An Interview with John B. Gilman of View from the Cellar.
John Gilman is a real fine wine connoisseur and the author of View from the Cellar, a bimonthly newsletter that seeks to celebrate the world’s great traditional wines and the inspired artisans who produce them. John has recently dedicated an excellent in-depth review on Querciabella. We decided to get to know this charming wine personality a little better and learn more about his fascination for classically produced wine.
How did your 35 years-long affair with wine start?
My parents married in France during the early 1950s, so I grew up with them always drinking wine with dinner. My proper initiation to wine was at university when we started organizing dinner parties around wines we wanted to try with a few like-minded friends. Many of us, including myself, actually ended up working at wine shops in the area throughout our college days. Once I graduated with a degree in Political Science, I continued working in wine shops until I found that first good “political” job.
You have a rich and varied background in the wine industry. What inspired you to start your newsletter “View from the Cellar”?
Robert Parker was a huge and positive influence on my wine drinking habits back in college, though our palates diverged markedly later in his career. While working for a rare wine broker based in Switzerland, I started writing wine articles modelled on Parker’s newsletter. The feedback from our clients was very positive, and some of them mentioned that they would be happy to subscribe to a newsletter if I ever started one. I was in my mid-forties in early 2006, when the wine brokerage company began to wind down, so I thought if I was ever going to try my hand full-time at writing a newsletter, this was the time to take the plunge.
Ironically, it was the problem with premature oxidation of white Burgundy that helped me at the beginning. At the end of my brokering days, I had bought a lot of white Burgundy for my own cellar. Soon enough, I realized that the 1999s, the 2000s and 2002s were likely to encounter the same problems as the 1996s once they reached around six years of age and quickly managed to sell a goodly number of cases of those latter vintages before they started to have issues. This was a relatively painless way to fund the start-up of the newsletter. I am probably one of the very few people who benefited indirectly from premox, as I would never have been able to sustain the newsletter over the first year or so, with only a small handful of subscribers.
You recently penned an incredible article on Querciabella. How did you learn about our winery?
I came to Querciabella very late in the game. Back in the days, the wine brokers I worked for specialized mostly in wines from Burgundy and Bordeaux. So, I was out of the loop with what was going on in Tuscany for quite a few years. But at the end of last year, your importer, Maisons Marques & Domaines U.S.A., asked me if I would be interested in writing an article on Querciabella. I gave a tentative “yes”, dependent on how I liked the style of the wines.
What were your expectations about Querciabella?
Some estates in Tuscany make very modern, international-style wines these days, which are not really to my tastes, so I did not know what to expect. I’ve always loved classically styled wines from Tuscany, making acquaintances with the region through the beautiful 1982 and 1985 vintages. So I had my fingers crossed that the Querciabella wines would be traditionally styled. As soon as the samples arrived, I opened the superb and utterly classical 2016 Chianti Classico bottling, and I knew I was going to fall in love with Querciabella!
And now that you have tasted the wines, what are some of your key impressions about Querciabella (particularly around our unique plant-based biodynamic concept)?
I have been a huge fan of biodynamic farming for many years, and, as much of my career has centred around Burgundy, I’ve witnessed the profoundly positive changes it has brought to that region. Not only biodynamics is much saner for our beleaguered planet and the farmers who are out in the fields every day, but it also unequivocally produces significantly better wines!
There aren’t really that many “win-win” situations in our modern world, but biodynamics is clearly one. It’s borderline irrational that all farmers are not embracing this farming method, at least to some extent. In this regard, I was thrilled to learn that Querciabella has farmed organically for so long and developed a unique (at least to my understanding) and wholly plant-based approach to biodynamics.
I find it so laudable that Sebastiano and his viticultural team have been able to develop a form of biodynamics that allows them to be true to their beliefs in a Vegan approach to life among the other species on our planet.
From the wines you tasted, was there one that stood out to you and why?
Now you have asked me an impossible question to answer! Once I had tasted that beautifully classical, red fruity and spicy 2016 Chianti Classico bottling, my expectations for all the rest of my samples were very high indeed, and I was not disappointed in any of the different cuvées.
You seem partial on Querciabella Chianti Classico.
I sold an awful lot of very good Chianti in my wine merchant days when we were working with the vintages in the 1980s and the top wines were just emerging from the more varied quality of the 1960s and 1970s in the region. But, in the ‘90s, when more and more Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon started to get blended into some Chianti bottlings, I felt that the terroir of Tuscany was getting left behind in those wines and I grew less interested in the category. You can imagine my absolute delight when all of that pure Sangiovese fruit and Tuscan soil tones soared from the glass of that 2016 Chianti. It was like I was coming home!
Let’s rephrase it, then. Is there a wine that surprised you?
The real surprise to me was how much I loved Mongrana from your Maremma vineyards. Before I tasted a bottle, I feared it was going to be the “modern and internationally-styled” wine in your lineup, given that is made from only fifty per cent Sangiovese, with twenty-five per cent each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. But it’s not! It is so beautifully immersed in its classical Tuscan personality, with tons of terroir to go along with the lovely fruit tones. So now I have found a new favourite in the region.
Mongrana offers up such excellent quality at an old-fashioned price point that I was stunned, especially since it will age beautifully in the cellar.
It is priced so reasonably too, which is getting rarer and rarer in the world of wine these days. In an era of absolutely irrational pricing levels for the most famous appellations, estates must still produce fine wines that are not prohibitively expensive. It crucially allows younger wine lovers to discover great joys in building a personal wine cellar and following wines evolve over decades, rather than just drinking young wines.
What was your main takeaway from your vertical tasting of our Merlot-based wine Palafreno?
Palafreno was a great surprise for me, too, given my expectations and experiences with this grape in some other bottlings from Tuscany. Perhaps part of my problem is that Merlot coming from lower vineyard sites and warmer micro-climates in the region, tend to end up a bit jammy and heavy-handed in personality. But Palafreno clearly speaks of a different terroir of rogue sandstone hillslopes. So fresh and light on its feet, it still possesses the depth and structure associated with this varietal in places like Pomerol and few other distinguished regions around the globe. It also struck me that Palafreno is not raised in a high percentage of new oak, allowing its Tuscan soil tones to shine through in the wine.
A favourite vintage of Palafreno?
Among those I tasted, the cooler vintage of 2013 is possibly my favourite. With a remarkable precision on both the nose and palate, this wine will be an absolute cellar treasure when it is fully mature!
I should mention that I also liked the very first vintage of 2000 Palafreno when the wine was still a fifty-fifty blend of Sangiovese and Merlot. The wine differs in personality from today’s pure Merlot bottlings and is probably not quite as good. Still, it was a very interesting wine in its own right, and I very much enjoyed drinking it with my dinner on the night I opened it.
You mentioned in your article that Turpino, which is one of our wines from Maremma, is bound to be one of Querciabella’s top bottlings to come. What makes it so special?
My writing an article on Querciabella allowed me to discover Maremma for the first time. I hope to have the chance to visit the region soon, as I would love to get a real sense of the maritime influence on these vineyards. The Turpino is such a promising wine and unique in its blend of Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Merlot. These varieties are taking to their micro-climate in Maremma, and the use of only twenty per cent new oak allows the soil signature to play a central role in the wine’s personality, which I love.
As 2010 was only the first commercial release of Turpino, it is still a wine made from relatively young vines. I have to assume that the sense of terroir in this wine will only build as the vines get older and dig their roots down deeper, just adding more complexity to a wine that is already loaded with class!
It is not all that common for a “new bottling” to taste original and unique in its aromatic and flavour profile, but this is exactly the case with Turpino and why I find it so exciting. I cannot wait to taste them when they are twenty or twenty-five years of age and really into their apogees of peak maturity!
If you could only pick one wine from Querciabella’s portfolio to enjoy, which one would it be and why?
It depends on what we are having for dinner! Really, that is a choice that I hope I never have to make. Still, if I were limited to only one of the wines in the Querciabella lineup, I would probably opt for the Camartina.
I look forward to the day when I can drink some of the more recent bottlings of Camartina when they reach full maturity. As they are raised in less new oak and made from biodynamically farmed fruit, I am confident they will be even better than the Super Tuscans I fell in love with in my early years in the wine trade. All we have to do is stay patient until they reach that same plateau of greatness with bottle age!
Tell us how people can subscribe to your newsletter and where else we can connect with you.
You can subscribe to the newsletter at www.viewfromthecellar.com. Please don’t be discouraged! I always say I’ll update this old rudimentary webpage one day but instead end up spending my time travelling and tasting and just making do with it! I will be more than happy to share a sample copy of the newsletter with those interested. I am also on Twitter, and folks can follow me there @JohnBGilman.