Italian Wild Side: Chef Massimo Bottura

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Lou Reed, Parmigiano Reggiano, and unexpected pairings

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

Chef Massimo Bottura is on a mission one morning in spring. He drives to the leafy edge of his native Modena with a stepladder and a pair of scissors—the car stereo blasting music on shuffle from his iPod. As Bottura pulls to the curb, his Mercedes wagon fills with the bass-heavy intro to Lou Reed's 1972 rock anthem "Walk on the Wild Side."

"This is going to be a walk on the wild side." Bottura grins through black-framed glasses and his salt-and-pepper beard.

The next few hours indeed bear witness to Bottura's wildly imaginative palate, which swings between the extremes of Italian tradition and the culinary avant-garde. His mission is foraging in an urban park for elderflowers, to be transformed into a dish for his 13-course seasonal "Sensations" menu at Osteria Francescana, one of Europe's hottest gastronomic addresses.

Letter from Europe: Low Hype Barolo

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"No photo!" Giuseppe Cavallotto waved me off as I aimed my iPhone in his direction.

He stood atop of one of Barolo's most gorgeous vineyards, his family's monopole Bricco Boschis, a steep, sunny, concave hillside that stretches below the family home and winery in Castiglione Falletto.

Giuseppe, the middle of three siblings who run Tenuta Cavallotto, said posing for photographs was for his younger brother, Alfio. Then I asked Giuseppe his age. "That doesn't matter," he responded, and after an awkward silence added, "I'm more-or-less 46—it's no secret."

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?"

Letter from Europe: 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.

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