The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

The Singing of Sangiovese, in Pian del Ciampolo

Posted on | September 10, 2014 | Written by Camacho Vidal | No Comments

RD8533-2When we think of Super-Tuscan wines, we usually think of wines that are on the modern side, big and rich utilizing French oak and international grapes like Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah. But that’s only part of the story. There is also a side to Super Tuscans produced by those who are Sangiovese purists. These are wines made to express the Sangiovese grape and Tuscan tradition, with no international varieties added at all.

One exceptional producer is Montevertine. Restored by Sergio Manetti in 1967, the estate lies in the heart of Chianti 450 meters above sea level. Manetti produced his first vintage in 1971 and ever since Montevertine has been producing spectacular Sangiovese-based wines: Pian del Ciampolo, Le Pergole Torte and Montevertine.

Last night I had the entry-level bottle of the trio, a lighter wine that’s made for earlier drinking, Pian del Ciampolo 2012, a blend of 90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo, and 5% Colorino—all grapes that are all native to Tuscany. The wine is aged in Slavonian oak barrels for 12 months before bottling resulting in a delightful easy-drinking wine.

The color is dark red—almost like blood. On the nose, you get all the typical Sangiovese aromas: dark cherry, spice, currants red berries followed by olives. There is earth that seems restrained and minerality in the background.  The palate is full and fruity with well-balanced tannins and clean acidity. If you’re in the mood for a Super Tuscan that is not an oak or fruit bomb, try Montevertine. Start with the Pian del Ciampolo and you’ll see how Sangiovese can sing on its own.


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Expert Picks: Aldo Conterno and…Aldo Conterno!

Posted on | September 10, 2014 | Written by David Gwo | No Comments

unnamed-2The late Aldo Conterno (a.k.a. “The King of Barolo”) is one of the most influential figures in Italian winemaking history, and the entire Italian wine world grieved his passing a few years back. If you enjoy Barolo, you’re already very familiar with the name Aldo Conterno, but if not, tasting his wines is a must! Aldo was the son of legend Giacomo Conterno, arguably the greatest Barolo producer, and brother to Giovanni Conterno. In 1969 the brothers parted ways with Giovanni assuming control of the Giacomo Conterno namesake vineyards and Aldo creating his own label to explore beyond the boundaries of traditional Barolo production.

The wines from the Aldo Conterno estate are an IWM staple in every vintage. Tip-top cellar choices, the 2010 Barolos will ultimately need quite a bit of aging before showing their best, which is why I’ve chosen one 2010 Aldo Conterno that you can drink now (not a Barolo) and one 2009 Barolo, a more approachable vintage. I’ve tasted many 2009 Barolos at this point, and they are all gorgeous. They don’t show the dark and structured power of vintages like ’04, ’06, or ’07, yielding wines that required a minimum of 5-8 years of cellar time before being approachable; instead, what 2009 offers is jaw-dropping elegance and finesse—the finer side of Nebbiolo, if you will.

Aldo Conterno 2010 Langhe Rosso $26.99

Looking for a Langhe that isn’t Nebbiolo? Check out this interesting blend consisting predominately of Freisa with a dab of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Freisa is a varietal indigenous to Piedmont, and when produced by an estate like Aldo Conterno, this grape yields a friendly and delicious alternative to long-aging Nebbiolo. This wine is very approachable, with just enough tannins from the Cab and Merlot to provide structure and acidity contributed by the Freisa. It has flavors of red fruits, earth, and a hint of flowers.

Aldo Conterno 2009 Barolo $79.99

This 2009 Barolo is one of the great successes of the vintage and is a terrific choice to enjoy after a bit of short-term to mid-term cellaring—in short, it’s a great wine to enjoy while waiting for your 2010s to mature. This ’09 Barolo offers beautifully forward aromas of cherry, tobacco, tar, and spice that carry over to the palate. This is one of the more concentrated and assertive Barolos of the vintage and possesses a tight structure and juicy acidity that unfolds in glass.


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Go-To-Wine Tuesday, De Conciliis Selim

Posted on | September 9, 2014 | Written by Crystal Edgar | No Comments

lab01973Campania ranks up at the top of my favorite Italian wine regions. The mild climate, the beauty of the coasts, the richness of the region’s art and history, and the love for food make Campania the fascinating territory that it is. The region is agriculturally rich offering a bounty of vegetables and fruits that flourish in the rich soils under Mount Vesuvius. Although there are many indigenous grapes grown in the region region, the top five to remember are Fiano, Falanghina and Greco on the white side and Aglianico and Piedirosso for the reds.

For a long time, you could count noteworthy Campanian winemakers on your fingers. However, Campania has seen a dynamic resurgence with boutique producers popping up, offering distinctive wines, and bringing the DOC denominations from nine in 1975 to nineteen by the end of 2000! One of my favorites comes from the former Greek colony of “Cilento” in the heart of Campania, the De Conciliis estate.

Over the weekend I opened a delicious bottle of bubbly from this unique and boutique producer, De Conciliis Selim Spumante Brut, under $21. An anagram, “Selim” is a vibrant sparkling wine created as a tribute to jazz artist Miles Davis. A blend of 70% Fiano and 30% Aglianico, Selim is the first ever sparkling wine produced in Campania and, in my opinion it’s one of the better value bottles of Italian bubblies. Aromatic with fine perlage, the wine suggests aromas and flavors of nectarine, Anjou pear, white tea and a hint of almonds. Given the dynamic soil variations in the vineyards, this Campanian sparkler offers a prevalent mineral quality interlacing the fruit character and acidity in the wine.

Just as Bruno De Conciliis uses music as his inspiration for the wines he creates, I felt that his wine was my inspiration for the evening’s culinary conception. Inspired by this “jazzy” wine, I reached for fresh goat cheese rolled in lavender, ricotta with olive oil and honey, toasted almonds, castelvetrano olives (the big green ones), and thinly sliced salami. When I entertain, there is always a cocktail or wine to start, an array of antipasti, and carefully chosen music. For the main course, I made my version of linguine vongole—pasta, fresh clams, white wine, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, spring onion, parsley, basil and red chili flakes. Empty plates and glasses were a sign that is was a successful pairing.

To enjoy this Campanian wine in the context of several others, paired with delicious, dishes crafted in the IWM kitchen, join us at our Saturday wine lunch, Amazing Wines of Campania and the Amalfi Coast, on Saturday, September 20, 2014.


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Expert Picks: Baricci and Paolo Bea

Posted on | September 9, 2014 | Written by Garrett Kowalsky | No Comments

Garrett_8.6.14_72dpiPumpkin spice here, pumpkin beer there and pumpkin lattes are everywhere! While it may only be September 9, it seems like everyone is in a big old hurry to press forward and get to the next season. Normally I am a big proponent of taking your time and enjoying every single day as it comes at you, but to be honest, fall is the one season I welcome and want to usher in early.

There is a comfort in autumn. There is something to cool weather and warm sweaters, crisp nights and haunted Halloween attractions filled with frights. But most of all, there is something very comforting in looking out at the horizon and seeing the leaves turn and the cycle of life continue. In the spirit of wanting to feel this contentment, I present you two wines that warm my heart.

Baricci Brunello di Montalcino 2009 $54.99

This bottle is not easy to come by as only a handful of retailers in the States ever have access to it. In fact, after a disagreement with their domestic distributor years ago, Barrici sought a new partner in America, and Sergio is one of the main reasons why you can find this wine at all. Wholly traditional in style, elegant and vibrant, and touched by high notes with a hint of rusticity, this ’09 is one of the few highlights of the vintage. Drink now and for 5-7 years.

Paolo Bea Sagrantino di Montefalco Pagliaro 2007 $79.99

Paolo Bea is an estate and Pagliaro is a wine that you have likely heard much about from IWM. But I can never get enough of either Bea or this bottle. There is something about the Sagrantino grape, something about the fact that it is so inherently “Italian” and untouched by the rest of the world. It’s warm and inviting while also exhibiting strength. Bea is the producer of Sagrantino and his bottling have become pure magic. Drink now and for 5-10 years.


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A Guide to Blind Tasting: Part 4, Synthesis

Posted on | September 8, 2014 | Written by David Gwo | No Comments

red wine tasting manToday, David Gwo comes to a rousing conclusion on his guide to blind tasting. Here are the first three installments, in case you missed any: Part 1, color and appearance; Part 2, smell; Part 3, taste

So we’ve come to the grand finale—the moment when you determine which wine you’re looking at, smelling, and tasting! Unless you happen to be an exceptionally gifted blind taster who is able to accurately create aroma and flavor profiles, this takes a lot of practice. Most master sommeliers and Masters of Wine will tell you that blind tasting is incredibly difficult, even for individuals like themselves, and like anything else that’s complicated and difficult, it takes time and experience.

Coming to a conclusion is a deductive process using the objective evidence that you’re presented with in the wine. One of the biggest mistakes blind-tasters make is questioning what they are smelling and tasting, going against their noted observations. It’s a tough temptation to fight, I’m guilty myself, often thinking, “I know this is _________, but it could be this or reminds me of that.” These are all thoughts that ultimately steer you in the wrong direction and lead you to the wrong conclusion. Step back, examine the wine visually, smell it, taste it, write it all down, and make the logical call. Here is the process:


1)     Color: White, Orange (Amber), Rosé, or Red?

2)     Once you determine the color, note the hue. Certain varietals, regions, winemakers are known to produce wines that are characteristically a lighter or darker hue. If it’s white is it almost transparent, straw, yellow, or golden? If it’s red, is it garnet, orange, ruby, or purple?

3)     Is there rim variation giving an indication of age?

4)     What’s the viscosity? Wines that are more viscous possess either a higher alcohol content or a higher sugar concentration.


1)     What’s the intensity of the aromatics? With white wines especially there is a broad range of aromatic intensity between varietals. For example, Gewurztraminer is distinctly and powerfully aromatic, while a varietal like Muscadet can possess very subtle aromatics.

2)     Are the aromas youthful (i.e. primary fruits & fresh new oak) or aged (i.e. secondary & tertiary aromatics, leather, earth, etc.)

3)     Note specific aromatics: fruits, spices, flowers, herbs, oak, minerality


1)     Degree of sweetness/dryness?

2)     Body: Light, Med, Full

3)     Note specific flavors: fruits, spices, flowers, herbs, oak, minerality

4)     Tannins: Low, Med, High

5)     Other structural components: Alcohol, Acidity, Complexity, Length

6)     Is it Old World (Europe) or New World (everywhere else)? New World wines tend to possess more extraction (darker color and concentration) and alcohol because many of the New World wine regions are in warm or hot climates. Warm or hot climates produce very ripe grapes, which ultimately leads to more sugar, and thus higher alcohol. Old World wines tend to possess a more balanced alcohol profile and tend to come from cool-moderate climate regions.

Once you have all the objective information make your conclusion. This is where a bit of wine knowledge comes into play—and where your practice makes perfect, or closer to it. To make an accurate deduction the taster needs to know a bit about different grapes, the regions in which they come from, and producers in the region. This level of specificity, of course, isn’t a necessity unless you’re a wine professional. Don’t let this dissuade you from getting together with friends to have blind tasting nights! When you first start, it’s fun just being able to identify which varietal you’re tasting—plus you’ll get to impress all your friends! Enjoy your tasting journey.


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