The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Festivus Wines, or How To Drink on the Holiday for the Rest of Us

What to drink with your feats of strength

Festivus, as the saying goes, is the holiday for the rest of us, and it is celebrated next Friday, December 23. Festivus, the anti-holiday, came to cultural consciousness via Seinfeld, the television show famously about nothing. In a Seinfeld episode airing December 18, 1995, Festivus appeared as a holiday celebrated by the Constanza family, taken up by Kramer, and used by George as a front for charity. Given its auspicious birth, Festivus soon spread to the big three-dimensional world beyond the small screen. In reality, however, Festivus began several decades earlier in 1965, when it was created by Dan O’Keefe, the father of one of Seinfeld’s writers. Mr. O’Keefe came up with Festivus as an antidote to the crass commercialism of Christmas (and later Chanukah), and the stark nature of the Festivus traditions continue to speak against the glitz, the glamour, the tinsel and the all-around gooey warm fuzziness of the holidays, engendered by the jiggling of fat men’s bellies, airborne ruminants and never-ending oil.

Like the wise men, the Festivus traditions are three: a metal pole (George Constanza’s dad prefers aluminum because of its “high strength-to-weight ratio”), the airing of grievances, and feats of strength. There’s also a feast, but there’s always a feast; no holiday fit to wear the name “holiday” comes without a feast. Beyond Festivus’ simple triumvirate, the traditions are open to interpretation. The pole may be long or short, set in a base or hung from the ceiling, slim or wide. The feats of strength conventionally are wrestling matches that end only when the host is pinned to the floor, but they too can include almost any act of physical prowess. The airing of grievances typically include the expression of disappointment, but those too can range far and wide like particularly spiteful Monarch butterflies.

You and I may celebrate Festivus very differently—I may like individual potted poles for all my guests, while you may like to plant yours in your backyard like a Spartan cedar—but one question always remains: what libations go best with the Festivus traditions? Christmas has its nog, its wassail and its toddies; Chanukah has its Manischewitz; but what does Festivus have? Every holiday deserves a drink, even one created by a writer on his first date to impress his eventual wife and mother to his children.

To my thinking, nothing complements the simple beauty of an unadorned metal pole like a sparkling wine. Holidays seem the natural time for sparklers—a bubbly wine is a party in your mouth. Festivus is no exception to this rule, and the operatic opening required of Puro serves as a counterweight to the austerity of the metal pole, plus Puro’s crispness creates a pleasant companion to the aluminum, which I use because I am, above all things, a staunch traditionalist.

Festivus celebrants often reach to a nice single-malt scotch or a beautiful boutique bourbon to accentuate their feats of strength, and for good reason. I have nothing against a lovely Dalwhinnie or a delicious Laphroaig, and I’m delighted to partake of Knob Creek, but let’s talk turkey. If you really want to pin that host and put a fork in Festivus, you might want to consider sipping some serious grappa. I like Poli Grappa because it’s awfully pretty, plenty tasty and wicked strong. It’s artisanal grappa, and as long as you move those delicate little hand-blown grappa glasses out of the living room before the Greco-Roman wrestling begins, you’re good to go.

Some people see the airing of grievances as a serious business, and for those people, I might suggest a somber red along the lines of a Rocche dei Manzoni Barolo or a Baricci Brunello. These are wines for Festivus followers who put great weight in their grievances, bold and contemplative wines, wines that brood with furrowed brows, wines of gravitas, and they are incidentally really, really good. But if you’re someone who likes to put your tongue firmly in your cheek during this portion of Festivus fun, you might enjoy a wine that’s higher on sass and lower on glower, like an Amarone or a Gravner Anfora. It’s up to you how you want to pitch your grievances, and the wine you choose will set the tone for your evening.

There is no specified order to the Festivus celebration. Just as some people open their Christmas presents on Christmas Eve, while others wait until Christmas Day, some Festivus celebrants like to gather around the metal pole, then engage in the feats of strength, eat the feast and finally air grievances, while others eat first, gather, fight and air later. It’s a matter of personal faith, really, and whatever works best with your loved ones, aka those who have most grievously disappointed you.  It’s a time for sharing, and not caring; a time to gather, and to blather; a time to wrestle, and then maybe to nestle.

Make merry, drink responsibly, love one another and yadda yadda yadda.

Three Simple Tips to Gifting Wine

Go for simple, personal, immediate enjoyment

Prosecco_Flutes jpegWith the holiday season in full swing, I have been seeing some familiar faces in the showroom. A lot of clients come in looking for something to give to that important wine-lover. Our clients depend on our judgment. It’s easy to recommend a wine to clients with whom you have a relationship. Over time, you get to learn their palate likes and dislikes, so it’s almost second nature. However, when it comes to gifting wine to someone whose taste you are not familiar with, it can be frustrating–especially if you are a wine lover yourself.

My advice is to keep it simple. First, determine what the budget is. I always say, “Expensive does not mean better”; it’s all about the quality not the price.  It’s easy to stick to a budget when giving wine; in our showroom, we have exceptional wines available in every price point. I always urge people to stick to their budgets because there’s something delicious that fits it.

Second, I suggest you make it personal. In my own gift-giving, I’ve noticed that people appreciate that I take time and thought in the selection, so I always encourage others to write a personal note telling why you selected the wine; you want the recipient to know why you gave them that great bottle of Italian wine when they open it days, weeks or months later. If tasting notes are available, I always include them.

Third, think immediate gratification. I recommend that you look for wines that are easy to drink and enjoyable once opened. If the people you are gifting to have no real familiarity with drinking wine, you want to assure that they get something that they can enjoy—especially so that they remember you when they drink it.

Below are a few great values that are crowd pleasers. I’ve kept it easy by choosing a wine from three of the major wine regions in Italy, so even if your recipients are not wine connoisseurs, they’ll likely have heard of the wine. For example, most people have heard of Chianti, but not as many have tasted a really great one.

Nicolis 2008 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico $69.99

Nicolis makes wine in relatively small quantities and stays focused on quality and that is noticeable in its Amarone. This is a dense, powerful Amarone with a nose full of ripe plume, spice, cocoa, tobacco and slight hints of leather mingled with herb and earth. The palate is full and velvety with chewy tannins and a nice, lingering finish. It’s a rare, affordable Amarone, and it’s worth every penny.

Castello di Selvole 2011 Chianti Classico Riserva $34.99

A classic Chianti with a great pedigree and an even better price. This is always a crowd pleaser and almost everyone I have tasted it with has loved it. This wine has a great nose full of dark cherry mingled with some earthiness and a hint of vanilla popping through. On the palate it delivers delicious cherry flavors and a classic Chianti mouth-feel.

Rocche dei Manzoni 2009 Barolo Rocche $64.99

One of the best values in my opinion, this Rocche dei Manzoni Barolo is ready to drink now with some decanting, but your wine-loving friend can also cellar it and enjoy it well down the road.  Elegant, earthy, robust, ethereal, intense and classic.

Inside IWM, December 14-17, 2015: Giving, Getting, Loving

A look back at the week that was

3 bottle basket 1What to give? What to get? What to drink? The holidays have us in a tizzy. We began the week with a salute to the traditional Italian gift wine, Barolo–learn its history, its specifics, and some of our very favorite producers. We ended the week with a guide for last-minute wine gifts, including beautiful, weird things like corkscrews and beautiful, useful things like Scott Conant’s new cookbook. John Camacho Vidal explored the many wines of Bruno Giacosa–including the esteemed producer’s everyday bottlings. And Stephane Medard toasted the recent warm New York City weather with a lovely Piemontese white, an under $27 Roero Arneis.

Francesco Vigorito can’t hide his love of Aldo Conterno, but his two picks are off this producer’s beaten path; don’t miss the value wine! Michael Adler can’t contain his enthusiasm for Anne & Sébastien Bidault; this domaine’s Burgundies are out of this world! And Crystal Edgar believes in Champagne all the time–but especially during the holidays. She picks bottles from Billecart-Salmon that ring in your celebrations with style.

Cheers to you and to yours and to your holiday season. May it be merry, bright, and delicious!

Last-Minute Holiday Gifts for Wine-Lovers

From books to Burgundy glasses, IWM has you covered

3 bottle basket 1Christmas is next week, putting pressure on those of you who need to shop for the holiday. If you’re looking for gifts for the wine lover who has everything, IWM is here to help.

First, glassware never goes amiss. One thing about wine glasses and decanters: they’re going to break. IWM has beautiful glassware—from Schnapps to Grappa, from Burgundy to Brandy, this crystal glassware transforms drinking into an art. And, let’s face it, no wine-lover is ever disappointed in getting shiny new stemware.

Books are any expert’s best friend, and IWM stocks a carefully curated selection of wine and food books, including the memoir of IWM Founder Sergio Esposito, Passion on the Vine. This book tells more than Sergio’s story; it profiles some of our favorite producers, including the late, great Franco Biondi-Santi and the very vital Ales Kristancic. It’s a fun, informative, lively read.

Speaking of books, our friend celebrity chef Scott Conant has just released a new cookbook, and IWM has created gift sets of signed editions of his new The Scarpetta Cookbook packaged with handpicked Italian wines. There’s a range of pricing, wines, and styles so you can ensure that your lucky Italian wine-loving friends have everything they need to indulge their palates and to make scrumptious Italian meals.

IWM has some pretty amazing antique corkscrews, perfect for connoisseurs of culture and history. While a visit to the IWM showroom will give you the best idea of what’s available, our website does feature a few beauties from the nineteenth century. Help your friends open their wines like Charles Dickens and Mark Twain opened theirs!

Our gift center also features wine gift baskets, wine tasting cases, wine boxes, wine samplers and memberships to our wine clubs (there are four different ones, each tailored to the palates of different wine-lovers). There’s much to give—and much to get!

Finally, you can’t go wrong with an IWM gift certificate. Sometimes it’s best to let people pick out their own presents. That way, you know they’re drinking what they love, and they’re loving what they drink!

Everyday, Any Day Bruno Giacosa

Giacosa every day (and special days)!

A label from Azienda Agricola Falletto di Bruno Giacosa

A label from Azienda Agricola Falletto di Bruno Giacosa

Most of our clients already know and love Bruno Giacosa, but most don’t know that he’s responsible for two lines of wines: the estate’s négociant arm Casa Vinicola Giacosa as well as those from Bruno Giacosa’s own estate, labeled with legendary vineyard Falletto. Born in Neive in 1929, Bruno crafts some of the most prestigious Barolo and Barbaresco wines in Piemonte and holds the rank of one of the world’s most respected wine producers. One major point to know about Bruno Giacosa is that he never studied enology; he dropped out of school after the war at the age of 13 to work with his father Mario and grandfather Carlo, who had been making wine since the 1890’s.

Bruno spent his youth learning from both his father and grandfather in the vineyards, and the most important talent they passed down to him was how to select great fruit. This was very important as the Giacosas didn’t own any vineyards; instead, they purchased grapes from select network of growers. By being familiar with each of the cru vineyards in the region, Bruno was able to “cherry-pick” the finest grapes. With time, Giacosa noticed he had less and less fruit to choose from, and in 1982, he decided to purchase the Falletto vineyard in Barolo, and in 1996, he added the Rabajá and Asili vineyards in Barbaresco.

Starting in 1996, Giacosa has divided the estate into two winery names—Azienda Agricola Falletto di Bruno Giacosa and Casa Vinicola Bruno Giacosa. Azienda Agricola Falletto di Bruno Giacosa is located on top of the Falletto Vinyard approximately 400 meters above sea level and makes wines only from estate vineyards or from vineyards he owns. These are Barolo Falletto, Barolo Rocche del Falletto, Barbaresco Asili and Barbaresco Rabajà. Casa Vinicola Bruno Giacosa, on the other hand, is located in the town of Neive near Barbaresco and makes wines using grapes purchased from selected growers including Barbaresco Santo Stefano, Barbaresco Gallina and Barolo Villero.

A label from Casa Vinicola Bruno Giacosa

A label from Casa Vinicola Bruno Giacosa

The best way to distinguish the difference between the two is by the crest on the front of the label. Wines from the Azienda Agricola Falletto have the word FALLETTO in gold letters as well as a crest with a gold F on it. In addition the labels also feature a drawing of the vineyard and winery. The vineyard name on single-vineyard wines is always listed below the type of wine and above the vintage. The single-vineyard wines are also numbered. As opposed to the estate-bottled wines, labels from Casa Vinicola Giacosa say Casa Vinicula and have a crest with a crown on it and feature a drawing of the old castle of Neive on it.

Bruno Giacosa wines are a treat. Super elegant, marvelously perfumed, and full-bodied on the palate, Bruno Giacosa’s Barolo and Barbaresco wines require time and patience, but they will reward you with a spectacular experience. I had some leftover Barolo Falletto that I drank over the course of three days. This wine was like the every-ready bunny because it kept going and going. With each sip I experienced a new aroma or flavor: earth, fruit, minirality, cassis, tobacco, and crushed stone all mingled with elegant red fruit in the background. The only bad thing about it was when I tried to pour more and the bottle was empty.

Fortunately, I have the new Giacosa everyday bottles to console myself. The Casa Vinicola Bruno Giacosa Nebbiolo is particularly delicious!

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