The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Italian White Wine Grapes A-Z: Pagadebit to Riesling Renano!

Posted on | June 29, 2015 | Written by IWM Staff | No Comments

Each Monday for the next few weeks, we’ll be detailing the white wine grapes of Italy. From the well-known to the obscure, this alphabetical list offers insight into the grapes that make your favorite Italian white wines. First, we looked at grapes beginning with A, B and C, or Albana to Cortese, and then we continued with Drupeggio to Grillo, and Inzolia to Nuragus. Today, is the fourth installment, Pagadebit to Riesling Renano!

Pagadebit (pah-gah-DEH-bit)

Pagadebit, or “debt-payer,” is the name that Bombino Bianco goes by in Emilia-Romagna; Pagadebit di Romagna is a DOC appellation. Also known as Debit, Pagadebit’s name comes from the easy fecundity of this varietal–if you planted it, it would grow. Unfortunately, this easy quantity often led to poor quality, and winemakers who favor the latter over the former must engage in judicious, if ruthless, pruning. Confusingly, other varietals share both the Pagadebit’s easy-growing nature and its name; Sardegna’s Nuragus is also known as Pagadebit.

Petite Arvine (PEHT-eet TAHR-veen)

This obscure varietal is indigenous to the Valais region of Switzerland, but it is also cultivated in Trentino-Alto Adige in the uppermost northwest corner of Italy. Wines vinified from Petite Arvine can be light to medium-bodied, and while the Swiss versions range from dry to sweet, those from Trentino-Alto Adige tend towards dryness. Petite Arvine is an interesting grape characterized by a nose of grapefruit that’s echoed on the palate and a piquant saline finish.

Picolit, the panda of the grape world

Picolit, the panda of the grape world

Picolit (PEEK-oh-lee)

Friuli’s Picolit may very well be the panda of the wine grape world. Poorly pollinating, prone to flower abortion, something of a cult object, and awfully cute, Picolit has simultaneously been poised on the brink of extinction and been the unwitting recipient of extreme popularity for a number of decades. Picolit gets its name from its severely low crop yields, as well from its tiny berries, and these two factors have presented problems when Picolit gets swept up in a fad, as it was in the mid-eighteenth century and again in the 1970’s. Grown only in two regions of Friuli, Gorizio and Udine–Picolit’s main DOC is in the Colli Orientali–Picolit’s primary method of vinification requires the grape is partially, or fully, dried on mats. Rather than a desert wine, Picolit is a vino da meditazione, a wine to savor as you contemplate its golden color, lichee and stone fruit palate, and notes of green tea. Recently, some modern vintners have added Picolit to blended, dry table wines to some success.

Pigato (pee-GAH-toh)

This Ligurian grape varietal is related both to Vermentino, which is also cultivated in Liguria, and Favorita, which is grown in Piemonte–some ampelographers claim all three are actually identical. Like Vermentino, Pigato makes a unique, refreshing, medium to full-bodied, dry white wine that is characterized by citrus and a deep herbal quality that’s redolent of mint and fennel, and a saline finish. It goes quite nicely with pesto.

Pinot Bianco (pee-noh bee-AHN-koh)

Pinot Bianco is the Italian name for the French varietal Pinot Blanc, which is itself a derivation of the Pinot family of grapes (the parent grape is Pinot Nero and another mutation is Pinot Grigio). In Italy, Pinot Bianco is grown in Trentino-Alto Adige, the Veneto, Friuli and Lombardia, and while the grape used to be cultivated widely, it has been greatly supplanted by Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. In contrast to France’s preferred method of vinification, Italy likes to make a high-acid version of Pinot Grigio that is accented by slight carbonation, or spritz; this varietal is also a common choice for Spumante. Arguably, the grape is taken most seriously in Trentino-Alto Adige, where winemakers endeavor to keep the yields low and to use oak in vinification to make a Chardonnay-style dry wine.

Pinot Grigio grapes

Pinot Grigio grapes

Pinot Grigio (pee-noh GREE-joe)

Possibly the most famous genetic mutation of Pinot Nero (known in France as Pinot Noir), sales of Pinot Grigio have recently started to surpass those of Chardonnay at restaurants. Pinot Grigio, or Pinot Gris in French, got its name either for the grey cast of its ripening grapes or for the fog that engulfs the hills where it grows. Grown throughout all of Italy except Calabria, Pinot Grigio’s main cultivation areas are in the northeast of Italy. Because of Pinot Grigio’s current market cachet, many producers crank out oceans of banal, indistinguishable wine; many of these producers are in Lombardia. Higher-quality expressions of Pinot Grigio that make full use of the grape’s abilities come out of the very north of Italy, mainly Trentino-Alto Adige. There, Pinot Grigio wines can range in hue from straw to gold to copper, depending on how long the producers leave on the skins in maceration, and the wines will have a fresh acidity complemented by a nose and palate of green apples, peaches, herbs and cream.

Procanico (pro-KAH-nee-koh)

One of the very many Trebbiano clones, Procanico is cultivated in Umbria. There are some who believe that this clone is superior to the high-acid, low-flavor Trebbiano.

Prosecco (praw-ZEHK-koh, pro-ZEHK-koh)

This grape varietal, formerly known also as Glera and Seprina, is indigenous to Friuli, but it’s best known in the Veneto, where Prosecco is responsible for the wine that bears its name. Though Prosecco is sometimes vinified in a still version, it most often appears in Frizzante (fizzy) or Spumante (sparkling) versions that can range from dry to sweet. Unlike champagne, which is vinified secondarily in the bottle, Prosecco is made by the Charmat method that holds its second vinification in vats. Prosecco is no different from other white wines in that when wine producers unrestrainedly grow the grape they end up with a very neutrally flavored wine. When, however, producers opt to cultivate Prosecco judiciously, the resulting wine is more complex, in Prosecco’s case crisp with light floral perfumes, and an appley palate.

Josko Gravner's Ribolla Gialla, image from Vinous Media

Josko Gravner’s Ribolla Gialla, image from Vinous Media

Ribolla Gialla (ree-BOH-lah JAHL-lah)

Descended from the Greek varietal Rebula, Ribolla Gialla dates back to 1289 in Friuli, and although its popularity has diminished in recent years, this grape varietal was popular enough to inspire Giovanni Boccaccio to include it in a diatribe against gluttony in the fourteenth century. There are two main types of Ribolla, and they are not created equal. Ribolla Gialla, or yellow Ribolla, is different from the Ribolla Verde, or green Ribolla, which is a less interesting and less cultivated clone. The primarily grown, Ribolla Gialla is probably also related to the Schioppettino, which is sometimes called Ribolla Nero. Ribolla Gialla makes quite full-bodied wines with great structure, qualities that seem at odds with its often neutral palate. When it veers away from its trademark neutrality, Ribolla Gialla can make wines with a sassy acidity that complicates its full texture in compelling ways; it holds delicate flavors of Golden Delicious apples, cantaloupe, and butterscotch. Josko Gravner is its most famous maker.

Riesling Italico (REES-ling ee-TAH-lee-koh)

Riesling Italico is unrelated to German Riesling, or Riesling Renano as it is called in Italy. Known elsewhere as Welschriesling, Riesling Italico is cultivated in Friuli near Serbia, as well as Trentino-Alto Adige and Lombardia although to a lesser extent. This varietal produces a floral wine with a jaunty acidity and a delicate, crisp, floral palate.

Riesling Renano (REES-ling reh-NAH-noh)

German Riesling is known as Riesling Renano in Friuli, Trentino-Alto Adige and Lombardia. Riesling is perhaps the world’s most flexible white wine grape. Readily reflecting the terroir in which it is cultivated, Riesling can make wines that range between honeyed and flinty, between bone dry and syrupy sweet. Riesling distinguishes itself by having an insouciant acidity, a high extract (the concentration of non-volatile substances in a wine, or the solid matter that gives wine its flavor), a full and compelling aroma, and the propensity toward ageing. Italian interpretations of Riesling, or Riesling Renano, tend to be delicately aromatic, floral, and nuanced expressions laden with a palate of stone fruits.

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Expert Picks: Antinori and…Antinori!

Posted on | June 29, 2015 | Written by Crystal Edgar | No Comments

Crystal 2014Summer is upon us and, aside from sipping on bright bubblies, whimsical whites and radiant rosé wines, I want to make room on the stage for some bottles of sweet wines. Often overlooked or boxed into the post-meal sipper category, sweet wines deserve more attention. I would like to bring them back into focus and highlight the great qualities and characteristics they bring to meals or social gathering. My favorite sweeties offer delicate and refreshing qualities with an abundance of floral, citrus and tropical fruit flair. Balance is the key here and the best and most suitable for warmer weather offer that palate-cleansing streak of acidity with luscious sweet layers of sweet fruit and baking spices.

Today, I turn to Umbria where Antinori’s Castello della Salla estate crafts the golden nectar known as Muffato della Sala, a majestic blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Grechetto, with touches of Semillon, Gewurztraminer and Riesling, depending on the vintage. This wine is made from grape that have been affected by botrytis or “noble rot” that have been allowed additional hang time, usually harvested in late October or early November. “Muffa” refers to this special rot or mold, which draws out the moisture in the grape berries, allowing the sugars and flavors to concentrate. The resulting wine is ambrosia.

Antinori produces Muffato della Sala in very limited quantities, and we are fortunate enough to not only get a range of vintages but also bottle formats. Today I’ve chosen the standard 500ml bottle of the 2008 as well as the magnum format of the 2009.

Castello della Sala 2008 Muffato Della Sala 2008 $54.99

The 2008 offers a blend 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 40% mix of Grechetto, Gewürztraminer and Riesling. This vintage highlights the distinct citrus curd character that the Riesling imparts, a great match for anything from cheese and antipasti to Chinese food to pineapple upside-down cake. Given the wine’s balance and structure, it is extremely versatile at the table.

Castello della Sala 2009 Muffato Della Sala 1.5L $149.99

This viscous 2009 offers a bit more weight as there is a bit of Semillon in this blend along with the other grapes mentioned for the 2008 vintage. I find more tropical fruit and honey character in this vintage, owing to the early ripening and extended hang time of the grapes. I love large formats because the wine ages more gracefully, and a magnum bottle also makes a fun centerpiece for dinner parties or gatherings.

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Inside IWM, June 22-25, 2015: Pop That Bottle!

Posted on | June 26, 2015 | Written by IWM Staff | No Comments

millesimatoThis past Sunday was summer solstice, and now that we’ve hit the high point of summer, things are very much heating up. Germane to this excitement is Matt Di Nunzio’s timely take on a $22 bottle of Prosecco–he served it at a summer feast, and all his guests fell in love with Col Vertoraz. We closed the week with tips on keeping your wine cool these summer months (seriously, car trunks are a killer!). In between, we offered up another installment of our Italian white wine grape guide (Inzolia to Nuragus!) and Emery Long detailed his move from IWM NYC to IWM Aspen–in time for the Aspen Food & Wine Classic!

Our Experts kicked off the week in style–David Gwo popped two gorgeous Billecart-Salmon Champagnes for you. John Camacho Vidal looked forward to pouring Brunello this summer, and chose a pair of vintage bottles from Lisini and Altesino. Garrett was reminded by his time at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic of the greatness of Domaine Lamarche. And Francesco Vigorito can’t hide his love for Luciano Sandrone, or the estate’s Barolo Cannubi Boschis.

Cheers to sharing what you love with the people you love, all across the USA!

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Keeping Your Wines Cool in Summer Heat

Posted on | June 25, 2015 | Written by IWM Staff | No Comments

Valdicava's organic vines deserve care in hot weather

Valdicava’s organic vines deserve care in hot weather

Hot weather is now upon us—which is a good thing for us but generally bad for wine.  Heat and oxygen are the Kryptonite of wine, though in the case of oxygen, it can also be its life force. Without wine being exposed to minute amounts of O2, we would never have perfectly mature vino to drink.  Heat, however, is 100 percent detrimental to wine, and never should a bottle of white, red of sparkling be exposed to intense heat.  The heat will actually speed up the aging process because the molecules are now moving faster; if you kept a bottle of wine frozen, it would never age!

Wine is susceptible to heat damage even under controlled circumstances. For example, he older the wine, the more easily damage can occur. Therefore, do not put a bottle of 1989 Giacosa Barolo out on your deck in 100-degree heat. Fresh, crisp whites and low alcohol and light reds are best put in and ice bucket if you choose to drink them outside.

During this time of year we also do a lot of traveling by plane and car. Wine is more resilient that people think, but a hot trunk is not the way to transport wine as the bottles would bake and get jostled around. Keep wines in a nice wine carrier in the front or back seat with the AC on, so they don’t bang around or get overheated.

If traveling by plane here’s what to do: Start packing your suitcase and about half way through wrap your bottles in bubble wrap to protect them. By sticking them in the middle of your suitcase and surrounding them with more clothes it will protect the bottles. When you unpack let the rest for a couple of days before popping. If possible, chill your bottles until you pack to keep them safe from damaging runway heat.

For all of us that do not have a cellar, the best place to store your vino is somewhere dark and cool. A basement will work or closet, as long as the temperature does not go above 60 degrees. This is not a permanent solution, though, and any serious collection should be stored in a wine fridge or a wine cellar.

Hope this helps keep your wine safe, sound and comfortable this summer!

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Expert Picks: Luciano Sandrone and…Luciano Sandrone!

Posted on | June 25, 2015 | Written by Francesco Vigorito | No Comments

Francesco 2014Luciano Sandrone is master at his trade. Bridging the line between modern and traditional winemaking, his wines are undeniably sublime, no matter how you look at them. From his Le Vinge Barolo to the flagship single-vineyard Cannubi Boschis, Sandrone makes wines that thrill Barolo aficionados and wine-lovers new to Nebbiolo. Today, I picked a pair of Sandrone’s Cannubi Boschis bottlings, five years apart. There’s no question that these are two of the best expressions of Nebbiolo you can find in Piemonte. Now that that the 1998 and 2003 have reached maturity, they are both firing and ready to go. I selected magnum formats because these Barolos deserve bottles as big, expansive and extraordinary as they are!

Sandrone 1998 Barolo Cannubi Boschis (1.5L) $425.00

1998 was a very fine vintage in Piemonte ever and now with more than15 years of age, this wine is finally ready to start strutting its stuff! Structured and intense, this wine has long legs—you can continue to lay this down for another ten years or so—but it has so many qualities that you can enjoy immediately. The fruit is still secondary and very lively, but the tannins have finally begun to integrate, creating a killer drinking experience right now. And it tastes even better from magnum!

Sandrone 2003 Barolo Le Vigne (1.5L) $295.00

2003 was much hotter than the 1998 vintage in Piedmont, so this wine shows a more advanced, mature and open style of Barolo. Full-bodied, lush and ripe, this 2003 offers tertiary notes of prunes, dark fruit, tobacco, game and earth. Tannins have subsided, but this wine has the stuffing to last for another five years.

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