The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Taking Respite in Pescetarian Fancies and Good Wine

Pan-Seared Scallops and Carrot Risotto, a recipe

After counting bottles of wine sold, adding up numbers, and dealing with the ins-and-outs of managing financial and operational enterprises, I find solace and indulgence in the evening’s respite.  Luckily, my better half is a foodie and I get to tag along for the ride.  She loves taking the two of us on savory excursions to wind down when we’ve both had long weeks at the office.  My contribution is always the wine, and I try to find that special bottle to do her creations justice.

Last night, we had a tasty recipe that will satisfy any pescetarian’s craving, and I have the pleasure of sharing it with you.  We try to use fresh herbs from our balcony garden and veggies from our CSA when possible.


3 Tbsp olive oil

4 Tbsp unsalted butter

3 cups finely diced carrots

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

5 cups vegetable broth

1/3 cup minced onion

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice

1/2 cup white wine (use a good cooking wine)

1/2 cup freshly shredded pecorino Romano cheese

1 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 tsp chopped fresh thyme

1 lb dry sea scallops (if stored in liquid, rinse and pat dry)

1/2 tsp sea salt

1.Heat 1 tbsp oil and 1 tbsp butter over medium heat in a medium sized heavy-bottomed pot; add carrots and stir until the carrots are coated with the butter and oil. Add 1/2 cup water, salt, and the sugar; cover and cook 5 minutes, or until tender. Uncover and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until water evaporates and carrots are just starting to brown, about five minutes. Reserve half of the carrots; in a blender, purée other half with 3/4 cup of hot water.

2. Heat remaining oil and butter over medium heat in same (unwashed) pot used for carrots. Add onion and cook until translucent, about five minutes. Add rice, stirring to coat with oil. Add wine and cook, stirring, until wine evaporates. Add carrot purée and cook, stirring, until mixture absorbs most of the liquid.

3. Add about 1/2 cup of the broth, stirring often, until rice absorbs most of the liquid. Repeat process, adding 1/2 cup of broth at a time and stirring often till each addition is absorbed before adding the next, until rice is al dente (about 20 minutes; at least 1 cup broth will remain).

4. Fold in reserved carrots, Pecorino Romano cheese, parsley, and thyme. Add up to 1 cup of broth (1/4 cup at a time) to loosen the risotto. Season with salt and white pepper to taste.

5. Sprinkle sea salt on the scallops. Heat 1 tbsp oil and 1 tbsp butter over medium-high heat in a pan until almost smoking. Place the scallops in the pan, and do not move them for two minutes. Turn to cook the other side for one minute. Serve 5 scallops on each serving’s bed of carrot risotto.

As I take the elevator down from our corporate headquarters, I usually stop on our new sales floor (which, by the way, you should definitely check out if you have not) and visit our sales operations. They are not only extremely hard working, but they help me make these most important everyday drinking decisions.

For this meal, they suggested the Hofstatter Bianco Barthenau Vigna S. Michele 2006.  When my wife and I sat down to dinner, the nose of the wine threw us off, as we sensed whiffs of honey and a mineral-saline quality.  I thought it would be much stronger on the palate, but it was actually quite mild in flavor with a light fruitiness that complimented the saltiness of the cheeses in the carrot risotto very well.  It’s a viscous full-bodied white, almost straw yellow, making it look like a Chardonnay to me.  The subtle lingering of the wine and ambrosial decadence of the scallops definitely put my weary mind at ease.  It’s good to be home.


The Return of the Spaghetti Western

a glance at the spaghetti taco fad

Weird food is fun. This is a truism that all kids know instinctively, and yet most adults—at least those who are not immersed in molecular gastronomy and the magical work of Ferran Adrià, Grant Achatz, Heston Blumenthal and the like—seem to forget. Enter, then, the spaghetti taco.

First created over three years ago on the Nickelodeon show iCarly, only recently have spaghetti tacos hit the collective cultural consciousness, and they seem to have done so with a Renaissance-like zeitgeist. In the past week or so, I’ve noticed the term “spaghetti taco” trending on Twitter and popping up like meerkats on Facebook. Spaghetti tacos were everywhere I was, however virtually, and being a fan of the cultural trend and the strange food item, I admit my curiosity was piqued.

A quick Google search, and I discovered that according to the New York Times, in fact, a spaghetti taco is exactly what it sounds like: spaghetti, sauce, and whatever extras you fancy wrapped in the tortilla of your choice. (Most aficionados seem to tend to the crunchy corn.) While the dish is mostly favored by the tween-and-under set, it looks as if adults are jumping on the It-Mex bandwagon too. Restauranteur Joe Bastianich added his four-stars and two cents by telling Grub Street that he’d do “branzino tacos with arugula salad and Tuscan olive oil and avocados and soft corn tortillas.” Which I admit sounds delish.

And that all leads to the question of what wine you’d serve with your spaghetti taco. Karlsson Banks, IWM PR Guru, would go with a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Steven Smith II, a purist and IWM’s Director of Digital Marketing, says a Fontodi Chianti Classico or a nice Sierra Nevada. Our Kathy Rushforth suggests the Domenico Clerico Arte Langhe, while her pal Maya likes a Negro Modelo tallboy or the Bruno Giacosa Dolcetto d’Alba. Any of the above sound delightful to me, and all would make a meal with kids go down a lot more smoothly.

What about you? Have you hit the spaghetti taco trend yet? And if so, what personal twists have you put on this not-just-for-kids food?

Hot Fun in the Summertime

Wine Fit for the Barbie

Readers of Inside IWM know that I—and other IWM colleagues—are using this blog to write about our ongoing journey of wine discovery, especially finding tasty wine pairings for unusual foods. This weekend, I found inspiration in the beautiful weather.  There is nothing like a good, old-fashioned barbeque to kick off the summer, and to most Americans, that means popping open an ice cold beer to accompany that hot dog or cheeseburger.  While I don’t believe that this earnest American tradition necessarily needs changing, I was curious how a glass of wine might work with the quintessential summer meal. Not only was I wondering about the taste of the wine-and-BBQ combo, but I also was curious about how this divergence from the norm would affect the over all mood of the cook-out.

My test-tasting menu consisted of your traditional barbeque staples: hamburgers, hot dogs, Italian sausage, and grilled chicken, with all the anticipated accouterments of potato salad, corn on the cob, and my mother’s famous baked beans (whose recipe she generously let me share below).  I thought that this lighthearted dining experience called for a simple yet wallet friendly wine.  Therefore, I figured it would be a great weekend to try the Quattro Mani Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2008 (one of IWM’s best everyday drinking sellers, which I have been dying to try).

Being a red, the wine went really nicely with my hamburger, and it complimented the baked beans quite well.  I admit that it failed to give me that great thirst quenching “ahh” feeling an ice cold beer usually provides. However, everyone noted the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo’s versatility and agreed that it complimented the meat and sausage very well. All in all, serving wine with the BBQ seemed to have a neutral effect on the summery mood. Put one check in the wine plus column, one in the minus, and a note to myself that there’s no reason why I can’t serve both beer and wine to cover all my gustatory bases.

My mom’s basic baked beans:

1- 40 oz. can Hanover Baked Beans

½ cup butter

1/3 cup ketchup

¼ cup molasses

1 onion

Sautee onion in butter until tender.  Add cooked onion and remaining ingredients to slow cooker, cook 3-5 hours on high.

**Adjust the flavorings as you like, and for those folks who aren’t watching their cholesterol, add 1 lb. cooked bacon because it’s delicious.

Learning to Dine and Wine, Hong Kong Style

Eating with a Mission

Finally after nearly twenty-two hours on a plane, I arrived in Hong Kong. I was slightly tired—and more than slightly hungry. I was hungry to the point of feeling that I would never feel full again. I was quickly proven wrong because the four members of IWM Hong Kong showed me what it is to eat as if there is no tomorrow.

Meals are communal here. Often one person orders a variety of dishes for the whole table, and everyone serves each other. Even when we order individual dishes, once the plates are set down on the table the first action is to offer and to serve a portion to your companions. I was accustomed to sharing my food with my large family at meals, but the ceremony of offering one’s food to others is new to me, and I’m growing to love it—and to fear it.

IWM Hong Kong has quickly adopted the Hong Kong tradition of Dim Sum lunches, and the group customarily orders at least two additional items for the table. At my first Dim Sum lunch with the team, I made the mistake of thinking that a bunch of small pieces would not fill me up as much as one large sandwich. However, by the time dish five of around thirteen was delivered, I was well past full. As each round passed, I was leaving more and more remnants on my plate. More disconcerting, however, was the contrast between my stamina and the stamina of the four other people at my table. They showed no sign of weakness and happily welcomed the suggestion of seconds. By the time the meal finally drew to a close, I was glad to walk back to the office and minimize some of the damage of the meal.

For the past week, I have grown increasingly anxious at meal times. I have to approach each meal with strategy, looking at my eating plan of attack, auguring what food there is to follow, and calculating at what point in the meal I’ll have to submit and call it quits. Moreover, I’ve had so much food to consume that I often can’t even consider adding wine to the agenda. However, last Friday night proved a successful campaign that included food, wine, and fortuitous planning.

At about 9:30pm we decided it was time to pack it in for the day and go grab some dinner. A cab ride across a very long bridge brought us to what is considered the best roast goose in Hong Kong. We brought our own wine to accompany: Fantinel Refosco and Tocai Friulano. As the dishes started to stream from the kitchen, I took a deep breath, bracing myself for impact. The first dish was none other than the whole roast goose. I was reminded of the scene in the perennial holiday movie classic A Christmas Story. Like the one brought to the table of the hapless Parker family, our goose too was brought to the table with beak intact. I couldn’t resist the temptation to quote the movie and say, “Fra-gi-le… Must be Italian.” Thank goodness for the fact that our wine was Italian, so the scene was brought full circle. The Tocai was classic and appropriate—a zippy white wine with Chinese food is a necessity. To my pleasant surprise, the biggest feat of the night was my ability to make it through the entire meal without begging “Uncle,” and how well the Refosco complemented the food.

I’m learning a lot here in Hong Kong. It’s exciting, vibrant and new. I also can’t help but miss my own bed and my customary midday sandwich. In the meantime, I’m off to another Dim Sum lunch, which I’ll enjoy with proper planning.

The Brightside of Controversy

Authentic products on your table and in your glass

Italy isn’t exactly shy of controversy — and few people would have the doughtiness to classify Italy as a strict and rule-ridden country. However, when it comes to food and wine, controversy seems to arise, oddly enough, precisely from the strict geographical and production regulations.

A country supported and admired by epicureans, Italy doesn’t take their food and wine production with the proverbial grain of salt. The land of gourmands and winos, the proud home of the Slow Food movement, and the world’s best wine, Italy takes their food and wine seriously, but is the exclusivity and rigidness creating grounds for detrimental PR? Or, in other words, are scandals always bad for business?

Until recent years, the food and wine industry has managed to stay pretty clear from headlines. This all changed though in 2007 when the scandal known as “Brunellopoli” took the front page. (Selected Brunello producers were being investigated for allegedly adulterating their 2003 vintage by using grapes that fell outside the DOCG standards.) Then, in 2009 a new scandal arose—and created the need for an investigation into adulterating wine for Chianti production zones. While no particular producers were publicly cited guilty in either investigation, the controversies at the very least must create skepticism in consumers’ minds.

It doesn’t seem easy to find a silver lining of, say, a betting scandal, political corruption or organized crime, but when it comes to food and wine, I think that good can fall from these scandalous rainclouds. Much of the controversy affecting the wine industry arises from deviations of the strict appellation system (for information on one such appellation see Frank Sansotta’s post on Prosecco’s new DOCG). If the Italian Ministry of Agriculture weren’t so passionate about abiding by the system, and thus protecting their consumers, they would pay little attention to these sorts of adulterations and modifications. Brunellopoli incidents wouldn’t become world shaking controversies if the Ministry of Agriculture wasn’t so particular and regimented. It is, and that’s a good thing.

Similar standards are applied to the Italian food industry—the protected domination of origin ensures that Parmigiano-Reggiano can only be produced in a specific stretch of land. Since taking office in 2008, Italian Minister of Agricultural Food and Forestry Policies Luca Zaia has spent his tenure fighting counterfeiting of Italian food products. Zaia and the Italian government are working to ensure the high quality reputation and authenticity of Italian products, and that when we buy Italian we are in fact getting “the real thing.”

So, sure, it may cause cognitive dissonance to try to wed the idea of Italy with that of stringent rule-keeping; however, when we give that idea the context of the food and wine, we can see how Italy can take the form of a strict disciplinarian. Scandals may erupt, but they also show that Italians are serious about what’s on their tables and in their glasses. And ultimately, these guarantee that we, the consumer, receive only the best.