A few years ago, I probably rolled my eyes when someone said, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life”? SOOO cliché, right? Well…right here, right this minute, as we approach the Summer Solstice 2021, it kind of feels like a whole new life is out there in front of me.
There are some things I’ve been longing to do so badly for the past year and more – and one of them is to get back to Europe, where I was born, and lived out my first decade.
And because I am and always have been impatient, I decided that, for these long summer days filled with fireflies and hope, we would go on a trip together and discover something new and exciting. So, we’re going to Italy (sort of, you’ll see in a minute), and we’re going to visit three places and three wines that are hidden gems that live a little off the beaten path.
P. & E. Mullins
2019 Marjan Simcic Ribolla - Rebula Goriska
First, we’re going to go to Slovenia…upper right on the map. It’s not exactly in Italy, although the village of Brda, Slovenia, used to belong to the Republic of Venice, and it’s only a couple of miles for the Italian border, so cut me some slack! It is protected from the alpine weather by the Adriatic Sea just a few miles away, and it’s a wonderfully rich and diverse wine-growing region. Marjan Simčič (pronounced Seem-chich) is one of my favorite producers, and he has cult status in Slovenia and beyond. Half his vineyards are in Italy and half in Slovenia. Much lauded by the international press including Decanter, Wine Spectator and James Suckling, he’s as good as it gets in Slovenia (and I would throw in Italy!). Simčič makes his wines based on traditional methods and natural viticultural and winemaking techniques including native yeast and no chemical additives.
His vineyards are rich in minerals, which contribute to the flavor profile of this white wine, made from Rebula (Ribolla in Italian) grapes. The vineyard is mature, and you’ll discover a wine that is light yellow, with gold accents and a very soft bouquet. I pick up notes of lemon, green apple, and grapefruit) and fruity. The harmony of acids with its distinct minerality make this wine one you will long remember. Little known fact: Ribolla Gialla, as it’s called in Italy, was considered one of the great wines of Europe in the last century, with the same stature of Chardonnay and Riesling.
2018 Bisson - Bianchetta Genovese U Pastine
Liguria is along the Mediterranean Coast, not too far from France’s Côte d’Azur. The weather is splendid, the rocky beaches are pristine, and the vineyards grow nearly vertically in the steep terrain near Cinquaterre and Portofina. This is a region where wine is meant to be as joyful and not too serious. This wine is called U Pastine, from the local dialect meaning “primo”, or in social media, thumbs up! It’s an appropriate for this rare white grape found only in Liguria. Lugano has saved several parcels from extinction and he’s created a truly unique white wine that is delicate, lively, and satisfying, filled with vibrant minerality. It’s particularly delightful with fish as it’s grown near the shores of this part of Liguria where they eat the Bianchetta, the tiny and exquisitely flavored langoustine. The term U Pastine is from the Ligurian language, indicating a very special product, appropriate for this rare white grape found only in Liguria. Lugano has saved several parcels from extinction, from which he creates a truly unique white wine that is delicate, lively, and satisfying. Filled with vibrant minerality, it is particularly delightful when married to the white-fleshed fish.
2015 Ampeleia – Costa Toscana Rosso
Ampeleia started in 2002 with a friendship and a passion for winemaking. Elisabetta Foradori, one of my most favorite winemakers from the Alto Adige region of Italy along with Thomas Widmann, and Giovanni Podini. Together they saw an opportunity to showcase wine from this diverse unique terroir. Typical to Coastal Tuscany are the lowlands but this special vineyard site is mineral-rich hills that have been mined since Etruscan times. The estate has different altitude levels and microclimates. Each vineyard is planted with a different varietal and they are harvested all at once. The main focuses that are bring grown are Cabernet Franc and Alicante Nero, a distinct Tuscan variety of Grenache. Even though Ampeleia had 120 hectares of land, only 35 are planted with vineyards and 56 dedicated to other cultivations to keep a biodiversity in the land and keep it rich. This wine is 100% Cabernet Franc from harvested from different parcels around Ampeleia. It is aged for 12 months in a both wood barrels and cement tanks, followed by at least two years in bottle before being released. It is a bright red in the glass with aromas of sandalwoods and red berries. The palate carries long with the notes off the nose and red licorice and graphite. It is well balanced and structured, with fine tannins.