The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Taking Respite in Pescetarian Fancies and Good Wine

Pan-Seared Scallops and Carrot Risotto, a recipe

After counting bottles of wine sold, adding up numbers, and dealing with the ins-and-outs of managing financial and operational enterprises, I find solace and indulgence in the evening’s respite.  Luckily, my better half is a foodie and I get to tag along for the ride.  She loves taking the two of us on savory excursions to wind down when we’ve both had long weeks at the office.  My contribution is always the wine, and I try to find that special bottle to do her creations justice.

Last night, we had a tasty recipe that will satisfy any pescetarian’s craving, and I have the pleasure of sharing it with you.  We try to use fresh herbs from our balcony garden and veggies from our CSA when possible.

PAN-SEARED SEA SCALLOPS AND CARROT RISOTTO (For Four)

3 Tbsp olive oil

4 Tbsp unsalted butter

3 cups finely diced carrots

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

5 cups vegetable broth

1/3 cup minced onion

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice

1/2 cup white wine (use a good cooking wine)

1/2 cup freshly shredded pecorino Romano cheese

1 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 tsp chopped fresh thyme

1 lb dry sea scallops (if stored in liquid, rinse and pat dry)

1/2 tsp sea salt

1.Heat 1 tbsp oil and 1 tbsp butter over medium heat in a medium sized heavy-bottomed pot; add carrots and stir until the carrots are coated with the butter and oil. Add 1/2 cup water, salt, and the sugar; cover and cook 5 minutes, or until tender. Uncover and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until water evaporates and carrots are just starting to brown, about five minutes. Reserve half of the carrots; in a blender, purée other half with 3/4 cup of hot water.

2. Heat remaining oil and butter over medium heat in same (unwashed) pot used for carrots. Add onion and cook until translucent, about five minutes. Add rice, stirring to coat with oil. Add wine and cook, stirring, until wine evaporates. Add carrot purée and cook, stirring, until mixture absorbs most of the liquid.

3. Add about 1/2 cup of the broth, stirring often, until rice absorbs most of the liquid. Repeat process, adding 1/2 cup of broth at a time and stirring often till each addition is absorbed before adding the next, until rice is al dente (about 20 minutes; at least 1 cup broth will remain).

4. Fold in reserved carrots, Pecorino Romano cheese, parsley, and thyme. Add up to 1 cup of broth (1/4 cup at a time) to loosen the risotto. Season with salt and white pepper to taste.

5. Sprinkle sea salt on the scallops. Heat 1 tbsp oil and 1 tbsp butter over medium-high heat in a pan until almost smoking. Place the scallops in the pan, and do not move them for two minutes. Turn to cook the other side for one minute. Serve 5 scallops on each serving’s bed of carrot risotto.

As I take the elevator down from our corporate headquarters, I usually stop on our new sales floor (which, by the way, you should definitely check out if you have not) and visit our sales operations. They are not only extremely hard working, but they help me make these most important everyday drinking decisions.

For this meal, they suggested the Hofstatter Bianco Barthenau Vigna S. Michele 2006.  When my wife and I sat down to dinner, the nose of the wine threw us off, as we sensed whiffs of honey and a mineral-saline quality.  I thought it would be much stronger on the palate, but it was actually quite mild in flavor with a light fruitiness that complimented the saltiness of the cheeses in the carrot risotto very well.  It’s a viscous full-bodied white, almost straw yellow, making it look like a Chardonnay to me.  The subtle lingering of the wine and ambrosial decadence of the scallops definitely put my weary mind at ease.  It’s good to be home.

 

When Wines Get Mythic and Prodigious

In unabashed praise of Tua Rita

The cellar at Tua Rita

Wine writers, due to the nature of the business and the desire to elevate not only the wine they are describing but themselves as well,  often use high impact words as descriptors to entice the  public into believing that a particular vintage or offering is  absolutely essential for their cellar or palate.  You hear words like “epic,” “mythical,” and “prodigious.” More often than not, I get annoyed with these efforts to canonize or deify a particular effort and only very rarely does a wine live up to this kind of effusive praise.

But sometimes it does happen.

Tua Rita's vineyards in spring

Call it luck, call it intuition, call it epic and mythical and prodigious all at once, but in 1984, the Virgilio family purchased a small vineyard in Suvereto as a place to spend their retirement and follow their passion, cultivating the land. The wines they made for their own family were so well loved that they decided to start marketing them, and Tua Rita was born. The estate’s medium textured, predominately clay soil that is especially rich in iron and zinc so well suits the international varietals of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon that Tua Rita almost instantly created some of Tuscany’s most revered cult wines. The specific minerality of the terrior at Tua Rita combined with the care and craft of this family-run estate helped it to produce truly top-notch wines almost from the estate’s inception. Giusto di Notri, Perlato del Bosco, and the  small production Redigaffi receive effusive praise from every corner of the wine world, and even I must agree with these beatific descriptors.

The beatified wines of Tua Rita

This week I was thrilled to see the 2008 vintages from Tua Rita arrive in our showroom cellar, and yesterday a most remarkable event occurred.  One of our senior Portfolio Managers had a client lunch scheduled in our Vintage Room.  Excited to share these tastes with his client, he opened both the Perlato del Bosco and Giusto di Notri about ninety minutes before the lunch. He discovered that the Perlato was spectacular, tight right out of the bottle but opening beautifully within the hour.  The Giusto remained completely shut down on the nose, taut and complex in the mouth, a contemplative experience that was not yet presenting its essence and potential. Not wanting his clients first taste of this beauty to mislead them, he made the executive decision not to serve it.

Two hours later, he walked into our newly renovated second floor sales office, decanter  in hand, and said, “Grab a glass.”  Needless to say we needed no second invitation.  It had softened into lush fruit, currant and dark berry, an aromatic beauty of mythic proportions.  Epic, my mind said to itself, and while I winced at the descriptor, I couldn’t disagree.

The Wonderful White Wines of Didier Dagueneau

An iconoclast’s vision in a bottle

In the Loire Valley there are few producers who blend a spirit of experimentation and perfection quite like the late Didier Dagueneau. A man who looked more like the typical Cro-Magnons of Ancient Gaul than a connoisseur, Didier was a winemaker who both had a great respect for the health of his vineyards, but also had a mad scientist’s enthusiasm in the cellar. In the world of winemaking, Didier is a part of a small class of winemakers whose wines captivate the imagination of their audience, unleashing a tour de force of wine vision. In some ways, his wines are an expression of Didier’s own personal eccentricities; in others, they’re the product of his restless experimentation with wine. Never receiving formalized wine training, Didier was a driven perfectionist who took risks throughout his life, including the one that led to his death in 2008 in a tragic ultra-light plane accident.

At IWM we continue to honor this iconoclastic producer’s life’s work. The first time I tasted a Didier Bussion Renard was like the first time I tasted a Gravner Breg Anfora or a Soldera Brunello. The moment seared so completely in my mind that it became the standard to measure the taste of greatness in a wine. My sentiment expands with the pride we have here in representing the rare Didier Dagueneau Pouilly Fume Buisson Renard in both the 2002 and 2006 vintages. This Sauvignon Blanc derives from the Didier’s vineyard in the Loire Valley, now overseen by his children who carry on his Domaine, where a concentrated expression of terroir is distilled in grapes of extremely low yield per vine. Each bottle of his Busson Renard has a tactile mouth feel that is carried by a larger-then-life body for a white wine. However, there is balance and an unexpected purity as well that contrasts with a golden color in the glass. We’re honored to be one of a few merchants in the entire country to have access to the wines of this master.

For more information on these wines, please call our Portfolio Managers at (212) 473-2323 or email us at store@italianwinemerchants.com.

Photo comes courtesy of the Tribute to Didier Dagueneau.

Go-To-Wine Tuesday

COS Rami Bianco 2009

In naming some of my most memorable wines, I would be lying if I didn’t mention the producer called “COS.” A Sicilian estate started in the ’80s by three friends who share a strong passion for wine, COS is actually an acronym for the first letters of each of the individuals’ last names. These two guys and one gal never fail to turn out high quality wines vintage after vintage, and the brand is most recognized by their use of short, squat bottles.

Recently I had the chance to drink COS Rami 2009, a blend of Inzolia and Grecanico, native white varieties to Sicily that usually fly under the radar.  When was the last time you tasted these grapes or even a white from Sicily for that matter?  Wines like this always intrigue me as they break the paradigm of Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and other expected, commonplace white wines.

After drinking the COS Rami 2009 last weekend, I have to admit that I can’t think of a better Italian summer white.  Whey you consider that it is always scorching hot in Sicilia and that fish is a staple, you get how it’s very easy for natives to gravitate towards this style of wine.  Deliciously ripe and bright with exotic aromatics, vibrant acidity and a long fish, this is an addictive style of white.  I am thinking grilled swordfish with a spicy tomato broth when I next drink this wine. I might as well dive into the Sicilian experience with gusto. COS wines have a reputation for excellence, and the Rami, which costs under $30, makes a strong case for why they deserve to grace the table of every wine lover.

On Everyday Drinking (Wine and Other Cultural Matters)

Great spirits enjoy alike

While looking for beach reading this past weekend, I picked up a copy of Kingsley Amis’s Everyday Drinking. Unsurprisingly, it’s shockingly well written. Amis has a deft, wry touch, and his voice feels unusually well suited to writing about drinking. Amis was, of course, a famous drinker. His was a drinking culture, and he made the most of it, good, bad and hungover (Amis’s advice on aiding the hangover, both physical and metaphysical, is worth the price of admission alone). The book has the feel of a sliver of time—all the cocktail recipes are unremittingly old school; for example, the Bloody Mary recipe requires ketchup—but it’s a delicious sliver, and lying on the beach I drank it up.

A lot has changed culturally from the time that Amis wrote his columns that now comprise the volume Everyday Drinking, a collection of all of his drink-related essays previously published in the books On Drinking, Every Day Drinking, and How’s Your Glass? For one thing, we as a society have a fairly comprehensive understanding of alcoholism, which was a fuzzier topic during the years that Amis wrote these essays, the ‘50s to the ‘80s. Interestingly and somewhat presciently, Amis avers that dipsomania (his term) is genetic, a concept that only gained widespread acceptance in the last couple of decades.

But what really seems to have changed is larger and deeper, though not entirely unrelated. Knowing what we know about alcohol, our culture likes to either justify our consumption of it with health claims (red wine, you might have recently heard, is good for counteracting the effects of immobility), with irony (just look at the preponderance of “dive bars” in chic areas of New York), or with nostalgia (the rise of the artisanal cocktail culture, for example). In Amis’s days, people drank because they enjoyed it. It showed a magnanimity of spirit, a generosity of soul and a sense of a life well lived. (Amis disparages any host who opens a bottle of wine and keeps the cork handy; it’s a sign of a “mean sod.”)

As interesting as pondering the larger cultural issues was for me in reading the book, I also delighted in Amis’s advice to wine drinkers. He himself was not one, preferring whisky above all else. However, he marshals advice from a friend with knowledge and gives some guidelines that very much stand the test of time.

“Get yourself a wine merchant,” he says. “What you want is a learned, experienced, energetic man who himself drinks not only good wine but a lot of wine, in other words, a first-rate wine merchant.” He then adds, “Having found your man, trust him.”

Reading this quote made me blush with immoderate pride being that I feel that the company I work for, and the man who founded it, is the very epitome of all of those qualities that Amis propounds. In all reality, however, these are good words of advice for buying anything that you don’t yourself know well. Still, Amis’s words are good and true (if reluctant, he really seems not to “get” wine), as are the other pieces of advice he hands out, which include the following: join a wine club, test out your waiter in restaurants; and follow the advice of wine merchants, wine clubs, wine waiters “and even wine journalists.” I particularly enjoyed this piece of wisdom from Amis: “Drink any wine you like with any dish.”

Though Amis doesn’t enjoy wine much, and though his experience of it is largely limited to French wine, his writing on wine—and indeed all drink-related areas—is shockingly encyclopedic. This is, as Christopher Hitchens points out in the forward, a man who knows that the word “fiasco” stems from the Italian for a bottle of wine. There’s a lot of spirit literature out there, but little of it seems to really evoke the spirit of drinking. This is one book that does, written by a man who understood, contemplated and, above all, enjoyed drinking, a timeless and, in Kingsley Amis’s eyes, a worthy pursuit.

 

 

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