The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Franciacorta, Italy’s DOCG That Reinterprets Champagne

Posted on | July 30, 2015 | Written by IWM Staff | No Comments

Bottiglia e calice di franciacorta, or bottle with Franciacorta DOCG label, from Wikipedia

Bottiglia e calice di franciacorta, or bottle with Franciacorta DOCG label, from Wikipedia

In the province of Lombardia, south of Lake Iseo in the low hills between Bergamo and Brescia, sits the 3,500 acre DOCG region Franciacorta, home to Italy’s only méthode champenoise sparklers. Sparkling wine requires two fermentations–and while the first is always in a vat of some kind (traditionally wood or clay, now most often stainless steel)–vintners have a choice about where they carry out the second. Most of the sparkling wine made in Italy is made by the Charmat, or autoclave, method where the secondary fermentation takes place in a stainless steel vat, but the vintners in Franciacorta carry out their secondary vinification in the bottle as winemakers do in Champagne, France, hence the term méthode champenoise. The resulting wine is very much on par with Champagne, though as the producers themselves would be quick to tell you, it is not a copy of Champagne.

However, there is a sense of perhaps protesting too much. The winemakers of Franciacorta do more than just accept the French method of producing their sparkling wines; they embrace French grapes and the French system of sparkling classification. Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir are the varietals that comprise the vintages of Franciacorta, and not coincidentally they are the grapes of choice for Champagne. Similarly, DOCG rules employ French terms for their wines–nowhere on a bottle of Franciacorta will you find the word “spumante”; in fact, it’s forbidden. You will, however, find the terms “Extra Brut,” “Brut,” “Sec” and “Semi-Sec,” and you’ll find the designation “Rosé” rather than “Rosato.” This implementation of non-Italian terms can make the marketing, finding, and even introducing of Franciacorta wines difficult, but their bouncy bubbles, happy acidity, elegant structure and proper sparkling “feel” to make quick converts of wine drinkers.

While it’s likely that French grapes are not new to the region, the production of sparkling wine is. Despite receiving its DOC status in 1967, Franciacorta has been making its now emblematic bubblies since just after WW II; although the region had made primarily only still red wines until 1950, by 1995 it had proven itself well enough to receive DOCG elevation. In many ways, however, the terroir is perfect for sparklers. Situated in a natural bowl that looks across Lake Iseo to the Alps, Franciacorta has lower temperatures than the rest of the very fertile Lombardia. In addition, its gravelly, glacial moraine both forestalls ripening and imparts a piquant acidity to the wines. Certainly, the explosion of producers in the once-sleepy area attests to its viability.

The DOCG rules for Franciacorta are among the most comprehensive in the entire system. This stringency means that there is very little identity crisis in Franciacorta. There are rules for cultivation, rules for harvesting, rules for fermentation, rules for ageing, and rules for labeling. It is simply a machine of organization. But given that méthode champenoise requires labor-intensive processes and a concomitant amount of money to fund it, this regimentation is neither surprising nor detrimental.

Essentially, there are three main types of Franciacorta: Brut, Rosé, and Satèn. Each comes in two varieties, one regular and one millesimato, a kind of superiore; the regular version is aged for 25 months, the millesimato for 37. The Brut, which also appears in Extra-Brut, Sec and Semi-Sec versions, is comprised of Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco; the Rosé of Pinot Nero (at least 15%) and the remainder either Chardonnay or Pinot Bianco; and Satèn, which is another word for Crémant, or a version that has a lower concentration of carbon dioxide and is thus less fizzy, is comprised of Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco.

Today’s IWM eLetter offer presents one of our favorite, organically produced Franciacorta sparklers from Barone Pizzini at exceptional pricing, so you can put this knowledge into delicious practice.

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Expert Picks: Billecart-Salmon and Miani

Posted on | July 30, 2015 | Written by Will Di Nunzio | No Comments

will expertOne of the greatest things about being part of the IWM family is hosting our clients for lunch. Easily, IWM’s kitchens make some of the best meals in the city, especially when paired with our incredible wines. Each week our portfolio managers host wine tastings and open wines to introduce to our clients, or to revisit bottles they know and love. Last week, I revisited two bottles that stunned me and kept reminding me why I love doing what I do. These two old friends are the beautiful and playful Billecart-Salmon NV Brut Rose and the gorgeous and rare Miani Rosso 2010.

Billecart-Salmon NV Brut Rosé $89.99

Light pink, with bright red fruits on the nose and precise acidity, this Champagne’s bubbles dance across your palate, finishing with refreshing elegance. Billecart-Salmon has been family owned for seven generations, and all its winemaking secrets have been passed down since its founding in 1818 by Nicolas Billecart. A blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir, Billecart-Salmon Rosé is easily one of the most impressive little champagnes I have had under $100, and it pairs wonderfully with any variety of antipasti or tapas.

Miani 2010 Rosso $99.99

Miani’s Enzo Pontoni is an interesting character. Standing almost seven feet tall and full of life, this cult producer makes a series of wines in Friuli, mostly whites. In fact, the reclusive Enzo is known around Italy as possibly the country’s greatest white wine producer. Lesser known are his reds, which are, in a word, phenomenal. His Merlot and Refosco always engender big talk when people talk of Miani’s reds, and they command $400+ a bottle easy—if you can get them. That said, Miani’s Rosso—a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Tazzelenghe—mesmerized my clients and me last Friday afternoon. Elegant, smooth, balanced and subtly acidic with beautiful spices and blue fruit notes, the ’10 Miani Rosso went down very easily, and before we knew it, it was all gone. This is definitely a bottle to pick up soon and one I will be glad to revisit.

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Celebrate Rum with Tiki Time

Posted on | July 29, 2015 | Written by Julia Punj | No Comments

Mattius’s Nuclear Daiquiri Tiki Cocktails evoke images of tall frozen drinks with bright umbrellas and flower garnishes, neon grass skirts, brown ”carved” glassware, and kitschy Hawaiian shirts. But the modern Tiki movement is so much more than that. Tiki started 80 years ago, with a man who named himself Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood, California. Don spent time as a young man in the Caribbean and South Pacific and came home with the idea that America would enjoy the drinks he had enjoyed during his travels: rum-laden, accented by flavored syrups, and buoyed by fruit juice. His simple idea turned into a chain of restaurants and bars around the world that were inspired by his popular Tiki theme. Today, the American bartender has Don to thank for drinks like the Beachcomber, the Rum Runner, Zombie, and the Hurricane.

The backbone of Tiki is rum. As a spirit, rum has an interesting and torrid history. It has shaped the history of the Americas; it has created myths and legends; and it has become a staple in our bars. Rum has been produced in the West Indies since the late 1400’s, and today rum is made all over the world, from Brazil, Barbados, Jamaica, and throughout the Caribbean and South America. Rum comes in many styles and colors: dark rums, light rums, gold rum, and spiced rums, to name a few—it’s a veritable jungle of flavor preference.

Rum is a by-product of the sugar cane industry. The juice from the sugar cane is turned into molasses and the syrup is fermented into a spirit. The spirit is then aged to become rum; different vessels are used to produce different colors and flavors. Light rums are aged in stainless steel to produce a light or colorless spirit with a clean crisp flavor. Gold rums are usually aged in oak casks to give them a medium body with a gold or amber color; they’re rich and smooth in flavor. Dark rums are aged in charred oak casks to add richness, a nutty, sweeter flavor and depth.

The rum’s variety allows mixologists to tailor their cocktails to the customer’s specific palate and preferences. Rum cocktails have been around since the rum was invented, but they all have a few elements in common. I sat down the America’s next rum guy Mattais Horsmen of the Chefs Club by Food & Wine in Aspen Colorado, who took me through the evolution of rum drinks.

Rum drinks began with Grog– rum, water, sugar, lime, nutmeg, the major theme of all the drinks, was the rum and acid. Westford Punch was the same as grog, but with molasses instead of sugar. The Daiquiri came next, which is simply, rum, lime juice, and sugar. A Rum and Coke became popular in the ‘60s, and later, the Mai Tai—Jamaican Rum, Barbados Rum, curacao, lime, and oregat—became the most modern incarnation. All of these drinks offer balance because the acidity of the fruit reduces the sweetness of the rum. This is the basis of the Tiki cocktail – balance, brightness, and freshness.

Rum Refashioned by Mattais Horsmen of the Chefs Club

Rum Refashioned by Mattais Horsmen of the Chefs Club

Mattais describes his idea of the modern Tiki movement as a representation of a carefree lifestyle crafted out of fresh fruits, spices, depth and balance. He demonstrates this ideal in his two signature Tiki recipes featured below. The first is a modern version of the Nuclear Daiquiri. It’s easy to make at home and definitely delicious. The second is an original cocktail created to reimagine the Tiki style in the modern age.

Both cocktails require you to add ingredients to a cocktail shaker, shake with ice, and then strain into the glass of your choosing. These recipes show how easy it is to create your own Tiki cocktails at home, and whether you subscribe to the old school movement of umbrellas and fruit garnish, or the new idea of depth of flavor and simplicity, you can have a lot of fun trying out a Tiki cocktail at your next shindig.

Mattais’s Nuclear Daiquiri

1.5oz Wray & Nephew Overproof Rum

.75oz Green Chartreuse

.75oz Fresh Lime Juice

.5oz Taylors Velvet Falernum

.25oz Gomme Syrup (simple syrup)

Add ingredients to a cocktail shaker, shake with ice, and then strain into the glass of your choosing.

Rum Refashioned

2oz The Real McCoy 12yr

.25oz Vanilla Simple Syrup

2 Dashes Chocolate Bitters

2 Dashes Angostura Bitters

1 Bar-spoon Cherry Juice

Garnish with flamed orange peel.

Add ingredients to a cocktail shaker, shake with ice, and then strain into the glass of your choosing.

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Expert Picks: Galardi and Raffaele Palma

Posted on | July 29, 2015 | Written by Camacho Vidal | No Comments

CamachoLast week I was invited to a tasting of wines from Campania. It was wonderful to be able to taste both white and red wines made from indigenous varietals from a region that is often overlooked. Located on the southwestern Italian Peninsula with the Mediterranean Sea bordering it on the west, Campania is considered the oldest winemaking region in Italy, with production dating back to the twelfth century, BCE. A plethora of grape varieties are indigenous to the area, and in some cases are found nowhere else but in native Campania. The most notable of these grapes is Aglianico, which likely was introduced to the area by the Greeks and later cultivated by the Romans. In the white spectrum you have Fiano and Greco di Tufo, which have been cultivated in the area for over 2000 years.

I tasted a lot of interesting wine at that tasting, both red and white. Some wines came from up-and-coming winemakers, while others came from established producers. Today, I’ve chosen wines from two relatively new producers, but both are spectacular: Galardi and Raffaele Palma.

Galardi is a true cult wine producer. The estate consists of 25 acres that sit 400 meters above sea level on volcanic slopes, and each vintage, Galardi makes approximately 2,500 cases of its one wine, Terra di Lavoro. And Raffaele Palma makes its three wines–a red, a white, and a rosé–all from indigenous grapes that it cultivates organically from vines that grow on the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast. Raffaele Palma’s terraces rest on cliffs that jut 50 meters above sea level to the highest point of 450 meters above sea level–imagine harvesting those grapes!

Galardi 2012 Terra di Lavoro $79.99

Aglianico with a kiss of Piedirosso, this ’12 Terra di Lavoro is still young and requires some patience, but it will reward you with a unique tasting experience. Aged in new oak barrels for twelve months, this wine is big, dark, and inky. Loads of tar, earth, tobacco and slight minerality–as well as pepper and licorice, all backed by elegant notes of cherry and cassis. The palate if full and velvety, with black cherry, leather and hints of plum; its tannins are full and clingy but well balanced with the acidity allowing for a nice, long finish. Drink 2018-2025.

Raffaele Palma 2011 Montecorvo $74.99

This wine is perfect for summertime BBQs or wintertime’s roasts—it’s a flexible, food-friendly stunner that will pull you back to the glass again and again. Raffaele Palma makes this Amalfi Coast red with the indigenous varietals Piedriosso, Aglianco and Tintore. A beautiful dark ruby color, this wine’s nose has slight hints of rose petal, blueberry, plum and spice mingling with minerals. The palate is silky and super elegant with grippy tannins that balance nicely with the wine’s fresh acidity. Finishing dry with slight herbal and leather notes, the Montevcorvo is a trip. Drink 2015-2024.

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Go-To-Wine Tuesday: Donnas Vallee d’Aosta 2010 Rosso

Posted on | July 28, 2015 | Written by Will Haas | No Comments

RD8757-2We all know Barolo, Brunello, and Chianti, and while I love those wines, I have always been most excited about small production, unique winemakers and lesser-known regions, which makes the Donnas Vallee d’Aosta 2010 Rosso a perfect wine for my first Go-To-Wine Tuesday blog post.

Vallee d’Aosta is actually the smallest wine-producing region in Italy, but it was also the first in the area to attain DOC status in 1971. This incredible region, which features vineyards holding tightly to the slopes of the southern Alps, primarily grows Italian grapes Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Moscato, and French grapes Pinot Noir, Gamay, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, though there are also many grape varieties that are uniquely indigenous to the region.

Produced by the Caves Cooperative, a group of local producers who combine grape harvests, the Donnas Vallee d’Aosta Rosso is 85% Nebbiolo (or Picotendro, as the locals call it) and 15% local varieties Freisa and Neyret. It’s a rustic wine but it’s not without its silky side. Featuring cherries, strawberries and rose petal, this wine also offers bright acidity due to the cooler, high-altitude vineyard site, and that means this rosso is enjoyable even in these dog days of summer.

Priced at under $25, this Rosso would be a fantastic pairing with Capriolo alla valdostana, a dish traditional to Vallee d’Aosta that’s venison stewed in red wine with vegetables, herbs, grappa and cream. Alternatively, a paring this wine with Pappardelle with Venetian Duck Ragu would be equally fantastic.

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