Cinzia Merli, single mother, singular winemaker of Le Macchiole

Above: Cinzia Merli, owner Le Macchiole, with her enologist, former rugby player Luca D’Attoma, September 14, 2010.

There are few winemakers I know who possess the moral fortitude and spiritual clarity of Cinzia Merli, owner of Le Macchiole (Bolgheri), whom I met for the first time a few years ago when I was asked to interpret for her at a series of wine events.

And there are few human beings on this earth who possess such genuine and pure humanity. And she’s just a lot of fun to be around.

Above: Seafood in Bolgheri (in the upper Maremma) is fresh and plentiful. Cinzia and I had lunch at Nonna Isola (literally, Grandma Island) in Castiglioncello, a wonderful small seaside community, deliciously forgotten in the 1960s.

You certainly don’t need me to tell you about her famous wines, the astronomic scores they’ve garnered, and the regal prices they command. Ubi major minor cessat: Tom Hyland has written perhaps most amply on this winery and it wines. (Check out this post but also see this thread and the many tasting notes.)

Above: I was captivated by the sight of this 60s-era cinémathèque in Castiglioncello. Just imagine all the stories that have played out on and off the screen there!

There are many before me who have told the incredible story of Cinzia’s family: how she and her dynamic husband Eugenio transformed a small family vineyard, jug wines, and a tavola fredda (cold table) restaurant/café into one of the most coveted and collected labels in the world and how he then suddenly, unexpectedly, and tragically left this world for another.

The story not often retold is how the community around her expected her to sell or to fail after the loss nearly ten years ago. In the chauvinist world of Italian wine, few imagined that she would succeed as she has, raising her brand to the highest levels of American and Asian connossieurship and collectability.

Above: Cinzia often calls her wines her “children.” I got to taste through her current vintages and I am convinced that 2006 was a great vintage for Cinzia and her family. The Paleo (100% Cabernet Franc) was stunning in this vintage. I was impressed also by the acidity and (what seemed to me a) greater amount of Cabernet Franc in the 08 Bolgheri DOC and I wonder if she’s reclassified some of her 08 Paleo (not an easy vintage in Tuscany). This wine might represent the greatest value in a world of wines that I simply cannot afford. Tuscan Syrah is not what I personally or typically reach for but I know collectors will be rewarded by the unusually bright acidity and generous fruit in her sure-to-be-show-stopping 06 Scrio.

The story rarely retold is that Cinzia has achieved indisputable greatness in the world of wine while raising two boys on her own. The loss of her husband left her not only with their wines to look after but also two preteen youngsters, who have both now grown into happy, healthy, handsome young men (the elder has decided to pursue a career in wine).

The gorgeous fall day we had lunch (following a tremendous downpour the previous evening, not a good sign for 2010), Cinzia excused herself from the table to take a phone call. “It would seem that I need to get NASA involved,” said Cinzia, complaining about how long it was taking to fix a broken water heater in her home where she lives with her boys.

If only l’acqua calda (as the Italians like to say) was as easy to obtain as James Suckling’s 100-point score for her 2004 Messorio (100% Merlot).

In other news…

On the subject of Tuscan Syrah, be sure to taste Alfonso’s recent reflections on Tuscany.

And be sure to leaf through his Prosciutto Porn (where have I heard that before?), if only for the interview.

Maremma, part 1: an unforgettable evening at La Pineta

Above: enologist Luca d’Attoma, restaurateur and chef Luciano Zazzeri, and winemaker Cinzia Merli at La Pineta in Marina di Bibbona (Maremma, Tuscany).

La Pineta
57020 Marina Di Bibbona (LI)
Via Cavalleggeri Nord, 13
tel. 0586 600371

The celebrated Trattoria La Pineta in Marina di Bibbona (Maremma) needs no plug from Do Bianchi. No visit to this stretch of the Tuscan coastline is complete without a meal there. I had the good fortune to dine there in September with my friend Cinzia Merli and her enologist Luca d’Attoma, one of the industry’s hottest and most colorful characters and a former rugby player.

The crudo — so fresh — rivaled the best sushi I’ve had in California and included “extreme” entries, like whole, melt-in-your-mouth raw shrimp.

The baby moscardini were perfectly tender and their savoriness was wonderfully balanced, as if chef Zazzeri had used sea water to season them.

Cinzia graciously treated us (my buddy Ben Shapiro was with us, too) to a bottle of Leflaive 2005 Bâtard-Montrachet, opulent and decadent (especially considering its youth).

You can also rent cabanas and beach chairs etc. during the day at La Pineta (and they have a classic 1960s-era snackbar). Ben and I had a walk around before sunset and I did some thinking about la dolce vita.

Up next: bistecca alla panzanese in Bolgheri… stay tuned…

La dolce vita, after all

Above: a pensive moment at dusk outside La Pineta, a fantastic seafood restaurant where I dined with Cinzia Merli and Luca d’Attoma last week, in Marina di Bibbona, on the Tuscan coast (photo by Ben Shapiro).

Strappo is sure to remind me that Fellini’s labyrinth of semiosis often led him to revise his explanations of signifier and signified in his films. But I believe the great Romagnolo director was telling the truth when he said that the expression la dolce vita referred not to the glamour of the Via Veneto but rather the sweetness that we find in life, even in our darkest moments of existential crisis.

[SPOILER: if you’ve not seen La dolce vita, I am about to reveal the final sequence!]

As Ben and I were waiting to meet our dining companions, Cinzia and Luca, the other night at La Pineta in Marina di Bibbona on the Tuscan riviera, I took a stroll alone and gazed out at the sea in one of those “what’s it all about, Alfie?” moments.

Just over a year ago, my life fell into turmoil when my mid-life crisis hit me like a freight train and I wished that I had gone straight but was side-swiped by a simple twist of fate. Today, I find myself in the Munich airport, on my way back to the States, exhausted but invigorated, excited about music and work, thankful to have so many wonderful folks in my life — some of them my oldest friends, some of them my newest.

Marcello turns his back on Paola, the young girl he met one day in a seaside trattoria. But before he returns to the party, he looks back and sees her irresistible smile — sweetness in his otherwise bankrupt existence. Maybe it’s the sweetness in a young girl’s smile, a plate of wholesome pici with ragù, a bunch of Greens dancing to Nous Non Plus in a forgotten border town along the Polish-East German border, or maybe it’s the waters of March. I believe there is a sweetness in life, to be revealed when you least expect it.

You don’t need to speak Italian to enjoy the clip below. Marcello has been partying all night with a lascivious crowd and the revelers find their way to the beach shortly after dawn…

In other news…

Yes, you can now add R.D. to my post-nomial Ph.D.: I was recently ordained as a Rock Doctor in the Universal Life Church and I’ll be officiating at the wedding of Jayne and Jon next Saturday.


What’s it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What’s it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give
or are we meant to be kind?
And if only fools are kind, Alfie,
then I guess it’s wise to be cruel.
And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie,
what will you lend on an old golden rule?
As sure as I believe there’s a heaven above, Alfie,
I know there’s something much more,
something even non-believers can believe in.
I believe in love, Alfie.
Without true love we just exist, Alfie.
Until you find the love you’ve missed you’re nothing, Alfie.
When you walk let your heart lead the way
and you’ll find love any day, Alfie, Alfie.

— Hal David and Burt Bacharach