The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

What Do Millennials Want? A Wine with a Story

Finding meaning in a bottle of Movia Merlot

Findings by the Wine Market Council, graph from

Findings by the Wine Market Council, graph from

Being a kid in the 90’s was awesome. My days were typically spent rolling around town on my Razor Scooter, sipping on Capri Sun, listening to Now! Volume 7, and generally being boss in every imaginable way. But alas – one must grow up and enter the real world. As time passes and my generation, known as “Millennials,” enters adulthood, we bring with us a fresh set of tastes, preferences and values. And while I’m typically wary of such all-encompassing generational monikers, it is impossible to negate the effects that Millennials have had on the world of wine.

Now, at the ripe age of 24, I’ve been lucky enough to taste a lot of amazing wines at IWM. My unique position does not make me an outlier, however; nationwide, young people are encompassing an increasingly broader share of the consumer market. Twenty-somethings in 2014 drink a lot more wine than twenty-somethings in 1994. Wine bars are popping up all over the city.

Most importantly, the Millennial wine market is less concerned with “old-guard” standbys such as traditional rating systems. Younger wine drinkers value an intriguing story over a number. Quoted in a recent Fox Business piece on Millennial wine drinkers, Melissa Saunders of Communal Brands says, “Historically, wine has been marketed to older generations and came with a huge pretense. But this generation is blowing all of that out of the water. They don’t care about the pretentiousness of a wine, they want something that is authentic and speaks to them.” I know my own experience attests to the truth of Saunders’ assertion.

One of my favorite wines comes from Movia in Brda, the land that straddles the border of Italy and Slovenia). Centuries old, the Movia estate is rare in that it combines old-world traditionalism with new-world sensibilities. Ales Kristancic, owner of Movia produces all of his wines biodynamically, meaning that not only does he grow the grapes and make the wine without intervention, he uses the movements of the moon and the stars to guide his practices. You might be inclined to raise an eyebrow at the cosmological aspects of Kristancic’s winemaking process–that is, of course, until you actually taste his wine. I recently had the pleasure of tasting the Movia Merlot 2004, which I found lively while remaining smooth and gentle. The 2004 Merlot from Movia offers a delightful expression of terroir that is drinking beautifully today.

Maybe you’re a Millenial, in which case I suggest you open a bottle of this biodynamic beauty for your friends. And maybe you’re a Gen-X or Baby Boomer, in which case I suggest the same. A great wine is a great wine, and as long as you’re over 21, you’re adult enough to enjoy it.

Go-To-Wine Tuesday: Movia Vila Marija 2008 Merlot

A delicious, silky, biodynamic Merlot for under $25

RD5908-2Italian grown Merlot has made a name for itself as a part of the Super-Tuscan movement, especially when part of a blend with other international varietals or indigenous Italian grapes. Because of this blending trend, I often find myself hard pressed to find a great 100 Merlot coming out of Italy—at least one that I can enjoy regularly, leaving Masseto, Messorio and Redigaffi out of the picture.

The creativity of Aleš Kristančič, the man behind the Movia winery in Brda, Slovenia (which straddles the border with Fruili, Italy), takes front stage in his 2008 Merlot from Vila Marija. Aleš makes all of his wines in a biodynamic method, by the rhythms of the moon and without any added yeasts, chemicals, pesticides, fining or filtration. In making his Vila Marija Merlot, which derives from grapes grown on younger vines to preserves the delicacy of the grape, Aleš allows the cap of grape skins to fall to the bottom of the tank, which naturally filters the wine.  The wine is then aged in French barrique for 18 months and goes through biological deacidification, processes that give the final product body and wonderful structure while still retaining that silky texture and soft tannin.

I have been a long time fan of biodynamic wine production, a strategy of agriculture that can be described as “organics plus.” When it comes to Movia wines, this growing method gives the wine drinker a direct link to the exact spot where the grapes were grown, the soil conditions and climate. It’s also is a testament to Aleš’s innovative winemaking techniques and the care and attention he gives to all that he does. Biodynamic producers must adhere to an organic production for a number of years before they can become certified biodynamic, meaning that Movia has been committed to an all-natural approach for some time now. I believe that Aleš personifies what biodynamic viticulture is capable of.

What’s special about Movia’s 2008 Vila Marija Merlot—beyond the growing and vinification methods—is that in the final product you get all the juicy, soft elegance of the Merlot grape in the glass. What I love most about this wine are the subtle tannins; they’re certainly present but they only whisper so as not to take away from the floral nose, or the red berry flavors and earthiness you get on the palate. Just under $25 a bottle, this makes for a perfect glass of wine when you are serving with h’ors d’oeuvres or a light lunch. If you want a departure from those full, big, tannin-rich reds of the winter season, I would definitely suggest you pick up a bottle.

Expert Picks: Le Boncie and Castello dei Rampolla

Two expert selections from Garrett Kowalsky

Garrett_1While the weather this week in NYC has been mild, I’m not fooled. By no means do I expect the rest of this winter to continue with this balminess. I know there are cold days ahead. These wintry days will require you to stay indoors while you stare at snowflakes out the window while indulging yourself with a grilled cheese sandwich and some tomato soup. Sure, you could pair these comfort foods with just about any beverage, but, heck, you have to stay warm—so let’s get fancy. I picked two amazing Tuscan food-friendly wines that’ll warm you from the inside.

Le Boncie Chianti Classico Le Trame 2008 $42.99

First, this is one of the rarest Chiantis to hit our shores; only 200 cases make it to the States every year. Le Boncie makes its wine in a staunchly traditional style, advocating the use of Sangiovese aged in large oak casks, blending no Cabernet nor using any French barriques. 2008 in Tuscany was one of the best vintages of last decade, so this mid-weight wine is exquisitely perfumed and elegant in style but well structured for a Chianti. Le Trame will be sure to deliver an experience and will be even better when it’s on your dining table next to some food! Drink now and for the next five years.

Castello dei Rampolla Sammarco 2000 $75.00

Here’s a selection we have some quantity on, and that just blows my mind. If you follow IWM you’ve seen us sing the praises of Castello dei Rampolla for a long time. Sure, the 2000 may be a warm vintage, but I can tell you from personal experience that this blend of Cab-Merlot-Sangiovese is a superstar, and nowhere else will you find a wine of this quality with this age and pricing. If you’ve often wondered what the craze is over Super-Tuscans, this is your chance to find out. Drink now and for the next ten years.

Go-To-Wine Tuesday: Movia 2008 Pinot Grigio

An all-weather, high quality biodynamic $30 Pinot Grigio

WH1593-2Pinot Grigio (a.k.a. Pinot Gris everywhere outside of Italy) is one of the most well known white wine grape varietals here in the States. This recognition comes from the work of certain producers who have become staples in the U.S. market for this varietal. Unfortunately, as a result of the popularity of this white, there are tons of mass produced mediocre Pinots out there. Thankfully in the world of wine there are always exceptions, and there are a few producers who focus on quality through careful plot selection, grape harvest, yield limitation, and production methodology. These individuals create wines of great character that are incredible examples of Italian Pinot Grigio.

Many people are under the impression that Italy stands as a benchmark for Pinot Gris. Truthfully, in most instances, I would personally much rather have an Alsatian or even an Oregon Pinot Gris. In my opinion, wines from these regions have much more going on for them in terms of complexity and expressiveness. That being said, one of the producers that we love here at IWM is Ales Kristancic of Movia. The Movia estate sits in Brda, straddling the border of Slovenia and Friuli. Brda is one of those innovative regions where winemakers are constantly experimenting with winemaking techniques, especially with the white wines the region is famous for. Movia wines are 100% biodynamic and they make a fantastic mono-varietal Pinot Grigio, as well as a Chardonnay, a white blend labeled Veliko Bianco, some reds, and sparkling wines as well.

Even though it’s wintertime and freezing here in NYC, you can enjoy a good white year round (hopefully indoors and in the warmth) with good food, and Movia Pinot Grigio is one of those whites. On the nose this 2008 wine possesses classic aromas of pear, melon, and a unique white flower/chamomile tea-like note that I was surprised to find. The fruit flavors follow through on the palate with a medium to full body and a nice, round mouth-feel. This wine would be in great company with a nice piece of fish or pasta in oil or a light sauce; it’s even lush enough to go with grilled chicken over a salad.

In comparison to other available Pinot Grigios, this Movia bottling stands out as what an Italian Pinot Grigio can and should be. If you’re going to spend over $20, do yourself a favor and consider picking up this bottle. It’s a delightful antidote to the common Pinot Grigio.

The Obscenity of “Natural Wine”

On producers, marketing and recognizing it when we see it

Montevertine grows its grapes without intervention

Montevertine grows its grapes without intervention

Just what is natural wine? Nobody seems to know for sure. Last Friday’s WSJ published a piece by Lettie Teague attempting to answer this question, albeit with qualified success. In the course of her article, Teague consulted a few industry professionals (some winemakers, a few wine retailers, and natural wine maven Alice Feiring) and a few bottles (some whites with which Teague was “pleased” and some reds that she opted not to name with which she was “much less happy”). At the end of the article, however, we get no closer to a working definition of “natural” in wine.

Teague reports that natural wine can mean anything from made without intervention, to made with no intervention; from made with only natural yeasts to made without addition of sulfur. “Natural” becomes, in this respect, like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of “obscenity”: people know it when they see it.

Of course, when “natural wine” operates on the level of “obscenity,” some people don’t see it at all. Others see it everywhere. And Teague is pretty quick to acknowledge both camps. Charles Massoud of Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue, N.Y., not a producer of a natural wine, asks, “Natural as opposed to what?” Stu Smith of Napa Valley’s Smith-Madrone says that natural wines are “emotional reaction to an ever-changing world.” While Teague observes that Smith is sympathetic to the natural wine movement, one can wonder why, in this ever-changing world in which we live, we’ve not seen the rise of natural wines previously. Debate wine all you want, but we can all agree the world is always changing.

Il Palazzone grows its grapes and its olives naturally

Il Palazzone grows its grapes and its olives naturally

I’ve long been an outspoken advocate of natural wines, though I am guilty of not providing a clear definition myself. When pinned against the rhetorical wall, I consider a wine to be natural when producers grow their grapes without naturally occurring pesticides or fertilizers, and when they ferment, age and bottle their wines with minimal intervention. I can live with temperature control, I suppose, and I reluctantly acknowledge that even the great paragons of the natural wine movement (Paolo Bea, Querciabella, and Movia’s Ales Kristancic, for example) probably need to add small amounts of sulfur to their reds.

Inasmuch as I understand why the amorphous term “natural wine” garners so much nitpicking, I don’t understand why it raises such ire. There may not be a clear, cogent unifying definition for what makes wine natural, but it often feels like the opposing force martials just as muddy an argument against it. Opponents seem to be united by one main point: to call a wine natural is a marketing ploy.

Valdicava? Also organic.

Valdicava? Also organic.

To which I respond: so what? Producers who use natural winemaking protocol use more labor intensive practices; their harvests are prone to greater damage; their grape yields are lower; they take more risks in the vineyards—and if they carry these practices into the cantina, they also use more labor, run more risks and are prone to greater vintage variance. As far as I’m concerned, these people can say anything within reason to market their wine. Have at the term “natural” if it helps.

In the meantime, pour me another glass of that Porta del Vento Ishac Nero d’Avola It’s biodynamic Sicilian red made with only natural yeasts and bottled without sulfur. Lettie, you can join me for a glass. My treat.

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