The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Expert Picks: Angelo Gaja and…Angelo Gaja!

Two expert selections from John Camacho Vidal

CamachoWhen we think of international grapes in Italy we think of red Super Tuscans. But in Italy’s North, winemakers have experimented with the same vigor as Toscana’s producers; however, they often embrace white grapes, not reds. One such producer is Angelo Gaga. Located in Piemonte in the district of Langhe, Gaja is mainly known for producing Barbaresco and Barolo, but he has long been a maverick and an innovator, credited with developing techniques that have revolutionized winemaking in Italy. The “man who dragged Piedmont into the modern world,” Gaja embraced Chardonnay, and his work with this French grape is almost unparalleled in Italy. I’ve chosen two Chardonnay bottlings from Angelo Gaja that show how great this meeting of Piemonte and French white grape can be.

Gaja Chardonnay 2014 Rossj-Bass $89.99

Coming from several vineyards owned by the estate, Rossj-Bass is composed of Chardonnay with a kiss of Sauvignon Blanc. Named after Angelo Gaja’s youngest daughter Rossana (Rossj), the wine is elegant with a nose of citrus, white flowers and honeydew melon followed by minerality and a slight herbal note. The palate is bright with zingy acidity that sits nicely mid-palate and a nice, lengthy finish that leaves the palate fresh. Drink now to the end of the decade.

Gaja Chardonnay 2005 Gaia & Rey $329.00

The first white wine that Gaja produced, Gaia & Ray derives from Gaja’s first Chardonnay vineyard, which is named after Angelo’s daughter Gaia and his grandmother Clotilde Rey. This wine has a rich, full nose full of honey and citrus notes that mingle with slight stone and floral notes and a hint of toast from the oak. The palate is balanced with bright acidity, ripe fruit, a full mouth-feel, and a long finish that persists for over a minute. Drink now and into the next decade.

Expert Picks: Damilano and Aldo Conterno

Two Expert Selections from David Gwo

David Gwo 12.8.14My selections today feature two wines from Barolo, which in the world of wine is referred to as the “King of Wines, and the Wine of Kings.” Today’s two bottles are special for different reasons, but both demonstrate why Barolo earned its regal title.

1978 was one of the greatest Barolo vintages in history, yielding wines that still possess vibrancy today after almost 40 years. At the time, producers always blended their Nebbiolo grapes across all of their vineyard holdings. This was done to maintain consistency from vintage-to-vintage, but the downside was that the fruit from the best plots always got “muddled” in with everything else. In fact, this blending of multiple vineyards is a hallmark of traditionally made Barolos. Many “modern” producers opt to bottle single-vineyard expressions under the pretense that different sites produce different characteristics. However, this isn’t to say that one method is better than the other, it’s a preference and you’re allowed to like both! The 1978 Damilano Barolo demonstrates the longevity of traditionally styled Barolo from an iconic vintage. As an estate, Damilano has transitioned from bottling a single Barolo to bottling a line-up of single vineyard expressions over time.

The other Barolo today is a young one, and if you’ve been following IWM for a bit, it’s definitely a name you’ve seen before. Aldo Conterno was the son of Giacomo Conterno, whose estate produces some of the most sought after Barolos in the world. Aldo chose to pursue his own venture and wanted to make a style of Barolo that possessed a combination of both traditional and modern characteristics. The 2006 Granbussia Barolo Riserva is the estate’s flagship wine and is only bottled in the very best vintages. It represents a selection of the estate’s best grapes, coming primarily from the Romirasco vineyard. Not only was 2006 a significant year, but starting with this vintage, the family decided to drastically reduce yields and production of this wine to increase quality.

Damilano Barolo 1978 $199.99

Historically, the wines of Barolo were built to last and producers wanted them to be drinkable 20 years down the road. Vintages like 1978 stand as a testament to the greatness that was achieved even back then. This Barolo is a perfect example of perfectly mature Nebbiolo; there is just enough fruit on the palate to keep the wine “pretty,” but with tons of secondary and tertiary development. You’ll find notes of orange peel, leather, earth, and minerals. These are notes that only come with age, and they are what a true Barolo enthusiast looks for in a well aged wine.

Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo Riserva Granbussia 2006 $399.00

I’ve had the opportunity, or the privilege rather, to taste this wine on multiple occasions now and it never fails to impress. When you first open and taste this wine it’s a brick; lots of dark fruits, violets, tar, and spice. However, after a few hours, it begins to reveal itself and the layers begin to unfold. The structure is obviously massive, it has big tannins and raunchy acidity, but it is still enjoyable to taste and contemplate. It exemplifies the classic “iron fist in a velvet glove” and will develop gloriously over the course of a decade, likely more. This is one for both the cellar and the record books.

Expert Picks: Domaine Lamarche and…Domaine Lamarche!

Two expert selections from Garrett Kowalsky

Garrett_8.6.14_72dpiEarlier this year I took time to honor the estate and legacy of Domaine François Lamarche, a Burgundy legend. I was in Aspen for the Food & Wine Classic last weekend, and I was reminded all over again why that legend deserves our praise and adulation. I was privy to a few vintage selections from the hallowed vineyards and cellars of Lamarche, so I wanted to share these wines with you again. I cannot emphasize more how special they are.

The wines produced from the fruit of the vineyard Grands Echézeaux are brooding, not a term often associated with Pinot. But in Grands Echézeaux, black fruit and deep red cherries abound on the nose and palate, as do telltale Asian spices, hoison and tea. These wines are also famous for being some of the longest-lived wine in the entire Côtes d’Or. I recently had these two bottles of Lamarche Echézeaux, and if you do insist upon drinking them, I highly suggest decanting them for 8-12 hours. However, give them years in the bottles and they will give you memories for a lifetime.

Domaine Lamarche 2011 Grands Echézeaux $329.99

As recent vintages go, the 2011 had more similarities to 2010 than most. The wines were decidedly middle-weight and “Burgundian” in style. These bottles are all about their elegance and their detail, and they will go for a very long time on the palate. The 2011 is complex and deftly weaves together fruit and spice. Drink from 2020 on.

Domaine Lamarche 2012 Grands Echézeaux $379.00

For a recent comparison for the 2012 vintage, you might look back to 2009. Now, there were many differences, i.e. 2009 was a bumper crop and 2012 saw a production dip of 50%, but the resulting wines from both vintages are voluptuous, rich, dense and seductive—wines that stain the palate. Because of these qualities, the wine might not go quite as far, but it is all relative because this Echézeaux will still be a joy for 30 years. Drink from 2018 on.

Expert Picks: Montevertine and Fontodi

Two expert selections from John Camacho Vidal

CamachoSangiovese is considered the grape that defines Italian wine. The most planted grape varietal in Italy, one in every 10 vines in Italy is Sangiovese, and it is the core of some of the country’s greatest wines. The Sangiovese grape adjusts to its environment, allowing for very different tasting wines that express their region’s terroir, providing a range of delicate floral strawberry aromas to intensely dark earthy and tannic wines.

Two Sangiovese purists are Fontodi and Montevertine. Fontodi’s Flaccianello and Montevertine’s Le Pergole Torte are both mono-varietal Sangiovese and both are elegant and expressive Sangiovese wines. Fontodi is located in the heart of Chianti Classico, south of the town of Panzano, in a region called the “Conca d’Oro” (the golden shell) because of its amphitheatre shape. A certified organic estate, Fontodi has been making wine since 1968. Montevertine lies within the heart of the Chianti hills, in the community of Radda at an altitude of 425 meters above sea level. This high altitude allows the Sangiovese to retain its perfect acidity and show a bright clean expression. Sergio Manetti purchased Montevertine in 1967 as a vacation house. As a hobby, he planted two hectares of vines and built a small cellar, with an idea of making wine for family and friends. As his enthusiasm grew, Sergio decided to dedicate all his efforts exclusively to winemaking.

The passion and respect for Sangiovese is very present in both of these wines, and if you’re a real Italian wine enthusiast, you owe it to yourself to experience both of these great Sangiovese expressions.

Montevertine 2008 Le Pergole Torte $129.99

This wine is all about elegance. The nose is full of dense black fruits, spices, slight earthiness, and smoky mineraity. With some air, you get forest notes and cocoa mixed with black cherries. The palate is firm with raspy tannins and a well-integrated sharp acidity that lingers nicely. The 2008 is approachable now with some air, but it’ll keep in the cellar. Drink now and for the next decade.

Fontodi 1999 Flaccianello $179.99

I’ve tasted this vintage a few times and each time it surprises me with something new. This ’99 Flaccianello’s nose is full of dried roses, hints of tobacco and earth with soft wood notes in the background, but then black cherry and strawberry notes pop out of the glass. The palate is super silky with great acidity and well-balanced tannins with a nice long finish. Drink now.

Recollecting Gianfranco Soldera and Case Basse

Visiting the winemaker and making a memory that will last a lifetime

Gianfranco Soldera before his very big botti

Gianfranco Soldera before his very big botti

In 2011, I had the rare chance to live in Italy for about six months, to visit some of Italy’s greatest producers, and to drink some incredible wine. Among all the visits I made, my very first–to Gianfranco Soldera–is perhaps the most indelible. Soldera is not an easy-going man, but he is an unquestionably great winemaker. He holds his estate, his wines, and himself up to nearly impossible standards, and he achieves impossible feats.

If Montalcino is a magical place (and I believe that it is), then Soldera’s Case Basse estate is at the center of its mystical convergence. Much has been made in print about how the ecosystem of the vineyard works to create an insanely perfect spot to grow grapes. The vineyard has been studied by agriculturalists, microbiologists, botanists and oenologists. The estate itself seems to function as a perfectly balanced organism of water, insects, birds, flowers, trees and, of course, grape vines. It all revolves around one man, Soldera.

Gianfranco SolderaIt’s almost less important what Soldera said in the few hours that I and my friend Eleanor Shannon spent with him. He spoke in streams of Italian uttered in comforting tones and repetitive phrasing. He spoke of opera and how, as in opera, everything in nature must work in concert, and how if there is one discordant note, the entire piece falls flat. He spoke of Italy, the importance of its peninsular shape, the ranges of mountains and how they direct the air currents, and the way that the seas on all sides affect the climate. He spoke of bees and of water and of knowing how many yeast parts per million his wines contain at various stages of development. He spoke about his wine, all wine, wine throughout time, and yet what he said the loudest he didn’t say in words.

It happened twice, actually. Soldera bent down, grabbed a handful of soil, and crumbled it through his fingers. He said something in Italian too, something about how the minerals in the soil is what makes the wine taste the way it does, something about how the vines need to suffer to produce good grapes (when he said this about suffering, I got an image of Degas’ ballerinas, their fatigue and their beauty). But I didn’t find the meaning in the words he was saying—though they had import—rather, I found meaning in his old man’s hands, the almost caressing way he held the soil, and the way that he reluctantly let it dribble through his fingers.

And then it came to me: This is a man who doesn’t just know his estate; this is a man who is his estate.

IMG_1033I had the chance Soldera’s cellars, and I got to smell them in all their grape-cardboard-wet-rock-and-wood glory. I got to drink wine out of his botti, wine a few years old, and wine just a few months, and it was bright and beautiful. I got to do things that most Brunello lovers never get to do, but imagine when they look at books of Montalcino or dreamily sip a bottle of Brunello. I got to ask Soldera questions, and as I did, I got to feel inadequate. How often do we have the opportunity to take up the time of a genius? And how can we do it without feeling the pains of our own ordinariness?

Yet what I’ll remember is the magic of Montalcino filling the air, the presence of its greatest magician, and the hush of it all held in this unforgotten moment.

In today’s eLetter, IWM proudly offered the latest release from Gianfranco Soldera, the Casse Basse Soldera 2008 Rosso IGT, called thus because Soldera left the Brunello Consortium in 2012.

keep looking »