Spring 2003:

Fazi Battaglia: Italian For Better Wine
Canadians have enjoyed almost as much vino from Fazi Battaglia winery as all the Canadian wine they’ve ever bought! Fazi Battaglia’s the leader in central Italy’s Marche region, especially for crisp Verdicchio whites and berry-fresh Sangiovese reds -- in unique bottles familiar for decades, and they’re the most popular whites and reds in Italy. More than 1 million bottles are enjoyed in Canada every year! And they’re vastly improved, thanks to new technology.

Even better, the research- and quality-driven Sparaco family firm, based in Ancona, 300k S of Rome, is expanding, by adding Tuscan vineyards, and the expertise of top enologist Franco Bernabei.

Meticulous study of its 12 estate vineyards (350ha), rigorous clonal selection, and innovative methods have dramatically improved the wines. And the new generation is at the controls: Chiara Giannotti, 26, is the new face at the helm of the operation her great-grandfather started 50 years ago.

The steely-fresh, dry Verdicchio, the perfect aperitif, showing ripe peach-apple fragrances, comes in half-bottles, $5.35, and 750mL at $9.95, as does the fresh, berry-ripe red Sangiovese delle Marche, perfect with smoked duck, braised rabbit, and also $16.95 for 1.5L.

The top Verdicchio is San Sisto Verdicchio di Jesi Classico Riserva DOC, $22.60, an oaky, very sophisticated white (Tronçais, Nevers, Allier) good for five years, with chickpea purée, steamed codfish, on consignment, 416 364-5004, Wine Lovers Agency.

From beyond Marche, as Fazi Battaglia expands, you’ll enjoy the smooth, harmonious Fassati le Gaggiole Chianti ‘01, great with grilled liver and celeriac, Fassati Pasiteo Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ‘99, wonderful with sheep’s cheeses, and Arkezia Muffo di San Sisto IGT Marche ‘00, a rare botrytized Verdicchio, with desserts of sesame, candied fruits and caramelized sugar. Call Wine Lovers Agency.

If you’d like the fabulous recipes of Michelin-starred chef Susana Fumi, Osteria del Vecchio Castello in Montalcino, designed to accompany these wines, just call Wine Express!

Giggles of the month:
* “Santa Barbara’s producing solid wines: Appalachian Central Coast wines are on the map.” -- the California Desert Sun’s geographically challenged Jennifer Chen.
* A Chilean wine made, according to a Canadian writer, “from the seldom-seen Carneina grape". Actually, it’s the very accessible Cariñena, Carignane to the French.

I Love Napa Dot Com should be the first stop for Napa’s 5 million annual visitors. This insider’s guide has ratings, reviews and news from food and wine writers who live in Napa.

Created by the guy who produced Insider’s Report for Loblaws, ex-TorStar food writer Jim White, it’s not ad-driven and also allows visitors to review their own Napa experiences, and it spotlights under-the-radar wines that rarely make it out of Napa.

"Visitors want to know what’s the hot new restaurant, who has the best wine tour, what spa has the best massage? And we have the answers in our Best of Napa Valley section” says Jim. The info also comes with an interactive map and a directory.

White’s weekly Postcard from Napa Valley uncovers the latest restaurants, wineries and attractions. Paul Franson contributes a weekly Wine Dispatch.

"We want to help visitors make sense of all their options, to create a forum for sharing their experiences with other visitors," says co-founder Jeremy Benson.

* Eclipse: what English barbers do.

What’s Old Is New
Burgundy’s oldest negociant, Maison Champy, has been brought back to life. Founded as Champy Pere in 1720, it offers no more than 40,000 cases of stellar wines for serious collectors and fans worldwide. Purchased by wine brokers Henri and Pierre Meurgey in 1990 from an owner in his 80s, Champy is hitting full stride again, with top village and single vineyard wines.

Part of a new wave of younger negociants, with high energy and high standards, the firm carefully vinifies half of its production, buying grapes and must under contract and growing its own 12 ha of vines, and buying in the rest from the best growers.

The house style is to have no “house style”: instead, Champy tries to let each tiny parcel show its own unique typicity. Organic viticulture (low yields, little or no fertilizer/pesticide) and hands-on winemaking (gravity handling, no filtering) at the 15thC cellar in Beaune underscore this pursuit of terroir.

The barrels are Allier and Vosges oak, open-air dried for two years, medium-toasted for reds, medium-heavy for whites.

The wines available in Ontario, all 2000s, are imported by HHD Imports (519/884-7600):

At Vintages, the white Saint-Aubin 1er Cru Murger des Dents de Chien, $39.95 (