Uh-oh, someone big and important.

October 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

From Portland Press Herald, October 6, 2010

Leonardo Locascio is not the kind of importer I expected to like. As founder and CEO of Winebow wines, Locascio represents an international company with immense purchasing power and presence. His wines are from everywhere, and can be found everywhere. It’s fun to pretend to side with the underdogs, and Winebow wines aren’t underdogs.

Surprisingly for a portfolio that runs into the thousands, certain themes and perspectives emerge. This is why Winebow deserves not just respect, but your interest at least and possibly your allegiance.

For all the regions and varietals it has helped bring to prominence, Winebow has not strayed from a personal, philosophical approach, and their wines have a certain grace, polish and clean luxuriance even at the low end of the price spectrum. They represent place, but in a way that easily brings everyday consumers in on the story.

“I don’t believe in black and white,” the gracious Locascio told me recently, “in either ‘supermarket-standardized’ or ‘Sangiovese-on-the-side-of-the-road.’ Reality is in the middle.” Rusticity, idiosyncrasy and terroir are important, but for Locascio, not at the expense of good manners.

Born and raised in Sicily, Locascio is especially known for scouring the south — Sicily, Puglia, Sardinia, Campania — for winemakers whose only aspiration before he showed up was regional distribution. Now, though, he works across the globe, and pays close attention to how climate changes are affecting the wine industry.

“Twenty years ago, too many wines from northern Italy were vegetal and thin; now some are really coming into their own,” he said. “Alto Adige, in particular, keeps producing more and more thrilling aromatic wines.”

See below for an example, as well as two using what Locascio views as an increasingly common process: appassimento, where a portion of grapes are allowed to dry, or “raisin,” which concentrates flavors and softens texture. He’s pushing the process in Argentina as well as in Italy, where it originated.

The expansion of appassimento for me encapsulates the Locascio world view: “With that,” he told me, “you’re improving the wines’ quality without any tricks.”

Try following Winebow if you enjoy wines marked by stability, reliability, clean lines and clarity. Such Toyota-like traits aren’t the only way wines should be — sometimes you want a racecar, or a rusted-out truck or a donkey — but for everyday pleasure Locascio’s a gifted guide.

Valle Reale Trebbiano D’Abruzzo 2008, $12: An earthy, forest-floor, mushroomy, loamy white. Drink the whole bottle: although fascinating, the flavors don’t last ’til the next day.

Tramin Lagrein 2007, $18: Alto Adige red with so much going on it makes you smile: sawdust and rocks, green pepper and basil, pencil shavings and I-hesitate-to-say-it-but-I-mean-it-in-a-good-way, toejam. And after all that, it’s still so classy!

Allegrini Valpolicella 2008, $15: Burning-wood smoky, with essence of cherry lozenge at the end; perfect for burgers or roasted tomatoes.

Allegrini Palazzo della Torre 2007, $17: From Verona, the birthplace of appassimento, here’s your vanilla-poached prunes and a great marriage of Old World and New.

Leone de Castris Salice Salentino 2006, $12: Really, truly Bordeaux-y: cedar, leather, moist tobacco. Then olives. Livelier and sparklier than the “typical Winebow profile” I emphasize above.

Nieto Senetiner Don Nicanor Malbec 2007, $17: Not jammy, but very velvety. Chocolate predominates, supported by hoisin, violets and black pepper. Kind of everything you’re looking for when you want voluptuousness and length.

When you want something more graphitic, quivering and vertical, try the Catena Malbec 2007 ($27, but less this month) from high-altitude Andean vineyards.

Renacer Enamore 2007, $25: An Argentine wine, but from a collaboration with the Italian Allegrini family. Here’s another appassimento (the name is a play on “Amarone,” the classic appassimento Valpolicella), using Malbec, Cabernet franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Bonarda. It’s spectacularly rich, concentrated and pure. It oozes finesse, and craves a very simple roast. Buy one bottle for this winter, and another for 10 winters from now.

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