The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

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!

Tomatoes, Summertime’s Simple Joy

A toast to summer’s best fruit

Nothing says "carpe diem" like tomatoes

Nothing says “carpe diem” like tomatoes

Tomatoes are a simple delight. Their taut skins straining under the pressure of their flesh, their seeds held captive in that singular tomato gel, their meaty husks strangely satisfying, you know, for a fruit—tomatoes make it look easy, especially right around now, late August, when in a good year we are knee-deep in tomatoes’ lambent hues. And, make no mistake: this year in the Northeast is a very good year for tomatoes.

In the best of all possible worlds, we eat them warm off the vine, as thoughtlessly as we eat berries or apples, depending on the size of the tomato. One step down from that, we find them ripe to almost bursting, and we slice them (serrated bread knives are the secret to cutting tomatoes without tearing their thin skins), plate them, drizzle them with olive oil and dust them with salt. You can go for baroque and add fresh mozzarella, ricotta or burrata, if you like. Sometimes the lily enjoys a little gilding.

My love affair with summer tomatoes began when I was a toddler. My great-grandfather tended a small garden at our family’s summer enclave on Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. I’d watch him garden, and I’d putter about the tomato stakes, taller than I, inhaling the tomato essence, that herbaceous acrid smell that fills your nostrils with its pointed scent. He raised beefsteak tomatoes, and we’d all eat them sliced on plates, their wet tomato guts oozing beautifully.

Like my great-grandfather, my mom grew tomatoes in her organic garden. She tried all manner of trellis, stake and tree to get the best results; at one point, she even let the vines grow upon one another, like long tendril puppies in a big pile. When we had bad harvests, which happened often in Vermont, she’d fill the larder with jars and jars of garlicky pickled tomatoes. Wrapped in newspaper and kept in the dark, a tomato will ripen slowly but perfectly—another tip for you.

Tomatoes, like berries, like peaches, like watermelon, are a fruit of summer. You can get them in the winter, but why bother? The waxy February representations of an August fruit is like eating a bad memory (on the other hand, canned and jarred tomatoes are things of lingering, useful beauty). The tomatoes of summer shout a cacophony of carpe diem. Seize the tomato and enjoy it. Chop it, mix it with extra virgin organic olive oil and salt, and spread it across garlic-rubbed bruschetta, and serve with an orange wine from Paolo Bea. Slice it, drizzle it with olive oil and balsamic glaze, and serve it with watermelon and feta, and put a nice, steely Amalfi Coast rosato on the side. Take a handful of the tiny tomatoes, cut them in half and swirl them with pasta, brie and olive oil, and serve with Cornarea Roero Arneis. Or just eat them from your palm, a saltshaker in your other, as my great-grandfather did. Nothing that good ever goes out of style.

Expert Picks: Artadi and Bodegas Emilio Moro

Two expert selections from John Camacho Vidal

CamachoThis past weekend I was privy to a treat when a client and friend invited us over for some Jamón Ibérico. We expected it to be a pleasant evening with a few slices of this delectable melt-in-your-mouth jamon, but it turned out to be a whole leg accompanied by a master carver that not only sliced paper-thin morsels for us to try but also allowed us to try our hand at slicing for ourselves.

Jamón Ibérico or “Iberian ham” is a type of cured ham produced in Spain. Other than its taste, Jamón Ibérico’s one main characteristic is that it comes from black-skinned pigs, who are descendants of the Mediterranean wild boar. Another distinct feature is that these pigs are acorn-fed, which gives Jamón Ibérico an intensely sweet, earthy, and nutty flavor profile. The fat is so soft that it melts in your mouth. From start to finish, the ham-making process is quite simple: all you need are good pigs that have been left alone to fatten on acorns, then cured with nothing more than salt and air from the farm.

Knowing that the evening was going to have a Spanish theme, I brought two Spanish wines: Artadi Rioja El Pison 2001 from Rioja Alavesa and Bodegas Emilio Moro Malleolus de Sanchomartin 2009. The wines we tasted that night were great and paired well with the smoky, sweet, nutty flavors of the ham; however, these two wines will pair beautifully with a range of dishes.

Artadi 2001 Rioja El Pison $325.00

Known for making wines that are rich and aromatic, the Artadi estate produces its wine in Rioja Alavesa and has the highest elevation in Rioja. Vinified naturally without any chemical additives, El Pison is a 100% Tempranillo cuvée produced from a single limestone soil vineyard planted in 1945. The big, dense nose is full of cherry, black fruit, cassis and a hint of cedar wood, licorice, and forest floor. The palate is still very young, but this ’01 is silky smooth with good weight and flavors of red and black berries. The tannins kick in a bit dusty lingering on the finish nicely. Drink now with some decanting, or cellar and drink for the next 5-10 years.

Bodegas Emilio Moro 2009 Malleolus de Sanchomartin $199.00

The Moro family has been farming the same vineyards in the Ribera del Duero since 1932, and the estate is located at the top of a bend in the Duero River in the town of Pesquera del Duero, just to the Northwest of Peñafiel. Malleolus is Latin for majuelo, and also the local term for a small vineyard; this wine is made with 100% Tinto Fino harvested from small plots that range from 25-75 years of age. The wine undergoes alcoholic fermentation in stainless steel before being transferred to 500 liter new French oak barrels for malolactic fermentation and 18 months of aging. This is a sexy wine with an intense nose with hints of tobacco, some spice, and slight balsamic notes, vanilla and cocoa all backed by ripe rich black fruit. The palate is full of tangy acidity with notes of licorice cocoa, raspberry and velvety tannins. You can decant and drink now or cellar and drink between 2018-2030.

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