The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Where Your Wine Comes From

a trip down the rabbit hole

Although I’ve worked for IWM for almost three years, most of that time as a freelancer and more recently full-time, I had never visited the cellar. I just knew that my wine magically arrived in the dumbwaiter, and I sort of enjoyed imagining a Keebler wonderland of wine lurked below the wide planks of the wood floors. Last Wednesday, I decided to rip off the veil of comforting fiction and  descend into the cellar to find out exactly how my beloved bottles of Movia and Masterberardino got into my hot hands.

This picture shows your hypothetical bottle of Barolo. You want to buy it because it does look lovely on the shelf and you know it’ll be tasty; however, you don’t get this actual bottle of Barolo. Yours comes from the cellar, and your IWM Sales Associate sends the order downstairs, where it is received by one of several workers.
The workers downstairs in the cellar work really hard.  They don’t just fetch your bottle of wine (and mine); they also catalog, unpack, pack up, organize and otherwise keep the warren of the cellar in manageable order. It’s tight and cold in the cellar.  Shelves are crammed with bottles, making the space seem smaller than it is. The fans are loud and there are many, many boxes.

The boxes are, frankly, drool inspiring. I always get a scary acquisitive itch in my palms when I go to book stores.  Walking into the IWM cellar was the first time I got that feeling with wine. However, if you look at this picture of Gaja and Sassicaia crates and don’t feel lust in your heart, you’re probably reading the wrong blog.

Likewise if this picture of shelves of Dal Forno don’t make you feel a bit like snatching and running. I’m glad I’m a moral person, but I can’t say that the sight of so many astounding bottles of wine didn’t tempt me to turn my back on my morals.

My very favorite part of the IWM cellar–other than the proximity of that much wine–is the link between the cellar and the store: the dumbwaiter. I think there’s a childlike wonder inherent to dumbwaiters, a kind of now-you-don’t-see it/now-you-do household prestidigitation. I also love that the IWM dumbwaiter is crafted from an Ornellaia box. It’s perfect that wine arrives in the casing of one of the most enchanting Super-Tuscans.I like looking down the shaft of the dumbwaiter and seeing the wine and the workers. It’s not quite seeing the White Rabbit or the Keebler elves, but it’s magical all the same.

Notes from Hong Kong

a chat and some wine with expat Danilo Nicoletti

Editor’s note: We’ll be featuring conversations with the wine wheelers, dealers, movers, makers and shakers both here in the US and abroad. Today, we’re lucky to have Josh Rubenstein from IWM HK sit in conversation with one of Hong Kong dining’s most influential Italians, Danilo Nicoletti.

Danilo Nicoletti, General Manager of 8 1/2 (Otto e Mezzo) photo courtesy of:

Danilo Nicoletti is General Manager of 8 1/2 (Otto e Mezzo, one of Hong Kong’s premier Italian restaurants.  Originally from Ventimiglia in Liguria, Italy, Danilo’s prior engagements at Domani and Ritz Carlton’s Toscana have made him an institution in Hong Kong fine dining. Moreover, Danilo has been instrumental in bringing wines from iconic Italian producers like Radikon, Gravner and Bea to his wine list. Danilo is without a doubt a leader in the HK Italian wine community.

What turned you on to a career in food and wine?

My father and uncle ran a small family restaurant in Ventimiglia, so it has always been a part of my life.  I attended school for maitre d’ training and service management, which also helped me to learn English and French.

What do you love about your job?

I love the opportunity to “change the weather.”  We can always manipulate our space and offerings so that every experience at 8 1/2 is a new and memorable experience.  It can be a new dish, artisan wine or serve—or we may add new art to the décor.  I love being on the scene every day

What to your thinking makes a wine program great?

It’s like making a great salad.  You always need your greens and can add interesting varieties of tomatoes and unique surprises like papaya.  Having the right selection in the best price points—for me it’s $600 – $1500 HKD ($75 – $200 USD)—will make the program most attractive.

How would you describe the Hong Kong wine scene to readers abroad?

Hong Kong is the door of Asia and it has taught me to have an open mind.  We have food and wine choices without constraint.  When I began in HK, my vision as a GM had to change from selling only food and wine.  I see how we have to find other sources, like ambiance, service, furnishings and artwork to wow our guests.  In HK it’s very important particularly, for many guests prefer to bring their own wines to restaurants.

What’s your ultimate food and wine pairing?

I have a French culinary background, so simple fresh bread, beef Bourgogne and Burgundy is best for me.  I recently have been enjoying Domaine de la Vougeraie.  If I go white, I will favor something Italian, like a Ribolla from Friuli’s Collio region.  Radikon is a personal favorite.

What advice would you offer for someone considering a career similar to yours?

Do it with heart and common sense.  You cannot learn passion.  Be friendly to everyone, and on Sundays be sure you’re wearing tee shirt, shorts and sandals to relax

Wine Bottles

the glass slippers of the wine world

Wine bottles come in all sorts of sizes and shapes, and often those shapes and sizes aren’t random.  Rather, the shape of the bottle usually communicates the region of the wine and the grape varieties used, something that’s particularly true about French wine.  All bottles have three parts: the neck, shoulder and punt.  The neck probably doesn’t need an explanation; the shoulders are the part below the neck; and the punt is the bottom underside of the bottle.

This is one of the most common bottle shapes, the “Bordeaux” style, which is also used a lot in America and in Italy. In Bordeaux, France, these bottles denote the use of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec, though white wines made from Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle also employ this shape.  Bordeaux wines are usually long-lived, which is why the shape came into being. After long periods of cellaring, these wines produce a lot of sediment.  The steepness and height of the shoulders help to catch the sediment when the wine is poured, and the flat sides also allow the wines to stack and cellar comfortably.

This shape with a slightly wider base, sturdier frame, and gently sloping shoulders hails from Burgundy.  Bottles like this are filled with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  This bottle shape doesn’t have sharp edges, so it looks graceful and seems to have a feminine quality.  Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines are very elegant and round, yet can still deliver a full body and an intense depth of flavor, making them a great match for this bottle. It’s almost as if the bottle personifies the wine within.

This bottle is easily recognizable as being for Champagne and other classic method sparklers.  The punt has a concave base at the bottom of the bottle.   The pressure in Champagne bottles is between 70 and 90 pounds per square inch—about 2-3 times the pressure in your car’s tires and about equal to the pressure in the tires of a double-decker bus! Therefore, Champagne bottles use the thickest glass and have the largest punts.  The punt adds much needed strength to the bottle, which is also why some bottles have bigger punts than others.  This picture also shows the range of sizes for Champagne and other wine bottles.  The second one from the left is the standard .750mL.

The last classic example of a wine bottle shape comes from Alsace, France and parts of Germany and Austria. There is a wide variety of wines that use this bottle, and all of them are white, though they can range from totally dry to totally sweet. Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer (GWT), Muscat, and Pinot Blanc are some of the common varieties found in this bottle.  This somewhat sexier shape is longer with almost flat shoulders and a smaller punt.  This shape reminds me of a tall girl with gentle curves and an essence of classiness.

Probably one of the most interestingly shaped bottles is the Bocksbeutel from Franconi, Germany.  This almost resembles a Cognac bottle, and this unusual shape was developed in order to keep bottles from rolling around during field work.  “Beutel” in German means “container,” and the name comes from a sack used to carry books.  Apparently, the shape of the bottle resembles a goat’s southerly region, take from that what you will.  To each his, her or a goatherd’s own—wine bottles, almost as much as the wine they hold, are a matter of taste.

Photo Credits: Pic 3, Pic 4, pic 5

Go-To Wine Tuesday

enjoying the unexpected

Every Tuesday, we’ll be highlighting a value-conscious wine from IWM’s recent releases. Uncomplicated, enjoyable, and good for everyday drinking, Today’s pick is Castello Fageto’s 2008 Rosso Piceno.

Last night, after spending a glorious holiday weekend relaxing under abundant sun and cloudless blue skies with friends and family, I felt a sudden change. The Brooklyn sky turned an odd shade of gray-green, streaked with lightning, and marble-sized hail began to pelt against my window. As the storm passed, I climbed out onto my fire escape to stand and watch a river of ice flowing down the streets of Park Slope.  Weather phenomenon never ceases to amaze me.

I like to be surprised, to be caught off-guard, and to be reminded of nature’s ability to defy expectation. I like it in weather, and I like it in wine. One case in point is Castello Fageto’s 2008 Rosso Piceno that bursts from the bottle much like hail from the sky—or the sunshine that comes after.  The 50/50 Sangiovese-Montepulciano blend is a bright red, firmly structured wine with soft but noticeable tannins and jaunty acidity.  Best of all, at $16.70, it’s a bargain wine for everyday drinking that will surprise you, unless of course, you already expect the unexpected.

Le Marche’s Castello Fageto is nestled between the counties of Campofilone and Pedaso along the Adriatic Sea. Respect for the land is an essential part of the estate’s family values, and in the winery business, they are primary objectives. The use of friendly agricultural methods and alternative energy sources (the winery is self sufficient in its energy needs through solar power) guarantee the quality of the product as well as the preservation of the environment.  Equal care and attention is paid to the work that follows both during harvest and again in the winery where the Di Ruscio family works together with winemaker Pierluigi Lorenzetti.

Value wines can be surprising—in a good way. Color me pleasantly surprised by this one.

The Return of the Spaghetti Western

a glance at the spaghetti taco fad

Weird food is fun. This is a truism that all kids know instinctively, and yet most adults—at least those who are not immersed in molecular gastronomy and the magical work of Ferran Adrià, Grant Achatz, Heston Blumenthal and the like—seem to forget. Enter, then, the spaghetti taco.

First created over three years ago on the Nickelodeon show iCarly, only recently have spaghetti tacos hit the collective cultural consciousness, and they seem to have done so with a Renaissance-like zeitgeist. In the past week or so, I’ve noticed the term “spaghetti taco” trending on Twitter and popping up like meerkats on Facebook. Spaghetti tacos were everywhere I was, however virtually, and being a fan of the cultural trend and the strange food item, I admit my curiosity was piqued.

A quick Google search, and I discovered that according to the New York Times, in fact, a spaghetti taco is exactly what it sounds like: spaghetti, sauce, and whatever extras you fancy wrapped in the tortilla of your choice. (Most aficionados seem to tend to the crunchy corn.) While the dish is mostly favored by the tween-and-under set, it looks as if adults are jumping on the It-Mex bandwagon too. Restauranteur Joe Bastianich added his four-stars and two cents by telling Grub Street that he’d do “branzino tacos with arugula salad and Tuscan olive oil and avocados and soft corn tortillas.” Which I admit sounds delish.

And that all leads to the question of what wine you’d serve with your spaghetti taco. Karlsson Banks, IWM PR Guru, would go with a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Steven Smith II, a purist and IWM’s Director of Digital Marketing, says a Fontodi Chianti Classico or a nice Sierra Nevada. Our Kathy Rushforth suggests the Domenico Clerico Arte Langhe, while her pal Maya likes a Negro Modelo tallboy or the Bruno Giacosa Dolcetto d’Alba. Any of the above sound delightful to me, and all would make a meal with kids go down a lot more smoothly.

What about you? Have you hit the spaghetti taco trend yet? And if so, what personal twists have you put on this not-just-for-kids food?

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