The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Summer Mussels

Celebrate summer with everyone’s favorite bivalve

June 21st was the first official day of summer, and the last day will be the September 22nd.  Today is the 46th summer day, and only just now do we really begin to relax and settle into summer.   To help you celebrate summer and all its glory, I’m giving a recipe for a classic Italian summer dish common on the coast and on the islands.  It can be enjoyed any time of year, but I particularly enjoy it in the summer since it’s a natural for al fresco dining, especially if you’re going to pass it around and share with friends and family.  As in cooking any recipe, do be sure to use the absolute best ingredients possible.


  • A few tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 slices really good crusty bread, about1 1/2 inches thick
  • 1 whole garlic clove plus 12 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced on a diagonal
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 pounds Prince Edward Island mussels (or other black mussels)
  • 2 cups San Marzano tomato puree
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • 1 handful fresh chive stems
  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh basil, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup fresh oregano

Brush olive oil onto each slice of bread.  Toast until brown and crisp. Rub both sides with whole garlic. Cut bread in half on the diagonal. Set to the side.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook sliced garlic, scallions and salt, stirring occasionally, until scallions and garlic color slightly, about 2-3 minutes. Add mussels, tomato puree, wine and pepper flakes. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook until mussels open, 1 to 2 minutes, quickly discarding any mussels that don’t open. Uncover pan and add herbs; toss to combine. Divide mussels evenly among four bowls and spoon broth over them. Serve immediately with the garlic rubbed bread.  Serves 3-4 as a delicious antipasti.  Enjoy!

This dish is a natural pairing with the wines of Sardegna, Corsica, and of course Sicilia.  Try it with whites or reds as it will shine with both. I’m a big fan of the COS Rami; it’s fresh and clean, but it’s still unusual, a little funky, definitely mineral laden, and kissed with lemon and caramel. Whether it be beach, boat, poolside, or park, get out there and enjoy the rest of the summer with family and friends.  Although I will fully welcome the fall with beautiful red wines and hearty meals, I will certainly miss the summer–or I will for at least for nine months.


Kids Today (We Tell You)

Why the wine industry needs to pay attention to Millennials

Recently, the blogger 1 Wine Dude wrote a post called “Wake Up, Wine People” that recapped a podcast recollecting a recent appearance on a wine panel titled “Millennial Wine Interaction.”  Partway through his recap, he described how a young lady shared her unfortunate experience in the tasting room of an unnamed winery.  He says that this “twenty-something Millennial…more-or-less [sic] told the entire audience during my panel at the event that she was age-profiled when visiting a winery tasting room in California.”  He said she went on to describe how she felt she was cast aside simply because of her young age. Ultimately, he suggests that not marketing to Millennials, those people who came of age around 2000, is wrong and hurtful because, hey, Boomers will stop buying wine because, let’s face it, Boomers will die.

This got me thinking.

I had the great fortune of being a winemaking apprentice at a highly touted winery in the Willamette Valley in Oregon.  To say I learned a lot is a gross understatement.  But I remember that while I was there I noticed how young many of the major figures in Oregon wine scene were.  The hottest winemaker at the time was a twenty-something named Jim Maresh, grandson of one of the pioneers of the region.  And this was just the tip of the iceberg; my travels in the great region introduced me to many winemakers who hovered around the age of thirty.  For example, the leading Northwest retail wine website is run by a guy named Marcus that can’t be yet thirty.  When I was able to wander off and visit the other wineries, I saw a fresh out of college contingency everywhere. I can’t help but believe that this phenomenon isn’t limited to the Pacific Northwest.

Increased interest from the youth of America is essential for the growth of the wine industry and we don’t need people working against it.  Get with the program, unnamed winery in California. Millennials are not only buying wine; we’re making it.

Tasting a Touch of the Wild with Three Wine Experts

A preview of this Saturday’s tasting

Island wines are hot. They’re terrific sellers at IWM, and people often request that we carry more of them. In fact, the wines of Sicilia were some of the biggest hits at VinItaly this past spring, and I tasted some crazy, delicious and crazy-delicious wines from the slopes of Etna, some of which will appear at a tasting this coming Saturday at our New York City location. Andrew, Michael and Evan are leading this  tasting called “Wild Island Wines: Sicilia, Sardegna and Corsica,” and I gave them a chance to talk about these wines in specific, wine tastings in general and what they might bring with them on a desert island.

What do you like best about the wines of Sicilia, Sardegna and/or Corsica? Are they really that wild?

Andrew: Value is one of the best things about island wines.  Also they are unique in character.  You really can’t compare them to wines from other regions because these islands have their own set of varietals and their own unique terroir.

Michael: These wines have character that can’t be duplicated anywhere else in the world.  There’s an unfamiliar authenticity that rejuvenates the palate and opens the mind.

You’re serving meats and cheeses at the tasting, but what other foods do these wines pair with?

Evan: They are the perfect example of cultural and cuisine typicality in wine. If you are making seafood dishes of all kinds, a white or red from Sicilia, Sardegna, or Corsica are no-brainers.

Andrew: These are great barbecue wines.  Many of these wines have a nice smoky quality to them.

How do people prepare for a tasting? Is there anything they should or shouldn’t eat or drink before? Or any other tips?

Andrew: Definitely have a light breakfast.  Maybe some toast or a bagel.  You want to have something to soak up the wine going into your stomach.  It may be a tasting, but the wines sneak up on you real fast.  That being said, don’t eat too much as you will definitely want to sample the meats and cheeses.

Evan: No gum! No coffee one hour before hand. Water is good, but make sure to start with a sparkler to get the palate going.

Michael: What makes the experience valuable is when our guests have questions about the wines.  We love telling stories about producers and the rich history of an estate and how the wine came to be what it is.  It’s important to have a relationship or connection with a wine.  In other words, it’s a great feeling to know why you like or dislike a wine.

We’re talking island wines, so if you were stranded on a desert island, what two or three wines (any wines) would you take with you?

Evan: Rinaldi Barolo 1999. Soldera Brunello 1992, and Gravner Breg Anfora 2003.

Michael: Anything from COS, really.  Honestly, I feel really good every time I open a bottle.  My favorite is the Nero di Lupo made of 100% Nero d’Avola.  It’s unlike any Nero I’ve had.

Andrew: It’ll take me too long to decide. I’ll go with whisky.

Check out our weekly events page for ongoing tastings. We’d love to meet you.

Go-To-Wine Tuesday

Hofstatter Bianco Barthenau Vigna S. Michele 2006

Foradori is a household name here at Italian Wine Merchants for a couple of reasons.  You might immediately recognize the last name for being associated with the incomparable winemaker behind the esoteric Teroldego grape up in Trentino-Alto Adige, and Elisabetta Foradori is responsible for putting this varietal on the map.  Her cousin Martin is no slouch, however.  Martin Foradori, of the legendary J.Hofstatter estate, has over the past decade reinforced the importance of single-vineyard expression in the South Tyrol.  Nowhere in Italy is terroir diversity more prevalent than in the North.

It’s safe to say I’ve pulled a few corks over the past several weeks trying hard to stay refreshed throughout this warmer-than-average season.  Most recently, I opened J.Hofstatter’s Pinot Bianco 2006.  It’s always great to open a white wine from this region with some extended bottle-aging because the natural acidity in some of these wines is so high as a result of the higher elevation.   Right now the wine is soft, with nice weight and creamy feel on the palate and showing really pretty summer peaches, a touch of acacia, nice acidity and a saline quality.  Earlier in the day, I stopped by the store to pick up a small block of regional cheese to pair with the wine, Dolomiten Konig, which is similar in profile to a native Swiss cheese; the pairing was nice.  As the raindrops pattered outside my window and with the relief of the soft breeze through my studio apartment, the experience became more remarkable.

Exploring the Hot Cool Popsicle Trend

If you’ve got Campari, grapefruit juice and popsicle molds, you’ve got an adult treat

Avocado-cilantro-lime popsicle

The latest hot trend is a cool one indeed: artisanal, often adult, popsicles. Popping up in foodie reports on New York Magazine, The Atlantic, Gourmet and, most recently and influentially, the New York Times, popsicles are the new nostalgic treat that gourmands can do better than they remember. It’s not too big a stretch to say that popsicles are this summer’s cupcake.

I am not immune to trends. I am quite easily swayed by the peer pressure of cool, to be quite frank. More to the point, I have long enjoyed popsicles, and the idea of having a popsicle that is made of natural, even organic, perhaps alcoholic, ingredients is deeply appealing. Add to this general idea of high-quality coolness the prospect of savory popsicles, and I admit my willing and ready seduction.

This past weekend, I enjoyed the piquant citrus tartness of the Campari-grapefruit popsicle. It was everything you’d want from a popsicle on a hot Friday evening in July. It was drippy, icy, mouthwatering joy, in short, and if you’re a person who enjoys Campari, you’re going to fall in bittersweet love all over again.

Yesterday, I had an avocado-cilantro-lime popsicle spiked with tequila (recipe found in Mark Bittman’s NY Times piece). It was delicious. The fat in the avocado keeps the ice-pop from melting too fast, and the combination of the flavors makes for a summer concert in the mouth. I’ve peaches soaking in bourbon to make a yogurt-based creamy peach, bourbon and pineapple sage version later today.

Once you begin experimenting, you realize that the popsicle world is ripe for the exploration. As long as you keep the alcohol below thirty percent by volume (or forego it altogether), you’re fairly golden. All you need is a blender, a good popsicle maker, and a freezer—this is one of the easiest artisanal foodie trends known to human. I’ve plans for a yogurt-based lavender honey popsicle (you could add vodka to this, or not), a Pimms cup twist with honeydew melon and cucumber, and a St. Germain popsicle with grapefruit juice and basil.

The world is my quiescently frozen oyster, so to speak. Shelfish is a poor base for popsicles. But everything else—from gazpacho to cashews—is open to chilly plunder.

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