The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Pour That Funky Wine

Posted on | August 27, 2014 | Written by Camacho Vidal | No Comments

The resident horse at Cupano, Cavallo

The resident horse at Cupano, Cavallo

After I read this Monday’s blog post on the role of smell in wine memory, I started to wonder exactly why it is I’m partial to wines that, well, are funky. I love wines with some barnyard, earthy notes, sauvage, wildness or funk in them. The blog post notes how closely aligned memory and scent are, and as a wine educator, I find it’s sometimes difficult to describe a smell since it is tied to this memory. It’s our own memory bank makes wine so personal and links it to our individual experiences. This personal history both makes certain wines special to us and makes it hard to always pinpoint why. After thinking about why I love funky wines, I began to get a clue.

When I was growing up my parents used to send my brother and me to Colombia every summer vacation. If school was out on Friday, by Sunday I was at my uncle’s farm with my cousins running around and riding horses. These are some of my fondest childhood memories. I love horses and I remember hosing them down and brushing them after an afternoon of riding. Horses smell like barnyards, like warm leather, like hay, like animal sweat, and like the plains where I rode them. When I smell a wine that has some of these aromas or traits it transports me to that point in time. When I host a tasting and ask people to describe what they smell in a particular wine I have noticed that when they describe it passionately it is because they have made a memory connection and have been transported.

While it’s pretty easy to get behind scents like roses, fruit, river rocks or spice, there is a bit of controversy when it comes to funky wines. The question most asked seems to be, do these characteristics reflect a bad or faulted wine or is it the terroir coming through?

The rustic aromas of farmyard, barnyard, leather and cured meat that you often get in a wine are imparted by a yeast called Brettanomyces or BRET. Some love what this yeast does to a wine and others don’t. Many wine experts argue that this is a non-desirable wine fault. Others say that it is terrior, and since BRET smells and tastes earthy and funky, it is often understood as a component of terrior—or in excess, as mistaken for terroir.

Whatever the memory or reason is, if you like funky wines the way I do, we are not alone. There is a growing population of wine drinkers who love the funk. A bit of earth leather or funk goes a long way on certain wines, so I say let the experts argue all they want. The truth is that if you love the funky, then drink the wine; it’s entirely up to your taste buds to decide what you prefer. To illustrate my love I chose two of my favorite wines that are all about bringing the funk.

Radikon Merlot 2000

This wine is not for every palate. If funk is not your thing then absolutely skip it. But if you want to taste a wine that will shock your palate and give you an experience that is unlike any other, you must taste this Merlot. When I first poured this 2000 Merlot, the first thing that came to mind was how funky it was on the nose. It smells a little like borscht soup (in a good way), or if you have ever walked through a stable of sweaty horses after a fox hunt, it will bring back that pleasant memory. Intense red, slightly hazy or opaque, this wine blow off some of its funk with some time and lots of aeration, revealing some really sweet, ripe red fruits, herbs, cocoa and a bit of licorice. The mouth-feel is incredible—the tannins are sweet and complex, rich with hints of ripe fruit with a very persistent aftertaste of cherry and spice. Over a three-hour time lapse, this biodynamic ’00 Merlot develops further to become almost a completely different wine, more nuanced, more mellow, yet still fresh.

image003Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses 1990

Chinon is produced in the Loire Valley of France. I haven’t had many Chinons, but and when I tasted this 1990 by Olga Raffault I fell in love. From the get-go the nose is full of leather with notes of black tea, herbs, tobacco and olives followed by iron minerality, notes of red and dark berries, smoke, a hint of eucalyptus and some game and coffee. The palate is silky but gripping almost chalky. The acidity is great followed by spice, red and black fruit and a nice lingering finish.

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Expert Picks: Col Vetoraz and Krug

Posted on | August 27, 2014 | Written by Garrett Kowalsky | No Comments

Garrett_8.6.14_72dpiLabor Day weekend is here, and with it comes the realization that summer has come to an end. It is a bittersweet time of year. On one hand, the warm afternoons grow fewer and fewer and daydreaming of vacations with your family will likely have to be put off until next year. On the other, it’s an exciting time though as we welcome what is undoubtedly my favorite season in New York—fall. The color, the weather, the food—nothing quite compares to autumn. So in the spirit of sending off what was a phenomenal summer and welcoming a new season, I say, “Hey, let’s pop the bubbly!” In fact, the big bubblies, because I chose two magnums, the better to celebrate the end of this great season.

Col Vetoraz Prosecco Valdobbiadene NV 1.5L $49.99

This bottle is pure fun in the sun” Refreshing and vibrant, this Prosecco offers tremendous refreshment and enjoyment in magnum and at this price point. “Prosecco” is not just the style, but also the name of the grape, and unlike Champagne, its secondary fermentation occurs in a tank via the charmat method. As an estate, Col Vetoraz focuses solely on the Prosecco grape, something few do, and this single-minded approach has made them the authority on the subject. Drink now and for 2-4 years.

Krug Champagne Collection 1985 1.5L $2,224

Since Joseph Krug founded the House of Krug in 1843, we have been privy to some of the finest bottles of wine in the history of not just Champagne but in all the winemaking world. In the 1980’s, the estate spun off the “Collection” series of wines from its “Vintage” series. This new “Collection” allowed the estate to hold wines an additional ten years to allow for maturity and secondary flavors to become more pronounced. While 1985 may seem “old,” this wine was only released within the last five years. Drink now and for 5-10 years.

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Go-To Wine Tuesday: De Conciliis Donnaluna Fiano

Posted on | August 26, 2014 | Written by David Bertot | No Comments

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I enjoy and admire the wines Bruno De Conciliis and his family are crafting in southern Italy in Cilento, the heart of Campania. Bruno de Conciliis, currently at the helm, convinced his father in 1996 to abandon the poultry industry and pursue making wine. A former architect, Bruno likely ensured this project was well orchestrated; this effort succeeded, and he and his estate are making delicious wines with mostly indigenous varieties. Not content to rest on his laurels, Bruno is continuously improving his viticultural techniques—in fact, the winery is currently transitioning from organic to biodynamic in all facets of the winemaking.

The De Conciliis Donnaluna Fiano 2012 is a highly regarded white wine made with the ancient indigenous Fiano di Avellino grape, whose name derives from the Latin for “vine beloved of bees.” Along with indigenous Anglianico, Fiano strives in hot sunny climates. At De Conciliis, olive orchards surround the vineyards, and the vines face south and southwest, toward the Mediterranean Sea. The southern exposure and the ancient soils the roots gives this delicious Fiano wine its full body and fruit-driven palate.

The nose of this ’12 introduces you to pears and bright traces of orange, and the body provides a nice balance of acidity with pears, peach and subtle citrus. The finish is long, creamy, and pleasant. I recently enjoyed this with a plate of pickled ramps, hot sopresatta, dried apricots, grilled bread and Caciocavallo. I also spread nonnata de pesce (made with Calabrian peppers, tiny little ice fish, and olive oil) on the bread with butter for a fantastic pairing.  At $28.99 the De Conciliis Fiano is a treat for any night of the week.

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Expert Picks: Palari and…Palari!

Posted on | August 26, 2014 | Written by David Gwo | No Comments

unnamed-2If you’re an adventurous taster and looking to explore Italian wine outside of star regions like Piedmont and Tuscany, Sicily is a phenomenal place to start. Over the last decade or so, Sicily has transformed from a region known for producing high volume “jug wines” into a thriving quality wine-producing area. The picture today is much changed, with many winemakers turning to organic and biodynamic viticulture, and a strong focus on introducing the region’s indigenous varietals in the international market. You’ll rarely see varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay in Sicilian wine; Sicilian producers want to represent their native grapes and make delicious wines from them.

Salvatore Geraci and his Palari label is one of my favorite Sicilian discoveries since being here at IWM. Palari is located around the hills of Messina, and it makes two distinct bottlings: Rosso del Soprano and Faro. Both contain the same blend of grapes—Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Nocera, Cappuccio Tignolino, Acitana, Galatena, Calabrese—but the Faro is the flagship bottling, made from the best selections in a given vintage.

Drink:

Palari 2009 Rosso del Soprano $42.99

This is such a delicious Rosso from Sicily. Whenever I taste this wine I think to myself, “This wine has so much character.” This medium-bodied red offers great balance and polished tannins, but it also possesses an inherent vibrancy from its juicy acidity. On the nose, you get bright red fruits that carry through on the palate. This is a wine that screams food pairing, matching perfectly with pizza, pasta, and medium-flavored cheeses.

Cellar:

Palari 2007 Faro $80.00

Faro is one of the smallest DOCs in all of Italy, consisting of only 15 acres, so production is extremely limited. This wine isn’t something you’ll come across in your neighborhood wine shop, but it’s well worth the search. It’s won many Italian tasting awards; Faro is definitely my favorite Sicilian wine to date. The Faro is a bit fuller than the estate’s Rosso del Soprano, possessing more weight, depth, and complexity of flavor. Medium-full bodied with a bit more tannic presence, this wine will develop further with a bit of cellar time. For those that are eager to taste, you can pop a bottle now and decant to experience the dark cherries (they turn to bright cherries the next day), dusty earth, and herb-like notes that this wine delivers.

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Smell, the Oldest Sense, and Two Tuscan Wines

Posted on | August 25, 2014 | Written by Janice Cable | No Comments

Dusk at Cupano

Dusk at Cupano

Smell is, they say, the oldest sense. It’s the most atavistic of all our senses, something that usually continues to work even after sight and hearing are gone; only touch is a contender for the most primal of our basic five, but it doesn’t really come close. Even bacteria can “smell.”

Only smell is directly hardwired into the brain itself, and this is one of the reasons why scent is so tied to memory. The olfactory bulb sits squash against the hippocampus, the seahorse shaped part in the center of the brain that serves as a nexus for information that comes from all over the brain. To be reductive, the hippocampus is responsible for, essentially, making memories. And the olfactory bulb, the point in our brain that processes smell sits right beside it.

Location, location, location, they say, and if they’re talking about why smell and memory are inextricably linked, they may have a point. A piece in NPR teases apart the link between a memory and a smell, as writer Tom Stafford wonders why certain scents will unlock memories he had of his grandmother’s toy closet. Stafford writes:

Smell is unique among the senses in that it enters directly deep into the brain. If we look at the major pathways travelled by the other senses, such as hearing and vision, they start at the sense organs – that is, the eyes or the ears – and move to a relay station called the thalamus, before passing on to the rest of the brain.

With smell the situation is different. Rather than visiting the thalamic relay station on its journey into the brain, smell information travels directly to the major site of processing – the olfactory bulb – with nothing in between. We do not know what stopping off at the thalamus does for the other senses, but it certainly means that signals generated in the other senses are somehow “further away” from the nexus of processing done in the brain.

Scent, then, is a straight-line link between experience and processing, and the site where it registers snuggles up close and personal with the place where memories are made.

The view of the hills of Radda from Montevertine

The view of the hills of Radda from Montevertine

I bring up this inextricable link between smell and memory because I felt it last week. As Will Di Nunzio reveals in his expert picks for the day, last week we had a celebration at IWM, one filled with delicious food and a lot of really excellent wines. Some of the wines I loved, like the Raffaele Palma rosé that Will picked for his post, but I had no real-life context for. I’ve not been to Campania yet; I don’t know what its air smells like, and while I can guess, it’s sheer extrapolation. Other wines, like the seriously awesome Bruno Giacosa ’09 Barbaresco Santa Stefano, I have a faint sliver of sense memory; my time in Piemonte was very limited, but I did walk in vineyards and inhale the scent of the earth.

But a couple transported me to Italy in a single deep inhalation, specifically the Montevertine Rosso and the Cupano Brunello di Montalcino. Both of these wines smell so deeply of places I knew, places I’d spent time, places whose dirt I’d had under my fingernails, whose pointed scents I’d held in my nose, whose sun I’d felt on my shoulders, that they each felt like little time-travel machines, taking me back in time and across continents to Radda, to Montalcino, to places I know and love and haven’t seen in several years.

Wine is something that’s easy to enjoy because it tastes good, and it smells good, and it enlivens food, and it makes conversations more intimate. Yet for all these good things, wine is more than that. It’s a microcosm of time, of place, and of memory. And this, more than sightseeing, more than touching the barriques and hearing the winemakers’ stories, is what’s valuable about visiting the places that make the wine you love. Every time you want to visit, you need only open another bottle, pour yourself a glass, inhale deeply, and be there, in spirit and in love.

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