The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Wine with Friends

or why you want to stop with the good stuff

One of my favorite pastimes as weather turns from brisk to chilly is sitting next to a fire and sharing wine with my closest friends. I spent this past Friday with a co-worker and a friend relaxing, chatting boisterously, nibbling some artisanal cheese, and sharing some great wines:  Paolo Bea’s San Valentino and Il Macchione’s Vino Nobile Riserva 2001.  Both wines were selected from IWM and are quite affordable considering the high quality and complexity of the wines themselves.

Paolo Bea has a reputation for his natural winemaking, and he does wonders with this predominantly Sangiovese wine (there’s also Montepulciano and Sagrantino).  It’s awesome to come across a Bea wine at such an affordable price—under $35—with Sagrantino as one of the varietals in the blend.   We enjoyed the wild berries, sweet spices and floral notes the wine had to offer, and it went down quite easy and complemented antipasto exquisitely.

We quickly moved on to our next wine, Il Macchione’s Vino Nobile Riserva 2001. This wine is spectacular for the price—just over $55.  It’s a Riserva, which I love, and has nine years of age, which gives it some depth and complexity.  It exhibited dark plum, oak and went down silky smooth.  I found myself laughing along with my friends and thinking that was turning out to be a great way to start off the weekend.

Two bottles down and we were off to the second destination of the night.  We went to a jazz club in the West Village, and wanting to continue my wine kick, I ordered something called “Cherry Wine.”  I figured it was wine made from cherries, or at least I was hoping so—and that it wasn’t a cheaply vinified wine with some cherry flavoring.  Feeling bold, I took my chances and ordered.  It was great! Very sweet, it tasted just like rich dark red cherry. I don’t think it’s possible to drink more than 6 oz of this wine in a night, but it was a nice change. It could’ve done well with a cheese plate and a savory or sweet dessert.  This wine is wonderful for diverse pairings.

As the night went on, I got a little cocky and decided to order a Cabernet at one of my favorite dive bars on Jones St.  My senses being much more subdued at this point of the night helped me get half way through this awful glass of Cabernet, but then realized that it tasted solely of candy corn.  At first, given its only a week after Halloween, I thought this was interesting and a good thing.  A couple more sips of the sickly sweet yet drab wine, and I called it quits.  Yuck!

I suppose the moral of the story is this: if you start out with great wine, it’s not a good idea to end with a bad one. No matter how tipsy you are, if you know wine well, you’ll know the difference. I should have had a water—or a tequila.

Go-To-Wine Tuesday

Sartarelli 2008 Verdicchio Tralivio

It’s autumn, and I’m drawn to rustic harvest treats.  Apple cider, salted caramels, and pumpkin pie are all seasonal staples, but this year I’m obsessively drawn to butternut squash filled homemade pasta—specifically Agnolotti.  Sometimes after working nightly events in the IWM studio, we’re lucky enough to score some leftover pasta from the night’s celebration.  Alberto is our in-house pasta-making Sous-Chef, and his works are always delicate pasta pods of perfection.  I recently took home a large container of butternut squash pasta goodness and have been eating it for every meal for the past week. I’m delighted in this perk.

Knowing that I had a new wine to try, the Sartarelli 2008 Verdicchio Tralivio, I chose to make as its complement butternut squash Agnolotti with sage, butter and amaretto sauce. I decided that would pair the Verdocchio and the Agnolotti, even though the pairing was sure to be unusual and quite possibly a terrible one.  I like to live dangerously, at least in terms of gastronomy.

Luckily, I was wrong, and I thoroughly enjoyed my fall favorite with the luscious Verdicchio from Le Marche. Under $25, the wine was surprising citrusy on the nose, and it showed bright acidity in juxtaposition with a velvety smoothness with notes of apricot and nuts. It was a delicious, very odd mix of flavors and textures, which is the exact reason it was such a great pairing for my pasta. The acid and citrus notes cut right through each bite, refreshing my palate and enhancing the buttery, creaminess of the pasta itself.  I didn’t expect a success, yet I had one, however serendipitously.

Previous Go-to-Wines:

Castello Fageto’s 2008 Rosso Piceno

2008 Girlan Sauvignon  “Indra”

Great Experiences, Inexpensive Wines

enjoying autumn on the cheap

I am madly excited for autumn’s arrival; the change of seasons allows me to unpack clothes, foods and wines I’d put away when the weather got hot. I’m really looking forward to once again enjoying one of my favorite cool-weather wines, an affordable luxury by the name of Barda. Produced by the house Bodega Chacra and first purchased by Piero Incisa della Rocchetta in 2004, the estate was once an abandoned Patagonian vineyard planted nearly seventy years back.  I am always on a budget, so I often go for the gorgeous Barda, filled with velvety tannins and yummy fruit. It’s a wine that shows me how a wine made well outperform some higher end purchases.

However much I’m looking forward to seeing the frost shine on the pumpkin, I’m also looking forward to those serendipitous warm days of Indian summer.  Last summer, I discovered Stella’s Grignolino d’Asti.  Grignolino, an obscure, indigenous Piemontese varietal, and I’m loath to say good-bye to it quite yet. Possessing a superb light-bodied wine full of fruit and flowery aromatics and a slight effervescence, it’s perfect for warm-weather hors d oeuvres and cocktail parties.  I’m looking forward to watching the leaves change from a New York City rooftop while enjoying this refreshing wine with the city, the sunset, and a warm breeze.

Now that it’s fall I will be falling in love once again with my beloved Pinot Noir from Argentina.  I’ll also look forward to those serendipitous warm autumn evenings to spend with my Grignolino. But my heart is expansive. I’d love to know what your favorite value-conscious wines are, because I’m always on the lookout for new inexpensive gems.

Coffee Shop-Wine Bar Hybrids

a look at the delicious two-headed beast

There are those days in New York City when you want to sit down, relax and read a book.   And sometimes you might want a glass of wine with your book.  Luckily, New York is dotted with what I like to call coffee shop-wine bar hybrids.  These are establishments that function early in the morning as solely coffee and breakfast stops, then segue into becoming an eclectic wine bar.

While living in the East Village, I first encountered a coffee shop-wine bar hybrid called Ost, located on the corner of Avenue A and East 12th Street.  Not only is their espresso delicious, but also in the evening they specialize in serving Austrian wines such as Riesling, Grüner Veltliner and Blaufränkisch. This quaint European coffee shop is a great place to keep your own company or engage with others in stimulating conversation.

Having discovered the coffee-wine hybrid, I’m dying to try Sweet Revenge on the corner of Carmine and Bedford Streets.  They have taken up the daunting task of pairing artisanal cupcakes with wine and beer.  This intrigues me because it’s hard to pair super-sweet baked goods with wines.  I am seriously interested in their Mayan Chocolate cupcake paired with the Marques de Solariego Rioja.

Last but not least, I have to mention 71 Irving Place Coffee and Tea Bar, one of the favorites of IWM employees.  At Irving, you always feel welcome to enjoy breakfast or lunch at any hour, with coffee or, later in the day, wines as well.  This charming shop serves as a morning meeting place for locals, but it maintains privacy because it’s two steps below the street sidewalk.  This place is so good that Alec Baldwin bought an apartment right below Gramercy Park just to be close to it.

Coffee shop-wine bars may seem counter intuitive and strange, but they’re really the best of both worlds. Rather than being the mullet of beverages (business in the front, party in the rear), they’re establishments that move gracefully from morning to evening, espresso to Bordeaux, muffin to cupcake. Plus, in this busy city, it’s nice to know that there’s a place you can go morning or evening, get a drink, and read a book.

Fall Foods, Fall Wines

Serving scintillating complements to the season

As the seasons quickly change and cool, severe clear skies replace the hot summer sun, I can’t help thinking about fall.  Autumn is my favorite season of all not only because of the multi-colored leaves and the crisp breeze in the air, but because of the fall harvests of food and of wine. Harvest time deserves celebration in the form of unique, eclectic food and wine pairings for some of my favorite fall recipes.  Lately I’ve been dreaming of pairings that I’m enthusiastic to try out in the very near future.

Apple-Nut Stuffing with Colpetrone 2003 Sagrantino di Montefalco: This thick, savory, slightly sweet stuffing needs a dry, nutty, aromatic wine full of dark plums and spice.  Sagrantino is one of my go-to wines whenever possible, and it makes the perfect companion for this dish.

Stuffed Zucchini alla Melanzana with Grosjean 2006 Torrette Superieur Vigne Rovetta:  I love sinking my teeth into the light, buttery goodness of a freshly baked zucchini stuffed with breadcrumbs and eggplant. When I create this dish from scratch and pair it with the lighter bodied, distinctly aromatic Grosjean Torrette, it will be well worth the wait.

Mushroom and Herb Macaroni and Cheese with Poggio di Sotto 2006 Rosso di Montalcino: Although this wine isn’t currently in stock at IWM, it’s my first choice for a gourmet version of mac and cheese with gruyere, wild mushrooms and herbs. The complexity and smoothness of this Rosso makes you think it’s a Brunello; the 2007 should be just as perfect.

Classic Roast Turkey with Bodega Chacra 2008 Pinot Noir Rio Negro Treinta y Dos: Pinot Noir is a classic pairing for roasted turkey, and nothing could pair better than Bodega Chacra’s ultimate expression of Pinot Noir, Treinta y Dos.

Spicy Cranberry Chutney and Rye Toast Points with Masciarelli 2009 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Rosato:  Cranberries are one of the most difficult foods to pair with, but I think the Masciarelli Montepulciano Rosé has just the right amount of sweetness and acidity to complement this chutney.

Sweet Potato Casserole with Hofstatter 2000 Yngram: The density and smoothness of the Yngram holds tons of currant and raspberry jam notes, which pairs perfectly with the thickness and sweetness of this wonderful baked sweet potato dish.

Salted Caramel Apples with Castello di Cacchiano 2001 Vin Santo:  Nothing sounds better to me than a salted caramel apple paired with one of my most beloved choices in wine, Vin Santo.  The salt in the caramel brings out the complexity and sweetness of the caramel itself, and it complements the savory nuttiness of the Vin Santo perfectly. If you’re interested in a more adult version of this classic, try a Parisian Apple Tartlet with Salted Caramel Sauce.

Pumpkin Pie with Quintarelli 1990 Amabile: Beyond indulging in as much pumpkin pie as I desire, I love the idea of pairing it with Quintarelli’s infamous Amabile dessert wine.  Mixing the silky, spiced pumpkin dessert and fresh cream topping with the Amabile’s buttery notes of burnt sugar, orange rinds, toffee and caramel makes for a truly seductive, decadent dessert.

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