The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Being There

how portfolio managers help make special occasions extraordinary

I am a Portfolio Manager at Italian Wine Merchants. I’m sure many of you wonder what exactly that means. To put it in simple terms, we are “consultants” who live and work to help our clients with their wine goals. Whether we’re helping people figure out what wine they should drink that night, or what wine they should buy and save for the next twenty years, we’re all here to share our knowledge and expertise.  But more than that, we’re kind of the fairy Godmothers of our clients’ wine worlds.

Often, we get pretty close with our clients—after all, we virtually live in their cellars. For example, I had one of my clients call me the other day to ask for my help choosing a wine for a big date that he had planned. With him on the phone, I went to the restaurant’s website and took a look at the wine list and walked him through it. It was an Italian restaurant, so the wine list was broken up by region, and we went through and I pointed out certain wines that I recommended with some talking points. I told him which ones were good values and what kind of food they would complement. This way he could choose the wine that best matched what they were both eating, feel confident in his decision, and impress his date.

I also had a lot of fun helping a client who was looking for wines from 2006, his son’s birth year. He wanted to find wines that would age long enough to open up and celebrate on his son’s 21st birthday. We ended up choosing a mixed case of several different bottles so that they could open up some the year of his son’s birth, and others after his birthday passed. It was such an honor to help pick these selections out because I knew how much it meant to the client and how much trust he had in me. I hope that in 17 years they will enjoy the wines to the fullest.

These are just some of the ways that I help my clients throughout the day. My work really takes the shape of my clients’ needs. That’s what keeps it interesting and personal; I get to know people on a deep level and understand what wine means to them. And I get to go home happy that on some invisible level, I’m there with my clients, sharing in their best memories.

Just the Desserts

on finding wine to match your candy corn

One of the benefits from working in our showroom floor is the opportunity to directly work with people and talk about wine. The interaction is not quite the same when you’re in the office or on the phone, conceptualizing a bottle. I feel I can explain the differences and merits of a traditional Mascarello Bartolo 2005 Barolo vs. a modern Super Tuscan Gaja Ca’Marcada 2008 Promis better when I can grip both bottles in each palm and wave them about. All eccentric behavior aside, I believe that wine is best discovered when two people come face-to-face and talk.

Perhaps, this is why I am looking forward to October 30th when I’ll host an event that will bring people face-to-face, or perhaps mask-to-mask (what with the Halloween weekend), in a tasting of dessert wines and distillates. The event will be called “After Ate,” and it marks both my first Halloween in NYC and my first tasting with Italian Wine Merchants.

Although I won’t be adorned in a costume, I’m dishing out plenty of treats, and only humorous tricks. For example, I’m looking forward to giving a combination of chocolate cake, a sweet biscotti and a taste of lush, fruity Brachetto d’Acqui. I’ve found that often aperitifs and dessert wines don’t get their just desserts—and that’s just a tragedy. Some of my most seductive wine and food experiences have come from the sensual combinations of creams, fruits, and sweet liquor.

It being Halloween, I’ve also got a couple tricks up my sleeve: a premium citrus and a barrique aged Grappa to keep you from feeling too delicate. Polio Grappa, again, underappreciated, is always a humorous experience for me. Its overblown pungency reminds me of late night laughter and good humor. Appreciated best in moderation, I believe we should take a second look at both these grand-finales and reacquaint ourselves with the pleasures of what is to follow “after ate.”

Dispatches from Hong Kong

chatting with Chef Harlan Goldstein

Harlan Goldstein

Entrepreneur and “chef to the rich and famous.” Harlan Goldstein is one of Hong Kong’s most famous culinary celebrities. With a string of successful restaurants and a larger than life attitude that springs from his roots in New York’s Lower East Side, Harlan Goldstein has become a Hong Kong personality as well as a chef.

Harlan’s newest restaurant, GOLD by Harlan Goldstein, is due to open in November.

What most excites you most about opening your new restaurant GOLD?

I’ve laid low for the last 2.5 years and have found a perfect location including an al fresco terrace.  The new venue is more in line with my personality as a restaurateur.  In particular, it’s a re-branding opportunity for me.

In eighteen years in Hong Kong, what are the biggest lessons you’ve learned?

Serve quality, recognize your customers, take care of your staff and stay consistent in what you do.

How has HK’s wine-and-dine scene changed since you opened your last restaurant, Tuscany by H, five years ago?

Once the import tax on wine was removed, restaurateurs were then able to sell wines at a fair price and increase turnover of their wines.  The incredibly high number of wine suppliers has helped make this possible for us.

How does your understanding of Hong Kong taste influence your menu?

I’ve learned to stay away from flavors that are too strong, like over-reduced sauces that may seem salty to local palates.  I can capture a bigger audience by using natural, clean and unique products from excellent sources and emphasize their freshness.

What would your last meal be?

Thai minced chicken salad with lettuce leaves with a local Singha beer from Thailand.

Go-To-Wine Tuesday

2008 Girlan Sauvignon

Go-To-Wine Tuesday: 2008 Girlan Sauvignon

One day late, another installment of our value wine series, “Go-To-Wine Tuesday.” Today’s selection is a  Sauvignon Blanc by Girlan.

If I were to describe myself in one word, I would say that I am an “organoleptophile.” I am absolutely fascinated by aromas, flavors, textures, sights and sounds; this is probably the reason why I got involved in wine.  Long before I discovered my passion for wine, I was deeply passionate about food, and still to this day I look for excuses to pair the two together because of the sensory adventure behind every sip and bite.

The wine featured today is the 2008 Girlan Sauvignon  “Indra” from Trentino Alto-Adige.   Believe it or not Sauvignon Blanc is actually one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon, the other parent being Cabernet Franc.    If you taste wines made from these varieties, you will notice some revealing characteristics; they all tend to throw greenish, bell-peppery, and herbal aromas that come from a chemical class called methoxy pyrazines.  These aromas were definitely apparent in the Girlan Sauvignon.  Superbly aromatic displaying aromas and flavors of elderflower and ripe grapefruit, this Sauvignon is ripe on the palate, full and very fresh; it’s a beautiful example of Italian Sauvignon. And at under $18, it’s an undisputable value.

Now for the fun part.  Tangy, creamy goat cheese is a perfect match for a zippy Sauvignon.  The fresh acidity in the Sauvignon complements the tangy goat cheese and does a nice job of cleansing the palate.  I picked up a couple of logs of goat cheese at the Union Square Green Market from a cheese place called Lynnhaven Goat Milk Cheese.   They have a wonderful assortment of cheese, yogurt and a true passion for what they do.

When I got home, I made a simple preparation.  I took some endive leaves, spread the herbed goat cheese, and topped it up with some minced pieces of fried pancetta to create a beautiful little canapé that would meld seamlessly with this Sauvignon.  The endive added a little crunch and pleasant bitterness to the goat cheese, and the pancetta contributed some salty, meaty and fatty flavors.  The aromatics of the herbed cheese were perfectly in balance with the aromatic Sauvignon. The wine had enough body to stand up to the pancetta, while the acid contrasted the creaminess and cleaned the palate in preparation for the next bite.  Pair with friends and family and you’ve got yourself an organoleptic experience that is inexpensive, delicious and well remembered.

Previous Go-to-WinesCastello Fageto’s 2008 Rosso Piceno

photo credits: photo 1, photo 2,

A View from a Tasting

France vs. Italy

This past Saturday we had a terrific tasting event at our Studio del Gusto: France vs. Italy. Since as far back as I can remember, these two countries have been forced to measure up in almost everything—empire, architecture, art, fashion, soccer and, of course, food and wine.

On Saturday, wine was clearly the competition at hand. However, because it wouldn’t be fair to designate a winner from such a small selection of wine, what we experienced on Saturday was less a contest than it was a study. We paired up a French wine with an Italian wine for a total of four pairs, or eight wines. I then helped our guests compare each French and Italian wine to each other. What follows are my notes from last Saturday’s tasting.

Fantinel NV Prosecco Brut Extra Dry vs. Bereche NV Brut Reserve

Although the Bereche is a lovely NV Champagne with good acidity, the genteel simplicity of the Fantinel took the lead (by a single vote) as an ideal wine for aperitivo and desserts. However, I have to be honest here and acknowledge that I’ve had many exceptional Italian sparklers, and the world of sparkling wines unquestionably belongs to the French.

Aldo Conterno 2006 Chardonnay Bussiador vs Domaine Latour Giraud 2006 Mersault Les Narvaux

Aldo’s Chardonnay is a wonderful representation of the grape, and our guests chose it for its elegant oak, notes of vanilla and soft minerality, but the preferred wine here was the smooth Meursault by Giraud, an outstanding white burgundy with a delicate bouquet and a lighter body than the Bussiador.

Canalicchio-Franco Pacenti 2004 Brunello di Montalcino vs. Chateau Haut Bages 2004


This was a tough choice for many because the wines were not identical. However, our guests had fun comparing the legendary Bordeaux to the legendary Brunello. This particular Brunello happens to have a slightly lighter body than most, yet it still maintains its rich flavors. The Haut Bages, a 5th growth Bordeaux, was a smooth and easy drinking wine that’s ideal for everyday. There was some debate, but the Brunello was the preferred wine here. We should keep in mind that we’re talking about a 5th growth Bordeaux and not let the victory go to our head.

Giacomo Conterno 2005 Barolo Cascina Francia vs. Domaine de Montille 2005 Volnay Le Mitans 1er Cru

The Gran Finale! There was no instant decision on these two incredible wines. Given that both wines could use a few more years, I was sure to give enough the air so that we could enjoy the fruit, silkiness and elegance of both of these wines. Being a huge Conterno fan, I hoped that the group would lean toward that, but it was an even split. Both of these beauties were superb!

Ultimately, it was an even game, which makes sense because the real winners of the tasting were the tasters themselves. When the wine—and the company—are good, there are no losers, only a big pile of win.

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