The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Sloe Gin’s Slow Return

Three cocktails that make the most of Sloe Gin

Sloe Berries, ripening

Sloe Berries, ripening

If it’s not evident already, I love gin. Unlike some other alcoholic beverages, Gin is a liquor that tastes like something; it evokes history and tradition, as well as modernity and subtlety. Most people associate gin with out-of-date Marinis or simplistic gin and tonics, which are excellent drinks, but that’s shortsighted. There are many expressions of gin: Old Tom, London Dry, Plymouth Gins, Navy Strength, Sloe Gin, Genever, or barrel aged, to name a few. Each one has a specific flavor profile, and each serves as a foundation for delicious cocktails. While I could talk about all of them, today I am going to expound on the Sloe Gin.

Sloe gin is made from the blackthorne drupe. Known as the blackthorn berry, or Slow Berry, this fruit is related to a plum but it’s less sweet and less juicy, and it doesn’t have much culinary use other than jams and gin. The enterprising English found that pricking (traditionally with its own thorns) the berry, adding sugar and soaking the mixture with gin creates a fantastic, viscous drink. Originally the English heated the gin and drank it warm to combat the bone-chilling damp of London winters; however, once the Americans got hold of it, they realized that soda water and ice bring out the bitter berry’s flavors.

Swept up in the tide of cocktail culture, Sloe Gin is experiencing a modern day revival. Modern distillers are reviving the gin to expand their offerings; for example, Slipsmith pours its fantastic London Dry over hand picked Dartmoor sloe berries to create a a limited edition Sloe Gin; Hymans has had its Sloe Gin recipe for centuries, which is lighter and a bit sweeter than most; and Plymouth’s Sloe Gin recipe, which originated in 1883, uses Dartmoor water, less sugar, and a longer steeping time to create a less acidic berry-forward flavor.

In turn, these new expressions of Sloe Gin give rise more complex cocktails. There are, of course, the originals—the Sloe Gin Fizz or Sloe Gin Toddy—but Sloe Gin’s flavors lend themselves to more interesting pairings. Sloe Gin and Bourbon go very well together; Sloe Gin and baking spices are fantastic’ Sloe Gin and sweet Vermouth have an obvious affinity; and Sloe Gin is especially friendly with Egg. Working with both tradition and modern cocktails, below I’ve listed a few of my favorite Sloe Gin Cocktails.

Bourbon Sloe Gin Fizz

1oz Sloe Gin

1oz Bourbon

1 oz lemon juice

1 tsp simple syrup

4 oz club soda

Shake Gin, Bourbon, lemon, and simple syrup. Pour over crushed ice in a highball glass. Pour over with club soda, garnish with a lemon slice.


Sloe Gin 75

3/4oz lemon juice

1 tsp powdered sugar

1.5 oz Hayman’s Sloe Gin


Mix the powdered sugar with the lemon, shake with the sloe gin and pour into your glass of choice. Layer with the Cava.


Hayman’s Sloe Gin Toddy

1 tsp honey

4 whole cloves


1.5 Oz Hayman’s Sloe Gin

Hot water to taste, about a half cup

Orange wheel, cinnamon stick

Dissolve the honey in the hot water with the spices, add the Sloe Gin, and garnish with the orange wheel and cinnamon stick.

Go-to-Wine Tuesday: Sartarelli 2013 Verdicchio Tralivio

A delicious, fresh under $22 Verdicchio and a recipe for instant summer!

WH1822-2Summer is over, but we have had such beautiful sunny days in New York City that I wanted to open a nice bottle of white wine and cook a dish that reminds me of great summer dinners. One of my favorite dishes is the pasta all’astice (lobster pasta). This simple dish with few ingredients is the natural expression of the great product that nature has to offer.

Verdicchio is probably one of the best pairings for shellfish dishes because it is fresh, crisp and has a nice sharp acidity. The aromas of citrus perfectly complement clams, crabs, and lobsters! The Verdicchio grape has been cultivated in the Marche region since the fourteenth century. One of IWM’s best-loved Verdicchio producers is Sartatelli. Founded in 1972, this beautiful estate is situated 1000 feet above the level of the sea in the middle of Castelli di Jesi, the finest region for growing Verdicchio.

IMG_2405 The bottle I picked for my summer feast was Sartarelli 2013 Verdicchio Tralivio, and it was everything I could hope for: concentrated yet vibrant, floral and citrusy, and finishing with that telltale bitter almond that makes Verdicchio so perfect with shellfish. The result of meticulous grape selection and traditional vinification techniques, this wine is a textbook expression of Verdicchio, and at just over $20 a bottle, it’s easy and affordable to enjoy!

Spaghetti all’astice

Ingredients for two people:

1 live lobster (2 ½ lbs is a good size)

2 split garlic cloves

8 small cherry tomatoes

Extra virgin olive oil

One glass of Sartarelli Verdicchio Tralivio

Past : spaghetti, linguine, fettuccine, or vermicelli

IMG_2399First of all, you can ask to get a live lobster split for you at the fish market; otherwise, I highly recommend you to put your live lobster in a cold fridge with a humid towel on the top for a couple hours. The cold temperature puts the lobster to sleep and will not feel anything when you cut him alive (I promise).

Crack the live lobster into two pieces, starting with the head down to the tail. After putting aside the lobster body and its jus, you can rinse out the grey/beige part from the head. You should also crack the two claws to help them cook easier.

Do not be scared if the lobster still moves even after being split into two pieces; just as happens in frogs, the nerves are active, but the crustacean is dead.

Take a very large skillet with a lid, and start making a soffritto, braised garlic and olive oil, at medium heat with extra virgin olive oil and the split garlic cloves.

IMG_2401Then add the two parts of the lobster shell in the skillet; pour a glass of white wine, the lobster jus and your small cherry tomatoes. Increase the heat to evaporate the alcohol for a couple minutes, then reduce the heat, cover with the lid and let cook for 18-20 minutes.

IMG_2403IMG_2402As the lobster is cooked, take the two pieces and of lobster and the claws out of the skiller. Remove the inner meat part out of all the shells, cut in small pieces and put back in the skillet to mix with the juice. Keep warm and cover.

Once the lobster is almost done and changed to a bright red/orange, toss the pasta in the five quarts of salted boiling water.

Cook pasta to taste, strain the pasta, put it in the skillet and mix with the lobster pieces. Serve on warm plates and add some fresh-cut Italian parsley at the end.

IMG_2405This meal, paired with Sartarelli Verdicchio, will fool you into thinking it’s summer, even in the middle of January. It’s a pretty easy trip to August, whenever you might need it.

Why Nebbiolo is Autumn’s Wine

A case for Nebbiolo and a bonus risotto recipe!

A bunch of ripe Nebbiolo

A bunch of ripe Nebbiolo

Fall has the most magical look in Aspen. The groves of shimmering green trees turn to yellow and set the mountains ablaze with color. And this color change means that it’s time to drink red wine. Fall reds are tricky; I feel the need to keep summer alive, but I also have the desire to embrace winter. For me, autumn usually means Nebbiolo wines. I consider the Nebbiolo grape the most interesting of Italian red grapes and I associate it with the autumnal season—for one thing, the grape gets it name from the dense October fog that settles over the vineyards!

Picking Nebbiolo

Picking Nebbiolo

I’ve long loved the Nebbiolo grape, not only for its earthy nose, but also for its robust characteristics. Before I had any formal wine education, I had the privilege to travel to Piemonte multiple times. I’ve seen the rolling hills and the nebulous fog. I’ve drunk the different Barolo and Barbaresco vintages and I smelled the centuries-old cellars. Without any knowledge about the grape or the wine, I was able to appreciate Nebbiolo with an innocent palate. My most recent trip was with my sister; we were driving a badass sports car from Umbria to Milan and decided a detour into Piemonte was in order. We drove into the hills of Alba in the afternoon with no place to stay and no understanding of the language. We parked and began walking the cobbled streets. As we passed a restaurant before it opened, the chef called out to us, and after a confused conversation, we had an amazing place to stay and a fantastic meal. Later that night in a small restaurant with wooden benches and walls cluttered with years of wine bottles, the chef brought us a Barolo Risotto that literally changed the course of my life.

Winemaker Maria Teresa Mascarello and Sergio Esposito

Winemaker Maria Teresa Mascarello and Sergio Esposito

The beauty of Nebbiolo is that it is so terroir-driven and so expressive that it changes drastically depending on where it is grown and what winemaking techniques the producer uses. However flexible, Nebbiolo has a very distinctive quality so that it can easily be distinguished from any other grape on the planet. Whether it’s a Barolo, Barbaresco, Langhe Rosso or a Nebbiolo blend, wine made with Nebbiolo is distinctive because of its nose of tar and flowers, its slight medicinal note, its light color, and its deep fruit and tobacco finish. Additionally, Nebbiolo has an uncanny ability to age. A young Nebbiolo wine is drinkable, of course, but the nuances that it will develop over time are incomparable. Nebbiolo’s tannin and acidity are the backbone of its aging ability and a reason why this wine is such a fall affair.

The pairing of Nebbiolo to fall is a perfect one because the dark fruit flavors and earthy tones remind me of decaying leaves and the smell of the chill in the air. The thick skins of the Nebbiolo grape create a tannic structure that pairs well with the heavier fall foods such as ragu, braised meats, pastas and, of course, risotto. Risotto was one of the first Italian dished I learned how to make and it still influences my Mediterranean culinary style. To toast to the new fall season, open a bottle of Nebbiolo and drink it while experimenting with my Barolo Risotto Recipe.

Julia’s Barolo Risotto


3 tbs good quality olive oil

1 clove garlic

¼ cup dry vermouth

1 cup Arborio rice

4 cups veggie stock

2 cups Barolo wine

1 tbs butter

Salt and pepper


Heat the stock in a separate pan or kettle so that it’s simmering when you’re ready for it.

Put the olive oil in a thick-bottomed risotto pan, on medium-low heat. Mince the garlic and add to the oil. One soft, add the rice and stir to coat each grain with the oil. This protects the rice grain and allows for the starch to generate slowly.

Once the rice has been coated deglaze with the vermouth. Some people use wine at this point, but I like the herbaceous quality that the vermouth creates. Let the vermouth reduce with a simmer at medium-high heat. Season with salt, but not too much.

Pour a cup of simmering stock onto the rice; stirring slowly and constantly, let the stock become absorbed by the rice. Before the bottom of the pan goes dry add another cup of stock. Continue to stir constantly. The consistent agitation of the rice allows the starch to come out and create the creamy texture so desired in risotto. One the second cup of stock has been absorbed, add a cup of wine. Continue to add cups of stock and wine until the rice is al dente, but always end on the wine. Turn off the heat and season with the salt and pepper to taste. Add the tablespoon of butter to mount the rice. Serve immediately.

From the IWM Kitchens: Panelle de Fave

An easy, delicious, and versatile traditional Italian dish

IMG_20141202_163205Eaten in many parts of Italy, Panelle de Fave goes by different names in different regions. It’s Panelle around Sicily, Panissa in Liguria, Calentita around Gibraltar, and likely other names in other places. No matter what you call it, this dish starts as a smooth batter of ground fava beans and water that is fried and enjoyed as finger food. It’s delicious and a great accompaniment to wine, perfect as an appetizer or as an accompaniment to soup, salad or stew.

IMG_20141202_162118IWM’s own Chef Mike Marcelli likes to change the base ingredients depending on the season; this past spring was chickpea, and for the winter he’s thinking of trying Cicerechi beans from Abruzzo! Currently he’s using fava flour. Not finding one he liked, Mike sourced good Haba (dried whole fava beans) and put them in the blender until very fine. He did warn that making your own fava flour in a blender will make a racket, but the end result is a flour that has actual, serious fava flavor! Mike says that making your own fava flour is “not unlike coffee from fresh ground whole beans versus that of pre ground.”


300 gr fava flour

1 liter of water


oil (for greasing the pan)

lemon juice


IMG_20141202_164522After making your own fava flour (or using one you already like), prepare 1 liter boiling water, seasoned with a pinch of salt. Measure out and sift 300gr fava flour. Slowly pour the flour into the boiling water while whisking vigorously, just as you would when making polenta. Drop the flame to low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the raw flour taste is gone and the mixture shows a smooth consistency (about 10 minutes). Pour the batter out onto an oiled plate and let cool. Once cold, turn out onto a cutting board and cut into small pieces. Fry in oil at 375°F until golden. Season with salt, lemon juice and parsley for a fantastic finish!

IMG_20141202_192137The end to a chilly perfect day,  panelle de fave, a nice green salad, and a nicely chilled glass of white wine, preferably from one of IWM classic producers. You might try Enrico Fossi 2000 Terrantica, Sartarelli 2014 Verdicchio Castelli dei Jesi Classico, or Domaine Barat 2011 Chablis!


Fall Recipe: Pappardelle ai funghi porcini

A delicious, fast, easy pasta recipe that celebrates autumn’s bounty

mushroom pasta 1As fall is coming, it’s time to celebrate the start of mushroom season! If you can find fresh porcini (lucky you) for this recipe, they are the best; otherwise dried funghi porcini are also perfectly fine. The texture of dried porcini is different, and they have a stronger and earthier aroma than fresh porcini, but they work for this recipe.

For 2 people:

10 oz of pappardelle

Dried or fresh funghi porcini

Extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon of butter

Fresh cut Italian parsley

¼ cup of heavy whipping cream

Coarse salt

mushroom pasta closeupIf you are using dried porcini, put the mushrooms in a large bowl filled with very hot water (under boiling point) and let sit for 20-30 minutes. Do not stir to avoid mixing the sand particles at the bottom. Save one cup of the mushroom water. Gently strain the mushrooms and let them dry on multipurpose paper.

If you are using fresh porcini, gently brush them, cut the bottom of the foot, and avoid as much as possible to rinse them with water—the mushrooms will suck in the water and flood the pan as you cook them.

Cut the mushrooms in slices and set them aside. Heat a large frying pan at medium heat and add a tablespoon of butter and olive oil. Sauté the porcini mushrooms with a quarter garlic clove and a pinch of freshly cut Italian parsley for 10 minutes or until starting to get soft. Add some salt once the mushrooms are almost cooked.

Be careful: the dried mushrooms cook faster than the fresh ones. Once you see the porcini are cooked, turn down the heat not to dry up the mushrooms.

Toss the pappardelle in boiling salted water (5 quarts + generous coarse salt). While the pasta is cooking, add some heavy whipping cream to the porcini in the pan (preferably Panna chef /Italian brand) and cook for about 10 minutes. If the mix looks too dry, add some water from the mushrooms; if you used the fresh porcini, just add some water from the boiling pasta.

plated mushroom pastsStrain the pasta and add the pappardelle to the pan with the mushrooms, mix well and serve in large plates. Add freshly cut Italian parsley on top.

Barolo is the classic match for this dish and two I would suggest are Renato Ratti 2008 Barolo Marcenasco or Scarzello 2007 Barolo; both of these wines are delicious, fairly traditional Barolos that will give you a great taste of fall. If you’re more of a Burgundy lover, go for François Gay 2013 Chorey Les Beaune or Domaine de Montille 2011 Bourgogne Rouge. These wines aren’t just delicious—they’re also affordable alternatives. Whichever you choose, I hope you enjoy your autumn with good food and great wine!

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