Oltrepò Pavese in Lombardia is a region of rolling hills, medieval villages, majestic and vast stretches of vineyards earning it the moniker, the “Tuscany of the North.” Oltrepò means “beyond the Po,” a reference to the region’s location on the southern shore of the Po River in the province of Pavia. Oltrepò Pavese benefits from cool breeze from the north and a location on the 45th degree parallel, where some of the world’s great wines are produced. The appellations was granted DOCG status in 2007. Pinot Nero (aka Pinot Noir) is the key grape variety cultivated, and region is recognized for its outstanding Blanc de Noir sparkling wines.
Castello di Cigognola, a 12th century castle with landscaped gardens surrounded by vineyards, is one of the most stunning and historical properties in Oltrepò Pavese. Decorated by master architect, Renzo Mongiardino, Castello di Cigognola been designated an Italian National Trust World Heritage site.
Castello di Cigognola is owned by the renowned Moratti family. Gianmarco Moratti is a successful entrepreneur; his wife and Letizia Moratti, is a businesswoman who has served as the mayor of Milan. Their son, Gabriele Moratti oversees vineyard management with Gian Matteo Baldi, Castello di Cignonola’s CEO.
We visited with Gian Matteo Baldi to a record aSIPS podcastfor The Connected Table (stream it below) and taste three expressions of the Moratti metodo classico blanc de noir cuvées. We were impressed by how fresh and clean they tasted on our palates and the finesse of the bubbles. While we have had the chance to taste metodo classico sparkling wines from other well-known regions in northern Italy, notably Franciacorta and Trentodoc, we were struck by the exceptional character of these Oltrepò Pavese blanc de noir wines.
Here is what we tasted:
Moratti Blanc de Noir Pas Dosè. For no dosage sparkling wine lovers, this selection will delight. The wine remains 18 to 24 months on the lees and has a clean, crisp
Moratti Cuvée More Blanc de Noir is a blend of Pinot Noir with a touch of Pinot Meunier. The wine is aged 18 to 24 months on the lees, depending on the vintage
Moratti Cuvée Dell’Angelo 2012 was the only vintage sparkling wine in the trio we tasted. Grapes are sourced from select vineyard plots, and the wine remains 72 months on the lees. This is a gastronomic blanc de noir that we enjoyed with our salmon and roasted vegetables.
One of the Côtes du Rhône’s first cru appellations (established in 1947), AOC Lirac is a wine lover’s gem. The wines were prized among European nobility and the Avignon papacy in the 14th and 15th centuries. In the 18th century, local magistrates in Roquemaure started to authentic the origin of Lirac wines by branding the casks with “C.d.R.” Lirac wines were the first in the region to use the term “Côtes du Rhône.” Today, Lirac wines continue to draw a strong following among sommeliers and other wine aficionados.
Lirac is rare among the 17 Rhône crus for its range of red, white, and smaller amounts of rosé wines. AOC guidelines require all to be blends, mainly using indigenous varieties. Red wines, which comprise 85 percent of Lirac’s production, must contain a minimum of 40 percent Grenache. The remaining amounts are usually Syrah, Carignan, Mourvèdre or Cinsault (the latter is popular for rosés). Around 10 percent of production is white. Clairette is the superstar white variety in Lirac followed by Bourboulenc, Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne and, to a smaller degree, Picpoul and Ugni Blanc. The white wines lean toward aromatic with balanced acidity. While overshadowed by the reds in the global market, Lirac’s whites are well worth seeking out.
During our visit in early March 2020 (thankfully before the travel shutdown), a robust mistral blew in, practically knocking us over. The locals are used to the mistral wind which average 180 days of the year. Lirac’s climate in the southern Rhône Valley is Mediterranean, but a mistral can have you reaching for scarves and jackets even under a brilliant sunny sky.
These winds, unique to this part of France, combined with more than 220 days of sunshine, play a key role in shaping Lirac’s terroir. They help purify the air to keep humidity low, chase away pests and nurture healthy vines.
Another key factor are Lirac’s three soils. Alluvial river soils scattered with large round stones, known as galets roulés, produce intense red wines with dark fruit and savory spices, offering long aging potential. Limestone soils deliver minerality and aromatics, a hallmark of the whites which are fruit and floral with balanced acidity. Sandy soils produce fresh lighter wines, low in tannins, ideal for Lirac’s fruitier style of rosés
Avignon serves as a great base to visit both Lirac and Tavel, its next -door neighbor which only produces rosé wines. If you stay in Avignon, a visit to the Palais du Papes (the Popes’ Palace) is a must, and allow plenty of time (advanced reservations are suggested.). We had the chance to spend a Sunday in Avignon where locals and tourists gather at the covered market for casual Sunday dining or to pick up provisions. It’s great people watching!
We visited with several Lirac producers during our trip. When asked how they would define “Lirac style,” they all underscored “freshness and lush” as a backbone of the wines and what they refer to as “the Rhône Valley’s “right bank style.” In contrast, left bank wines, such as those in Chateauneuf-du-Pape just across the river were described as “concentrated and more intense.” A number of producers in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, have invested in vineyards in Lirac.
Lirac is home to many independent wineries; many are family-run Here are the producers we met and their U.S. importers.
Château de Ségriès. This historic winery is one of the first in the appellation. by Count Henri de Régis de Gatimel inherited Château de Ségriès in 1940 and was one of the first to replant vines in the region. The Count was the first to petition that Lirac be awarded AOC status, which occurred in 1947. (U.S. importer: Kysela Pere & Fils).
Château de Montfaucon. The center piece of this estate is a lovingly restored fortress dating to the 12th century owned by a noble family. Proprietor Rodolphe du Pins showed us a pre-phylloxera vineyard dating back 140 years. (Winebow)
Domaine La Lôyane. Started by a family of growers dating back four generations, the winery is run by Romain Dubois and his wife, Laure. Organically run, this winery is home to five vineyards including one whose Grenache vines are 150 years-old! (Elixir Wine Group)
Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine The Lafond family has been making wine in the Rhône Valley since 1780. “Roc-Epine” was established in 1970 and started to bottle wine in 1978. The name commemorates “Roquepine,” a famous horse race. (Skurnik Wines)
Château Mont-Redon. The original name, “Mourredon,” dates to 1344, when the property was part of the Pope’s land; it was recognized as a vineyard in the 18th century. Today this winery, is owned by the largest landowner in Chateauneuf-du-Pape who saw the potential in making wine in Lirac. (F. Wildman)
La Maison Ogier. In 800 A.D. with “Ogier the Dane” fought with Charlemagne’s soldiers and settled in the area. The family entered the wine business in 1859. Ogier was founded in 1948. Today it is a leading negociant in the Rhône Valley. (Folio Fine Wine Partners)
Listen to The Connected Table Sips. Discover Lirac!
AOC Lirac on the Rhône River’s right bank is a small cru appellation producing lush reds and aromatic whites. Lirac has an ideal terroir: over 200 days of sun, purifying mistral winds and three different soils: rocky galets, calcareous and sandy, with most vineyards organically farmed. AOC Lirac Co-President Rodolphe de Pins is owner of Château de Montfaucon, where some vineyards date back 140 years. He discusses how Lirac’s different soils shape the character of its wines. www.vins-rhone.com
One of the Côtes du Rhône’s first cru appellations since 1947, AOC Lirac is a wine lover’s rare gem, just northwest of Avignon. Lirac wines were prized among Europe’s nobility and the Avignon papacy in the 14th century. Lirac is rare among the 17 Rhône crus for its range of red, white and smaller amounts of rosé wines made from blends of mainly indigenous varieties. Château de Montfaucon’s Rodolphe de Pins, AOC Lirac Co-President, discusses the region and styles of wine. www.vins-rhone.com
The rare whisky market continues to soar even during a global pandemic, On March 18 in London, Sotheby’s achieved a new auction record, selling a bottle of Karuizawa 52- Year- Old Zodiac Rat Cask #56271960 for $435,273 (£363,000 ) to a private collector in Asia, well exceeding its pre-sale estimate of £160,000-220,000.
So, what makes fine Japanese whisky such a collectible spirit?
We asked Makiyo Masa, founder of dekantā, the world’s leading online retailer, which sells more than 2000 types of Japanese whisky as well as shochu, sake, other spirits and wines. Masa grew up in a family distilling business and launched dekantā in May 2015 with the goal of filling a gap in the retail market specializing in Japanese whiskies.
TCT: Makiyo, what sets Japanese whisky apart?
“Japanese whisky has its own sense of place, from water to earth. The Japanese tradition is to pursue the best with an idea for fine details. That is what makes Japanese whisky truly special.” There are many special small distillers that produce great whisky, not just the largest companies. We are always looking for and sourcing the best we can find.”
TCT: We understand that online retails sales for wine and spirits are brisk, even during this Spring global pandemic. How is dekantā holding up?
“At this time, we feel very grateful to have developed such a strong online platform with a network of international clients, who we refer to as the ‘dekanta family.’ We envisage little to no disruption to our online orders and deliveries, and as such we have not been impacted as heavily as other businesses who rely on trading in person. However, our hearts go out to all the bars and restaurants across the globe who are struggling through this pandemic.
“Our top priority is the safety of our customers and our staff. Our staff are working from home wherever possible, and we’re handling deliveries with additional measures with regards to hygiene. It has been a logistical challenge, but the team are communicating regularly from their remote working, to keep up morale, and to ensure as little disruption as possible to our regular operations.
TCT: Sotheby’s Auction House in London sold a bottle of Karuizawa 52- Year- Old Zodiac Rat Cask #56271960 for $435,273 (£363,000 ) on March 18. What makes this whisky so special?
“This is a truly spectacular bottle, and it is very exciting to see this new bottle breaking a record previously held by the Yamazaki 50- Year Old. We have seen huge demand from our most ardent collectors for rare and old bottles of Karuizawa whisky. The Karuizawa distillery produced liquid with a notably rich and sherry flavor before it was forced to close its doors in 2000. The remaining casks were sold to private individuals, who have been bottling the liquid independently as spectacular limited editions in recent years. As a result, the distillery has developed something of a cult status among Japanese whisky aficionados.”
TCT: Has dekantā sold a similar bottle?
“It’s highly likely that we will have sold one of these bottles to a client through our concierge service, by which we source the most rare and highly sought after bottles of Japanese whisky. The most expensive bottle set that dekantā has ever sold to a single client is a collection of rare Karuizawa bottles totaling over one million dollars. It is an extensive collection of over 270 bottles, with distillation dates ranging from throughout the distillery’s brief history.”
TCT: Well, we feel very lucky since you brought us a bottle of Karuizawa Spirit of Asama Single Malt to try. Tell us about it.
“The Karuizara Spirit of Asama s a very rare and delicious single malt whisky with a lower proof, just 48 percent. It is very hard to find on the market today anice, as I noted, this legendary distillery closed in 2000. Only 400 casks were left.” - Suggested retail price: $2,400m /70 cl bottle. Info and to purchase
TCT: The other single malt your brough is from Chichibu, a small distillery of only nine employees.
“Mizunara Heads 2011 is a higher proof single malt whisky named from the type of porous wood from the Mizunara tree used to make the casks, a process that can take 200 years . “ – Suggested retail price: $2399 Info and purchase
Japanese master distillers are known for their pursuit of perfection. Rare bottles of whisky can command thousands of dollars at auction. But buying a bottle for home or gifting is easy thanks to dekantā, the world’s leading online retailer, which sells more than 2000 types of Japanese whisky as well as shochu, sake, other spirits and wines. Makiyo Masa, founder of dekantā, explains what makes Japanese whisky special and why you should consider a bottle on your spirits shelf. www.dekanta.com
Home to some of the world’s most sought after wines including Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera, and Moscato d’Asti, Piedmont is regarded as one of Italy’s great wine regions. Michele Chiarlo Wines, founded by Michele Chiarlo and now run with the help of his sons Alberto and Stefano, has been a leader in the region since 1956.
Always family owned and operated, Michele Chiarlo owns vineyards in three of Piedmont’s most important growing regions: Langhe, Montferrato, and Gavi, and focuses exclusively on making single vineyard wines. Their vineyard in Cerequio, in the heart of Barolo, is considered one of the finest plantings of Nebbiolo in the region and is recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site. The same is true for La Court, the Chiarlo Vineyard in Barbera, which also caries the UNESCO moniker.
Purists at heart, the Chiarlo family creates their wines exclusively from indigenous grape varieties including Barbera, Cortese, Nebbiolo, and Moscato, and over the years has helped lead Piedmont’s quality revolution in both winemaking and farming practices in through leadership, innovation, and dedication to their craft. “Preserving this land for the future is vey important to us,” says Stefano Chiarlo, who oversees wine production, “therefore we helped establish standards of quality for the DOC winemaking laws in Piedmont, and spearheaded green harvest practices, for all of Italy, in 1984.”
Never comfortable to rest on their laurels, The Chiarlo family is constantly working to find the next big wine and as such has heavily invested in the region’s new Nizza DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, Italy’s highest level of quality for wine), in order to build that new winemaking appelation’s reputation for quality in the marketplace.
The following selection of Michele Chiarlo wines are a good way to get to know this iconic brand, which is imported into the United States by Kobrand Wine & Spirits.
Le Marne Gavi DOCG: Made in the Gavi region, and area known for its white wine production from the Cortese grape variety, Le Marne shows citrus and mineral notes and jumps on the palate with lively acidity. A perfect white to pair with food. SRP: $19.99
Cipressi Barbera Nizza DOCG: Grown at Le Court, the Chiarlo estate in Barbera, this 100% Barbera wine is shows classic notes of ripe cherry and red fruit through a lush, yet elegant palate. A perfect wine for lighter meats and pasta dishes. SRP: $29.99
Tortoniano Barolo DOCG: 100% Nebbiolo from Piedmont’s pre-eminent wine region, the Tortoniano Barolo spends 2 years in barrel and one year in bottle prior to release. A highly structured wine, yet also quite approachable at an early age, this wine is a wonderful food wine perfect for pairing with meats, pastas, and aged cheeses. SRP: $59.99
Listen to The Connected Table SIPS with Stefano Chiarlo. Click this image and stream: