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MONTPELLIER, FRANCE – I visit arguably the most important wine country in the world and two of the three best wines I tasted today were Italian. What are the odds?

The three-day Millesime Bio opened today with thousands of buyers, importers, more than 100 press people and nearly 600 wineries presenting wine. The 19th annual gather here on the Mediterranean coast has to be seen to be fully appreciated.

Part of my day was taken up by a couple of interviews, technical problems, and getting my laptop somewhat functional. I still managed to stop by 8-10 different winery booths. Picking up printed brochures, taking notes and photos is just one of the ways to remember details.

Julien with a bottle of his Chianti Classico

My first stop was at the table of Casina Di Corina of Tuscany’s Italy region. The winery and family estate is located near the south central city of Siena. I spent a good bit of time with Julien Luginbuhl who just returned to his family wine-making business.

Julien’s father bought the property in 1979 and immediately began organic farming practices in the vineyards. “It was just his way of thinking then and it’s still the same now,” Luginbuhl said. “It’s my way of thinking.”

That wasn’t always the case because Luginbuhl initially decided he would make his name in different forms of agricultures and went off to university. But just this year he returned to the family land is now living in one of the guest houses and working the family winery.

He worries though that the family’s small property won’t be big enough as his older brother and he slowly take over the business. The winery currently produces a modest 2000-3000 cases a year. Julien is thinking the brothers might have to look at buy more hectres for grape production.

With 600 wineries, you need a strategy

The two wines I tasted were his Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico, both from 100 percent Sangiovese. Beautiful cherry fruit and understated acidity made these as good as any $10-$20 Chianti I’ve tasted. No regular wine drinker could pick them out as “organic” or anything else.

And that’s really the point of this gathering. The organic farming practices are very important to these world leaders in the organic grape growing business. But the first thing they have to do with each vintage is make great wine. No one will listen to anything about organics, not to mention buying a bottle, if it doesn’t taste good.

These Chianti wines were great examples of good Italian wines.

Nice Wines from Italy’s Piedmont.

The other stop at an Italian table was with gentleman winemaker Alessandro Uslenghi of Nouva Cappelletta. I’ve tasted more good to great Chardonnay this trip than I ever expected. Cappelletta’s Chard was light but rich in Chardonnay flavor, mild acidity, some nice pear on the nose. I also enjoyed his Cortese, three Barberra wines (one without sulfites) and a wonderful Rose.

Nebbiolo is many wine drinkers favorite grape and certainly one of mine. Monday I tasted my first Nebbiolo Rose’ and it was fabulous. It was my “suprise” pick of the day. It had wonderful structure and acidity and intense fruit on the nose.

Allessandro’s single vineyard Barbera, Minola, was just great wine. I’ve never drank a lot of Barberra but this one could change that habit.

Other stops …

Domaine Virgile Joly – Every region has its up-and-coming star, even if not everyone agrees on who that might be. Virgile Joly s certainly one of those rising stars (if not already established as a leading winemaker) in the Languedoc.

He joined us for inner on Saturdayt night and I tasted through his wines Monday. He has a new Grenache Blanc that’s wonderfully interesting and light white wine. I plan to sit down with Virgile today or tomorrow for an interview.

Domaine des Cedres – This Cotes du Rhone winery has solid Cotes offerings. Frankly, nothing spectacular but very solid representation of the region.

O’Vineyards – Here is a great story I’ll be writing in in more detail in near future. Ryan O’Connell and parents moved from Florida to Southern France in 2004 and opened a winery. Beside the unusual migration, Ryan is setting new standards for social media and exploring ideas of wine tourism that are fresh for the area. His blog “Love That Languedoc” is a big hit.

Best Wine of the Day – But the very best thing I tasted all day was a traditional Languedoc blend from Carle and Courty and wine maker Frederick Carle. His Cuvee Marion (his daughter) was rich, nice acid, great balance, and lingering finish red wine. It’s a blend of 70 percent Syrah, Carignan, and Mouvredre. It won a gold medal at this year’s Millesime Bio competition.

Odd and ends …

I certainly did taste more wines …. and more wineries. Those were some of the highlights. I’m hoping to catch up with importer Paul Chartrand today. Tomorrow he’ll show me around to some of his favorite winery tables.

Also, I do try to post several Twitter updates throughout the afternoon. Just click the Twitter button at right.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

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