Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine

Querciabella Turpino 2010


Anyone that has even a passing acquaintance with Wine Alchemy knows of my love of the wines of Tuscany and in particular those from Chianti and the new lands of Bolgheri and the Maremma. Furthermore, my passione for the wines of the Querciabella estate seems to only increase with each new vintage. Organic since 1988 and biodynamic since 2000, owner Sebastiano Cossia Castaglioni has pursued quality and innovation relentlessly while continuing to expand his vineyards and cuvées; first at his 74 hectare estate in the heart of Chianti Classico and then developing 32 hectares in the Maremma, down on the unspoiled Etruscan Coast.

Querciabella’s range, comprising (in order of price); Chianti Classico, Mongrana, Bátar, Camartina and Palafreno have all become iconic, each with its own lustre.

Querciabella’s range, comprising (in order of price); Chianti Classico, Mongrana, Bátar, Camartina and Palafreno have all become iconic, each with its own lustre.

This spring there was a new Super-Tuscan wine released into the Querciabella range: Turpino. Like Palafreno and Mongrana, the wine gets its name from an Italian epic poem. It neatly slots in next to Mongrana.

Turpino is a blend, of 40% Cabernet Franc with 40% Syrah and 20% Merlot. Not that unusual for a super-Tuscan these days perhaps. What I do find unusual is that it is a blend of regions. Fruit from the high altitude Chianti Classico vineyards brings cool elegance but this is combined in equal proportion with fruit from the warmer and plusher sea-level Maremma. While there is something almost heretical about this to the terroir-purist in me there is no doubting that adopting this approach has created an exciting and entrancing red wine, a heady blend of the traditional and the modern. This is fresh-thinking new-world Italian at its finest.

That combination of the traditional and the modern extends to how the wine is made, by winemaker Manfred Ing. Each grape variety is micro-vinified in oak fermenters using only natural yeasts and only the free-run juice is used. (What happens to the press wine is not known.) French barrels are used and only 20% of them are new so that the wine is not overtly marked by wood flavours or additional tannins. Cabernet Franc is given a tighter grained barrel given its more tannic characteristics. After sixteen months the blend is made, with another eight months integration in tank before bottling. 20,000 bottles have been made. As with all Querciabella wines, no animal products are used in production, so the wine is suitable for vegetarians and vegans. As an aside, biodynamic vineyard preparations usually involve cow-horns, but not here – a ceramic alternative has been developed.

Given this wine is at the early stages of a potential 20-25 year lifespan, it is youthful and not yet at peak – that must be 2-5 years away at least. So this is a wine to buy and keep for now. At this stage then, Turpino was given every encouragement to express itself; first it was decanted quite roughly and then left for a couple of hours and, following Sebastiano’s advice, ensuring it was warm in the glass at around 18°C. I then used a Riedel Pinot Noir glass so I could get a good swirl and release the aromatics. All that paid off handsomely!

This deep coloured red wine already has terrific aromatics and intensity. Red cherry and damson fruit scents are accompanied by an attractive pencil-shavings note (step forward Cab Franc). On the palate the fruit is at once seamless yet multilayered, with an attractive balsamic touch. There’s richness and elegance here rather than muscular power, a melange of fruit flavours balanced by fresh acidity and polished soft tannins. In that I was reminded of the wines made by Ridge in California (praise indeed), there is a new world feel but without excessive alcohol or lushness. That balsamic note lingers for some time on the finish if you let it. There are all the ingredients necessary for Turpino to improve further in bottle over time. I am always struck by the purity and sheer drinkability that Querciabella achieve, you almost have to force yourself to linger over each glass.

In short, Turpino is an excellent new addition to Querciabella’s fine range, bringing something new and different. Truly then a super super-Tuscan.

Given the sheer numbers of super-Tuscan wines created over the past few years is there really any more room for yet another? Yes, when it is as fine as this and from such a great estate. Where there are others clearly wearing the Emperor’s new clothes, Turpino is the real deal.

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Tom and Steve Beckman have been farming their Purisima Mountain Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley biodynamically since 2006. Their 2012 Grenache Rosé is blended with small amounts of Syrah, Mouvèdre and Counoise and aged in neutral oak barrels (65%) and stainless steel (35%).

The wine has a nose of white flower petals, honeysuckle, melon and underripe raspberry. Also a nice hint of spice. The melon continues in the palate with red fruit and a creamy texture. Very enjoyable, though would prefer a longer finish. 1,200 cases were produced and the wine retails for $18.

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Quantum of Solace

The area around Linguaglossa, on the northern slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily is a remarkable and spectacular wine terroir, where native grape varieties grown on volcanic soils meet high altitude and fine weather to create a series of subtly different microclimates. If the time ever comes to designate an Etna Classico zone, Linguaglossa is likely to be one of the focal points.

The Etna wine revolution continues apace, an intriguing blend of ancient and modern. One winery that I didn’t investigate on my last visit is Quantico. Above it, Etna spits, snarls and smokes, a constant belligerent threat.

Quantico is small and organically farmed – just 6 ha in total. Their Etna Bianco and Etna Rosso are grown at the 1.5 ha Contrada Lavinia vineyard, up at 600-750 metres altitude. While there is a long family tradition of viticulture here, AA Giulemi set up Quantico only in 2009.

What of the wines?

Etna Rosso: Nerello Mascalese 90% and Nerello Capuccio 10%, abv 13%. Handpicked, wild yeasts, aged for twelve months in large old wood casks. It is bright crimson with great elegance, freshness and above all, purity. Wafts of violets a cherries on the nose, the lifted palate shows pinot-ish red fruits with a balsamic undertow. No wood effects let the grapes speak for themselves. Well balanced and very food-friendly at only a moderate 13% alcohol. No rough edges, tannins all smoothed off and a good long finish. Just 1,500 bottles produced.

Etna Bianco: 70% Carricante, 20% Cataratto and 10% Grillo, abv 12%. Handpicked, wild yeasts, fermented on the grape skins in stainless steel. Brilliant yellow hue, wild flower scents: gorse, herbs, citrus, reprised on the palate. Plenty of fresh acidity and a delicious salty minerality. 3,500 bottles produced

I recently tried both these wines and was knocked out by their quality and purity, which I attributed to the complete absence of any sulphur as preservative, which is far from easy to achieve. Both wines are drinking perfectly now and while there is no hurry they are best enjoyed young while fruity and vibrant.

The Rosso was brilliant with a simple ragú and penne pasta dish, the bianco a perfect foil for grilled fish. At this point I decided to investigate Quantico more thoroughly.

The quote on the bottle says:

Questo vino parla al cuore. Originale, irrverente e sorprendente, perche dall’uva al vino è solo questione di sole, energia e amore per la propria terra. Tutto nel pieno rispetto dell’ambiente.

(Rough translation; This wine speaks to the heart. Original, irreverent and surprising, because from the grape to the wine is only a matter of sun, energy and love for our land. Everything fully respects the environment).

This is poetic but could apply to many a small-production organic wine. But what of Quantum physics?

It turns out that Quantico are experimenting with using “innovative methods” in the vineyard based on magnetic fields. Are these more hair-shirt practices of dubious scientific merit? Well, it seems that there is a body of very serious university-led research about employing magnetic fields to strengthen the natural health of the plant. As far as I can tell, marvelous results have been achieved with sunflowers it seems.

For what may be the first time, magnetic fields are being used with vines rather than usre the usual arsenal of harmful chemical fertilisers and sprays. Some sort of device called the Telos AgroQuantum is being employed. Expect to see more winegrowers experimenting with these techniques in the future.

Can I explain to you how it works? Not right now and anyway most of the literature is in Italian. Does it work? Science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke once said that a technology sufficiently advanced from our own would be indistinguishable from magic. Well, for me all the evidence I require for now is in the glass and I knew nothing of such practices before I tried the wines, and they were magical to me.

Etna is an exciting region where young wineries like Tenute della Terre Nere, Passopisciaro and Frank Cornelissen are all making waves, Quantico are clearly poised to join them in making waves of their own. Whatever it is they are doing, they’re doing it right, at the six-sigma confidence level. Their Rosso is by far the most exciting new wine I have tried this year, the Bianco is not too far behind.

Given the tiny production, these wines are found locally in the osteria and enoteca around the nearby resort of Taormina. If you go there on holiday, look out for them.

A final note to the FBI: these Quantico wines are certainly on my “most wanted” list.

Paul Howard

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Soave is a famous Italian white wine region named after the eponymous town near Verona. The town of Soave is dominated by a massive medieval castle and its impressively crenellated walls. From these high swallow-tailed vantage points you can see that Soave is surrounded by vines and is at the centre of the Classico zone. As with so many Italian DOC regions, Classico is the ancient and superior enclave, a landscape of rolling limestone hills with excellent exposure to the sun. In marked contrast, “normal Soave” remains an insipid industrialised wine produced by overcropped vines on the flat plains to the south. Because that accounts for 80% of all Soave production the image of Soave remains cheap and cheerless.

The regulations that govern Soave have not improved Soave’s reputation either. Since 1998 there has been a theoretically higher DOCG classification, a so-called “superiore,” designed to improve quality, but this has been boycotted by most of the leading producers. Instead, they have either stuck with the older DOC classification or just abandoned it completely. They show just how fine and satisfying the white wines from this area can be.

Soave exists in three main guises; as a sparkling wine, a dry wine and a gloriously rich and sweet recioto. The mainstay of all these is garganega, a grape variety capable of real quality. Other white grapes may be included in the blend, including chardonnay and pinot bianco. However, a regular partner is often the dreaded trebbiano. While this is indeed the dull trebbiano toscano in the cheap wines, a quality producer will employ the far superior trebbiano di soave, which is just the local name for verdicchio, an entirely different grape.

Coffele is found in the heart of the medieval town, on the main street, the via Roma. In 1971, Giuseppe and Giovanna Coffele retired as teachers to rejuvenate this estate. Today their work is being carried on by their children, Alberto and Chiara. They own some of the best vineyards in the Classico zone and today sit at the producer top table alongside their peers such as Pieropan (found just a few doors away), Anselmi and Inama.

The Coffele family vineyards are at Soave and to the north at Castelcerino. These terraced hillsides are planted mainly with garganega, though trebbiano di soave, sauvignon and chardonnay are also farmed. They also have red varieties: cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot. Under the management of Alberto Coffele, the estate is organic, cultivated traditionally without chemicals and with an abundance of olive, cherry and oak trees. They are rightly proud that their organic manure comes from their own stables – Coffele are horse breeders too.

Ca’Visco is made from their vineyards at Castelcerino and is a blend of 75% garganega and 25% trebbiano di soave. It is named after Giovanna’s family, the Visco’s being the original vineyard owners. The harvest is by hand, with several vineyard passes made during September and October to select the ripest bunches – the selection is performed in the vineyard. The grape varieties are fermented separately at the winery at low temperature in modern stainless steel tanks. The wines then sit on the lees to pick up complexity before racking, blending and bottling. No oak is used with Ca’Visco, so it is a true expression of Soave character.

Pale yellow with green hints, the aroma’s are fresh and welcoming – blossom, minerals and apple are to the fore. On the palate, there is great balance, a welcome moderate level of alcohol and soft acids bring mouth filling texture before a clean refreshing bite. You might find victoria plum, peach and grapefruit on the palate but the memory is that of almonds. The 2010 vintage is drinking well now but this is a wine capable of developing complexity over the next five years. On the evidence from the 2009 to 2006 vintages, additional acacia, herb and pepper notes can be expected.

As with most Italian wines, Ca’Visco is ideal with food. Seafood like scallops are an obvious match but pairing with asparagus risotto is a classic. Try spinach and ricotta tortellini, those delicious pasta parcels with a little truffle oil and parmesan seem tailor-made.

As for an aperitivo, nothing beats a cold glass of Coffele Ca’Visco on the terrace of the Enoteca del Drago in Soave, just a few yards up the via Roma from Coffele…but that’s another story. Memories are made of this.

In the U.S., recent vintages of Coffele Ca’Visco 2007-2010 are available from $16.99 to $22.99 in a range of stores.

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The southeastern part of Sicily is an enclave of natural winemaking excellence. Much of the impetus behind the improved quality and status of the wines from here is due to a company called C.O.S. This was founded in 1980 by three students, whose initials make up the company name. Starting in a garage, they went on to create some of the most exciting and individual wines in the world from their base near Vittoria. They introduced biodynamic methods and ferment some wines in terra cotta amphorae. They were also key in elevating the red DOC Cerasuolo di Vittoria to become Sicily’s only DOCG wine. One of the founders of C.O.S. is Giusto Occhipinti, now a revered name in winemaking circles.

As may be guessed by now, the Occhipinti influence has been passed on to a new generation. His niece, Arianna Occhipinti is still only in her twenties but now has her own domaine. A wine-school graduate, she has been mentored by her uncle and runs 10 ha of vines and 15 ha of olives virtually single-handed. Concentrating on indigenous grapes, (nero d’Avola and frappato), she employs natural winemaking methods, being biodynamic in the vines and taking a non-interventionist approach in the winery, (wild yeasts and no temperature control during fermentation, no fining, no filtering and minimal sulphur used as preservative). The result are exuberant and pure wines with a real sense of place.

And the place is what this wine is named after. SP68 is the local Strada Provinciale, the road that runs past the vineyards linking the small town of Vittoria to the local village of Pedalino.

Just like the local DOCG Cerasuolo, SP68 is a blend of nero d’Avola and frappato. The composition of the blend is dominated by frappato. Frappato brings lightness and acidity along with perfume and strawberry fruit, while the nero d’Avola contributes structure and a darker richness. Why it’s now sold as an IGT and no longer a Vittoria Rosso or indeed even a Cerasuolo is unknown to me. Maybe something about SP68 defies the rules, maybe Occhipinti isn’t interested in categories. In any event, the wine is best described as serious fun.

In the glass, SP68 is a light ruby colour and slightly turbid, as befits a wine with nothing taken out. It’s nervy too, a full cherry, strawberry and violet perfume leads to a bright, fresh palate where cherry, strawberry and cranberry are cut with a streak of minerality. There’s little tannin or complexity but great balance and texture thanks to fresh acidity and relatively light alcohol. This isn’t a wine for contemplation or for aging, rather it’s one that should be drunk young and where you’ll find the bottle quickly empties!

In that respect this is a light red that could be compared in style (if not in taste) to Beaujolais or a Loire red. Indeed, in summer it could be given a very light chill.

As for food pairing, I immediately thought to drink this with Aranchini con Ragú, the Sicilian fried rice balls covered in breadcrumbs and containing meat sauce. It would also be perfect with antipasti. Alternatively, break the rules and drink this red with fried or grilled fish such as whitebait and sardines.

This wine brought back memories of Sicilian heat and breathtaking countryside. It is also a good introduction to the other Arianna Occhipinti wines. These are based on frappato and nero d’Avola, but now include a white wine; SP68 bianco made from albarello and zibibbo.

Capturing the zeitgeist, Arianna Occhipinti is well on her way to winemaking superstar status. Surely a Gambero Rosso winemaking award is not far away?

Around $25.00

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This is the first time ever that I’ve returned to a wine in ten years of making recommendations. Usually, I seek to avoid repetition – there are always great new wines to feature and there’s nothing worse than lazy journalism. So to feature Caiarossa again shows that I hold this Italian red wine in very high esteem – this young estate really is one to watch and its star continues to rise with each new vintage.

Of course, it’s not really the same wine. The vintage featured this time is the 2006, on current UK release. Previously, it was the 2005 that received the accolades. To save repetition about the winery, biodynamic farming and the history of the estate you can read my review of the 2005 at Organic Wine Journal (July 15th 2009).

2006 was an excellent year in Tuscany; a steady, warm and lengthy growing season brought healthy ripe grapes and balanced wines. It was certainly proved to be an easier year than the cooler, rainier and more capricious 2005, even if it did not quite live up to the merits of the increasingly legendary 2004.

Caiarossa 2005 is a stunning wine, but in my opinion this 2006 is the best edition yet. Yes, the 2006 vintage was probably kinder but I would attribute the improvement to the exact composition of the blend which has varied markedly in every vintage since the first in 2003.

2006 brings Sangiovese, the signature grape of Tuscany, more to the fore, with a reduction in the proportion of Merlot used. The blend remains a melange of eight Italian, Bordeaux and Rhône varieties; Sangiovese (23%), Cabernet Franc (22%), Merlot (21%), Cabernet Sauvignon (12%), Grenache (8%), Syrah (6%), Petit Verdot (6%) and Mourvèdre (2%). In addition, the use of new oak barrels remains at a relatively low percentage and the wine seems even less marked by wood in this edition.

So why do I prefer the 2006? I’ll attribute it in the main to that extra Sangiovese, there’s just something a little more Italian on the nose and palate that for me brings a little extra sense of place. Those more entranced by the charms of Bordeaux varieties (and don’t forget that owner Eric Jelgersma owns Giscours and Tertre in Margaux) might disagree. The Sangiovese doesn’t dominate, just adds some extra tea-leaf perfume and perhaps a little welcome astringency on the finish in a wonderfully seamless and complex blend.

I first tried this 2006 at the Salone del Gusto in Turin in autumn 2010 back-to-back with the 2005. Even those few more months in bottle since then has seen it evolve but it is still youthful at less than 5 years old. Hence it had a two hour decant and was still tight when first poured. However, it opened up beautifully over the course of an evening (it really is best not to rush) and a glassful kept back for the next evening was open and singing. This will reach its peak in 8-10 years time but I’d say it will be drinking well from 2012/13.

There is great depth – reflected in the dark opaque colour and a rumbling bass line of earth and minerals. Plenty of primary fruit, there’s little development yet (hints of leather, tar and balsam lurk) but wonderful cherry, cranberry and damson fruit intertwined with brown spices and cedar smoke sit firmly on a bedrock of polished tannins that are still firm but just need time to melt. There is also grace and elegance that belies the alcohol level – this isn’t an over-concentrated blockbuster – that makes your heart beat just a little faster.

This wine exhibits such tremendous energy and vitality and while the blend itself is inconsistent each year the quality is most certainly not.

Postscript: The 2007 vintage in Tuscany was another stunner and Cabernet grown down near the coast in the Bolgheri seems to have been particularly successful – Caiarossa 2007 is a return to more Bordeaux varieties and less Sangiovese in the blend. Can’t wait to try it.

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In the second part of his interview with Joe Campanale, Lyle talks about Producer Nights at Anfora, where wine lovers can experience a true range of a winemaker’s output, wine from the Jura and what makes a wine orange.

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Lyle’s new favorite wine bar in Manhattan is Anfora, and he talks with Joe Campanale, the co-owner and wine director. Find out what an Anfora is and how Joe put together his no-compromise wine list.

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