The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

August 25-28, 2014: Labor Day Edition

Posted on | August 29, 2014 | Written by IWM Staff | No Comments

IMG_2764Maybe it’s the three-day weekend, Labor Day and the end of summer, but IWM was in a mood for exploration. We kicked off the week with a look at the role that smell takes in making wine memories, and we closed it with a bit of Brunello di Montalcino history, courtesy of Robin Kelley O’Connor. In between, we enjoyed a lovely under $30 white, De Conciliis Donnaluna Fiano, from Campania (this is a super memorable wine, fyi). And tied in with smell, memory and great wines, we enjoyed a salute to–and an explanation of–the love of funky wines from John Camacho Vidal.

Our experts seemed quite preoccupied with the significance of this final week in August. Justin Kowalsky offered a pair of delicious Burgundies you can enjoy right now. His brother, Garrett, suggests you celebrate this weekend with magnums of bubbly (and one’s under $50!). Wanting to expand your palate, David Gwo offers up a pair of reds from Campanian cult estate Palari. And Will reminisces about a very good lunch with very excellent wine, including Raffaele Palma and Paolo Scavino.

However you enjoy your last weekend of summer 2014, we hope you do it with people you love. Happy Labor Day!

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Investigating Brunello di Montalcino, part 1

Posted on | August 28, 2014 | Written by Robin Kelley OConnor | No Comments

IMG_2764The debate over which is Italy’s greatest wine and wine region will carry on for decades, probably even generations. For starters we have the Killer B’s: Barbaresco, Barolo, Bolgheri, Brunello and more—not to mention regions that don’t fit that paradigm. Celebrated names pop straight out of the bocca with ease: Gaja, Giacosa Conterno, Mascarello, Ratti, Vietti, Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Massetto, Guado al Tasso, Soldera, Biondi Santi, Il Palazzone, Valdicava, Quintarelli, Dal Forno, and more. Italy’s winemaking overflows with an embarrassment of riches.

I, for one, am not going to take sides, for I love so many of Italy’s wines. As summer is coming to a close, I’m looking ahead to the fall and winter. Along with the team, I’ve already started planning our Saturday tasting series, fall wine dinners, and lunches. To kick off September, we’ll begin with a tasting of the wines of Montalcino, putting the Sangiovese Grosso in our glasses, all the better to understand Brunello di Montalcino and its younger sibling Rosso di Montalcino.

Montalcino has it all: it fits the picture of perfect Tuscany with its breathtaking slopes, hills, and valleys all surrounding the idyllic hilltop village of Montalcino. Just under 19 miles south of Siena, the DOC of Brunello di Montalcino offers stunning landscapes and beautiful wines. All Brunello di Montalcino and Rosso di Montalcino are made solely from the Sangiovese grape, and the name “Brunello” is actually the name in the local dialect for Sangiovese Grosso, the local clone. Brunello translates into the “little dark one,” though paradoxically Sangiovese Grosso is a large berry.

IMG_1863The history of the Montalcino wines dates back to the fourteenth century; however, Brunello di Montalcino as we know it today dates from the 1870’s. We can thank the Biondi-Santi family for starting a wine revolution in setting the standards in winemaking techniques, establishing Sangiovese Grosso as the grape of choice, creating the Il Greppo as the epicenter of wine style for Brunello di Montalcino. Biondi-Santi took a novel approach to winemaking and enology, vinifing their Sangiovese Grosso clonal selections and parcels separately and, over time, Il Greppo perfected its methods of barrel aging that have with stood the test of time to this very day. Through barrel aging and experimentation, Biondi-Santi discovered that special vintages allowed wines to be left in barrel for up to a decade and the wines remained fresh and vibrant.

After World War II, a small band of producers, including Biondi-Santi, worked hard to re-establish the protocol and standards for modern day Montalcino. In the 1960’s there were little more than a dozen producers; fast-forward to 2014, and today there are more than 200 wineries. In July 1980, Brunello di Montalcino, along with Barolo, became Italy’s first DOCG Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita. Today, the nearly 200 wineries are made up of small farmers, family estates and a few larger corporate entities, striving to produce high quality wines, exclusively red, with a mix of noble wines for long term cellaring and or the Rossos that are meant for immediate enjoyment upon release.

It’s a thrilling place for wine, and even though Montalcino is just 3,000 densely packed acres, the region has a stunning range of terroir and an exciting range of producer styles. But while this region has a longstanding tradition, changes are in the air, with some producers arguing for subzones within the region. But let’s pause here, and raise a glass (preferably one of Brunello or Rosso di Montalcino) and toast to one of my very favorite regions. It’s worth investigating deeper—because it is that delicious.

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Expert Picks: Francois Gay and Paul Pernot

Posted on | August 28, 2014 | Written by Justin Kowalsky | No Comments

Justin_8.6.14_72dpiI know many of you are always seeing offers where a wine description says, “Drink in ten years” or “Lay down for a few years.” Or it’s called a “cellar release,” where the wine was being held back a few years from the retailer and costs more than it did upon release. But what do you do when you want a wine to drink right now? You want a ripe, delicious, juicy and not-tannic bottle that is so delicious you could find yourself opening a second bottle and not event notice! So what to drink?

After tasting through a few little gems from our inventory recently I was immediately able to find two standouts that even I was surprised at just how perfect they were at the moment; in fact, they were among the wines of the evening. I actually bought a case of each for family.

Francois Gay 2011 Chorey les Beaune Rouge $34.99

Always a favorite among our Burgundy crowd, the tiny but highly revered Francois Gay estate produces some of the most profound wines from a select group of lesser known appellations and Francois does it better than anyone else. From its beautiful medium ruby color to its nose of wild berry and red cherry fruits that jumps from the glass, this is one ’11 that screams purity, ripeness, and detail.  Rich and silky red berried fruits envelop the palate and deliver a wonderful mid-palate sweetness often lacking in wines in this price range and a complete finish that ends on and beautiful note you can taste seconds later.

Paul Pernot 2012 Puligny Montrachet A.C. $49.99

Few other estates in the famed village of Puligny are more widely known for their consistency and amazing value than Paul Pernot. Now owned and operated by Paul’s grandson Michael, it is still a family decision at this tiny domaine. No wine is finished until the family agrees that it is ready and exactly what they want.With Pernot’s judicious use of oak, a wine like the 2012 Puligny Village is truly an examples of its terroir. The ’12 Pernot Puligny is loaded with wonderful ripe notes of peach, apples, and white flowers, all wrapped in a core of flinty mineral that gives this wine its vibrant, clean and pure finish. You will easily not find a more pure, classic, pleasurable Puligny Montrachet A.C. for anywhere near the price of Pernot’s.

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Pour That Funky Wine

Posted on | August 27, 2014 | Written by Camacho Vidal | No Comments

The resident horse at Cupano, Cavallo

The resident horse at Cupano, Cavallo

After I read this Monday’s blog post on the role of smell in wine memory, I started to wonder exactly why it is I’m partial to wines that, well, are funky. I love wines with some barnyard, earthy notes, sauvage, wildness or funk in them. The blog post notes how closely aligned memory and scent are, and as a wine educator, I find it’s sometimes difficult to describe a smell since it is tied to this memory. It’s our own memory bank makes wine so personal and links it to our individual experiences. This personal history both makes certain wines special to us and makes it hard to always pinpoint why. After thinking about why I love funky wines, I began to get a clue.

When I was growing up my parents used to send my brother and me to Colombia every summer vacation. If school was out on Friday, by Sunday I was at my uncle’s farm with my cousins running around and riding horses. These are some of my fondest childhood memories. I love horses and I remember hosing them down and brushing them after an afternoon of riding. Horses smell like barnyards, like warm leather, like hay, like animal sweat, and like the plains where I rode them. When I smell a wine that has some of these aromas or traits it transports me to that point in time. When I host a tasting and ask people to describe what they smell in a particular wine I have noticed that when they describe it passionately it is because they have made a memory connection and have been transported.

While it’s pretty easy to get behind scents like roses, fruit, river rocks or spice, there is a bit of controversy when it comes to funky wines. The question most asked seems to be, do these characteristics reflect a bad or faulted wine or is it the terroir coming through?

The rustic aromas of farmyard, barnyard, leather and cured meat that you often get in a wine are imparted by a yeast called Brettanomyces or BRET. Some love what this yeast does to a wine and others don’t. Many wine experts argue that this is a non-desirable wine fault. Others say that it is terrior, and since BRET smells and tastes earthy and funky, it is often understood as a component of terrior—or in excess, as mistaken for terroir.

Whatever the memory or reason is, if you like funky wines the way I do, we are not alone. There is a growing population of wine drinkers who love the funk. A bit of earth leather or funk goes a long way on certain wines, so I say let the experts argue all they want. The truth is that if you love the funky, then drink the wine; it’s entirely up to your taste buds to decide what you prefer. To illustrate my love I chose two of my favorite wines that are all about bringing the funk.

Radikon Merlot 2000

This wine is not for every palate. If funk is not your thing then absolutely skip it. But if you want to taste a wine that will shock your palate and give you an experience that is unlike any other, you must taste this Merlot. When I first poured this 2000 Merlot, the first thing that came to mind was how funky it was on the nose. It smells a little like borscht soup (in a good way), or if you have ever walked through a stable of sweaty horses after a fox hunt, it will bring back that pleasant memory. Intense red, slightly hazy or opaque, this wine blow off some of its funk with some time and lots of aeration, revealing some really sweet, ripe red fruits, herbs, cocoa and a bit of licorice. The mouth-feel is incredible—the tannins are sweet and complex, rich with hints of ripe fruit with a very persistent aftertaste of cherry and spice. Over a three-hour time lapse, this biodynamic ’00 Merlot develops further to become almost a completely different wine, more nuanced, more mellow, yet still fresh.

image003Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses 1990

Chinon is produced in the Loire Valley of France. I haven’t had many Chinons, but and when I tasted this 1990 by Olga Raffault I fell in love. From the get-go the nose is full of leather with notes of black tea, herbs, tobacco and olives followed by iron minerality, notes of red and dark berries, smoke, a hint of eucalyptus and some game and coffee. The palate is silky but gripping almost chalky. The acidity is great followed by spice, red and black fruit and a nice lingering finish.

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Expert Picks: Col Vetoraz and Krug

Posted on | August 27, 2014 | Written by Garrett Kowalsky | No Comments

Garrett_8.6.14_72dpiLabor Day weekend is here, and with it comes the realization that summer has come to an end. It is a bittersweet time of year. On one hand, the warm afternoons grow fewer and fewer and daydreaming of vacations with your family will likely have to be put off until next year. On the other, it’s an exciting time though as we welcome what is undoubtedly my favorite season in New York—fall. The color, the weather, the food—nothing quite compares to autumn. So in the spirit of sending off what was a phenomenal summer and welcoming a new season, I say, “Hey, let’s pop the bubbly!” In fact, the big bubblies, because I chose two magnums, the better to celebrate the end of this great season.

Col Vetoraz Prosecco Valdobbiadene NV 1.5L $49.99

This bottle is pure fun in the sun” Refreshing and vibrant, this Prosecco offers tremendous refreshment and enjoyment in magnum and at this price point. “Prosecco” is not just the style, but also the name of the grape, and unlike Champagne, its secondary fermentation occurs in a tank via the charmat method. As an estate, Col Vetoraz focuses solely on the Prosecco grape, something few do, and this single-minded approach has made them the authority on the subject. Drink now and for 2-4 years.

Krug Champagne Collection 1985 1.5L $2,224

Since Joseph Krug founded the House of Krug in 1843, we have been privy to some of the finest bottles of wine in the history of not just Champagne but in all the winemaking world. In the 1980’s, the estate spun off the “Collection” series of wines from its “Vintage” series. This new “Collection” allowed the estate to hold wines an additional ten years to allow for maturity and secondary flavors to become more pronounced. While 1985 may seem “old,” this wine was only released within the last five years. Drink now and for 5-10 years.

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