The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Bubblies Save the Day, or at Least the Eve

winning one party-pooper over with the power of sparkling wine

If there is an equivalent to the Grinch for New Year’s Eve, I am she.  I never understand why anyone would want to pay double at clubs and restaurants to celebrate the beginning of a “new” year.  Time being relative, thinking that there is a “new” year is a concept that I find quite hysterical.  I also fail to comprehend how thousands of people think it’s a magical idea to stand in the middle of Times Square for twelve hours plus, usually in freezing temperatures, with no access to bathrooms and much threat of being squished to near suffocation.

There is, however, one very wonderful aspect to this holiday.  So wonderful, in fact, that it makes all of the drudgery of New Year’s traditions worth it.  And that wonderful thing would be sparkling wine.  Champagne often claims the primary place as the drink of festivity, mostly due to great marketing during the Industrial Revolution.  But in addition to Champagne, we can enjoy sparkling wine from other parts of the world.  Cava is a favorite of mine from Spain.  I also truly enjoy the fresh, fruit-forward yet citrusy aspects of Italy’s Prosecco.  Being totally enamored with Riesling, I am overjoyed to see this grape being produced in Lombardia in a frizzante style, and I absolutely love the avant-garde creation Frecciarossa 2008 Riesling Frizzante Nai.  Another wonderful Italian sparkling for the season would be the Bruno Giacosa 2004 Spumante Brut, made from Pinot Noir and  vinified in the méthode champenoise technique, which makes it similar to Champagne with the second fermentation in the bottle. (Click here for IWM’s full list of Champagnes, Proseccos and other sparklers.)

I realize my opinions on New Year’s Eve are rather harsh. Maybe I need to travel and spend New Year’s in other countries to experience the same holiday with some different cultural traditions.  But I do know, no matter where I go to celebrate, there will always be bubbly! And for that, I’m delighted. Sparkling, even.

Go-To-Wine Tuesday

Aldo Conterno Barbera d’Alba Conca Tre Pile 2007

On a day like this when the wind howls at my window and the snow piles up at my doorstep, I yearn for my favorite wintry drinks: Port, Amarone, even a hot toddy. To be perfectly honest, I would not normally choose a Barbera for drinking in December; if I were given a choice, I would probably decide on a heavier wine with more tannic structure, like a Bordeaux or Cote-Rotie. But this particular Barbera is Aldo Conterno’s 2007 Barbera d’Alba Conca Tre Pile (Editor’s note: that link is to the 2006 because the ’07 is yet to be put on our website). This is Barbera from a Piemonte master. Today, even in the midst of the snowpocalypse, I am only too happy to be drinking Barbera

I became a loyal fan of Poderi Aldo Conterno when I first joined IWM back in 2007. My first taste of the 2000 Barolo Granbussia Riserva was certainly an unforgettable experience; however, at $250 a bottle, it is not an experience that I can regularly repeat. But the Conca Tre Pile at less than $40 falls solidly under the category of “affordable luxury” for many people. My first impression of this wine was that it was a bit closed. (Although to be fair, none of the glasses in my apartment allow for proper swirling!) The nose, while very pretty, was not really jumping out of the glass, so I set it aside for a while and got to work on making dinner. After all, what is a good wine without good food to complement it?

An hour later, I sat down with a steaming plate of my improvised version of bucatini all’amatriciana and returned to my wine glass. The nose was much more aromatic and pronounced now, showing lots of dark, almost prune-like fruit. In fact, the fruit showed a much darker character than I would have expected from a Barbera. On the palate, the wine expressed its typical vibrant acidity along with a slight earthy undertone, pairing well with the smoky and tangy tomato sauce and making my mouth water for another bite of pasta with every sip. On the finish, this Barbera was uncommonly tannic; this is mostly due to its aging in barrique for twelve months, but the tannins were undoubtedly magnified by the heat from the crushed chilies in my pasta sauce.

At the end of the meal, my plate was cleaned and my cup drained, and I’d had a wholly satisfying experience. The 2007 Conca Tre Pile, while not an overly complex or thought-provoking wine, is a welcome addition a simple meal–whatever the season.

Making Old Man Winter Smile

good food and fine wine will tame the harshest weather

Old man winter has once again reared his currently white and fluffy (but soon to be grey and slushy) head.  If you’re like me, you’re probably stuck in a house contemplating what to do, what to eat and, of course, what to drink.

Don’t despair–this is a great opportunity to raid the pantry and engage in some leftover cooking.  One of my favorite leftover dishes to create is a beautiful seafood linguini.  I like to take all of the leftover lobster tails, claws, shrimp, crab and make a very tasty sauce.

First, I remove all the shells and extract the succulent meat and fry this up with garlic and oil.  Once I get some nice aromas and some good juices flowing, I dump in a can of whole tomatoes and cook until everything is nicely integrated.  Of course, I add salt and pepper to taste, and a touch of red flakes to give it a zingy personality.  Right before serving, I like to add some fresh parsley and drizzle a little  high quality olive oil to bring everything together.

For a dish like this, I shoot for a white wine pairing. Anything from Sicily or Campania would work nicely. I’d probably reach for the COS Rami, or De Conciliis’s Greco di Tufo.

Not only does this type of weather warrant impromptu cooking, but it also prompts some impromptu drinking. And this, my friends, is Amarone season.  A warm, full-bodied and luscious style of wine is the perfect medicine in these frigid, icy and windy conditions.  Stoke that burning log in the fireplace, pour yourself a glass of Amarone, and you’ll begin to thank the current weather conditions rather than denegrate them.

If you happen have some Quintarelli around, now is time to pop the cork on that special bottle.  For example, the 1999 Rosso del Bepi is singing right now. Not as dense and concentrated as the 2000 Amarone, the 1999 will provide a very elegant and pretty expression of the style.  Since Amarone is an intensely flavored and textured wine, you’re going to need an equally intense food.  Look to pair this wine some stronger cheese like aged Parmigiano and some Gorgonzola drizzled with a little bit of honey or some fig mostarda (jam) to kind of round off the flavors.

If you’re like my family and cook a prime rib on Christmas day, you should have nice slabs of succulent meat left over.  I like to make a nice beef stew with the leftover meat, potatoes, etc and eat this with some Amarone.  Either way, if you’re busting out some Amarone, you’re sure to have a good time—no matter what the blizzard may bring.

Make One Dad Happy

On picking a bottle of wine for a very special man

The holidays are an especially busy time at IWM.  The phones are constantly ringing, holiday cards are being written, and wine is shipping out across the country.  As the eve of Christmas Eve approaches and the sound of ringing lessens, I am forced with the realization that I have not done the most important thing.

I have not chosen a bottle of wine for my father.

My father is a man of great respect; he is quiet, distinguished, and yet humble.  I want to give him something that he would never purchase on his own accord.  I have no doubt that a large format bottle will do the trick!  The question now becomes, which one?

After looking through our inventory, I have come upon two solid choices.  The first wine being the Giacomo Conterno Barbera Cascina Francia 2008 and the second is the Quintarelli Rosso Ca del Merlo 2001.  Both wines are dramatic, bold, and sophisticated.  However, I want to choose the one that best reflects his personality.  Like my father I want the wine to exude a sense of humbleness and of refined finesse.

There is no arguing that Quintarelli is a true gem.  The large format bottle only exemplifies this aspect.  It exudes notes of deep fruit and oak and exhibits rich, velvety tannins.   The Giacomo Conterno Barbera, on the other hand, is subtle and silky and has hints of licorice, tar, deep fruit, and smoke.

I am very much tempted to choose the Quintarelli, but this is a gift for my father and there is no better wine to express his personality than the subtle but distinguished Giacomo Conterno Barbera.  Sometimes it is better to choose a wine that reflects the gift-givee, and not the gift-giver, regardless of how much the gift-giver loves Quintarelli.

Go-To-Wine Tuesday (Forgive Us, Wednesday)

Le Pupille’s Morellino di Scansano

So there’s no question that Le Pupille’s Morellino di Scansano 2007 is value wine at $12.00. That said, it’s a value wine that would benefit from cellaring (at least three years) or some serious decanting.

My good friend Arthur and I enjoyed this wine several nights ago. We opened the bottle merely to assess it, but we soon found that we needed food to do it properly. The wine displayed a rustic quality and an overly assertive herbal quality. The wine was initially tight on opening but offered hints of dark fruits, bitter green vegetal notes and a noticeable saline quality. It was, let’s face it, a little off-putting.

However, a day after opening, the wine’s flavors seemed to have integrated. The “green” aspects had retreated (although they hadn’t entirely disappeared). The generic dark fruit flavors that were in the background upon opening had blessedly moved to the front. In fact, these flavors had become focused and emerged from dark fruit into cherry flavors, which is common in wines from Maremma. The wine initially had this strange saline aspect—something you see a lot more often in white than red—but it too had retreated, accenting the wine’s cherry flavors.

They say that you only have one chance to give a first impression, but Le Pupille’s Morellino di Scansano redeemed itself after a rather unpleasant first taste. It’s a pretty, charming wine, served best on a second day, definitely with food, maybe with yummy leftover Christmas ham.

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