The wine route can often lead me to unsuspecting corners of France and Italy. Usually the promise of a great potential terroir is present, but often the potential of the land itself has been either misunderstood or simply misread, and even more commonly the vigneron in question is struggling to translate a great terroir into the glass. While the secret to making great wine is undoubtedly growing healthy fruit on a properly selected piece of land, the human hand must be there to guide the fruit into wine. There are a number of key touchpoints that only we can decide: harvest date and timing and technique of bottling are arguably the two most important. Length and style of maceration and choice of aging vessel are two more critical decisions. One morning in August last summer, as I drove for an hour from Arezzo due north on a small twolane road through eastern Tuscan towns all new to me—Rassina, Bibbiena, Poppi— I reflected on the likelihood of whether I would find greatness on the spectrum of “terroir realization.” As I neared my final destination in Pratovecchio, one hour due east of Firenze in the foothills of the Apennine mountains, my thoughts drifted back to the more mundane question: Where exactly was this place? Not even my trusty GPS was comfortable in these parts, so after climbing a dirt road nearly to the summit of a mountain without finding a cantina, I gave up and phoned my host, Federico Staderini. I probably could have walked to his small cellar from where I was, but ended up driving back down the mountain and back up a nearby dirt road. Close, but no cigar. Several decades of work as an agronomist and enologist, not to mention being a native of Tuscany and an avid student of history, gave Federico all the tools he needed to ferret out this forgotten limestone terroir high in the hills of eastern Tuscany, known to the Etruscans long before him. Truth be told, given Federico’s track record, I had very high confidence that I would find the stars aligned. However, Pinot Nero in Toscana? It had to be seen and tasted to be believed. After we toured his vineyards, which did indeed exist and seemed abundantly healthy, his pipette began to dip and tour through his small cellar of old barrels, each taste revealing a wine of strong, confident character and surprising finesse. Afterward, a vertical sampling of six older vintages confirmed what had to be tasted to be believed: Federico had unearthed the Holy Grail for producing age worthy Pinot Nero in Tuscany, and I would import it to the United States for all of our clients to experience.
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