The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Pairings for a Healthy–but Happy–New Year

There’s no need to sacrifice the yumminess for healthiness

January is a month of renewal and rejuvenation.  We start to remember that  our health needs more constant attention and bodies need to move more often.  But how to make our quest for health jibe with our wine and foodie obsessions? Is there a way to combine decadent, gourmet foods and wine with a nutritional lifestyle? I like to think that I can take on the challenge of a foodie-health lifestyle and I have some wonderful pairings to prove it!

Here’s one dish I really like to make, a Winter Squash Risotto with Radicchio. Combining winter squash and risotto is a splendid, savory delight.  The natural sweetness of winter squash paired with the slightly bitter flavors of the radicchio make for a wonderful, warm dish for the season.  And at only 333 calories, this as an officially health-conscious dish.  Squash works beautifully with dry Riesling, specifically Frecciarossa’s 2008 Riesling Gli Orti.  Also, Champagne is never a poor choice for this celebratory dish.  I recommend Roger Coulon’s 2002 Brut Blanc de Noirs. It’s so crisp and delicious.

Milk-Fed Veal Chop Wrapped in Young Leeks is another homey, yet elegant healthy dish that I love making after the holiday season.  Although the recipe calls for crème fraîche, you can replace it with nonfat or low fat Greek yogurt. Veal is a perfect pairing for the Nebbiolo grape, and my best bets for pairing this dish would be the Cantalupo 2004 Ghemme and the Ada Nada 2000 Barbaresco Valeirano.

Another course I wouldn’t dream of going without would be dessert.  A light, healthy option I love would be Crème-Caramel Flan, and this one has less than 200 calories, paired with the Querciabella 1990 Orlando di Vin Santo Vin Santo.  This silky, light flan and its caramel richness is the perfect, complementary pairing for notes of dried apricot, candied orange and hazelnuts Querciabella’s dolce wine contains.   This is the last vintage of this particular Vin Santo, so be sure to pick one up before they are gone forever!

Hope–and enjoyment of food alongside a healthy lifestyle–isn’t lost.  We can always tweak ingredients and cut portions to make up for the treats and holidays throughout the year.  It’s a relief to remember that wine is the most calorie-friendly alcoholic beverage and contains cancer-fighting  antioxidants.  Go wine! In moderation!

The Freedom to Explore

A meditation on Super-Tuscan wines

There is a lot of talk at IWM about  Super Tuscans. As a wine lover and now a wine seller, I find the movement to be particularly inspiring. This is not because I view the class of wine to be the best in all of Italy, but rather because I like how the individual merit of a Super Tuscan lies in its winemaker’s intimate knowledge about his or her estate.

The relationship between Super-Tuscan winemakers and their wines reminds me of the relationship great Jazz pianists have with their instrument. Instead of remaining in a classical measure of set rhythm and tone, Jazz pianists are able to explore the nuances of their particular musical philosophy. I see the winemakers of Super Tuscans as similar. Rather than remaining in the confines of a traditional formula, Super-Tuscan winemakers embrace their own philosophy and listen to the particulars of their land. And it’s this freestyle play that makes the Super-Tuscan winemaker to be so inspiring; their inventive approach leaves you with a wine that is expressively Italian, but with a style all its own.

For the past month I have been working out of our Aspen, Colorado showroom. Although a more contemporary  space than our Old World display in New York, our Aspen operation boasts a very respectable display of Super-Tuscan wines. On our cellar racks sit two of my favorites magnums side by side. The first is the great Sassicaia – the first Super Tuscan – and the second is Castello dei Rampolla’s Sammarco, which we’re focussing on in our e-letter offer this week.

This Bordeaux-style wine began in 1980 under the direction of Aleco di Napoli, a well respected viticulturalist of Panzano Chianti–and it was entirely inspired by the creation of Sassicaia. Prior to the release of Sassicaia, Aleco had exclusively worked as a grape grower and was content with selling his plots of grapes to the neighboring Antinori Family. However, the release of Sassiciaca struck a chord in Aleco’s mind, and he began to see the future potential Cabernet Sauvignon could experience in Chianti. Although receiving harsh criticism for his views, Aleco used his intuition to direct his efforts. To our benefit, the result is his wine Sammarco, the original biodynamically crafted Super Tuscan. Measured in the same breath as the “aia” trio as Sassicaia, Ornellaia and Solaia, Sammarco remains one of the top Super Tuscans in nearly every vintage. Expect it to deliver full Cabernet power and a cellaring life of up to twenty years. And expect that when you do open it, the wine in the glass  will be music to your mouth.

Go-To-Wine Tuesday

La Roncaia 2008 Eclisse

Just as an eclipse offers a change of perspective over a small span of time, so does the La Roncaia 2008 Eclisse. (Eclisse means eclipse in English. And here’s a link to the wine.) Over the weekend this zesty white that is dominated by the familiar Sauvignon Blanc speckled with the rare Friulian blond Picolit completely upended my recent white wine drinking.

I drink rich whites this time of year (granted, many of these wines have lighter styles, but they tend to be rich). I tend to gravitate towards Chardonnay, Grüner Veltliner, Rioja Blanco, viscous Alsatian and Austrian bottlings, and any troop or solo crafted from Rhône varieties. While the 2008 Eclisse did envelope my palate in a moderately viscous texture, its feisty acidity and medium alcohol worked their tricks to make the wine seem sprightlier than it is.

Then there were the emphatic aromas of Sauvignon Blanc – gooseberry above all – twisted by strongly unique aromas of honeysuckle, tangerine, grapefuit peel, galangal and sage. This decadent profusion of smells called for a change in cuisine, too. Thai and Indian raced to mind, yet the Eclisse exhibited a bracingly bitter finish that didn’t strike me as a complement to these spicy cuisines. (Tannin and alcohol can exaggerate spiciness).  This lightly tannic finish is typical of most Italian whites, and it called for some substantial food. One of my favorite cookbooks, A World in My Kitchen by Peter Gordon, provided the solution. Dubbed “Europe’s Father of Fusion Cuisine,” Peter employs a playful use of exotic spices, oils and unexpected ingredients to produce exciting smells that can stand up to and match this extraordinarily special wine.

This wine is singular, so get serious and get seated before the wallop of aromas and tingling tannins knock you over. In trying to conjure up a Sauvignon Blanc of equivalent complexity and intrigue, only one came to mind. Mind you, I’m not saying the flavors or minerality are the same, nor am I claiming the age-worthiness of the wines are comparable. But the breadth and depth of this 2008 Eclisse reminds me a bit of the 2007 Didier Dagueneau Pouilly-Fumé Cuvée Silex I tasted in late November. In comparison to many wines, and certainly to the Silex, the Eclisse is a tremendous value at under $30. It’s also a wine that fully exercises the mind-bending excitement that can be wine and food pairing.

Finding a Home at IWM

Making the logistics work

Being an industrial engineering student in Miami in 2002, I had to pull a fast one on my engineering advisor to take Wine Technology, but I never imagined that eight-and-a-half years later I would be working in the wine industry.  I have an enormous passion for wine and food, so I was quite disappointed that my formal education didn’t help me with my passion for wine upon graduation.  Although I found it very fulfilling spending a year in sales with James Hardie Building Products, and almost six years in logistics at Johnson & Johnson, I felt that I was getting further and further away from wine and food.

Therefore, when I was given the opportunity to join IWM as a Logistics Manager, I jumped all over it; it seemed a perfect fit for both my formal training and my passion!  From week one I was able to see very clearly that IWM’s established relationships in the wine world set us apart from others in this industry—for example, when Piero Incisa della Rocchetta of the legendary Tenuta San Guido poured us five different wines on my first week of work.  I knew right away that I was working in the right place.  I tasted Aldo Conterno Barolo Vigna Romirasco 2004, Quintarelli Rosso del Bepi 1999, and Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2007, among many delicious others, within the first month of the job.   The dynamic workforce, the daily family meals, and the incredible tastings, have quickly made IWM not only my work place but a home away from home.

How is Wine like a House?

An IWM PM reflects on real estate and bottles of wine

One of the most important lessons I learned in my ten years of independent real estate sales is the simple fact that agents don’t sell houses.  People know within ten seconds of walking through the front door whether or not the home might work for them.  The actual job of the agent is searching, selecting, and showing the right types of homes in neighborhoods the client desires (or needs to be aware of) and then facilitating the sale. Houses, not agents, sell houses.

When I first arrived at IWM, I believed there would be a many similarities between the real estate and the wine industries, and though there are certainly many common areas, I’m finding there aren’t as many as I’d imagined.  The most obvious aspect of difference is the sheer volume of product available.  In real estate, a client generally has four or five acceptable neighborhoods at most, with may be twenty five to forty homes, and probably only ten that match in the proper price point.  In wine, there are hundreds—even thousands—of choices.

If I let wine sell wine, however, my clients may never get around to the producer I know they’d like.  In Italy alone there are 20 regions containing 36 DOCG appellations, with over 300 DOC designations, and literally thousands of producers spread all over the map. Most producers offer multiple bottlings, styles, and price points with dramatic variations between vintages; navigating this terrain with an MLS key and an afternoon won’t even scratch the surface.  Granted, some of our clients know exactly what they want; they keep track of the arriving allocations and make selections based on their own knowledge (and their PM’s suggestions), but even then, part of my job involves challenging that knowledge and perhaps guiding clients to new experiences, untried varietals, or new and different producers.   Other clients need a lot of guidance—brief overviews of grape attributes, regional specialties, and anecdotes on producer history and vinification techniques.  Then, of course, buying a wine isn’t as big a commitment as buying a house. On the other hand, I want my clients to like what I suggest.

In real estate, knowing the market and serving client needs is paramount; that much at least remains the same in both industries.  Good agents watch their city like a hawk. They know the up-and-coming neighborhoods, recognize good buys when they see one, and can visualize the renovations needed at a glance. They take the speculation out of the game by providing comparative market analysis, appreciation and resale trends. They stick with you through the process and are there during inspections, mortgage applications, and generally show up at the closing with a gift in hand. Now that I think of it, that’s a lot like how we work.

Selling wine, though, is just a lot more fun.

« go backkeep looking »