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Artisanal Italy: Brunello and Abruzzo
The Elusive Wines of Cerbaiona and Valentini

A Note from Sergio


I moved back to Italy with my family almost two years ago, but I return to the United States regularly. My travels back and forth make me acutely aware of the differences between the two countries, and one of the major differences is the way that the US has a lot of big stores--Walmart, Best Buy, K-Mart, Home Depot, gigantic grocery stores that seem to unfold for frozen-food acres. While you don't see most of these stores in New York City, and while Italy is starting to get some big stores (there's a couple of Ikeas, for example), these big shops serve as a marker between the two cultures.

  

While you gain a lot of convenience in having the big stores--everything you could possibly need or think you need is one place--you lose something too. You miss out on the unique, the small production, the stuff that was made by some lone artisan toiling away in his or her cellar or field. You miss out on the things that are deeply distinctive, imbued with humanity, and profoundly individual. Sure, there's a lot to be said for the things that corporations make, but there's also a lot to be said for the boutique products, the things you can only find in small, unusual corners, and the things that surprise you with their quality and their individuality.

  

The two producers I'm presenting today could be the poster boys for boutique individuality: Cerbaiona, makers of artisanal Brunello, and Valentini, the cult producer of Abruzzo. Cerbaiona, founded in the late '70s by ex-Alitalia pilot Diego Molinari, sits on a ridge looking down on most of Montalcino. Just a little less than 7.5 acres, half planted with Sangiovese Grosso and half international grapes, Molinari grows his grapes organically and vinifies them with a fierce adherence to tradition--he took Franco Biondi-Santi as his model, and he used cuttings from Biondi-Santi for his vineyard, releasing his inaugural bottling in 1981. Since then, Cerbaiona has consistently made the best traditional Brunello that you've probably never heard of. These wines are pure elegance on a powerful backbone, and they're delicious.

  

Valentini is so iconoclastic that it makes Cerbaiona look almost average. Established in 1956 by ex-lawyer Edoardo Valentini, Cerbaiona has the unlikely location of Abruzzo, a region that's not widely known for its quality wines. Yet Valentini--a winemaking lone wolf along the lines of Josko Gravner or Paolo Bea--took the region's two indigenous grapes, Montepulciano and Trebbiano, two grapes that don't always get their due, and made them into world-class wines. Trebbiano is most often, as Jancis Robinson says in her Oxford Companion, "undistinguished." In the hands of Valentini, a man who came to be known as "the Lord of the Vines," it's mystical. It's a wine that the gods would order with their risotto. Valentini, who died in 2006, leaving the estate to his son, made only three wines: Trebbiano, Montepulciano and Cerasuolo, a lightening bolt of a Rosé. They're hard to get and they're quite literally stunning.

  

This week, I'm delighted to offer the recent releases of Valentini and Cerbaiona. These wines are more than merely artisanal; they're unique, special, beautiful, so telling of the people who made them and the place they came from that they could come from no other hands and no other lands. These are wines to linger over, to cellar until the time is right, and to share with people who appreciate the renegade beauty of the stalwart individual.

  


  

  

My Best,  

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