The jewels of our recent arrivals
I love what I do at IWM. I started with IWM in November of 2010 as the Logistics Manager. I come from a technical background, holding an engineering degree and having worked for almost six years for one of the largest companies on Earth (think band-aids and medical devices). Combining my love of wine and my technical background, my job at IWM seemed like a perfect fit. Fourteen months later, I’m involved in many different aspects of operations at IWM like cellar operations, logistics, and acquisitions.
I especially like the acquisitions because I get to be there as we unpack wines that are rare, spectacular and beautiful. My area of expertise is maximizing efficiencies with bringing in these wines to our Manhattan cellar, but I can’t help enjoying the part of the day when I get to unpack wine shipments and be one of the first people to see the bottles, many of them rare and unusual, as they come into our New York City office. I thought I’d share some of the recent acquisitions, just in case your excitement and love is anything like mine.
On the power and the pleasure of wine
Today on our Facebook page, I tossed out a question to our many fans: “What’s your most recent wine discovery that has reignited your passion for wine?” The conversation was bustling, and people tossed a variety of wines into the mix—Pinot Noir by Movia, Dolcettos, Salice Salento, and El Nogal del Pagos de los Capellanes, to name a few. I hope the conversation continues. It’s always fascinating to see what wines make people renew their love.
Looking at the tortured syntax of that Facebook query now, I’d probably edit it for elegance, but the meaning still signifies. Some wine experiences are simply better than others. It’s not always the greatness of the wine, though of course sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s the alchemical combination of wine and company, that evanescent moment that sparks a magical transformation and the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Those moments make it difficult to tease out the wine from the time, and really, sometimes it’s pointless to try.
Other times, it is the wine. Last night I enjoyed Chateau Musar’s Hochar 2004. I was out on a date that was, shall we say, neither a meeting of the minds nor one of other parts. It was a dud date, as some dates are. But this wine was spectacular. Vibrant, it shimmied across my palate scattering roses and cherries in its wake. I kept getting this image of an al fresco dinner party, little lanterns glowing in the purple night, the conversation tinkling like silver bells in the background. It was fantastic, and I wished I could go there, even as each sip transported me.
I’ve had similar experiences with other wines—La Stoppa’s weird, wild, gum-tingling Ageno; Castello dei Rampolla’s aromatic, pure Trebianco Vendemia Tardive Bianco, which I sipped with its maker on the estate’s piazza; Badia a Coltibuono’s Chianti, which I drank in Piemonte and found myself instantly immersed in a Tuscan meadow; and that nameless, faceless ‘70s Barolo that even in its faintly oxidated state made me realize that wine was worth knowing and enjoying well.
All of these wines—and others—changed my relationship to wine itself. They altered my perception, deepened my knowledge, moved my experience and my passion somewhere deeper inside my being. All of them ignited a passion. And that’s one beautiful transcendent thing about wine. It can always, ever, eternally surprise you and teach you something you never knew about yourself.
Bartolo Mascarello Dolcetto d’Alba 2010
I like to think of myself as a cursory capitalist. I try to avoid the long arm of advertising, eschewing a big brand name wherever I can. I can proudly exclaim that I’ve never visited a Walmart or polished off a wing from KFC. When it comes to wine, though, as it is with fashion, a name can mean everything.
Case in point with wine: Bartolo Mascarello–a true visionary and one of Piemonte’s few mainstays of great tradition. With the onset of the Super-Tuscan movement in the late 1960s, palates and ideas about Italian wine began to shift, but Mascarello’s relationship to its wine and its traditional practices would never sway, despite popular and critical notions. This is the kind of producer that we absolutely cherish at IWM, and in fact, the producer who transformed Sergio’s ideas about wine entirely (read about it in Sergio’s memoir Passion on the Vine). You come upon a bottle of Mascarello and you know you’re encountering the fruits of love and dedication, whether it is the estate’s show-stopping Barolo, lovely Barbera (a step above the rest in its category) or, as I tasted recently, the absolutely delicious Dolcetto.
Bartolo Mascarello Dolcetto d’Alba 2010 is the sort of wine that I would be afraid to find myself alone in a room with, for fear of complete consumption in under twenty minutes. It’s a wine that calls for no great contemplation or pondering (you could ponder until the end of your days over a glass of Mascarello Barolo), just for pleasurable imbibing. Even upon uncorking and first pour, the vibrant fuchsia hue is just joyful. With a palate of fresh red fruits and a whiff of slate, this wine makes me want to have a few cases in my apartment to open for every guest who walks in my door. What better way to be greeted?
A spectacular everyday drinking wine from such an iconic winemaker is really something special, and with the weather in New York finally dropping to those dreaded 30-degree temperatures, Bartolo Mascarello Dolcetto d’Alba 2010 is what I will be snuggling up with.
Or how one obsession becomes another
I am an inveterate bibliotaph. I have three floor-to-ceiling bookcases packed with books, some shelves two deep. My iPad holds no fewer than 300 books, and on my bedside table teeters a tower of books twelve high. There are more books scattered around my New York City apartment like errant Easter eggs. Sometimes it looks like a vintage clothing store got into a Bukowski brawl with a second-hand bookstore. I have, in short, many books.
I don’t, however, read all the books I have. I acquire them, piling one upon the other, because I’m a bibliotaph, a book hoarder. Books make me feel safe. If I don’t have at least a few unread books around me, I feel exposed. Books are my fortress, my citadel, my ramparts. I build moats of books because without them the barbarian hordes could storm my castle, and then where would I be.
Here’s the rub: I have, I recently realized, shifted this obsession to wine.
I wasn’t, as I’ve noted previously, a wine person before I started writing for IWM. I liked wine; wine was fine. I just didn’t really know fine wine from plonk. In fact, I’m not sure I even knew the word “plonk,” and I have a capacious vocabulary. I was a writer, not a wine writer, and I was a recovering academic, so I was also an adept autodidact.
Then I spent five months in Italy. I traveled extensively throughout Tuscany. I made trips to Piemonte, the Veneto, Lazio. I went to VinItaly and ViniVeri. I made friends with winemakers. I had long, lingering dinners with bottles and bottles of wine—Rinaldi, Gravner, De Bartoli, Mascarello, Il Palazzone, Paolo Bea—there are too many to recall, really.
Producers were generous with me. The loaded me up with bottles to take home and drink on my own time, slowly and with food, as God and Italians intended. Which is what I did, and doing it changed me. The first time I left Italy last June, I carried five bottles home with me–Biondi-Santi Brunello, Davide Rosso Brunello, Grattamacco, Castello dei Rampolla Sammarco, and Ornellaia. When I left this past December, I brought home eleven bottles—and this time I paid for most of them. I had become, despite my best intents, a wine person.
This past weekend, I found myself in a wine shop outside of New York City. It was just a small, jewel-like boutique. I bought two bottles of wine. I didn’t need them. I have eight here in my small apartment; nothing unusual for most of you, I know, but I live alone and this is all so very new to me. I couldn’t really afford them. But buy them I did.
And I realize now that I bought them in the same way that I buy books. Because to see the number of pristine, unopened and not-yet-enjoyed items dwindling inspires a clutch of fear in my chest. It’s not an unpleasurable frisson, but it’s there, and I must soothe it. Clearly. By buying more wine. The barbarians cannot win.
More on the best of the best of 2011
Over the last twelve months I’ve had the opportunity to taste many wines—very good, less enjoyable and absolutely astounding. The greatest part of working as an IWM Portfolio Manager is the constant exposure to the best wines in the world. There are few wine operations in the where you can taste a Giacomo Conterno Barolo, next to a Sassicaia, along with a Miani Merlot. It’s just not the type of thing that happens readily out in the great blue beyond. Before the 2011 memories fade, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on a handful of wines that gave me “wow” moment, changed my understanding of wine, or inspired me to make recommendations to my clients.
Azienda Agricola Fay is a small estate named after the winemaker and founder Sandro Fay, who began his small family-run business in Valtellina, Italy in 1973. Nebbiolo is called “Chiavennasca” in this region, and grows on mountainous landscape with spectacular terraced vineyards carved into the sides of every little hamlet. The Ronco del Piccio is the result of a long phase of experimentation of partially drying (appassimento technique) Chiavennasca grapes grown between an altitude of 350 and 900 meters. Such a vertical gradient leads to immediate flavor complexity, while the appassimento process adds richness and depth. This wine takes the best features of Nebbiolo and adds the complexities of Amarone. Bold and rich, I never tasted Nebbiolo like this.
Paolo Bea Rosso de Veo Umbria IGT 2005
From an old standard of traditional winemaking, Paolo Bea represents the best of the passionate old school. Harvested exclusively by hand and in cooperation with his two sons, this trio in the Bea family oversees all winery operations. The Rosso de Veo is a 100-percent Sagrantino, but all the grapes come from the younger of Bea’s two Sagrantino vineyards. This is the sexiest wine at IWM right now; the flavors on this wine are seductive. It’s what I imagine rubies taste like if you could melt them down and drink it. The wine also carries a wild accent of oxidative flavor, a vestige of the wholly natural approach to winemaking the Paolo Bea exercises. It’s a great introduction into Sagrantino that has a signature of timeless style.
The wines of the Conterno family require little introduction. Easily one of the best producers year to year, Aldo Conterno Barolos consistently display an otherworldly quality. Some might say it’s a bit of a cop-out to have a pick of the year go to Aldo Conterno. It’s like predicting the Yankee’s will go to the MLB playoffs, but in my defense, the 2005 vintage was largely overlooked. It sits bookended by two amazing vintages 2004, 2006, and even more so 2007, so for most it was easy to miss. However, this wine made me an advocate of the vintage, as it’s a perfect example of how 2005 made “sweeter tannins” rather then austere masculine structure. Although this is not the most classic to Barolo, these sweeter tannins make for a delicious wine that you can drink earlier than 2007. Currently I’m buying up 2005 Barolo’s like crazy, and I recommend you get on the same dark horse and ride.
La Torre Brunello di Montalcino 2004 — $64.00
This is my top Brunello of the year. The wines of La Torre are all Sangiovese based and come from a small 7-hectare farm. The winemaker and founder, Luigia Anania, began the estate in 1977 after a long period of researching the correlation of vine-age to wine complexity, specifically with Sangiovese-Grosso, at the University of Milan. His long studies lead him to make outstanding wines that are complex, but offer pleasurable differences vintage to vintage that differentiate each year from the next. This wine is drinking amazing right now and will mature in complexity for another ten years. More is expected to come to my cellar in the next few months because we sold through our fall allocation so quickly. It’s a breathtaking Brunello, and I should know; I drank a lot of them last year.
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