The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Making Merry as the Clients Do

the IWM sales team exploration dinner

I’ve returned to New York from Hong Kong for a few months and was fortunate to take part in a team wine exploration dinner on Monday night, the purpose of which was to see an IWM event in same way that our clients do when they attend an evening in our Studio del Gusto or Vintage Room.

I found it a perfect way to get reacquainted with the team in NY, our Chef Kevin “Macho” Sippel, and some old friends named Giacosa, Gaja and Fiorano. Kevin made his presence felt with an antipasto selection of meats from our Salumeria and assorted Crudo, followed by two rounds of hand-made pastas.  I quickly realized that the next few months will come with a few added pounds. I should probably schedule a series of strenuous hikes now for my return to Hong Kong.

The wines started off with a duo of Gravner Anfora wines, the 2003 Ribolla and 2003 Breg, a blend of Ribolla, Pinot Grigio and Riesling Italico, which I haven’t tasted in years. In Hong Kong, we feature Gravner’s Ribolla at Chinese dinners often because of the wine’s incredible ability to evolve in the glass and adapt to nearly any food. To enjoy these wines again with true Italian cuisine reminded me of the way that I’d first learned to appreciate them.

We moved into a selection of reds starting with Valdicava’s new 2004 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva “Madonna del Piano” and Mastroberardino’s 2005 Taurasi Radici. Both of these wines were a pleasant shock to my system as I’ve been enjoying traditionally styled wines of Piemonte almost exclusively of late.  When it comes to the modern style of Brunello, I believe Valdicava is as good as it gets, particularly for how well these wines age. A 1997 Madonna we opened in HK was an absolute showstopper, and this 2004 is clearly headed for similar greatness. The 2005 Radici was the first Taurasi I’ve had in over a year. It took only a whiff to bring a smile to my face as I remembered the brief love affair I’d enjoyed with the 2003 Radici years ago.

Next, we moved into a powerhouse Piemonte lineup starting with Gaja’s 2005 Costa Russi, the more approachable of Angelo’s cru Barbarescos; it was shown straight from bottle and also after hours of decanting side by side. Our group was split over which was more enjoyable; however everyone agreed that the Costa Russi was beautiful in one form or another. Having recently tasted a series of older Gaja wines, I am very confident that these 2005’s will be something truly special for anyone with the will power, or off-site cellar, to hold them for 15 years.

Our move to traditionally-styled Barolos featured Bruno Giacosa’s 2004 Croera di La Morra, a wine I’d not tasted in two years, and a 2005 Bartolo Mascarello that was new to me. The Giacosa is really coming along very nicely; it’ll be interesting to see how a La Morra Barolo from Giacosa will show in ten years and how it will contrast wines like Rocchefalletto Riserva, which is much bigger. The ’04 promises to be one of La Morra’s premier cellar-worthy Barolos, and the Mascarello was a bit of a surprise because of its approachability at such a young age. Further, the nose reminded me so much of another wine I’d had last month, the 1967 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.

Before moving on to the Fioranos, we put Dal Forno’s 2003 Valpolicella and Quintarelli’s 2000 Amarone side by side. Placing masters of contrasting styles next to each other can sometimes seem like a Presidential debate, with voters feeling a need to choose one party or the other. In what should be a model for decision-making, we found a myriad of positives in each. Why should one be forced to choose Dal Forno or Quintarelli when both are so phenomenal?

Finally, we came to the Fioranos, and in a way that put us even more in touch with the individual nuances of these wines. We tried two 1994 Fiorano Biancos, but from different casks (Botti), #44 and #26. The #44 stands out even among other Fiorano wines in that it has a relatively sweet nose, reminiscent of a Friulano Ramandolo, while showing a more “typical” Fiorano taste and oxidation.  I have to note how well these wines showed given that they had just followed Dal Forno and Quintarelli powerhouses. These whites had no problem showing their intricacies at the end of the night. While these wines are surely not for everyone, they are for anyone with an inquisitive approach and an appreciation for wines that have a story to tell.

What a night! Would you believe it all happened in about two hours? Rest assured I was the happiest passenger on NJ Transit that night. I doubted anyone on my train had had an experience like mine. Then again, I’m back in NY so anything is possible. It’s good to be home.

On Wine and Cooking

The how and why of choosing a recipe wine

The start of fall always gets me excited for warm, hearty dishes like osso buco, roast herbed chicken, and leg of lamb. Sometimes recipes for these dishes call for wine in order to marinate, deglaze or balance the dish.  This got me thinking about how to choose a wine to use in a recipe. Usually the recipe says nothing more than white or red, but there are so many other factors when choosing wine.

I’m not alone in this quandary; someone came into the shop yesterday looking for a Sicilian wine to use for cooking, because he was making a Sicilian dish.  It made me wonder if the question of region should matter. All these questions swirling like fall leaves led me to do a little research on the matter of cooking with wine.

The first thing to understand is why the recipe calls for wine. For example, in creamy dishes, wine balances the richness of the cream with a little acidity.  However, in other dishes it can be used to form a thick, rich, fruity glaze.  Therefore, knowing what role the wine is performing can help guide you to choosing the optimal wine for your dish.

The most important thing to remember when cooking with wine is not to cook with a wine that you wouldn’t want to drink.  That’s not to say you need to cook with a 1982 Barolo, but you also don’t want to cook with a wine you were about to pour down the drain.  Second, cooking with wine is similar to wine pairing.  Generally you want to use white wine with fish, chicken, and pork dishes and red wine with steak, lamb, and duck.  The heavier the dish, the heavier the wine you can use.

Third, it is important to understand the qualities of the grape varietal you are using in order to make sure it complements the flavors in your dish.  For example, Sauvignon Blanc is known for its herbaceous notes.  Thus, if you cook with it, all of the alcohol will evaporate and only the flavors of the varietal will remain; this means that if your dish uses a lot of fresh herbs, you’ll be creating a lovely layered flavor.  In fact, the taste is what matters–regarding the gentlemen looking for a Sicilian wine for his Sicilian dish, the region itself is not what matters, but rather the flavor profile of the dish and the flavor profile of the grape varietal.  There are several grape varieties produced in Sicily but only some will work harmoniously with the dish.

Lastly, I recommend making sure to set aside a decent amount of time when cooking with wine.  As with many other marinades and glazes, wine takes time to thicken and meld all of the flavors into a cohesive dish.  While you cook, enjoy a glass of the wine and let the ingredients speak for themselves.

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.

Rocking it Artisanal Style

An adventure in cheese and wine

Our fondue starter.

My work friends and I decided to go to Artisanal Bistro in midtown for a wine and cheese extravaganza after work this past Wednesday night. We started out sharing the Gouda and Stout fondue served with pieces of bread, potatoes, green apples and kielbasa. The cheese was incredibly creamy and smooth, and the Stout provided the right amount of kick to enhance the flavor. It was the perfect beginning to our evening and kept us hungry enough for the main event of the night: our wine and cheese pairings. Artisanal has a separate menu for their wine and cheese pairings with twelve different choices, all with different themes. There were four of us in total, and we each ordered a different pairing. Just to give you an idea of how many wines and cheese we tried, the full list from our dinner is below (I had the Sinful Experience):



Délice de Bourgogne (Cow, France)

Robiola a Due Latti (Cow/Sheep, Italy)

Langres (Cow, France)


Bourgogne Aligoté Olivier Leflaive ‘07

Riesling ‘Vom Schloss’ Graf Hardegg Austria ‘08

Fréderic Lornet Crémant du Jura Arbois France NV



Taleggio (Cow, Italy*)

Prima Donna (Cow, Holland)

Bleu d’Auvergne (Cow, France*)


Pinot Noir Walnut City Willamette ‘08

Garnacha ‘Old Vines’ Atteca Catalyud ‘08

Cab Sauv./Merlot/Syrah ‘Claret’ Newton Napa ‘07



Pierre Robert (Cow, France)

Monte Enebro (Goat, Spain)

Époisses (Cow, France)


Domaine Chandon Blanc des Noirs California NV

Graves Chateau Haut Selve ‘06

Jurançon ‘Cuvée Jean’ Chateau Jolys ‘04



Affidélice (Cow, France)

Livarot (Cow, France)

Shropshire Blue (Cow, England)


Riesling Kabinett Markus Molitor Mosel ‘07

Jacquère St. Boniface Apremont ‘08

Malbec/ Cab./ Syrah ‘Clos de Los Siete’ Mendoza ‘07

My first pairing was a direct testament to the adage “what grows together goes together,” for both my cheese and wine were both from Burgundy and they were sublime together. The cheese was very creamy and started to ooze on the plate as it warmed up. It was a little tangy, so it went very nicely with the smooth Aligote. Next I had the Robiola (one of my favorite Italian cheeses) paired with a Riesling from Austria. The Riesling was semi-dry, yet the wine’s natural apricot and peach aromas really accentuated the Robiola. Last but not least was the Langres, the stinkiest of the cheeses, placed in a small dish to contain the ooze and to ensure that I could salvage every last yummy bit. It was served with a Rosé from France from the Jura region between Burgundy and Switzerland. They produce some very interesting varietals there, and this Rosé was made of 95 percent Poulsard and 5 percent Pinot Noir. The acidity and bubbles of the sparkling wine helped cleanse my palate and cut through the bold flavors of the cheese.

Luckily, because my friends were so generous (or maybe because Artisanal gave us so much cheese) we all got to taste each other’s cheeses. I tried twelve cheeses that night, not including the beginning fondue. If the same group of us goes back two more times, we could potentially finish the entire tasting menu. Looks like I’ll be eating a lot more cheese in the foreseeable future, something I feel pretty good about.

My Summer Pasta Love

Eating well whatever the weather

This summer has been brutal—there have been waves of heat and rain and occasional weird drops in temperature. This past summer’s weather means days when I don’t know what to eat, whether I should eat something light or something heavy, whether I should eat something cold or something hot. My body doesn’t seem to know exactly what it wants, so this summer I took it upon myself to create the perfect summer pasta. It can be served either hot or cold; thus no matter the weather, it’s a perfect dish.


1 box of pasta (I prefer farfalle)

1 bunch of asparagus

1 lemon, zested

A few basil leaves, about 4 big ones

2 tablespoons of olive oil

Red pepper flakes (choose amount based on how spicy you like your pasta)

1 pint container of crumbled feta cheese

¼ cup of pine nuts


Cook pasta according to the package—I like it al dente. Once the pasta is cooked, I rinse it and then put it back in the pot. I drizzle the pasta with olive oil, and let it sit. As the pasta sits, I steam the asparagus and then chop the stalks into pieces about 1 inch long.  I coarsely chop the basil and zest my lemon. I toss the asparagus in with the pasta, and then add the basil, lemon zest, red pepper flakes and mix it all up.  Then if I’m serving the dish cold, I refrigerate it.  When I am ready to serve the pasta either as a cold pasta salad or a hot pasta dish, I add in pine nuts and feta cheese.

Rare is the dish that is equally excellent hot or cold, no matter the weather. I’m proud of myself for coming up with this one, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do—rain, shine, or days in between.

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