The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

IWM NYC’s Black Friday Tasting!

Our yearly must-attend complimentary event!

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How To Use Your Senses in Wine Tasting

One-two-three-four senses working overtime

Spitting_1-300x225Tasting wine and learning to verbalize that experience is no different than anything else in life; the only way to get better at it is to practice.  Whether you are tasting wine on a more formal level or just enjoying it with some friends, it’s always important to take a couple of seconds and describe to yourself what you have in front of you. Especially when blind tasting, your ability to recall previously tasted wines is a huge factor, so writing notes and going over them the next day are extremely helpful. Tasting is just like learning to exercise any other “muscle”: the more you work it the bigger it gets.

When you are done, you should be able to tell the type of the wine you tasted by just reading what you have written. Here is how I like to compose my notes (I’m looking specifically at red wine because it’s kind of the default setting for red wine. The process, though not the details, is mostly the same for white wines):

Sight: This might be the least helpful of them all, but it will still give you some clues as to what grape it could be and how old the wine is, especially when tasting red wine. Look at the wine in the glass; then swirl it and see how the legs, or the rivulets that run down the side of the glass look. Red wine starts our purple, then moves to ruby, red, brick and finally brown as it gets older. Also take note of the viscosity as this will help make confirmation of the weight on the palate. Don’t get too hung up on the legs, just take note on how prominent they are.

Smell: This sense is perhaps the most important. We have the ability to distinguish over a thousand aromatic compounds, and certain grapes show specific aromatics, making smell wildly helpful. I always check for the ripeness of the aromatics in every glass that comes close to my nose.  Riper aromas will give a good indication of warmer climates and vice versa. Also, it is important to note the maturity of the fruit.  Are the aromas still primary?  Or have they evolved secondary and tertiary characteristics? Secondary and tertiary characteristics—notes such as leather, cigar tobacco and tar—can indicate an older vintage or a wine that’s mature despite its chronological age.

Spitting_2-300x225Taste: This sense is smell’s conjoined twin. What you taste in your mouth is more or less an extension of what you smell, but despite that closeness in physical processes, the aroma of a wine and the taste of a wine can be very different–or very much the same. See what aromatics get replicated, amplified, or excluded from the wine’s taste. See also whether the taste changes. Many wines start out fruity and end dry, or build from woody to flowery, or undergo some other transformation. Note too how “clean” the flavors are, whether they seem to unfold in the glass or over time, and how long they last.

Feel:  This part, when assessed correctly, is the most helpful part in describing a wine to someone. In your mouth, does it feel more like water or more like cream?  Does the wine feel angular on the palate or round and smooth?  Also take note on how dry the wine is and how much you can feel the alcohol, as these will both give indication as to origin and variety. Now it’s time to look at the structure as this will determine how long a wine can last.  Tannins can either be very prominent or very light.  Are they rough or silky? Green or ripe? Harsh green tannins are never good, but round silky tannins are a sign of balance and maturity.

Conclusion:  The finish of wine might be the most important quality. After all, if you are drinking a $100 bottle, you should let that delicious flavor linger for a while!  You also want to take what you have written down qualitatively and transform it into a brief tasting note.  This is what you will ultimately remember, and it can help you buy wine that you suspect you’ll like even when you’ve never had it before. It’s also fun to impress your friends with your newfound skills.

Join us for one of our wine events to help hone your palate. There’s nothing like experience–delicious, delicious experience.

Anticipating the 2015 Aspen Food & Wine Classic

Looking forward to June 19-21

JPatFWFor three days in late June, Aspen, Colorado, becomes a hive of people, parties, booze and food. There is no place to park and there is no place to turn without bumping into a reveler, chef, winemaker or foodie. The Aspen Food and Wine Classic started as a small event for winemakers to showcase their wares. Local industry elite would walk the booths tasting wine and deciding what to serve for the next season. Now, Food & Wine has become the event of the year. It marks the end of off-season and the beginning of summer. Celebrities, famous Chefs and Top Chef watchers from around the globe fly into Aspen’s tiny airport on private jets and commercial airlines to drink, eat, and be merry for three straight days.

Aspen Food & Wine Classic begins on the third Friday of June and lasts until Sunday. For the lucky pass holders (passes sold out within a month this year) this means a total of five grand tasting events and six lecture events. The fun begins on Friday at around 11 am when while a line begins to form and stretches from the entrance of the Grand Tasting Tent at Wagner Park all the way down the cobblestone mall to not-quite-reach Paradise Bakery. Each person in the line wears a pass-holder’s lanyard and carries a cloth bag containing swag, magazines and notebooks.

Inside the park has been transformed into a wonderland. Each of the two Grand Tasting Tents are filled with row upon row of tables dressed in white table cloths with large blue signs detailing each winemaker or company. The corners of each tent anchored with large brands: Stella Artois pours chalices of golden beer paired with pork sliders; or Bombay Sapphire taunts you with paired offerings from Food & Wine Magazine’s best chefs and mixologists; and the Spanish tent features Iberican Hams are slices with wheels of manchego and wines such as Riojas and Tempranillos. The courtyard outside the tents offers a Patron Booth featuring refreshing Mojitos or Popsicles, or bookssignings, and water stations. Visitors lounge on chairs and tables taking in the beautiful visa of a green mountain set against a perfect bluebird sky.

I have been lucky enough to attend three years of Aspen F&W, once as a pass holder, once as a chef, and once as a wine representative. The first day I walked into my regular coffee spot, I locked eyes with Anthony Bordain and almost fainted. As the weekend went on I became accustomed to seeing famous people everywhere. Mario Batali at a lecture event, Tom Colicchio walking past on the street, Mario Lopez interviewing Jose Andres. After three days of grand tastings and lectures, I was unable to move.

My second F&W I helped create the menus and execute food for three parties, as well as poured spritzes in the tent. At the third I attended an aged-wine party, an Oyster and Tiki party, a Champagne Party and five industry events in two days. This year Italian Wine Merchants Aspen will have a booth inside the Grand Tasting Tent. We will be pouring classic IWM wines, and chatting with attendees about their wine tastes, needs and desires. If you plan to attend please drop by and say hello. We would love to meet you and give you the inside scoop to all the happening events!

Powerful Mother’s Day Wines

Why you should ditch “feminine” and “masculine”

Ornella Tondini at Cupano

Ornella Tondini at Cupano

This Sunday is Mother’s Day in the US (it’s in March in the UK). Historically, wine suggestions for Mother’s Day range from bubbly to rosé to white to sweet wines. These types of wines are stereotypically “feminine,” and it has as much to do with the way that we write about wines as it has to do with the way that we understand gender. It has very little, however, to do with the wines that women drink.

About a year ago in a post explaining some common wine terms, the Wine Enthusiast unintentionally raised consciousness about the gendered ways we talk about wine. Writing about the term “feminine,” Alexis Korman said:

Don’t automatically bristle at this gendered wine term. According to Ross Wheatley, director of food and beverage at Lucy Restaurant and Bar in Yountville, California, this terms is not only “easy to relate to,” it also perfectly describes wines that tend to be lower in alcohol and tannins.

“Imagine a wine that has similar characteristics to a woman and her best qualities,” says Wheatley. “A wine that is light, refined and delicate might be called feminine; the polar opposite of those so-called masculine qualities in wine—strong, muscular, larger and bigger.”

Wine writers leapt on this division where the “strong” and “muscular” are automatically male and the “refined” and “delicate” aren’t merely female—they’re a woman’s “best qualities.” Erika Szyanski at The Wineoscope wrote, “Women can and should be praised for being a lot more than that: strong, intelligent, capable, funny, and any other praiseworthy characteristic we appreciate in people.” And on The Grape Collective Jameson Fink chimed in, “Well my ‘auto-bristle’ mode engages when it comes to ascribing inherent characteristics based on gender.”

A cursory news search of “feminine wine” suggests that this act of putting the light, graceful wines in the ladies’ room and the robust, powerful wines over there in the men’s is far from over. Just today, Katie Kelly Bell, writing a Forbes piece questionably titled “50 Shades of Rosé,” describes one as “elegant and quite feminine.” And last Thursday, Alan Kingsbury segues from “the feminine charm of rosé to the robust masculinity” of Ribera del Duero. A week before that, Bill Zacharkiw, writing about Beaujolais for the Montreal Gazette, extolls the “feminine quality in Chiroubles, Chénas and Régnié“; from what I can tell, this quality includes the ability to go with fish.

Maybe you’re a feminist and you’re on board with me already, understanding that language shapes our understanding of not merely a wine but also the world. But maybe you’re not. Maybe your thinking runs along the lines that wine is like people, and like humans, wine shows characteristics that we tend to think of as falling into camps of masculine and feminine. I probably can’t argue you out of this kind of stereotypy. As much as I’d like you to understand that it’s important to women to be able to be strong, robust and powerful (and, I’d also argue, it’s important to men to be able to be refined, elegant and graceful), it’s likely that you’re not going to be swayed by me.

Rather, I’d suggest this: that every time you use “feminine” or “masculine” to describe a wine, you’re running the chance of alienating people. If you’re a wine marketer, as I am, this is important. I want everyone to feel comfortable drinking rosés, Barolos, Rioja, and Vin Santo. In fact, it’s my job to ensure that men want to buy traditionally “feminine” wines and that women want to buy traditionally “masculine” ones.

Maria Teresa Mascarello looks happy in her cantina

Maria Teresa Mascarello looks happy in her cantina

If you’re a wine critic, this choice is still important. You may not have a horse in the race of selling that wine, but you do have a choice about the “face” you show the world. When, as Allen Balik did, you defend using the terms “feminine” and “masculine” by saying, “There is nothing ‘sexist’ in the terminology and neither term should be interpreted as a negative descriptor,” you’re running the risk of turning off a whole host of readers: ie, people like me. Moreover, you’re showing yourself to be a person who will dismiss the question of sexism with a wave of your hand. The twenty-first century is no time for this stance.

Which still leaves you and your mom standing around wondering what you can drink. Maybe you have a mom who really likes stereotypically “feminine” wines (I do), or maybe you have a mom who gravitates toward towering big reds. You can make a choice that will not only delight your mom but will also honor the sentiment of the day: you can pick a wine made by a woman winemaker.

Allegra, Albiera and Alessia Antinori are all winemakers, and Albiera helms the Antinori’s estate in Piemonte while Alessia is spearheading the renovation of Fattoria di Fiorano in Lazio. Gaia Gaja has slowly been taking control from her father, Angelo, and Mateja Gravner is poised to take over for Josko. Maria Teresa Mascarello has been running Bartolo Mascarello for years; Marta Rinaldi is taking over for her father, Giuseppe; and Ornella Tondini works alongside her husband, Lionel Cousin, at Cupano. And Silvia Imparato—who makes a seriously brawny, decidedly sensual wine at her estate—has long been a winemaker. And that’s just a cursory list.

Please let me know your favorite women winemakers in the comments. You don’t have to be a mother to enjoy really, really good wine. You just have to have had one.

Tinto for TECHO: Exclusive Annual Fundraiser & Winemaker Dinner

A special charity event with IWM

Tinto-For-techo-iconExclusive Annual Fundraiser & Winemaker Dinner

Thursday, May 28

7:00-10:00 pm
Four Seasons Restaurant
(Pool Room)
99 East 52nd Street, New York, NY 10022

Italian Wine Merchants & TECHO are delighted to invite you to Tinto for TECHO’s third annual fundraising dinner to be held at the Four Seasons Restaurant on Thursday, May 28, 2015. Hosted by Jorge Mora, Paolo Domeneghetti, Sona Dula, Sergio Esposito, Martin Brand and Pablo Calderini this special multi-course dinner will feature two great winemakers, Didier Depond, Président of Champagne Salon and Delamotte, and Marc Perrin, CEO of legendary Château de Beaucastel.

Founded by Eugène Aimé Salon in the early twentieth century, Salon Champagne is one of the legendary Blanc de Blancs bottlings, and along with “sister” Champagne house Delamotte, Salon forms the foundation of iconic Champagne house Laurent-Perrier. One of the largest and oldest estates in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Château Beaucastel is no stranger to those who love of the wines of the southern Rhône; indeed, you can make a strong argument that Beaucastel crafts some of the region’s greatest wines.

All proceeds from the winemaker dinner event will be donated to TECHO, a youth-led non-profit organization. TECHO offers social development programs in education, health, and housing to extreme poverty communities in 19 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean.

While this event features Salon and Beaucastel’s two winemakers, sommeliers will also pour choice selections from Italy’s Antinori, Slovenia’s Movia, and Spain’s Alvaro Palacios. Enjoy terrific global wines, fine cuisine, and an intimate gathering of like-minded individuals–all while helping others. It’s an evening that you and your guests will remember for a lifetime.

To learn more about TECHO, please download the PDF.

Host Committee:
Jorge Mora | Paolo Domeneghetti | Sona Dula
Sergio Esposito | Martin Brand | Pablo Calderini

Individual Seats: $1,000
Table for 10: $10,000

Sponsorship Packages also Available.

For all purchases and inquires, please contact your portfolio manager or contact Lupe Ayerza at 917-592-0085 or

To purchase your tickets online please click here.

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