The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

What Will Be In Your Glass?

Reflections on all the goodly wine to drink

Today shows another glorious morning; I can’t recall a spring time as wonderful as the one we’re enjoying this year. When I see the trees budding and the flowers blooming, I usually set new goals for myself for the months that follow. Some goals are very concrete and some are more amorphous, but I always have a very clear-cut agenda about what I’m going to drink. This year, my ambition is to taste more esoteric wines more often. I’ve officially been working as a wine professional for twenty years, and I now feel more inspired to take on new challenges than I have for years.

I have long been a fan of still Rosé in the spring and summer months. Americans are catching on to the Rosé trend, and some are even ready to make a big leap to the glorious white wines from Italy.  In regard to the whites, I must say that Pigato is a relatively new wine for me and one I have enjoyed tremendously. Before I started at IWM I’d not enjoyed Gravner, Radikon and Movia to the degree that I do now, and it has been a great pleasure introducing people to these wines. Now I wonder, what’s next?

Much of that desire to expand my wine horizons comes from being in a more secure place. Some of this has to do with the extraordinary people that I work with today. IWM has a remarkable pool of talent where we are constantly pushing each other, which has created marvelous tasting opportunities. So what does the future hold for us? We are seeing not only glorious Italian wines, but wines of consequence on a more global level.  Will we see Gruner Veltliner on an IWM offer? Is Schruebe truly the next big thing? I look forward to discovering the answers to these questions, expanding my reference point, and sharing my knowledge with our readers as we go forward.  There are so many beautiful wines being made in Italy and beyond that it will be a pleasure to communicate this journey.

Moving into summer, I look forward to new dishes on the grill with more fish and vegetables and less meat. I look forward to white wines with racy acidity and subtle fruit. I look forward to platters of shellfish and an endless glass of Sauvignon Blanc. I look forward to the wild, the wonderful and the esoteric.

And I look forward to hearing that your next few months are filled with similar delights.

See You on the Other Side

Into the beautiful blend of nature, science and art

I’m fortunate to be a wine professional, but you don’t need a Ph.D. to be able to enjoy and appreciate the fine qualities of wine.  Wine often comes with a side dish of pretension; because of this, many people have been intimidated and apprehensive about jumping into this beautiful blend of nature, science, and art.  But, really, drinking wine is pretty simple. It’s not, to employ a common metaphor, rocket science.

The fulfillment and enjoyment of drinking wine doesn’t come from being able to smell cherries, tobacco, vanilla, and other obscure scents. It doesn’t come from being able to name the varietal, estate and year in a single swirl and sip. It doesn’t come from shelling out big clumps of cash—though all of those things are nice. No, the enjoyment of wine comes from the moment, the surroundings, the context, and the company when you drink it.

Sure, for some people the ability to distinguish a wine by varietal, age, and vineyard is a cherished skill, but not being a professional doesn’t preclude your ability to enjoy wine. You can enjoy listening to music, playing soccer, looking at a painting, or watching opera without being a musician, center forward, artist or tenor—the same is true with drinking wine.  It’s not the skill of the drinker; rather, it’s the people, the culture and the events that make wine special. Without these elements, wine is only alcoholic grape juice.  The history behind the wine and the stories shared while drinking it are what bring it to life.

The greatness of my favorite and most memorable wines didn’t come because I was able to smell mushroom and taste tar; these memorable wines were great because the company was great. The memory of those people with whom I shared in the event that made the wine truly “special.”   What I am trying to say is that it doesn’t matter how good your nose is or how expensive a bottle of wine is: what’s important are the experiences and the conversations that the wine inspires. To really broaden your wine education, it’s important to try different wines, find your favorite styles, and experiment.

But it’s most important to enjoy the wine with fantastic food, family, and friends. These components make the memories that will last a lifetime.

Struck by the Beauty of a Perfect Pairing

An ah-ha moment of a young career

As both a new Junior Wine Portfolio Manager and a junior wine enthusiast, I have been extremely busy these past few weeks here at Italian Wine Merchants.  My first two weeks as a Junior PM made me a student in the most intense crash course in “Wine 101” that I ever could have imagined.  I learned about wines and their history and their production; I discovered how environmental factors influence wine; I was schooled in the art of fine dining service; and I grew to know IWM’s corporate culture.  I’m a recent Finance and International Business graduate from Villanova University, and in taking this job, I’ve found that my mind has been inundated with a lot of information in a short period of time, all of which has been challenging to absorb, but also extremely exciting to learn.

Of course, it’s not like I never drank wine in my life. I have, and more than enjoyed it, I saw it was important. However, I can’t say I “got” wine. Prior to my wine exposure at IWM, I struggled with the complimentary relationship between wine and food.  Cooking has always been one of my passions, so I can appreciate the use of wine as an essential ingredient. However, I couldn’t internalize the idea of wine as an integral component to a flawlessly prepared meal.  This changed a few weeks ago at my first formal wine tasting.

Prior to the tasting, I told myself to abandon my uncertain and somewhat cynical opinion of how wine and food interact with each other.  I had been schooled; I was primed; I was ready. But while I did my best to convince myself, my taste buds were still somewhat naïve and skeptical—until my wine epiphany.

All it took was a sip of the 2004 Ada Nada Barbaresco Cichin and a perfectly prepared taste of braised veal cheek with polenta to make me see the light.

In that white-light moment, I struggled to find the perfect words from the wine nomenclature I’d so recently been steeped in. But the only words that came to my mind were these: “Holy cow, that’s fantastic!” Just to make sure that this experience was something special, my skeptical taste buds and I went in for a second try.  My mouth savored the tender and juicy veal cheek as it softened the tannins in the Ada Nada. I focused on the spices and fruit that the red wine had to offer; I had finally been struck by the beauty of a perfect pairing.

This “ah-ha” moment has transformed my opinion on pairings and has become another driving force for my wine curiosity.  I not only find myself excited to taste wine, but also thriving on the experience I had.  I look forward to opening my senses and my mind to a world of “ah-ha” moments as I cultivate the career—and the tasting journey—that I’ve embarked on.

Wine Info on the Quick ‘n Dirty

A little information goes a long way

Sometime life doesn’t allow for long lingering journeys. Sometime life calls for quick, practical solutions. And what is true for life is often true for wine. One of my favorite sites to visit to find easy answers to wine (and food) related questions is Chow.com, a website dedicated to “food, drink, fun.”

I like my computer for pictures as much as I like it for words, and so I’m quite fond of Chow’s video offerings, though their blogs—especially The Juice, which recently ran a piece on IWM favorite Aleš Kristančič—are also really good. There is a whole video section on Chow that is devoted solely to wine, though to be honest, it’s hard to find it if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Once you’re there, however, you’ll find such fake-it-‘til-you-make-it treasures as “How to Spit Wine” and “How to Swirl Wine like a Pro.” You’ll also find little info-nibblets on subjects like Are Sulfites Really Bad for You?” and “What does a ‘Good Year’ Mean for Wine?”

The good things about these videos are in their very quick ‘n dirty natures. Few are longer than a minute; all feature wine experts like Robert Camuto, author of Screwed, and Matt Skinner, author of Heard It through the Grapevine; and all enjoy a refreshing pragmatism. It’s true that much of their subject matter will be beneath many of IWM’s cognoscenti and that if you watch more than a couple in a row the vocoder “chow tips” that heralds each segment will make you stabby, but you can’t argue with fast, clean, and nicely produced video morsels. Plus, while the site is sponsored by CBS, there’s very little advertising. You kind of have to love that.

Now if only they’d give me a sure-fire way to get those red wine stains out of my white linen pants, I’d be golden.

A Wine Lover’s Guide to Recycling

Wine trash turned eclectic art pieces

Wine is a delightful and mysterious liquid, and sharing it is one of the oldest traditions of humankind.  Wine is so magical that it seems to have a life of its own. Those who cultivate the vines and those who make the wines are like ring-bearers; they hold a mystical position and we drinkers wonder how lucky they are to do what they do and know what they know.

And yet, despite all of wine’s mystery, there’s still a trick to marketing it. These days beauty, style, and status are so important to consumers, elevating wine labels to a subset of art. Let’s face it: many people buy wine based on the label itself. Wine labels are so pretty that lots of people enjoy steaming the labels off the bottles and collecting them. Others collect the used bottles themselves and make them into new pieces of art.  This kind of wine-bottle crafting is starting to become popular. Therefore, many wine estates focus on the beauty of their wine bottles, labels and corks, giving birth to a new DIY craft industry.

More and more news articles and sites are arising with fun ideas on how to reuse wine materials. Titles like “How to Use Wine Labels as Art,” and “Wining, Dining and Creating Fun with Wine Corks” abound on the web. Some of the more interesting sites I have found have a green movement, recyclable feel.  One company called Green Wine Bottles creates tea-light lamps out of old Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne bottles.  They are also approved by Green America, so buying from them is a great way to recycle and find an interesting art piece at the same time.

Another addition to the Green Movement, and my favorite web find of all, is a small company called “The Flat Bottle Co.” They keep their process a secret, and they somehow figured out how to flatten bottles and to retain their colors and labels perfectly.  The company makes wine bottles into cheeseboards, clocks, spoon rests, candle holders, and dishes—you name it.

I have always been a fan of wine, and these interesting and creative ideas on how to reuse and recycle wine materials in this way excite me even more when purchasing each new bottle. Now I feel like I’m not just buying a wondrous beverage—I’m also making an investment in art.

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