chevreux and Julien Bournazel, of Champagne La Parcelle. Since their debut vintage in 2012, they have been laser-focused on a more homeopathic approach, not only in the vineyards, but in the cellar too. Upon the acquisition of their first vineyard, a 0.4 ha parcel on the Côteau du Barzy,  Stéphanie and Julien immediately began the conversion to biodynamic practices, and to the naked eye it’s evident their land is happy and thriving. The cover crop is verdant with an array of wild thyme, carrots, tomatoes, fruit trees and all things life. The grapes are manually harvested during the cool, early morning hours, when it’s eleven to twelve degrees Celsius, before the short trip to their tiny cellar where they undergo a gentle press, followed by spontaneous fermentation in old tonneaux. Following the lunar calendar, battonage is performed regularly throughout the winter months to give the wines more “gras,” a welcome layer to balance the naturally high acidity. The wines are never racked (outside of the necessary moment just before bottling), filtered or fined, and SO2 levels are kept extraordinarily low (between 12-37 mg/L) and added just before bottling. 2017 La Parcelle, La Capella La Capella is a 0.38 hectare parcel on a very steep 45-degree slope planted predominantly to Pinot Meunier (90%). The vines are dense, at 5000-6000 per hectare, with small amounts of Chardonnay and Pinot Gris interplanted throughout. Deep layers of clay cover chalky subsoils at the bottom portion of the slope, while silex (chert), marne and limestone dominate the upper slope, where you can find just 10cm of topsoil in some sections. The vineyard is situated in a small meander that gets some of the most intense and direct winds within the valley, likely contributing to the natural salinity, yellow citrus and wild herbs, supported by a substantially vivacious and linear palate. The dosage is 4g/L. 2017 La Parcelle, Connigis Connigis is Stéphanie and Julien’s second and, so far, latest acquisition. Luckily, it has never been touched by chemical treatments and has been thriving since they bought it in 2016. The subsoil of this southwest facing, 0.28-hectare parcel on a 30-degree slope consists of hard limestone, chalk and marne, and has deeper clay topsoil throughout compared to its counterpart, La Capella. It is protected by natural borders and therefore benefits from more temperate conditions, resulting in a wine that shows more opulence and roundness upfront. After about thirty minutes open, the palate begins to show a fine sea-spray salinity that balances out ripe orchard fruit aromas, keeping this wine straight and delicate. It is composed entirely of Pinot Meunier and finished without any dosage. 2018 La Parcelle, Côteaux Champenois We have anxiously anticipated this wine from Stéphanie & Julien since we began importing their wines two years ago. Their production hasn’t grown since they acquired their second parcel, so it’s been a give-and-take to bring it to life. The give is 850 bottles of 2018 Côteaux Champenois, while the take is from Cuvée Connigis, which will now be even less available than it has been previously. After the must from Cuvée Connigis is racked into bottle for the secondary fermentation, a portion is left in tonneaux for an extra ten months. This extra time in wood brings just enough finesse to balance the natural electrical charge of this purely Pinot Meunier Côteaux Champenois, while maintaining impeccable balance. Pre-phylloxera vines in the Carremolino vineyard of César Fernández July Arrivals We are expecting a slew of Spanish wines to make their way in. From Galicia’s Ribeira Sacra, Fazenda Prádio should be the first in line in July with a microquantity of his top red wine from 2018 called Pacio. Wines from Adega Saíñas, another Ribeira Sacra producer from one of the colder zones, will follow shortly after Prádio. We’ll have a very small reload on some wines from Manuel Moldes, which evaporated in the first rounds in the bag with our sales team in California and New York. César Fernandez will hit too. César is the guy I’ve talked about in the previous newsletters who spent the last five years working with Comando G, in Gredos. He’s definitely one to watch, but the quantities of his wines from Ribera del Duero are minuscule at twenty cases for the entire country. Fazenda Pradio vineyard in Chantada, a colder sub zone of Ribeira Sacra Arnaud Lambert’s wines will be resupplied in July. Arnaud is killing it with his entire range and it’s honestly hard to keep them in good supply. First in will be the new vintages of Saumur wines from Clos de Midi and Clos Mazurique, and the Saumur-Champigny Les Terres Rouges. He continues to set the bar for price/quality/emotion with all three of these, and we have some of the cru wines arriving in the following months. In the past it was an all-we-could-buy supply, but he’s become more famous now (I guess we shouldn’t have done so much promoting!), so while we still get a great allocation because we were the first to bring his Brézé wines into the US, the world has caught on and the demand is very high. Plan for these when they arrive, or you might be waiting another year for the next vintage to hit. Anne Morey, of Domaine Pierre Morey Pierre Morey’s 2018s will also arrive, and the white Burgundies that I’ve had so far from this vintage have been a great surprise. We often think about the relationship between red and white in the same year, but in 2018 the whites fared very well and not too far off the mark from the previous year. I recently spoke with Paul Wasserman about it and he shared that many vignerons have vacillated between different theories about why the wines are so fresh compared to the reds, like the influence of the high dry extract and a year that somehow favored tartaric acid much more than the usual proportion of malic, which made for very little acidity loss during malolactic fermentation. Also, the higher yield slowed ripening enough and may have created a better balance of phenolic maturity with fresher acidity, and, finally, as I’ve been mentioning for a few years now, the vines may be somewhat adapting to climate change. Lifelong Road Warrior I hit the road again for a long trip through Spain, France, Italy, Austria, and Germany the day after my birthday on May 25th and will return home to Portugal just before the third week of July. I’m going solo since my wife decided she doesn’t like these lengthy marathons anymore, which means lots of windshield time with my own thoughts, on my own timeline, things I’m rarely afforded. I think better when I’m walking or driving and often wish I could be writing at the same time! I’m surprised that I can even put together coherent stories (which is still debatable, anyway) having to sit still for hours at a time. I’ve always needed to keep moving, which made going to school six or seven hours a day and two hours of church every weekend hard for me. Which might be part of why I didn’t do any more of that stuff after I turned eighteen… As elementary school kids, my two older brothers and my sister, Victoria, the youngest (who’s worked with us at The Source since the beginning), and I would find ourselves in the back of mom’s early 80s maroon Chevy station wagon (a color choice of which I’ll never understand) driving from Troy, Montana, an extremely podunk, thousand-person mining town in the northwest of the state, down through South Dakota and on to Minneapolis where we’d sometimes stop to see our uncle, Tom. Our terminus was in Eagle Grove, Iowa, for weeks with our other, much older half-brothers, and the rest of mom’s side of the family. It was on one of these trips when we stopped once for the view at Mount Rushmore and the Badlands National Park that I discovered my interest in rocks.  I always saved my money, which I mostly earned by sweeping the floor of my dad’s carpenter shop, for $0.10 an hour; I was clearly cheap labor, and seemingly not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I spent every dime on little boxes with rocks glued to pieces of thick white paper, their names written below them, and every one of these were precious to me. They were my own personal little treasures that no one else seemed to care about. I especially loved fool’s gold, known in the science world as pyrite. It’s a beautiful mineral, worth nearly nothing, and more attractive to me than gold because I liked its angles and shine. Maybe I was a fool. Or maybe I just saw the value in things that others didn’t.  We passed through the Dakotas and what at the time seemed to be a strange desert landscape to kids who grew up in thickly forested, mountainous Montana countryside with wildlife literally at the front door, and then on into the endless cornfields of Iowa and what the folk musician Greg Brown referred to as “butterfly hills” in his live version of Canned Goods, where the car would go weightless for a second like a boat hitting a big wave while we all screamed and laughed and sometimes got nauseous. They seemed to go on forever and we eventually calmed down as they lost their appeal. I once played that Greg Brown song for my mom and by the end of it she had tears streaming down her face; his stories about Iowa in the days after the last Great War really hit her hard. These eidetic on-the-road memories are also fleshed out by a playlist that included Neil Diamond, Pavarotti, Hooked on Classics Part 1 (and 2 and 3 and…), Julio Iglesias, and Willie Nelson, especially Willie’s song, On The Road Again. Also, too many Hall and Oates songs to recount amid a blur of DTV—Disney’s 80s cartoon version of MTV for kids. My mom was a true romantic, and I’ve come to understand that more as I’ve gotten older. The music on those trips is a unique mix for me, and when I spend time with my wife’s mother, Nancy, down in Santiago Chile, we sometimes get a little sauced together late at night and drift back with Spotify to those deeply nostalgic musical moments. Sometimes I have to fight hard to keep the alcohol-induced tears from welling up, and I think she does too. They were such innocent times when we were kids, when our parents were the age I am now, and I’m sure they’re part of the reason why I’m always ready for the next trip. I like to relive those moments in the back of that ugly station wagon with the backseat always down so we could fall asleep whenever we got tired. We had to play games all day to keep busy so mom could stay focused on these long drives of death. At nighttime on the road, out in the pitch-black countryside with only the car’s headlights and the stars above to light the sky, we would rub our heads against pillows to create static electricity to watch the sparks fly in the dark. My brothers are pretty far along in balding, and I’m not terribly far behind them. Maybe we unknowingly created electrolysis with those pillows…  I don’t know how mom did it, but she’d sometimes drive 1,400 miles during endless summer days with these four unruly kids in the back, only stopping so we could go to the bathroom; other than Rushmore, there was hardly a stop along the route. Sometimes mom wouldn’t even make pit stops, she’d just pass back a cup for us to go in… Hungry? Drink a glass of water… She was pretty hardcore on trips, and some who’ve travelled with me on the wine route have accused me of being somewhere close to that—except that I have a lot more fun along the way and don’t hand over cups instead of a proper bathroom break. Sometime before mom passed away in 2017, while Andrea and I were on our honeymoon in Spain (there’s no good time for your mother to die), she made her final, long journey from California to Iowa in the middle of a winter storm, at age 78, alone. Afterward, she casually told us how she had been blown off the highway by a semi and into a ditch during a blizzard. It was freezing and a complete whiteout. She couldn’t see anything. Thankfully she was close to Iowa, so my oldest brother, Steve, went to get her out. Mom always excelled against unfavorable odds; I suppose having six kids in the world can be useful sometimes. Victoria was furious with her and made her promise not to do any more long trips alone. I don’t think she agreed to it, but it very soon lost its relevance, anyway.  About the time this newsletter is published I will have just arrived in Barbaresco to stay at Dave Fletcher’s rail station turned winery. I will have already passed from Portugal across Spain’s Ribera del Duero and Rioja, up into western France’s Madiran for a visit with a very interesting producer (more on that later if everything works out!), across to the Langedoc to visit Julien and Delphine from Domaine du Pas de l’Escalette (always a mouthful to say that name), and a long overdue visit to my friends, Pierre and Sonya, and their massive Provençal country home outside of Avignon, known to the locals as Mas la Fabrique. Surely, I will have eaten loads of white asparagus during my two-day respite there before heading north to say hello to the Roussets, in Crozes-Hermitage.  After La Fabrique and Rousset, I’ll have cut across the Alps, through the Mont Blanc tunnel, popping out into Italy’s Valle d’Aosta and over to Northern Piedmont to visit with our group of four producers there: Monti Perini, Zambolin, Ioppa, and the new one, Davide Carlone. My old friends Daryl and John, Willie, Luciano, and Greg will surely have made many appearances through my Spotify feed before reaching Alba. (I usually save Julio and Neil for those nights with Andrea and my mother-in-law.) You’ll get the rest of the trip’s scoop over the next two months when it starts to get even more interesting as I make my way through Lombardian foothills, Alto Adige, Austria, Germany and back through Champagne, Chablis, Cote d’Or, and finally Beaujolais to conclude my French leg. In the meantime, I’ll post a few things on our Source Instagram @thesourceimports, as well as my own, @mindfullofwine, about things I’m learning along my trip. Until then, drink well! You never know what your last glass will be until after you’ve had it. Better make them all good ones.■

Newsletter July 2021

The mostly abandoned historic center of Masserano in Alto Piemonte New Terroir Maps One of the obvious requirements of being a wine importer is that you really need to know as much as possible about the wines you import, the regions they come from, and who’s who in the region—especially if your principal customers are the top culinary restaurants and fine wine retail shops in the US. I knew next to nothing about Iberian wine five years ago, but I’ve been determined to learn as much as I can and have benefited greatly from the experience of people in the industry who paved the way in this landscape long before me. My preoccupation with preparation has pushed me deep into the two Iberian countries where we are now focusing much of our attention. Through the process of trying to catch up on these regions I hadn’t really noticed over the last fifteen years, I began to create educational material for my coworkers at The Source to pass on to our buyers. Shortly after starting this compilation, I realized that there was a serious shortage of really useful information on these areas so that many of our customers could connect the dots as well. A basic list for the new additions to our producer roster, including general data, vinifications and terroir overview in bullet-point format extracted directly from the growers would’ve been easy, but such oversimplification would have left too much unsaid. As is common when seeking answers about wine (and life), each path led to endless opportunities for learning and lessons in humility. This insatiable curiosity led me to embark on a year-and-a-half long terroir map project with the young University of Vigo MSc Geologist and PhD student, Ivan Rodriguez, and my wife, Andrea Arredondo, a Chilean whose career focus has been on graphics and web design. The first series includes seven maps with details on climate, grape varieties, topography and geology. On the list so far are Portugal’s Douro, Vinho Verde and Trás-os-Montes regions, as well as Spain’s Jamuz, Bierzo, Valdeorras, Ribeira Sacra, Ribeiro, Arribes, Monterrei and Rías Baixas. Our general focus will mostly be on regions that are currently less well-covered. I put out a teaser in our April newsletter for our Trás-os-Montes map, but the first official release will be the map of Ribeira Sacra, along with a relatively extensive essay on the region that I researched and wrote last year. The text is based more on my own findings than from other printed or web resources in the way of input from local vignerons and highly-involved and knowledgeable restaurant professionals. The most notable source from this last category aside from a group of vignerons, was Miguel Anxo Besada, a complete insider and the owner of two restaurants, A Curva and Casa Aurora, located in the coastal Galician towns of Portonovo and Sanxenxo. There is often not enough credit given to the influence skilled wine professionals have on winegrowers, how much they expand everyone’s exposure to and context with global wines, often playing a major role in the development of a winegrower’s palate. Miguel is a sort of guru in Galicia, a sounding board where local growers can bounce ideas to help them develop global perspectives. There are others with whom I’ve spent time with as well, such as Fernando and Adrián, from Bagos, in Pontevedra, who wield tremendous influence by way of their extensive global wine lists and their strong desire to share and spread the word on good work from any region. And I absolutely must include the globe-trotting duo from Bar Berberecho, José and Eva, who have a medium-sized but very well-curated list. I met Miguel on my second trip to Galicia and wanted to go back to soak up what he had to say about a number of the great wines from the top producers there. After he opened a full case of wine for us to taste, he refused to give me the bill for them or the dinner! That’s what it’s often like with the crew in Galicia. These maps and our work to support the winegrowers we import along with the rest of the entire region’s wine community are the fruits of my travels here, and my hope is that I can be helpful in spreading the word and clarifying a few things about the region. New People At The Source The well-known former sommelier, winery and restaurant owner, Kevin O’Connor, has joined The Source. Kevin and I worked together at Spago Beverly Hills back in the early 2000s where he initially assisted the late Master Sommelier, Michael Bonaccorsi, and eventually took over the program for many years. During his time at Spago he started a winery with Matt Lickliter called LIOCO, and after he moved on from there he returned to the restaurant arena for a while, but has now signed on with us as our National Sales Manager, among many other things that he is well equipped to do, what with his deep experience in the industry. We are lucky to have him on board. We have another fabulous new addition with Australian former sommelier and wine buyer, Tyler Kavanagh. Tyler worked for numerous spots in California, most recently at San Francisco’s extremely well-curated, Italo-centric program at the wine shop, Biondivino. I’ve known Tyler for nearly seven years as he moved through various spots in California from San Diego, Tahoe, Santa Barbara, and San Francisco. I’ve always been interested in working with him because of his extremely friendly demeanor and thoughtful approach to wine. He will be holding the post as our wholesale sales representative in San Diego and Orange County—lucky for us and for the buyers in those markets! New Arrivals France Pierre Morey’s 2018s will be available at the beginning of July. As mentioned in a previous newsletter, 2018 is a wonderful vintage for Chardonnay. The white Burgundies I’ve had so far from that year have been a great surprise. I recently had dinner in Staufen im Breisgau, Germany, with Alex Götze, from Wasenhaus, who used to be a cellar hand at Domaine Pierre Morey for quite a few years. We opened a bottle of 2014 Meursault Tessons and talked about Morey’s wines and how their typical path after opening starts with a concentrated wine that after an hour or more it opens remarkably and rewards the patient drinker. Layer after layer of finely-etched minerally nuances and palate textures begin to slowly overtake the more structured elements that are initially dominant. 2014 is obviously a very good white Burgundy vintage and this wine direct from the domaine didn’t disappoint. David Moreau continues his upward climb within his Santenay vineyards. Santenay is not an appellation one thinks of immediately when they think about Burgundy, but it says something that it used to be the home of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and there has to be a good historical reason for this. So maybe it’s time to check out a wine from one of the top producers in the appellation. David’s wines lead with aromatic earth notes and fruit as a secondary and tertiary element, which, for me, makes them the ideal type of Burgundy with food. My tasting with him in the cellar last week showed once again that he’s still on the rise. It’s been too long of a long dry spell with regard to our stock of wines from Thierry Richoux. If you ever came to my house in Santa Barbara before I moved to Europe, you’d know how regularly I drink his wines, because I truly love them. The 2015 Irancy Veaupessiot and the 2016 and 2017 Irancy appellation wines are about to arrive. The 2016 is deeper and perhaps more concentrated because of the extremely low yields, while the 2017 is perhaps brighter and more ethereal than any Irancy I’ve had from Richoux before, an influence no doubt from his two boys, Félix and Gavin. These young and very cool dudes are taking the domaine in a slightly different direction. Their approach is a lighter touch with the extraction, more stems and more medium-sized oak barrels (as opposed to mostly foudre) for the vineyard designated wines, lower SO2s and with a later first addition—all common in today’s global movement of many small, sulfur-conscious winegrowers. Nothing of this offering is to be missed, especially the 2015 Veaupessiot, perhaps the most compelling wine yet bottled at this extremely talented Burgundy domaine that has developed a strong cult-like following in recent decades, and a very long history with private customers from Paris who drop into his tiny village on weekends and scoop up as much of his product as they can. Anthony Thevenet is staying his course in producing a more substantial style of Beaujolais while maintaining high aromatic tones. It’s impossible for Anthony to make completely ethereal wines because much of his range is from one of the deepest stables of old vine vineyards in the region, which naturally means huge complexity potential but a touch more ripeness and concentration. I’m not sure of the average age of his family’s vines, but they are all very old—the eldest planted around the time of the American Civil War. We brought in the 2018 Morgon and Chenas appellation wines, and the 2019 Morgon Vieille Vignes from 85-155 year-old vines, and the 2019 Morgon Côte de Py “Cuvée Julia” from 90 year-old vines and named after his daughter. All are worthwhile considerations, but the latter two wines in particular shouldn’t be overlooked, especially for anyone interested in a little exercise in terroir soil and bedrock comparisons: both wines are made exactly the same way in the cellar with the Morgon V.V. grown purely on granite bedrock, gravel and sand, and the Morgon CdP on an extremely hard metamorphic bedrock and a thin layer of rocky topsoil. They’re both impressive, especially in 2019 with all their bright red tones. Some other goodies landing soon are Corsica’s Clos Fornelli and the Rhône Valley’s Domaine la Roubine. Clos Fornelli is one of our fastest-selling wines, so don’t wait on those. They offer stellar value out of Corsica and they’re such a pleasure to drink. We don’t talk too much about La Roubine because there are loyalists who typically snatch these wines up as soon as they arrive. Sophie and Eric from La Roubine make small amounts of Sablet, Seguret, Vacqueras, and Gigondas, and their wines have been notably absent over a couple of vintages because we’ve missed our opportunities to procure some. Their organically grown grapes, certified as such in 2000, are all whole-bunch fermented for at least a month in concrete and up to forty-five days with the top wines in the range. Tightly wound (a good thing for Southern Rhône wines) and without a hair out of place, they’re also chock-full of personality and emotion. Spain It’s great to be on the road again in the more familiar territories of Italy, Austria, Germany, and France. I’ve been so focused on and excited with what’s coming out of Iberia and what luck we’ve had curating a collection of producers there that I can’t seem to get enough of. My wife and I drink wine every day with dinner, but these days, when it comes to reds, we often opt for wines from our neighborhood of Galicia and Northern Portugal with low to moderate alcohol levels. Unlike with Iberian wine regions, there seems to be less territory to “discover” (or rediscover) from a terroir perspective in countries like France, where the new ground seems to mostly be in exploring different cellar techniques. In Iberia, it’s not really about cellar tinkering, despite some trending toward more elegant wines there (as is much of the world), it is often a full reboot of nearly forgotten terroirs or entirely overlooked regions with bigtime potential. Finding new things in Iberia gives me the same feeling of joy as when you I someone who has some ordinary job walks onstage on one of those TV talent shows and within seconds makes my jaw drop as a small tear wells in my eye because I’m just so damned happy to watch an unknown talent emerge onto the world stage right in front of my eyes. New wines from deeply complex, multi-faceted terroirs seem to pop up every other week in Iberia, often with the reworking of a patch of land abandoned by a family one or two generations ago. It’s exciting, and the infectious energy of the winegrowers has influenced me to sink a ton of my energy in their direction for many years now. I get an adrenaline rush from this place and it has increased my already uncontrollable enthusiasm for wine. On the docket is a small batch of Ribeira Sacra wines from Fazenda Prádio and Adega Saíñas, the long-awaited arrival of Cume do Avia’s 2019 Caíño Longo (along with more from them), Manuel Moldes’s Albariño “As Dunas,'' grown on pure, extremely fine-grained sandy schist soil, and César Fernandez’s “Carremolino," a red wine blend from Ribera del Duero from pre-phylloxera vines and others planted more than eighty years ago. There is so much to say about each of these wines and there will be a lot of information coming down the pipeline throughout the month. Italy In the first eight years of our company’s existence, we brokered a couple of Italian wine import portfolios in California and fell behind on that front as an importer. After parting ways with the last of the importers, importing Italian wines directly starting five years ago was slow going because importer competition in Italy had already reached a fevered pace, what with the exploding popularity of the backcountry, indigenous wines that appeared center stage on progressive wine lists about a decade ago. Social media’s influence has been a huge part of this because it opens opportunities to completely unknown growers who sometimes become world famous in a very short time. The good news is that the people we’ve found with the help of our many sources (the true origin of our company’s name) have yielded some fabulous opportunities. We start this month with Basilicata’s Madonna delle Grazie and one of their top Aglianico del Vulture wines, Bauccio. Every call with the family winemaker Paolo Latorraca (and there are many) ends up in a conversation about Bauccio; they’re obsessed with it and I understand why. It’s one of two wines they produce only in the best years when there’s an even longer growing season in what is already one of the world’s latest regions to harvest grapes for still wines. It comes from their finest, old-vine parcels and it’s a steal for the quality and price. It’s very serious vin de garde and drinks amazingly well now too. The new release is the 2015, a spectacular vintage with perfect maturity, balanced structure, full volcanic dirt textures on the palate, and gobs of flavor—well-measured gobs, but gobs nonetheless. The soil here is black volcanic clay mixed with blond, soft, sandy volcanic tuff rock uplifted from the bedrock below, and the genetic material from ancient Aglianico biotypes originating from the region tie it all together. Their entry-level Aglianicos, the Messer Oto and Liscone, are getting restocked as well. These two are in constant demand and represent as good as we have for serious wine, at an approachable price for the everyday-wine budget.  A couple of years ago in Andrea Picchioni’s tasting room, I saw a label that immediately grabbed my attention, a one-off for a special cuvée from years ago. I asked if he would consider putting the same label on the wine he calls Cerasa, a delicious Buttafuoco dell'Oltrepò Pavese with more solemn graphics that contrasted the pure joy and generous flavor inside the bottle. Without more than a second of thought, he agreed to the change and also changed the wine’s name to Solighino, a reference to the valley where his vineyards are located. Just look at that label now! It’s beautiful, and you will see when you taste it that it reflects the wine itself. We will also get a micro-quantity of his top wines that are soon to become culty collector wines, Rosso d’Asia and Bricco Riva Bianca. People who are crazy about Lino Maga should pay some attention to this guy. Italians in Italy, who know Andrea and his wines, say that he is Lino’s spiritual heir. His wines find the same level of x-factor as Lino’s, which come from vineyards quite literally just over the hill from Andrea’s, even though Andrea’s are not as rustic. In Alto Piemonte, Fabio Zambolin continues to capture pure beauty with his Nebbiolo vineyards planted on volcanic sea sand. His Costa della Sesia Nebbiolo (actually grown entirely within the Lessona appellation, but it can’t carry the appellation name due to the cantina’s location just a few meters outside of the appellation lines) is simply gorgeous and always a treat. Unexpectedly, Feldo, his blended wine composed of 50% Nebbiolo along with equal parts of Vespolina and Croatina grown just next to one of the vineyards he uses for the Nebbiolo wine, jumped a few full notches with the 2018 vintage. A month ago, when I tasted it in the cellar for the first time, I was almost speechless (yes, I know that’s hard to believe for anyone who knows me) because it may as well have been a completely different wine from any of the past vintages. It seemed like more of a special cuvée-type wine even though it’s still just a Feldo. Mauro, from Azienda Agricola Luigi Spertino I love what all of the growers in our portfolio have to offer. Some are less experienced but still make very honest and pure wines that clearly speak the dialect of their region, while others don’t fit into anyone’s box but there’s nothing off putting about the space they occupy. That’s Mauro Spertino. Mauro, who I fondly refer to as our “alchemist,” is simply one of the most creative minds in wine that I have come across. He makes a range of completely unique wines that all carry the hallmark of his gorgeous craftsmanship and completely authentic persona. Perhaps Mauro’s success and openness to try new things can be partially credited to the fact that he is in Asti rather than Barolo or Barbaresco. Asti is a region with nearly no expectations other than its low price ceiling. Spertino’s wines embrace the inherent qualities of their grapes and terroirs; he accentuates and even somehow cleverly embellishes their talents the way artists often do with the subject of their work, leaving their deficiencies so far from view that they seem to not even exist. Only two of the wines within his range are hitting our shores on this container: Grignolino d’Asti, a wine that redefines this category and has already become a cult favorite for those who’ve had it, and Barbera d’Asti La Grisa, an unusually elegant but concentrated Barbera that is much more substantial than expected. Led by the variety’s naturally high acidity and low tannins, Mauro finds a way to weave in an unexpectedly refined, chalky texture into La Grisa, with a sleek and refreshingly cool mouthfeel. Later this year, we will have his Cortese orange wine (a smart move on making that grape orange), zero dosage Blanc de Noir bubbles made entirely from Pinot Noir on calcareous sands (of which I bought a six pack to share with our winegrowers along the route I’m currently on in Europe), and his amphora-aged Grignolino, another redefining wine for this grape and totally different from the other one in his range.  Sadly, a few days before my recent arrival to Mauro’s cantina, his father, Luigi, passed away. Luckily for many of us at The Source, we were making our way through Piemonte the week the pandemic took hold of Milano in late January/early February of 2020. After our visit with Mauro, we asked to meet Luigi; this, of course, was before we understood how serious the pandemic was and how vulnerable the elderly would be. He extended his large, soft hands for a shake—the hands of a retired winegrower—and he seemed as thrilled to meet us all as we did him. Knowing that it would be a rare and possibly unrepeatable opportunity, I snapped a few quick photos that may have been some of his last. I knew him for only a few minutes, but when you have the pleasure of knowing his son Mauro and his two grandkids, it’s easy to deduce that he was a great man. Luigi Spertino Travel Journal 2021 by Ted Vance At first, I thought it was a little crazy to drive alone from Portugal to as far as Burgenland, Austria, and back home after six weeks of winery visits, but after I got past the long haul through Spain and into France it seemed like maybe I should do it this way every year; I felt freer than I ever have on the wine trail. I packed my pillow (which I unfortunately left at a hotel in Germany three weeks in), a picnic basket full of useful silverware and kitchen knives (not one AirBnB will provide you with a decent knife, even if the kitchen is fabulous), a microplane (I’m obsessed with lemon zest these past few years), oats and nuts, Portuguese canned sardines, corn nuts, Snickers bars (most of which are melted now because it’s been hot!), a drying rack for my clothes, foam roller, yoga mat, a few small weights, a huge pile of Zyrtec pills (it’s high allergy season in June and I promised myself that I wouldn’t travel anymore in June because they are so intense at this time, but I threw that one out of the window because it’s been too long since I made my rounds). I have bags full of photography, video, drone, and sound equipment that seem far too heavy now to get past even the carry-on checkpoint and into the overhead compartments on a plane. Maybe I could get a camper and hit the road in comfort and take my time. It seems like an interesting way to live and I’m sure it would be a lot of fun to do it that way at least a couple of times. You know, #vanlife, but with wine as the guide and the destination. Three weeks after I started to consider this option, my wife called. I thought she had no idea what was going through my mind, but it turned out that I think she somehow suspected. She asked if it was my plan to keep doing it this way moving forward, and the tone of her interrogation changed in a way that I immediately decided it would be best to forget the idea. At least for now. I’ve played the band London Grammar more than any others since I’ve been on the road. Their music, led by the intimate and deeply emotional voice of Hannah Reid, keeps me in a pleasant dreamstate as I develop ideas while staring out the windshield on the long legs of the trip. I mentioned in last month’s newsletter that there were a number of songs my mom used to play when we were on the road when I was a kid, but I never expected that while having breakfast this morning at the Malat’s hotel in Austria’s Kremstal region that Michael’s mom, Wilma (who cooks the best omelets: soft, partially runny, perfect eggs with streaks of the dark orange yolks not completely blended with the whites, asparagus, tiny carrot cubes, and thin and tender cured skillet-fried pork) to put an old Neil Diamond album on their record player. He was one of my mom’s favorites and it occurred to me that Austrian and Iowan moms are not as different as I would have thought. As I fully indulged in their ridiculous breakfast spread (I mean, who serves sautéed chanterelle mushrooms in a buffet style breakfast? The Malats do, that’s who), I never realized until that moment how intense and almost urgent the tempo of a lot of Diamond’s songs feel. I suppose that kept my mom up on those non-stop overnight road trips from Montana to Iowa. On this trip, everything from everyone tastes better than I remember almost any of their wines tasting out of barrel and tank, and I have to remind myself that it’s not just because I was cooped up like everyone else for twelve of the last eighteen months; the world of wine is simply getting that much better from vintage to vintage. It could be that the wines are emerging out of their winter slumber, and like us, they are smiling and feeling more comfortable with the energy and warmth of spring and early summer. I usually tour in the fall, winter and early spring because the summer is often too difficult; it’s tourist season and hotels and restaurants are all booked or unreasonably priced for what you get. But as the world is still recovering, traffic is lighter than normal right now, and I’m taking advantage of that. Andrein, France, a week after restaurants reopened Staufen im Breisgau, 20 June. I’m just a short drive across the border from Alsace. It’s mid-June, but it’s so cool that it feels like the last week of May. Grape season started late this year after a cold and frosty spring brought disaster to the many crops in Europe. The vines were hit hard, but so were many other plants, such as the apricots in Southern France. Two days ago when I was at Weingut Wechsler, a new producer for us in Germany’s Rheinhessen, they said that over the last week the weather changed from cold to hot in a twenty-four hour period. The vine shoots have been growing more than three centimeters a day over the last week now, so fast that it’s like you can stand there and see it happening. The same thing seems to be going on everywhere. I started off this long trip by passing through Douro, in Portugal, and on into Tràs-os-Montes, the country’s most northeastern region, a place that gave me a lot to think about. I stared off into its colorful high-desert landscape covered in oak trees, bright yellow mustard-tipped shrubs that extend at least all the way to Austria, then drove through small canyons of multicolored slate walls carved through low hills in order to make some parts of the highway a straight shot. I usually travel with one or two or a few people (that sometimes rotate out to be replaced by others), but this time I’m alone on the road for more than five weeks, before my wife, Andrea, joins me in Provence on the first of July. At other times I often find myself corralling a group, organizing accommodations, talking to my companions the entire time in the car (don’t get me started on wine, obviously), and making sure they are getting the most out of the experience. I had almost forgotten how to be alone on the road. This year, Andrea was in Chile for a month in January and stayed an extra month because she had an opportunity to get vaccinated there. So I was alone in Portugal for two months during the pandemic, which turned out to be perfectly fine. In fact, I really enjoyed it. I did a lot of things I’ve been meaning to do for some time, a two-week juice fast, read a ton of books (absolutely devoured Matt Goulding’s works on travel and food), dug in on Spanish five days a week with my new teacher and now friend, Fabiola, did more research on wine and science, and wrote a lot. Trying to look on the bright side of things, I’d like to say I did the best I could to make it a personally enriching pandemic. Chablis, 22 June. I didn’t spend that much time in France visiting producers on my way to Italy. I stopped by to visit a guy in the southwest who has agreed to work with us, but after learning the lesson about counting unhatched chickens the hard way, I decided to keep the details of who he is to myself until we actually have his wine on the boat, because things sometimes take unexpected turns. La Fabrique, the French countryside home of my dear friends, Pierre and Sonya, was even more on point than ever. Sonya retired a couple of years ago and she’s gone mad in the kitchen, cooking feasts for a party of two during the pandemic, as shown on her social media posts. We had white asparagus for days, served with Pierre’s perfect mousseline, late spring and early summer delicate vegetables, heavily anchovy-dressed red leaf lettuce (my original favorite salad), cherries, (apricots were sorely missed after being almost completely lost to frost this year). They were massive and overindulgent lunches and dinners with Sonya’s unstoppably evil deserts. The problem? I couldn’t run outside to burn it off because the allergies this year are especially horrible because of the late cold and very wet spring, so I definitely gained some weight. The day before I left La Fabrique Sonya and I went to an uncultivated field to pick wild thyme that is now drying at her place, waiting for my return at the beginning of July.  Wild thyme The next day I left to visit Stéphane Rousset and his wife, Isabelle. As mentioned in last month’s newsletter, they’re doing a new bottling, labeled Les Méjans, and it’s exciting wine. I also asked them to put the vineyard name on their Saint-Joseph, which they said they’ll do; having just Saint-Joseph or Crozes-Hermitage without much else on the label isn’t helpful considering the tremendous diversity of terroirs with very different soil types and exposures there, even if the reds are entirely made from Syrah, and the whites a blend of Marsanne and/or Roussanne. I passed through Savoie after my visit with the Roussets for a night with my friends, also in the wine distribution business in France, Nico Rebut and his wife, Laetitia. The next morning I passed through the Fréjus tunnel into Piemonte with no one waiting at the border to see the negative Covid test I was ready to proudly produce. I wasn’t surprised. It’s Italy… Andrea Monti Perini (left) and his enologist, Cristiano Garella, tasting the 2018 Bramaterra I visited our four producers in Alto Piemonte, and hung out with my friend of ten years (time is flying!), Cristiano Garella, a well-known enologist in the area. And I had nice meetings with Andrea Monti Perini, in Bramaterra, with his crazy-good Nebbiolo-based wines out of wood vats. As mentioned earlier in this newsletter, Fabio Zambolin knocked it out of the park with the 2018 vintage. The changes the guys over at Ioppa have made in recent years are finally coming to the market. Their 2016s are impressive, and the 2015s are right there with them, but they’ve recently really gotten a more measured hold on the tannins and texture of the Ghemme wines. The biggest surprise in my tasting at Ioppa was the 2016 Vespolina “Mauletta.” I’m almost sure that it’s the best example of a pure Vespolina wine I’ve had, except perhaps the Vespolinas from the newest addition in the portfolio, Davide Carlone. I made the visit to Davide with Cristiano and we tasted through a bunch of wines in vat from different Nebbiolo clones that are vinified separately, and what an enlightening experience that was. The differences between clones is much greater than I expected. We don’t talk about genetic material so much in old world wines as we do with the US and probably the rest of the “New World” wine regions, but we should. It greatly impacts the wine. Volcanic rocks from Davide Carlone's vineyards in Boca, Alto Piemonte, and the hands of Cristiano Garella. After Alto Piemonte, I dropped down to Langhe and crashed at Dave Fletcher’s train station turned home-and-cantina. I love this place. Dave said that before he started the process to buy it from the city, no one else was interested in it. His friends said he was crazy, but when word got out that he was serious, the interest increased, and Dave had to hustle to get his name on the title before he was wedged out. They live in a sort of dreamworld inside that old station; when I’m in it I imagine the antique setting and how so many people passed through it long ago; it’s beautiful, and almost joyfully haunted by their spirits. Dave and Eleanor (Elle), his wife, wisely kept most of the interior space the same, with the ticket counters and the coffee and wine bar. I took full advantage of the opportunity to cook so as to control my food intake, which completely backfired because I think I ate even more food there than I would’ve in restaurants along the way. We enjoyed lamb on the barby (said with Dave’s Australian accent), marinated with anchovy, garlic and some of the French thyme from our friend’s place in Provence, and I turned Elle on to high quality canned anchovies from Cantabria (which she never liked before) and salt-packed ones from Sicily on top of cold, salted butter and fresh bread with a paper thin slice of garlic, dried oregano, lemon zest and a little red pepper—a recipe I picked up from Aqua Pazza, a fabulous restaurant in the Amalfi Coast’s truest Italian fishing village (where residence actually live and work all year round), Cetara. It was exactly what I needed after a week straight of decadent eating on the road. Monti Perini's vineyard (surrounding the small white house at the bottom center) in the Brusnengo commune of Bramaterra, in Alto Piemonte, with the Alps in the background. I met the Collas for lunch at their house up in Rodello, a beautiful village that sits on a long, narrow ridge well above the cold and fog of Alba. On a clear day at their house, you can see the Alps perfectly to the west and north, the Ligurian range to the south and to the east and the northernmost expanse of the Apennine Mountains, which from there run all the way down to Sicily. Bruna, Tino Colla’s wife, makes fresh pasta in a room for doing just that, next to their small cellar, which is loaded with antique wines that Tino has stashed for more than fifty years. This treasure is hidden below the main floor of their four-story house that sits on the top of the hill, situated above all the other homes with just the nearby church blocking a small slice of the view. The cellar is filled with a lot of old wines from the Colla’s Prunotto days and from Cascina del Drago, an estate that covers the better part of a hill, just on the border of Barbaresco, where Beppe Colla used to make the wine and which the Collas ended up buying from the previous owners who insisted that they would only sell it to his family. While our team was on tour in Piemonte when the pandemic first hit Italy, Tino opened up a series of old, irreplaceable Prunotto wines (1980 Barolo Bussia, 1978 Barbaresco Montestefano, and 1968 Barbera) and a red from Cascina del Drago, a Dolcetto wine with fifteen percent Nebbiolo, stole the show. It was a 1970, and it virtually crushed the field of already fabulous old wines. Cascina del Drago is a story that needs to be told because it is an unusual historical wine made from exactly the same blend of grapes from that hill for generations (long before the IGT blended wines were a thing), but the best way to understand it is to taste old bottles. They seem to be indestructible, easily competing for the top position in any range of old Piemontese wines they come up against. Yes, they can be really that good. One of the unexpected highlights of my time with the Collas came in the form of a unforgettable vinegar for a simple, greenleaf salad Bruna made to accompany the zucchini flan, carne cruda di fassone buttuta al coltello (knife-cut beef tartar), salsiccia di Bra, a small raw beef sausage made only in Bra (it’s so wonderful, and also a leap of faith considering it’s raw sausage, but the butchers have done it cleanly with all of those I’ve had so far), and a Bruna-made fresh pasta, tajarin con sugo di carne e funghi, a very thin, flat pasta that takes literally one minute to cook and serve with a meat and mushroom tomato sauce that takes nearly a day of cooking to find the right consistency. This vinegar is the continuation of a vinegar mother started in 1930, a profound experience that they’ve been topping up with mostly Nebbiolo over the years. I asked for a bottle and Tino looked at me as though I asked to be written into the family will for an equal portion of the estate. Sometimes in life you simply need to ask for what you want and you will get it. It would have been an audacious ask if it were anyone but the Collas, but they are like family to me, and I think they often feel the same way.  Beaune, 25 June After a weekend intended to be a respite from excesses of food and wine that turned into a full-blown cooking-and-drinking fest at Dave’s station, I reluctantly left their warm hospitality and headed toward Asti for a morning visit with a cantina whose wines I briefly sold about ten years ago in Los Angeles for one of the Italian wine importers I used to work with. La Casaccia is located in Cella Monte, a village in the Monferrato area of Asti, and is run by Elena, Giovanni and their kids, Margherita and Marcello. Upon my arrival I was greeted by Margherita, a woman in her early thirties who looks barely a shade over twenty, with a big and welcoming smile and an extremely comforting demeanor. She proposed a walk through the vineyards, then a tasting and lunch. Little did I know that many of their vineyards are surrounded by wild cherry trees that were ready for picking. In their vineyard that makes the Barbera, Bricco dei Boschi, Margherita pointed to a tree and said that they were probably too sour still. I picked a cherry anyway and gave it a try. It was one particular cherry tree intertwined with others near the top of the vineyard. The first cherry exploded with flavor and aromatic complexity, like a great Mosel Kabinett Riesling. I couldn’t stop eating them, nor could Margherita. Small, with delicate skins colored from light red to pink to orange and yellow all on the same cherry, I know that they were the most incredible cherries I’ve ever had. The acidity was through the roof, as was the sugar. The only other fruit comparison I can think of is a perfectly ripe and ready to pick white wine grape. It smelled and tasted like a mixture of rieslings from JJ Prum and Veyder-Malberg. Should I have a better cherry in my life, it would be an unexpected surprise. The epic cherries and Margherita's hands After our walk through the vineyard with conversations about their family and other non-wine things, like yoga, vegetarianism and the organic life (not just organic vineyards), she felt so familiar, like we’d been friends for years. The weather was overcast, slightly warm and lightly humid, just perfect for an outdoor tasting and lunch. After working through Giovanni’s range of authentic and emotion-filled reds (most notably the entry-level Grignolino, Freisa and Barbera wines) and a racy, undeniably delicious stainless-steel raised, vigorous limestone terroir monster of a Chardonnay grown on their pure chalk soil (think: a trim Saint-Aubin sans oak aging but dense in that limestone magic along with the exuberance imparted by a fanatical, fun and quirky winemaker), we sat for a lunch prepared by Elena. It started with an egg and vegetable tart, followed by fresh cheese-stuffed raviolis made by a well-known local pasta maker just a few villages away who used to own a restaurant known for excellent pasta. He has since closed it to focus only on pasta making—lucky for everyone in the region because these raviolis were special. Next stop, Spertino. I could contemplate and try to write about Mauro Spertino’s wines all day, but the only descriptions of what he renders with each wine that would truly do them justice would be in poetry, a skill that I haven’t even attempted to develop. Bottled under his late father’s name, Luigi Spertino, all are almost completely different from other wines around him—perhaps not only in Asti, but in all of Italy, or even the world. He lives in a middle of nowhere part of Piemonte, but in his lovingly rich family surroundings he finds what appears to be the same inspiration and genius-level creativity found in the countryside by many former city-dwelling Impressionists of the late 1800s; his ability to imagine and realize his dreams in liquid form is that rare. I imagine him lying awake at night staring into the dark thinking about how he should move a hair here and a hair there to next time outdo the marvel (at least for me) that he has just put the finishing touches on and bottled. In this July newsletter, I’ve written more about Mauro and the wines I tasted during my visit. It was truly inspiring, and if I should classify the wines we work with on artistic flair and originality, his are so far out of the box and perfectly tuned that I may have to consider him to be one of the most important in our portfolio. Next stop was with the Russo brothers in northwest Asti, Federico, and the twins, Marcello and Corrado. I always seem to be in a rush when I see these guys and I often feel like I’ve missed something they wanted to share with me, or show me. Maybe it’s just that they have so much to share. They are as generous in spirit vis-à-vis food and drink as anyone I know, and spending just an afternoon, evening and the following morning once a year never seems like enough. When I arrived to visit them it was already late. An early summer storm was imminent and I wanted to get some drone footage of their vineyards while there was a dash of sunlight and a pregame of drizzle in the air before the downpour. I didn’t want footage from up high because Crotin’s are not particularly exciting vineyards; I wanted to show how they are different from most of the region because their vineyards have mostly recovered from the abandonment that began after the last of the great wars. They are some of the closest Asti vineyards to Torino, so they are some of the last to be recovered. Their vineyards are surrounded by wild forests, open pastures, and diverse agricultural fields, mostly hazelnut and fruit trees, which all seems to be felt in their lively wines. What I thought would be some easy shots of flat vineyards ended up with me taking a twenty minute drive to look at a new Nebbiolo vineyard that sits around 480 meters (higher than Giacomo Conterno’s Cascina Francia vineyard in Serralunga d’Alba, for example), on white, calcareous sands with blue-grey marl. The vineyard is spectacular and not at all flat, and their desire is to produce a wine from it that should be drunk younger, a sort of equivalent in style to a Langhe Nebbiolo raised in steel. Regardless, I expect a very special wine from this vineyard, especially with the mind of one of the world’s most talented young Nebbiolo whisperers, enologist Cristiano Garella, as a strong influence. Exciting! Next Newsletter it’s a continuation of my loop around the Alps through Italy’s Lombardia and Sudtirol, then up into Austria and over to Germany en route back to Champagne and Burgundy. Ciao for now.