Gianfranco Soldera, outspoken Sangiovese grower and iconic winemaker, dies at 82

As the Italian wine world gathers this weekend in Montalcino for the annual debut of the appellation’s new vintage and releases, Brunello has lost one of its most outspoken and iconic masters, Gianfranco Soldera, 82.

According to reports that began to circulate in mainstream Italian media about 2 hours ago, the winemaker suffered a heart attack apparently while driving. He was found on this morning around 10:30 a.m. not far from the his famed Case Basse estate. Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.

Soldera was an inspiration for a generation of Italian and international growers and winemakers. And his wines were among the first Italian bottlings to command the attention and prices once reserved solely for their French counterparts.

A hermetic figure who seemed to attract controversy, he will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the greatest Italian winemakers of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

I’ll follow up on this story with translated excerpts of the myriad tributes and remembrances that are sure to be published in coming days.

Slow Wine tastings coming up in SF and PDX, Taste of Italy here in HTX: come out and taste with me!

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Above, from right: Slow Wine Oregon senior editor Michael Alberty with Annedria and Andrew Beckham of the Beckham Estate Vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains of Oregon wine country. The Beckham winery, producer of some of the most compelling wines I’ve tasted from the Pacific northwest, appears in the debut edition of the Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of California and Oregon.

On Monday, March 4 and Tuesday, March 5, I’ll be joining Slow Wine editor-in-chief Giancarlo Gariglio as we present the second edition of Slow Wine California and the inaugural edition of Slow Wine Oregon in San Francisco and Portland.

I won’t be following the entire tour but tastings will also be held that week in Denver, New York, and Boston.

Click here for tour information.

Please come out and taste with me and my fellow editors! There will be plenty of amazing American wines to taste not to mention the Italian and Slovenian estates that will joining the tour as well (click the link above for info on the wineries that will be pouring at each event).

A true labor amoris, the Slow Wine experience has been a real eye-opener for me: I realize now how wrong I have been in the past about California viticulture (really wrong) and I also now have a richer sense of Oregon’s greatness.

Back at the home office in Bra (Piedmont), Italy, my colleagues are in the process of publishing the entire U.S. guide online on the Slow Wine blog (click here to view, no paywall). And you’ll also find posts there on our field editors.

Before I head off to the west coast, I’ll also be presenting some really great tastings here in Houston, including “How to Pair Texas BBQ with Italian Wine,” at the Taste of Italy food and wine trade fair and festival on Monday, February 25. Now in its fifth year, it’s an event that I help to produce together with the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Texas (one of my most beloved clients, rated the number one chamber in NAFTA, no joke!).

The seminars, which will also feature Master Sommelier June Rodil and top American wine writer Bruce Schoenfeld, are nearly all full. If you haven’t already signed up, please shoot me a PM and I’ll see what I can do to get you in.

We are also looking for volunteers in exchange for a comped spot at the BBQ tasting and seminar.

Hit me up, people! I hope to get to taste with soon and I’ll also be at the upcoming Gambero Rosso tastings in Chicago and New York if you happen to be around.

Sorry for the too-much-info post and thanks for the support! I hope to get to taste with you this month and next! That’s Oregon editor and wine writer extraordinaire Michael Alberty below, left, and Slow Wine editor-in-chief and super taster Giancarlo Gariglio tasting with me in Oregon in late spring of last year.

Good food I ate in Italy over the last couple of weeks…

On my way home from a whirlwind research trip to Italy. Barely had time to catch my breath let alone get in a good meal. But here were some of the highlights of what we ate. Wish me luck, wish me speed! I need it. See you on the other side…

Piadina with prosciutto, brie, lettuces, olive oil-cured roasted peppers, and salsa rosa (chez Arcari, Franciacorta).

Tuna tramezzino (Piccolo Bar, Crocetta del Montello).

Pizza with bufalo mozzarella and datterini tomato sauce (iDon, Padua).

Puccia with prosciutto, fontina, lettuces, insalata russa (La Puccia, Lecce).

Cavatelli with mussels (iSensi [Cantele], Guagnano).

Orecchiette with meatballs (iSensi [Cantele], Guagnano).
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Is a massive wine scandal fermenting in Italy? Let’s get the facts straight, people, please!

Above: A Carabinieri NAS officer inspects salmon. NAS is an acronym for Nuclei Antisofisticazioni e Sanità or Anti-Adulteration and Health [Safety] Squad (image via the Carabinieri Facebook).

On Saturday, a high-profile English-language pop culture website published a factually challenged post on a “sting operation” in Italy that has — according to the cheapjack author — ensnared “cheap grapes in fancy” and “prestigious wines.”

The story she referred to was first posted online by the Pordenone (Friuli) edition of Il Gazzettino on Wednesday afternoon of last week (she doesn’t credit the masthead).

“Early this morning,” wrote the author of the Gazzettino post, “in a dozen provinces (Pordenone, Udine, Treviso, Venice, Padua in the northeast, but also Reggio Emilia, Modena, Ravenna, Florence, Livorno, Naples, Bari and Foggia), Carabinieri from the Udine [Friuli] offices of NAS [Italy’s anti-adulteration and health safety force] and technicians from [Italy’s] anti-counterfeiting inspectorate searched roughly 50 wineries, distilleries, farming businesses, homes, and shipping companies. The searches were conducted on behalf of the Pordenone district attorney.”

Evidently, the search focused on the Cantina di Rauscedo cooperative (not to be confused with the famous Rauscedo grape vine nursery, which shares the place name Rauscedo — the largest hamlet in Pordenone province — with the bottler).

Nearly all 10 of the “roughly 10” persons under investigation, writes the author of the Gazzettino report, reside in Pordenone province.

(Translation mine. Because of the copyright, I don’t want to translate the entire article. Read it here in Italian.)

A query on WineSearcher.com reveals that the highest-price wine available from Cantina di Rauscedo clocks in at a hefty $12 or so (retail).

The winery also produces bag-in-box wine (what Americans know as “box wine”).

It appears that the wines are not available in the U.S.

So far, that’s what we can ascertain. We won’t know more until (notoriously tight-lipped) Italian officials reveal more information about the investigation.

Is a massive wine scandal fermenting in Italy? Let’s get the facts straight, people… please!

I’ll continue to follow the story and will post about it as it develops.