Italy/Slovenia (click on each name for more information)
Pierini e Brugi (Region: Tuscany - Maremma): The organic farm Pierini & Brugi is located on top of a hill called “Belvedere”, from where you can have a complete view over one the most wild and striking places in Tuscany’s Maremma. The farm produces wine, olive oil, saffron and spelt and all these products are organically grown. The vineyards are located in the "Montecucco" denomination and, although that may not sound familiar, its northern neighbor is the very prestigious Montalcino denomination where Brunellos are produced.
Almadi (Region: Verona): Artisanal producer of Amarone, Valpolicella Ripasso, Corvina, and Garganega sourced from family-owned vineyards that have been farmed for over 100 years. The deep rich flavors of their wines are from the very mineral rich soils in the Lake Garda area.
Tre Fattori (Region: Piedmont): The name literally means "three factors" but "fattore" also means "farm manager" in Italian. As all of our producers are great farmers first, the great Nebbiolo fruit grown by the three families who jointly make the "Tre Fattori" wines then results in exquisite and fully flavored Barolos and Barbarescos. I suspect that the families keep their best fruit for their own wines before selling the rest of their grapes to more "famous" producers.
Cantine Russo Taurasi (Region: Campania - Taurasi): A family estate in the middle of the prestigious Taurasi appellation in Avellino which produces rich and fully flavored Aglianicos, Fianos, and Falanghinas. What I love about the Russo Taurasi wines is that they let the grapes each year tell them what "styles" of wines to produce. The result is very fresh tasting wines with remarkable flavor profiles and a huge number of food pairing ideas.
Vigne Chigi (Region: Campania - Terre del Volturno): Vigne Chigi is in Northern Campania about ten miles north of Capua and about 30 miles north of Naples. Unique to the area are three very obscure, ancient, and very interesting grape varietals which are Pallagrello Bianco, Pallagrello Nero, and Casavecchia. Despite the similar sounding names, Pallagrello Bianco and Pallagrello Nero share no genetic traits at all but the Pallagrello name comes from what had been a tradition of drying the grapes on straw (paglia) mats before pressing into wine. The wines today are made without drying the grapes as both varietals are already very fully flavored. Casavecchia has even deeper and richer flavors in my opinion which makes this very small area in which these three grapes are grown a very interesting area to find unique wines.
De Falco Vini (Region: Campania - Vesuvio): What is very enjoyable about what I do are the fun discoveries along the way. For various reasons, I focus on vineyard areas with a lot of "minerality" (from soils with high mineral content from volcanic activity, granite, limestone, and slate) as I find wines from those areas more refreshing to drink, with more fresh fruit flavors, and also much more complementary with food and so in southern Italy it was natural to look for producers with vineyards on Mount Vesuvius. My search led to tastings around Naples at four wineries and all frankly had good wines but I was particularly struck by the quality and expressiveness of the De Falco Vini wines.
Menicucci (Region: Abruzzo): In 1970, Antonio Menicucci planted his first grapes in Ortona, Italy. Three generations later the Menicucci legacy continues. Menicucci produces a variety of organic hand-crafted wines that are striking for their expressiveness, fresh fruit flavors, good balance, and being very food friendly. Located in the region of Abruzzo, which is far better known for its robust red wines made from the Montepulciano d'Abruzzo varietal, I was particularly impressed by the impressive freshness of their white wines. There is also a fun and interesting dark Rose made in the region from Montepulciano d'Abruzzo grapes which is called Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo.
Le Pigole (Region: Abruzzo): Le Pigole is a "local wine" that is produced by one of the leading independent vineyard owners in Abruzzo. The producer sells most of his fruit each year to internationally known Abruzzo wineries whose Montepulciano d'Abruzzo wines sell for $25 to $30 a bottle in the US. This cuvee is made for the producer's local friends who own restaurants and I discovered it one night in a restaurant in Pescara. As opposed to a lot of the heavily tannic wines that are a tradition in the area, this very food friendly wine is made in a much more approachable style.
Feudi di Guagnano (Region: Puglia - Salento): Feudi di Guagnano is dedicated to making world class wines from the indigenous grape varieties of Negroamaro and Primitivo grown in Apulia in southern Italy. In 2002 the three grandsons of the original growers realized that the rich and deep flavors from both grapes could be made into outstanding aging-worthy wines that could be as interesting as more prominent Italian wines such as Barolos and Brunellos.
Torre Quarto (Region: Puglia – Cerignola): Torre Quarto has an interesting history as in 1847, a French Duke who was traveling through Italy, Duke de la Rochefoucauld, recognized that the area where Torre Quarto is now located as capable of producing very high quality wines. Although I don't know what caught the Duke's eye, it was immediately apparent from walking through the vineyards, that are on rolling hills between Cerignola and the Adriatic Sea, that there is significant volcanic minerality in the soil. My following tasting session at the estate was even more of a positive surprise with the freshness and expressiveness of all the wines that I tasted.
Cantine Teanum (Region: Puglia – San Severo): An essential part of what I do is selecting wines at each property (instead of going to trade shows to play "let's make a deal!"). Although such visits are part of my overall due diligence, there are also delightful surprises along the way. In my search for expressive examples of native grape varietals, I identified Cantine Teanum in Northern Puglia as a possibly interesting producer in an area where the main native red grape is the very tannic Nero di Troia. Working with such a grape requires both great insight and artistry in a wine maker and a fun surprise was finding that in Donato Giuliani at the cantina. Every wine that I tasted was a true expression of the native varietals and the local terroir with its high minerality from its volcanic soils.
Villa Puri (Region: Lazio - Lago Bolsena): Villa Puri is an ongoing family enterprise of a family that originally settled on the north side of Lago Bolsena (about 80 miles north of Rome) over 500 years ago. The current patriarch of the family's heritage, Vittorio Puri, has transitioned all farming operations to being organic and all wines are fermented with only naturally occurring yeasts. Between the exceptional farming and natural fermentation, I found the Villa Puri wines to be very expressive and interesting. Adding to the qualities and characteristics of the wines is the volcanic soil around Lago Bolsena which was created from the collapsed caldera of a very large ancient volcano.
De' Notari (Region: Lazio - Colli Albani): De' Notari is the "artisanal" wine division of Cantine San Marco, which is a very successful and respected wine producer in the Colli Albani hills about 15 miles south of Rome. While that may sound quite close to a major metropolitan area, somehow most major cities in Europe have avoided the ever spreading suburban sprawl that is so common in the U.S. that gobbles up as much nearby land as possible. In any case, the Colli Albani is probably much more suitable for viticulture than for housing developments as it is rolling hills that are the remains of a massive ancient volcano. And so, in my ever present search for minerally wines, I am very happy to have found this very interesting producer so close to Rome.
The Vinum (Region: Abruzzo and Tuscany): The Vinum is an interesting project of an inspired young winemaker, Roberto Dragani, whose original family roots are in Abruzzo and whose vineyards are farmed organically. I originally selected the wine of very interesting local white grape from Abruzzo (Cococciola) that is produced in his family vineyards. Roberto's family also has vineyards in Tuscany and Piemonte and so he produces wines from those regions as well. A second selection from The Vinum is a delightful and expressive Chianti.
Valpanera (Region: Friuli Venezia Giulia): Azienda Agricola Valpanera is primarily focused on making world class wines from a local red grape (Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso) which has similar flavor profile to Cabernet Franc. But, there is also a delightful surprise from its growing region - which is that very refreshing, mineral driven, and very well balanced wines can be produced from many different varietals and so I've selected of variety of "every day" wines from Valpanera in addition to an initial selection of one of their Refosco wines.
Vinska Klet Ferdinand (Region: Brda - Slovenia): Vinska Klet Ferdinand is in the unique Brda region, nestled between the Adriatic Sea, the European Alps and the Italian Friuli, where rolling hills are warmed by the Mediterranean sun during the day and cooled by Alpine breezes at night. The proprietor, Matjaz Cetrtic, is the consummate wine professional applying his meticulous attention to detail to all aspects of production from his vineyards to his wine making where bringing out the full flavors of his grapes is his ultimate goal.