The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

A Roman in New York

Learning About Wine and the Streets

In March 2007, I moved to New York from Rome, Italy where I lived for the past 23 years.  Moving here, I had no idea I’d end up working in the wine industry. My food and beverage background has given me plenty of opportunities to present wines and sometimes even drink them, but those opportunities were not even close to what I have experienced at IWM. You must understand that in Italy the passion for wine is a natural part of everyday life, as is the passion for food; those of you who have been to Italy can certainly understand. In some ways, though, we in Italy take that wine culture for granted. For example, some of the greatest producers lived and made their wines only two hours away from my doorstep, but when my American friends would ask me to come with them to Tuscany for weekend wine tastings, I would always reply “No thanks!” I reflect on all those times I said no and feel enormously stupid.

In Rome, my daily life centered on two things, mostly: (1) finding a proper espresso at every corner and (2) eating the best pasta at my friend’s family restaurant, where his grandma cooked in the back. I never thought about having to take a seven-hour plane ride to visit the vineyards whose wines made your heart sing the first time you tasted them. Now I do. It’s not just a question of absence making my heart grow fonder, however. It’s more complicated.

I have learned many things here in NY: Don’t stand in the middle of the sidewalk and stare at a skyscraper; walk fast; know what you want before getting in line at Starbucks because there are about twelve people behind you ready to murder you if you don’t; subways are the best way to travel; and it’s cold…really, really cold in the winter, so when you’re outside keeping warm is a priority, not fashion. The one thing, however, that I needed to come here to learn was Italian wine. It may be an ironic lesson, but it’s one that I’m glad I’m learning here in New York, the place I’m learning to call my home away from Rome.

Silverlake Vineyard

A Trip to a Thailand Vineyard Sheds Light on Wine

This past summer I went on an adventure to Southeast Asia. My first stop was Thailand to visit my Mom’s side of our family. I hadn’t been to Thailand for four years, and I’d never visited without my Mom. While I was not shy to go without her, she is the real connection to that side of our family, and I had only met them a handful of times in my life. Even though I can speak conversational Thai, I found it challenging to bridge the gap between cultures and really communicate. For example, when I arrived they all greeted me by enthusiastically telling me how fat I was, but really they were just complimenting me on my good health. Could you imagine greeting someone in the US like that? I don’t think it would go over very well.

 I told this distant side of my family all about the things happening in my life, namely graduating from college and getting a job in the wine industry. They didn’t quite grasp the concept of what a Junior Wine Portfolio Manager would be doing, but they were proud of me all the same. In fact, they even planned a day trip the next day to a winery nearby called Silverlake Vineyards. After immersing myself all summer in Vino Italiano, I was very excited to actually be going to a real vineyard and tasting some wine. When we got there, I was immediately taken by how beautiful it was. The rolling lands were dotted with perfectly manicured flowers, charming gazebos, and an amazing rock mountain with a golden Buddha carved into the side. The grape vines were almost secondary to the other wonderful decorations. We walked over to the stand to try some wine, but shockingly found that the grapes were made into non-alcoholic slushies, juices, dried fruit strips, jams, sauces, and candies, along with many other products. I saw every possible byproduct of the grape other than wine.

Silverlake Vineyards

Silverlake Vineyards

 

Grape Products from Silverlake Vineyards

Grape Products

At first I was surprised and slightly disappointed, yet the vineyard served as an example of how I was learning to communicate with my family. Upon reflection, and removed from the words of any text, I also gained insight into wine in its most elemental, stripped-down context: fermented grape juice.

Serendipity and the Enjoyment of Salon ‘96

Champagne + Fries = Bliss

Avid foodies, my wife and I are trying to eat our way though New York City, and on the way we have found some really interesting food and wine pairings. A recent trip to a recommended restaurant brought us the simplest—and most surprising—one yet: really good Champagne and French fries!

The night was a scattered one. As usual, we were both running a bit late from work, so we had to rush to make it to our 7:30 reservation.  We arrived at the restaurant to find that our table was not quite ready yet.  As we were fighting to get to the bar to ask for menus and a cocktail, it started to rain heavily.  I’ve been around restaurants and New York to know that this change in weather meant we’d have to wait even longer for our table.

As we waited, chatting and watching the rain fall, my wife and I also looked over the menu carefully and watched some of the food coming out of the kitchen.  We divided and conquered: my wife looked at the food menu, while I pored over the wine list.  We finished at the same time, looked up at each other and said completely different things.

She said, “I’m not sure what I’m going to order: nothing is jumping at me.”

I said, “I see something jumping at me, but it is a bit out of our price range.”

As we discussed food, I thought about that bottle a bit more, and I really began to suspect that it was grossly mispriced with the error in the consumer’s favor.  As our waiter took us to the table I did some quick math and said to my wife that I’d handle the ordering. The waiter asked if we had any questions about the menu. I held up the wine list and asked if the price next to my bottle of choice was a misprint.  He took a look and told me that the number listed was in fact the price. I was sure he was thinking that my choice, a 1996 Salon, was a lot of money. I did some more math, looked at the rain, looked at my wife, and said, “Fine, we will take the bottle.  Can we also just have an order of French fries?” The waiter said, “Of course,” and he left to get the bottle, flutes and bucket.

My wife heard the name of the wine. “Are you crazy?” she hissed as the waiter walked away.  I had anticipated her objection and calmly I explained my math. I told her the Champagne was under-priced by $200, and if we order three courses and a bottle we would end up spending the same money as this meal of fries and serendipitous Champagne.  She sat silently for a moment, and smiled. I knew I’d won.

When the wine came with the French fries, I discovered that it was one of the most divine pairings that Kathy and I have ever had—mostly because of that  bottle of Salon. I learned three things that night. The first was that 1996 Salon is one of the best Champagnes I have ever had; the second was that waiting for a table a bit too long can lead to unbelievable menu discoveries; and the third was that there is always a good pizza place on the way home if you drink, rather than eat, your restaurant budget.

Some Background Perspective on Bubbly

Experimenting with Styles

This week proved to be as hectic as I anticipated:  the holiday season is in full swing at IWM!  After a long week of work and catching up with friends, I was craving a quiet Friday night at home.  When I finally walked-in my front door, I popped a half bottle of Deutz Champagne Brut NV as I kicked-off my shoes.  Baked apple, cream and hazelnut bliss!

I love bubbles in all forms, but I particularly like the styles of the classic “grandes marques.”  Never a worry – I’m not turning away any glass of “Grower Champagne” – I just find the toasty, biscuity character typical in the grande marque wines, as well as in older Champagnes, to be my overall favorite.  I also find the perlage of the large houses to be finer, more whispy (if you will allow me that descriptor), due to longer lees ageing and colder fermentation temperatures. Grower Champagnes tend to have a youthful exuberance that lends to quaffability and that comes from having fewer stocks of older wine to blend into non-vintage wines. This does not detract from their complexity; it just gives them a different character.

For casual drinking, I find a dollop or more of Champagne’s red varieties appealing, but for maximized complexity and enchantment, I look to Blanc de Blancs.  Disclaimer:  I often find Blanc de Blancs a bit challenging without age or food, given their feisty acidity.  Rosés come in a plethora of fascinating hues, and while I generally find them less complex, I do have a clear favorite: any cuvée from Billecart-Salmon.  As for the escalating trend of low- and no-dosage wines, I am skeptical.  I often find them more interesting than enjoyable, and I have company.  Chatting at the Bubble Lounge on Thursday night, Bernie Sun (Wine Director of Jean-Georges Management) brought up Roederer’s announcement that very day that it is releasing a new Brut Nature called Ultra Brut, to be priced in the area of Roederer vintage wines.  For both of us, Champagne’s high acidity, which is further emphasized by its bubbles (CO2 creates perceived acidity – just think of how sparkling water is more refreshing than flat water), needs a little taming of residual sugar and certainly needs the accompaniment of food, regardless of the arguments made about mounting ripeness levels in the region.  Finally, there are the Champagnes that drink with the weight of pensive, still wines.  The Roger Coulon wines Sergio discovered for IWM are a fine example.  Here is a perfect example of one of those maddeningly, delightful exceptions that are all over the wine world – grower Champagne with mind-blowing complexity that shows more mature flavors from cask-aging the base wines.

This week we are offering a generous selection of bubbly, from 375ml to 15L, from non-vintage to tête de cuvee, from grandes marques and growers alike.  There’s an occasion for each, and we hope you find many so that you can experiment among the plethora of styles.

The Silver Lining of Italian Wine

Investing during a Downturn

It’s not news that the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 saw a very volatile time in the world market. But while the world seemed poised on the brink of imminent collapse, Italian wine remained a steady, even remarkable, value.  In some ways the turmoil in the global economy became an advantage for wine lovers, especially wine investors.

Part of the steady value of Italian wine stems from the principle of supply and demand: so many of the producers we champion make very limited quantities of high quality wine. Therefore, Italian wine’s sustained value is a terrific site for investing. So, even a dip in the market provides an opportunity. And that opportunity is to buy. For example, we took advantage of the market during the economic downturn and launched a wine investor club that allows clients to benefit from such dips and ultimately remain well-positioned with a sound investment in a valuable commodity. And because Italian wines provide consistent value, they form a bridge that spans the market’s vicissitudes.

I spent a lot of time on the phone through last year’s November, December, January, and February just talking to people, seeing how they were and letting them know how we were. I listened to clients and suggested that the opportunity to continue investing outweighed present risks because when the market upswings, the investments will remain sound. In times like this it’s important to be involved with a company such as IWM because we work hard to perform well in any market, difficult or otherwise.

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