The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Sparkling Wines: Now More Than Ever

Or: Why It’s Important to Honor Occasions

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I’ve noticed over the last year that people are drinking less sparkling wine that’s outstanding, especially Champagne. I have read that this decreased consumption is because people are “trading down,” which is to say that they’re drinking cheaper stuff. I’ve also heard that it’s not just cost that’s making people reach for the cheap stuff—people feel guilty celebrating while so many others are suffering. They don’t want to be seen as insensitive. I have strong feelings about this phenomenon, and they boil down to the belief that these choices, while understandable, are misguided.

At IWM we celebrate life, and we celebrate the opportunity to share our passion with people who are not only our clients but who also become part of our extended families. Before we begin many meals, we delicately open a bottle of sparkling wine. Beyond the grandeur in the glass, a sparkler is the perfect beverage to gently awaken the palate and to create a sense of bonhomie—plus, sparkling wines also have the unusual ability to be paired with a wide variety of culinary creations.  For all of its decadent reputation, sparkling wine—whether Prosecco, Champagne, Cava, Puro or any other of the myriad varieties—is more or less a perfect libation.

While I certainly understand fiscal responsibility, I’m skeptical that someone’s Champagne consumption is the reason for that person’s financial demise.  Think of this. One in ten Americans will drink a bottle of Champagne in a year—and that statistic comes from 2006, before our consumption plummeted. Even if someone needs to live within a tidy budget, I feel compelled to argue that when we are fortunate to break bread with people we love, with people we admire, and with people we respect, we need to bear in mind that it’s important to honor those occasions. It’s just not the time to “trade down.” A bottle of Veuve may be $40, but the experience is priceless.

It comes as no surprise, then, that in this new year, I sincerely recommend that we all drink more sparkling wines with our colleagues, friends and loved ones.  My list of sparkling wines to enjoy would begin with Prestige Cuvees. I love the elegance of Salon, the grandeur of Krug, and the harmony of Pol Roger, Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill. I would urge my friends to drink deeply of Rose; Billecart Salmon Rose would begin the list, but Roger Coulon Rose should also be enjoyed, early and often. Looking to areas outside of France, I love Movia’s Puro Rose, and Bruno Giacosa makes a lovely Spumante Brut from 100% Pinot Noir. Finally, Elio Perrone’s Moscatos are also as elegant as any sparkling wine made anywhere in the world.

It’s a new year, and an opportunity to make changes. Sure, keep your bank balance in the black, but remember that life is short, time is fleeting, and you need to eat, drink and be merry.

More Wine Quotes from YOU!

Our readers offer the best quotes, ever!

cork grape

We love wine, and we love quotes about wine. In the past couple of weeks, we’ve run a couple of posts that featured wine quotes, the first by our blog editor Janice Cable and the second by Senior Wine Portfolio Manager Frank Sansotta. Yesterday, we posted on Facebook and Twitter asking our fans what their favorite wine quotes were, and we promised to feature the ones we liked best and pick a winner from the bunch. Without further ado, here are the top three quotes submitted by you, our readers:

1)     Stephanie Miskew “I only drink Champagne on two occasions, when I am in love and when I am not.” —Coco Chanel

2)     Oscar Castellon “In victory we deserve it, in defeat we need it.”  —Winston Churchill

3)   Wendy Lyn “Order tap water. Why spend money on bottled water when you can apply the difference towards a better bottle of wine?”  —Danny Meyer

And as much as we love all of these words of wine wisdom, we know there can only be one winner:  Oscar Castellon, for offering a timeless gem of brevity by Winston Churchill, who was speaking about Champagne, his elixir of choice.

Thanks one and all for responding to our query! We love to hear from you, and if you’d like to add to the conversation, please comment below. We’d hate to think that your favorite quote about wine didn’t get its due—feel free to share it here and now.

The Ultimate in Regifting

Wine Makes the Rounds and Finds a Perfect Home

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Regifting. The first time I confronted the concept was many years ago before it even had a name.  A long-lost cousin showed up on Christmas Eve and my mom asked, “Don’t you have a gift for Anna?”  “Uh, no,” I said, “I haven’t seen her in ten years and didn’t even know she was coming!”   However, Mom had a plan.  “Follow me,” she said and went up to her closet to pull out a scarf still snug in its box.

“Here, wrap this and give it to Anna,” she said.  My eyes were wide with horror. I couldn’t believe she was even suggesting such a thing.  Realizing protest was futile, being a dutiful daughter, and knowing that no one could come into the house and not have a present under the tree, I wrapped the box in fresh Christmas paper, put a card on it, and snuck it under the tree with no one being the wiser.   Anna loved the gift, and all was well for one more holiday at home. Regifting has since been christened with a name, and the practice seems to have actually developed some modicum of respect.

This past weekend I was faced with the problem anew.  Friends I didn’t know would be in town called to have lunch.  It being Christmas, I knew I couldn’t show up without a gift for all three of them. Not having any time to shop for that perfect gift—I am of the mindset that a gift must be well thought out and personal—I had to think fast.  I then realized I had sent two cases of wine to my dad from Italian Wine Merchants and I decided to cull from that stock.   For Phil, the cook and carnivore and a purist at heart, I chose the Massolino Barolo 2004, a perfect wine for his next roasted fillet with shallots and red wine reduction.  For Christy, who always wants to try something she hasn’t had before, I chose something new: Primofiore 2005, a wine from the Master of the Veneto, Giuseppe Quintarelli.  Primofiore means “first press,” which seems very appropriate for the New Year, and these grapes complete their ripening during a storage time in wooden boxes.  Even in winter, Christy loves to grill outdoors and this is the ideal wine.  And for Pat, the white wine drinker in the group, I plucked the 2007 Bruna Pigato Le Russeghine out of my dad’s cases.  Refreshing and clean, lemony, peachy, with great minerality, it will be a delight with all of her seafood favorites.

Having chosen my gifts, all I needed now were fabulous and chic wine bags.  I found them at my favorite papier; these were constructed from layered newsprint, food sections actually, covered with a top layer of clear vellum, all sewn together and topped with a great rope handle. Great wine wrapped in a little gold tissue, and tucked into the amazing wine bags—everyone thought I had spent much time and effort in finding the perfect gift.  I even suggested that the wine bags would work to hold flowers and (very) tall bread sticks.  As for Dad, I haven’t told him about my foraging through his wine for my re-gifting—I will just send him even more replacements.

Although this recent regifting was highly successful, my best episode of re-gifting came ten years ago when I was faced with giving a milestone birthday gift for my dear cousin Mike, a wine collector himself and one of those men who is impossible to buy for. I took to looking for a gift until I spied one sitting in my apartment in my own little wine collection.  My eyes landed on a bottle of 1961 Chateau Haut Brion Grand Cru, a gift given to me a few years previously from a very good friend.   I admit I had second thoughts about giving this bottle away, but as we all know, giving and sharing comes back to us in spades, and wine especially is for sharing.  I wrapped the bottle and presented it to Mike.  When he unwrapped the bottle, his face shone with a priceless look. Remembering, I still feel so much pleasure to have been able to give him such a glorious (re)gift.   This year is another milestone for Mike—and I am hoping he will finally open that bottle (and invite me to the party).

We Want to Believe

Questioning Online Wine Sources and Other Matters of Taste

Still Life with Bread and Wine Glass by Isaac Luttichuys 17th Century

Still Life with Bread and Wine Glass by Isaac Luttichuys 17th Century

In an old-fashioned paper copy of Wine Enthusiast, I read an article entitled “Wine Online in 2009” by Steve Heimoff.  One section of the article really resounds with me:  the one that raises questions about online credibility.

Wine has many established authorities, from retailers and importers like Robert Chadderdon and Kermit Lynch, to writers like Eric Asimov, to the many, much-maligned wine critics (you no doubt know who they are). All of these people belong to fairly old, established professions, but today there are also bloggers who may be credible, random or, occasionally, both. While the credible have their clear because of credentials, expertise or attachment to trustworthy institutions, the random may know nothing more than how to pop a cork and pour.  Heimoff points out the fact that—whether film, art, music or fashion—every industry, as well as those who endeavor to learn more about that industry, values experience and knowledge.  Wine is no different.

As a long-time wine connoisseur, I’m of two minds. It’s terrific that more people are incorporating wine in their lifestyles, but I feel that it still makes sense to stick to the authorities when looking for advice.  And even if you don’t like a particular specialist in wine, if you know a little about how s/he relates to wine, you can still use his/her writing or opinion to decide whether you want to try that wine.  What is oh-so-very-important in judging wine is to recognize quality, even if you don’t personally like a wine style.  Most bloggers, and even many people who work in the wine trade, don’t do that—whether they are unable to make that important differentiation or whether they simply won’t.

I’m proud to be a member of the IWM team because we collectively really know wine, and I’m especially delighted to know that our blog—and our eLetters, our Wine Portfolio Managers and our Sales Associates—all reflect the care, experience and love we have for wine. It makes me happy to know that while there may be sources out there for whom, as Heimoff suggests, credibility is an issue, we are not one of them. And I’m even happier to know that we can recognize the beauty in styles of wine that we ourselves may not love. Because that, perhaps above all, is the true mark of a professional.

Wine and Words? Best Wine Quotes, Ever?

What’s your favorite wine quote?

Last week the editor of Inside IWM wrote a post inspired by a long quote from a book, and reading that piece got me thinking about some of my favorite wine-related quotes. I’m not much for reading British novels, but I’m glad to have scrounged up more than a handful of wise, compelling and interesting things that other people have said about wine. Without further ado, here are three of my favorite wine quotes and why I love them.

“How it’s a living thing…. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing; how the sun was shining; if it rained. I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes. And if it’s an old wine, how many of them have passed on by now. I like how wine continues to evolve, like if I opened a bottle of wine today it would taste different than if I’d opened it on any other day, because a bottle of wine is actually alive. And it’s constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks, like your ’61. And then it begins its steady, inevitable decline … And it tastes so f***ing good.” –Maya, played by Virginia Madsen, in Sideways

I was in my senior year of college when Sideways came out, and I was religiously studying wine. I was obsessed with wine, and this was one of those quotes that solidified my decision to pursue a career in wine. When I first saw and heard this quote in the film Sideways, I felt the hair on the back of my neck jump, as if a beautiful woman was brushing the nape of my neck with her hand. Virginia Madsen’s character Maya’s quote uses just a few short lines to capture all the important aspects of wine: the harvest, the evolution in the bottle, and the end result. I wanted to jump into the screen and kiss Maya. This scene is one of the most beautiful moments for wine in any film ever made.

Later that year Madsen was on the cover of Wine Enthusiast Magazine. I framed that issue because of this quote. Or mostly because of that quote, anyway.

Let’s be honest: there’s only one activity more satisfying than drinking good wine with good food; and if you’re drinking wine in the right company, the one pleasure, more often than not, will lead to the other!” –Jay McInerney, Hedonist in the Cellar: Adventures in Wine

Jay hits the nail on the head, and because of his exactitude, his is my very favorite wine quote. It’s so spot on that I’m very surprised many wine people don’t mention this quote more often. I can remember reading this and saying to myself, “This guy gets it.” Wine is one of those few things that make you feel so warm and cozy inside. It gets the blood flowing. This quote makes me think of two people sitting on a couch next to the fire sipping a glass of their favorite red, each gazing deeply and passionately into one another’s eyes, each savoring the moment and yet looking forward to even more pleasurable moments to come. Kudos to Jay McInerney for giving voice to the sensual aspects of wine and how enjoying it can lead to more than just a hangover.

“Wine to me is passion.  It’s family and friends. It’s warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It’s culture. It’s the essence of civilization and the art of living.” Robert Mondavi, Harvests Of Joy

The anchor to this quote for me is “family and friends.” There is nothing more gratifying to me than sitting around a table with my family and my friends, enjoying great food and wine. It’s one of the most meaningful, nurturing and special experiences in life. But what makes raises this quote and makes it spectacular is how Mondavi doesn’t just reference family, but the whole of human civilization. He seems to suggest that the art of wine is so important because same type of vine grown in two separate areas of the world, handled by different winemaking techniques can produce significantly different results. And these different results shape the culture that made them. Embedded in these two short lines is the rich history of wine, the way wine affected cultures throughout the history of the world, and how the world’s peoples were touched by wine. Mondavi understood that wine was more than just a beverage—wine brings people together in a wonderful, joyous, historical way!

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