The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Wacky Food Pairings

The eternal question of what to put with barbecued eel answered

One of my favorite things about working at IWM is the array of wines and food I get to experience on a daily basis.  Being a New York City native has allowed me to become quite versed in my knowledge of many cuisines and, of course, plenty of wines.  But lately I have become ho-hum when it comes to my usual indulgences.  These days I am inspired by chefs such as Wylie Dufresne, Pichet Ong and our very own Kevin Sippel.  I want more of the eclectic.  I want New York to be a melting pot that goes straight to my taste buds.   I want a new mixture of all I know, collaged with the present day abundance of history, art, culture and cuisine.  Therefore, I have taken the extreme challenge of creating a sort of wacky, yet classic, tasting with wonderful and proper wine pairings that teeter just over the edge of comfort.

First off, I was inspired by our client dinner last fall when I had an amazing experience of tasting a great array of Italian wines.  For antipasto, I would love to pair our Bruno Giacosa 2005 Spumante Brut with baked artichoke and traditional fried abalone.  The biscuity, bready taste of this frizzante wine combined with the tangy, crunchy aspect of the baked artichoke and fried shellfish is so exquisite that it’s sure to tingle the taste buds.

Next would be our Mastroberardino 2005 Taurasi Radici paired with one of my favorites, poached egg with wild mushroom soup and gruyere fonduta.  The savory yet complex flavors of this Aglianico wine paired with the mixture of egg, fungi and cheese would be a dream as our primi course.  Maybe not quite as wacky, but it’s a superb classic pairing that no one can argue with!

Sea urchin tends to be an iffy avenue when it comes to pairings.  After consulting with a few of my IWM coworkers,  the Chardonnay Querciabella 2007 Batar with its subtle complexity and soft oak seems to be the unanimous vote for our Chef Kevin’s Strigoli pasta dish with rock shrimp, roasted calamari and sea urchin.

For our fish course, I went down a road in Taiwan and have chosen to pair barbecued eel with an IWM favorite, the Merlot based Bodega Chacra 2009 Mainque.  Bodega Chacra’s hailing from Argentina and the eel dish’s coming from Taiwan makes this course the ultimate in wacky and enticing.

Last but not least, I would love to feature a Pichet Ong classic dessert, foie gras Napoleon! This dessert features cacao nibs, hazelnuts, salty foie gras and tangy red pepper jam.  My unusual pairing for this course would be our rich, sumptuous and berry-laden Begali 2005 Recioto.

Although we don’t have all of these wines currently in stock, this wacky tasting event will become a reality the day we do.  Here’s to the eclectic, the new and the experimental!


Go-To-Wine Tuesday

Agricola Punica Montessu 2008

This weekend I was lucky to meet up with one of my best friends from high school whom I hadn’t seen in about seven years and to become the recipient of a bottle of IWM wine, Agricola Punica’s 2008 Montessu. My friend Jed and I cracked it open and found the Montessu to be a wonderful Sardinian wine with ample dark fruit notes and nice depth with a hint of anise at the end. Jed and I got talking of his travels to Europe, Scotland mostly, but somehow our Italian red was the perfect pairing for our reunion and conversation.  As we moved the reunion to the East Village, we decided to make it a wine-focused night on the town with Sardinian wines in the spotlight. It was quite hard without buying a full bottle, but we found two Carignano-based Sardinian reds by the half bottle and did our comparison.

I’m not sure what the issue was, but our Montessu won by a landslide.  You would think after having a few drinks that our opinions would be somewhat kinder.  These other wines, which will remain nameless, didn’t exhibit as much fruit, stood much more on the bitter and earthy end, but were without the tannin or acidity to support such flavors.  Overall, they were dull.  And not only dull! Expensive! Spending three times what we would have on our little Montessu, our wallets were aching as well as our hearts.

After a few sake-based cocktails, we arrived safe and sound to the party roaring in his sleek new apartment.  I had the cleverness to also bring over one of my delectable favorites, the La Sala 2003 Vin Santo.  Not only is it rich and unctuous, but it also shows deep flavors of dried apricots, bananas and brazil nuts.  Almost like a jungle in a glass–well, perhaps a sophisticated, classy jungle.  So at the end of a great night out in New York City, I had all my good friends with me… Jed, La Sala and my beloved Montessu.

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!

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, De Conciliis Donnaluna 2008 Aglianico

a long lost weekend

After waiting patiently for a couple of inexplicable months, I was delighted to be chosen as this week’s Go-To-Wine Tuesday blogger.  To my surprise I received our new addition to the shelf, the De Conciliis Donnaluna 2008 Aglianico.  I have had Aglianico once or twice in the past, and I thought it was a pretty good wine. However, I also felt I paid a high price for the quality I was getting.  The Donnaluna is incredibly affordable at $22.75 per bottle, and it’s extremely tasty. I took the wine home Friday and figured I’d embark on a weekend long tasting excursion.

On Friday night, I was the happy owner of a Momofuku Rye croissant stuffed with pastrami, mustard and sauerkraut.  I figured, what the heck, let’s see how this goes.  The tangy acidity of this wine combined with its ripe red fruit and peppery finish was a perfect complementary pairing for my crazy croissant. Leaving this wine chilled at 55 degrees until Saturday afternoon, I decided to go all out and order some drunken Thai noodles with Bu-Ri-Rum (NY shell steak with thai spices and papaya and sticky rice).  At this point I said, “Drinking Aglianico mid-afternoon with altogether too much Thai food for one person?  Sounds great!”  The Aglianico surprised me this time.  The peppery notes were brought out more by the different aromatics in the Thai sauces, and it stood up to the spicy heat of the dishes quite nicely.  It was complementary as well as utterly refreshing.  It was a perfect red wine Thai feast pairing!

I ended up having a fourth of a bottle left by Sunday morning.  Well on my way on my Aglianico excursion, I figured, hey, there’s one cold slice of pizza left in the fridge and one-fourth bottle of aglianico: that’s breakfast!  I didn’t expect much from the Aglianico considering that it’s a value wine and it had been opened at the beginning of the weekend.  To my delight, the texture of the cold pizza mixed with the wine’s subtle flavors was the perfect basic dish for the Aglianico’s last day.  I never knew one wine at this price could last this long as well as pair wonderfully with so many dishes.

Now that you all know my healthy eating habits, please buy your own DeConciliis Donnaluna Aglianico and embark on an Italian red wine journey all your own.  Just do it responsibly.

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