My last night in Italia to finish an amazing trip…

San Siro Stadium

And I can’t think of a better way to spend it than at the Champions League Quarterfinal between AC Milan and Barcelona. Forza Milan!!

AC Milan v Barcelona

The atmosphere was amazing, it really surprised me just how well behaved the whole crowd were: it was more like Fashion Week with so many beautifully dressed Milanese people.

Midnight dinner in Milano

After the game, the streets around my hotel were alive with people and laughter. So what better way to finish my last night in Milan than with a half bottle of Aglianico from Basilicata and a fantastic wood fired pizza.

And a fitting message to finish...

And as I was walking back to my hotel, this message on the wall on one of the art galleries near my hotel was a great reminder about life and our role on this planet.

Tomorrow I return to Australia and to my work of promoting the great wines of Italy in a land so far away (well close to thirty hours on a plane!!).

Vinitaly Day Two: Calabria,Campania and Tuscany (Chianti Classico)

Today was one of the reasons why Vinitaly is so important for wine importers from places so far away like Australia: to be able to go from Calabria to Campania and finally Tuscany (Chianti Classico) all in one day was worth the 30 hours on a plane just for that.

In Campania I visited our new producer for Mondo Imports, Salvatore Molettieri and tried through three vintages of each wine.

Salvatore Molettieri stand in Campania Pavilion: Vinitaly 2012

I also had time to visit our Calabrian producer ‘Le Moire’ who makes a small of amount of wine with passion and dedication that I find quite inspiring. His 2011 vintages reds look fantastic and I can’t wait to show these wines in Australia.

From their I moved to Tuscany and tried three a number of different Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva’s from all the benchmark producers that find their way to Australia. I loved the standard 2009 Chianti Classico and 2007 Chianti Riserva’s. These are stunning vintages for these two wines.

Tonight I am looking forward to a hearty meal and finish (or maybe start) the night with a Spritz in Piazza Erbe which is exactly what I did last night…

Spritz in Piazza Erbe (Verona)

Tomorrow I will do Franciacorta and Brunello di Montalcino.

Montalcino: a town of utter beauty…

The estate of Il Palazzone

Whilst I have been to Tuscany many times, strangely enough I have never been to Montalcino. A town that is so breathtakingly beautiful, that the drive in took my breath away. The term ‘beautiful’ would simply not do it justice.

I had an appointment with Fuligni before lunch and I was looking forward to this very much. Trembath and Taylor have done an amazing job importing the wines of Fuligni into Australia for many years and the wines of Fuligni would have the largest share of Brunello in my cellar. The 2010 Rosso di Montalcino blew me away. Wow, what a wine! Also the 2006 Brunello Riserva was top shelf and all the other wines were of a very high quality.

I do not import from Montalcino, but I do now have a better understanding of the region and style and appreciate the work involved in making such a famous wine.

Before dinner we stopped by Il Palazzone and met the contagious spirit of estate manager and guardian Laura Grey and her husband Marco.

About Il Palazzone:

Il Palazzone, or “The Big Palace” is a small estate that has been producing wine for over ten years. While the estate is roughly 20 acres, the land authorized for the production of Brunello di Montalcino is a mere 10 acres. Obviously, a property of these dimensions creates a tightly controlled environment which is determined by its owner. A New Yorker and a wine lover, not necessarily in that order, the proud owner takes an enormous interest in the vineyard despite the time constrains imposed by his day job as a business man. He is personally present at harvest time and all other key moments of the wines development. No care is spared in the entire vinification process, which end result is approximately 20,000 bottles each year.

Located on the western side of Montalcino, the estate is quite high in terms of altitude – roughly 480 meters above sea level. This altitude ensures excellent ventilation which is salutary for grapes, as it reduces mold production to a bare minimum. The constant action of the wind combined with the characteristics of the soil on the western side of Montalcino reinforce the character of the elegant wines produced by the estate. The vines themselves are over twenty years old and have therefore grown long root systems making them more resilient during periods of drought. These deep roots are able to reach minerals and components that are not present in the top soils and enrich the taste and aromas of the wines. Il Palazzone follows all the EEC regulations regarding only organic intervention in the vineyard. Il Palazzone

The new winery of Il Palazzone

Laura gave us a tour of the estate and then we sat down for a tasting to try the 2005, 2004 Brunello Riserva and 2006 Estate Brunello.

All the wines look really good. However, if I had to pick one it would be the 2006 Brunello. Wow, amazing wine that looked great from start to finish.

Abbazia di Sant'Antimo

Before dinner Laura took us to Abbazio di Sant’ Antimo and it would have to be the most spiritually beautiful church in the whole of Italy. It’s mystic charm (together with chanting priests inside) made it an unforgettable experience.

We then headed to Montalcino for dinner with Laura whilst Marco babysat their three kids!! The wines stood up well during dinner and it capped off a fantastic day and night in Montalcino.

I am now in Verona and ready for the craziness of Vinitaly. Already the town is buzzing and it is going to be a hectic few days.

Dinner at Solociccia in Panzano in Chianti…

The front of 'Solociccia' in Panzano in Chianti

After a day spent at Castello Monsanto with Laura Bianchi, I decided I would venture to Panzano (about 10km from Radda) and see Dario Cecchini.

I have heard so many things about Dario Cecchini the so-called ‘best butcher in the world’ that I could not visit Chianti and not have dinner at his restaurant. To call it an experience would be an understatement: communal tables, no ordering and the theatre of eating dishes such as ‘Ramerino in culo’ made it well worth the visit.

Dario Cecchini

Would I go back? Probably not as I thought the actual meat was probably not any better than many fantastic restaurants you find in Chianti. However, it is like coming to Radda and not drinking Chianti. The experience in eating Dario’s food and talking to the man that has made Bistecca so famous was well worth the drive.

Tasting and lunch with Laura Bianchi at Castello Monsanto…

The beauty of Castello Monsanto

The first winery I imported to Australia from Italy was Castello Monsanto in Chianti. Not only do they make beautiful and long lived wines, but owner Laura Bianchi is one of the loveliest people you will ever meet. They hold a special place in my heart and every journey must have a beginning: mine was Castello Monsanto. It was fitting that the person I dealt with was Laura, and she has set the precedent for all our business activities in Italy.

Laura Bianchi

It has been at least three years since I have been back to Monsanto so it was a good opportunity to revisit their historic vineyards like Il Poggio and tour the amazing cellars and winery.

The cellars of Castello Monsanto

Laura has a daughter the same age as my daughter Alessandra, and it seems we almost always talk about our children in every conversation either via email or in person. As is tradition in the Bianchi family, every birth and wedding is celebrated with a cellar full of wine from that vintage year. This is the cellar of Laura’s youngest daughter: Sofia.

The cellar of 'Sofia'

We then tasting through the current vintage wines with the 2009 Castello Monsanto Chianti Classico and 2007 Chianti Classico Riserva really impressing me. Both amazing wines and highlight the strength of both those two great vintages.

Current release Castello Monsanto wines

After a five course lunch, it was time to sadly say goodbye. The property of Castello Monsanto is a very special place and even more significant for me on a personal level. We have been importing and representing Castello Monsanto in Australia for the past five years, and I hope this continues for many many years to come.

From the Langhe to Tuscany and finally to Radda in Chianti…

Radda in Chianti

Today was a big day of driving. A few wrong turns along the way added about an hour to my trip. I finally arrived in Radda in Chianti around 3pm and checked into my hotel before jumping in my car again and driving about 30km to San Gimignano. The stress of driving evaporated as soon as I entered the town’s walls.

The towers of San Gimignano

And when in San Gimignano, an ice-cream is a must…

Finishing the afternoon with a Gelati

An amazing tour and tasting with Gaia Gaja in Barbaresco…

Gaia Gaja

For me, the Gaja family are one of the reasons why Barbaresco is now considered to be one of the greatest wines’ of the world. This has not always been the case, as if not for the hard (and sometimes controversial) work of Angelo Gaja, Barbaresco might not have such a high standing in our world of wine. This has nothing to do with quality, but more to do with the acceptance of Barbaresco being the equal to that of Barolo.

Angelo Gaja has not only been able to lift the profile of Barbaresco and the wines of Gaja to be placed amongst the finest of Italy, but their wines are now accepted to be the equal of the most noble wines of the world.

The hard work of Angelo Gaja has done promoting the wines of Gaja around the world is now undertaken by his daughter, Gaia Gaja. Angelo must be proud to have such a smart and passionate daughter by his side telling the story of Gaja around the world. I first met Gaia in Melbourne a few years ago and it was an honour to have Gaia return the favour on an amazing tour of her families vineyards and cellars in Barbaresco. As much as I know and understand Gaja, I feel a deeper understanding and greater respect for the reasons why this family has been so influential and successful.

In the cellars of Gaja

The cellars of Gaja are amazing and seemingly take up half the town of Barbaresco. The cellar and winery are spotless and nothing is left to chance, different size barrels (from large to small) are situated on different levels of the cellar.

Gaja Barrel Room

On every corner and floor of the cellars, a different piece of art captivates your eye. In some wineries it might seem out of place, but here in the heart of Barbaresco it serves of a reminder of the beauty of Barbaresco and its’ wines.

Single vineyard cru of Gaja

It was a fascinating experience to visit each of the single vineyard cru’s with Gaia and listen to her explain the differences between each site. Different row orientation, soil and aspect all contribute to the differences between the three single vineyard cru’s.

The tasting room of Gaja

After a tour of the cellar and vineyards, we went upstairs to the tasting room to try a number of different wines under the Gaja label. As we walked through the corridor, Gaia’s mum was hosting an international tasting for a bunch of buyers. Little things like this illustrate to me why the family has been so successful: they all work hard in all parts of their business.

We tried through a number of different wines spanning over two decades. For me, the three wines that stood out (and I could have easily chosen any of the ten wines as they were all of the highest quality) were the 2008 ‘Estate’ Barbaresco,  1999 Sperss and 1989 Darmagi. Below are my tasting notes on the three wines:

2008 ‘Estate’ Barbaresco: perfume, tightly wound, red berries, rhubarb, quite savoury, ripe tannins and balanced. So youthful with many many years in front of it.

1999 Sperss: Amazing, so perfect, will hold for many years. Sweet graphite, earth, minerals, so youthful and expressive.

1989 Darmagi: Served blind by Gaia, I picked it as 1999. Well a decade off, not bad! Hint of capsicum and ginger, very Cabernet palate but with an expression of the Langhe. Amazing wine, so perfect.

The famous logo of Gaja

It was a perfect way to finish an amazing few hours with Gaia Gaja in the cellars of Gaja in Barbaresco. Grazie Mille Gaia!!