The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Rubbing Elbows and Pouring Wine

An insider’s look at a wine industry event











Summer’s almost officially over here in New York.  People have packed up their houses in the Hamptons, and the Rockaways surfers have fixed their boards into temporary coffee tables. In other words, the lights are on and we’ve gone back to work, better than ever.

To kick off this reunion, those of us in the wine industry can be found at portfolio tastings across the city.  I headed uptown yesterday with a colleague to volunteer at the Domaine Select portfolio tasting and, upon entering, came to find out I’d be pouring through some sensational biodynamic wines from Friuli.  If you’re not familiar with producers like Gravner, Movia, Vodopivec, Edi Kante and La Castellada, you should be; they make some great wines to get into this season.  They produce everything from dry sparkling wines to sweet dessert wines.  And they do it using biodynamic techniques, an approach put forth by Rudolf Steiner and one that goes beyond being organic and harnesses the energy of the planets and the stars.

Grand tastings are always a hoot.  It seems like these importers and distributors invite anyone and everyone to these events and, well, you can imagine there are many people who know, or think they know, a lot about wine.  Some folks discuss pH levels, residual sugars and polyphenols over crudités, while other people are just there to drink.  Nevertheless it’s always great to reunite with friends, taste through some of the current vintages of our favorite producers, and catch up with some of the producers themselves.

Mostly, it’s super to spend time with people who are passionate about wine–lots and lots of people, drinking lots and lots of wine.

Go-To-Wine Tuesday

Ronco del Gnemiz Sauvignon Blanc 2009











This week’s wine took me back to the place where I started my Italian tour of wine, Friuli.  My wife and I are avid seafood fans, and in the past whites were always our choice because they pair so well with seafood.  When I saw the Ronco del Gnemiz Sauvignon Blanc 2009 priced just under $30, I remembered back to older vintages of this wine that I tasted.  It’s a lovely Sauvignon Blanc that is refreshing, lively and laden with strong mineral qualities.  There is an added bright acidity that tingles the tongue with notes of wild herbs and vegetation.  The color is a shining gold and I can only imagine this coming from sun-drenched fields of Northern Italy with its aged and rich soils and hilly terrain.

This is a perfect drink while basking in the late summer evenings and watching the sun set over the Manhattan skyline (a frequent evening pastime of mine).  Try pairing this with some seasonal fruits or light antipasti with scallops, clams and calamari.  You can also try a soft cheese like Coupole, a fresh, young goat’s milk cheese that’s shaped like a small dome and lightly dusted with vegetable ash.  However you pair it, either with food or just a moment in time, take the time to connect with the aromatic bouquet of freshness and find solace in the glass.

Charity, Hair and Wine

S`mall steps with big impact











Maya, before the cut!

A few years ago I was in Israel, and I went shopping with my cousin to look for a wig. She had been diagnosed with cancer, and she wanted to find a realistic looking wig. She had, and still has, thick, beautiful, curly, black hair—hair any woman would be envious of. The idea of losing all of her hair to chemotherapy wasn’t what bothered her; it was the idea of looking sick. After trying on numerous wigs, she decided she would just have to wear luxurious scarves until her hair grew back, which wasn’t a big deal because she’s gorgeous with or without hair.

While shopping, a wig maker told us about how people can donate or sell their hair to various organizations or wig makers so that people could wear a wig of real hair, rather than synthetic hair. He convinced me that my hair is ideal for wig making. I have a lot of hair that’s neither too thin nor too heavy. Having so much hair, I found the idea of cutting it all off incredibly tempting, and when I was 22, I did just that. I grew my hair as long as I could and cut off 10 inches.  Three years later (this past Saturday), I did it again, and I cut off almost 11 inches of hair and sent it all to Locks of Love, an organization that makes wigs from human hair for people with cancer and other diseases.

... and after

I try to help out as much as I can, whether it’s donating my hair, wearing Toms (which gives a pair of shoes to a child in need for everyone pair that is sold), recycling or purchasing specific things whose proceeds go to a good cause. For example, I like to support the Friuli estate, Fantinel, who donates one dollar to IIMSAM, the Initiatives of the Intergovernmental Institution for the Use of Micro-Algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition, for each bottle of their Celebrate Life Merlot sold. It’s incredible what people can do for the world by taking small steps, cutting hair, buying a bottle of wine, separating paper from plastic. It’s these small steps that make such a huge impact on the lives of people who live all over the world.

Prosecco Earns its Place

Looking at the new DOC and DOCG











Perhaps more than other wines that have successfully established their identities, Prosecco is a wine in transition. While it has been around since ancient Rome, the wine is finally achieving the status its pedigree and history demand.  Effective April 1, 2010, the term “Prosecco” refers to a specific place: Veneto and parts of Friuli-Venezia Giulia in the northeastern corner of Italy. These two regions, along with nine other specific provinces, geographically define the current Prosecco DOC. While Prosecco is actually the name of a town near the city of Trieste in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, the wine’s major grape, formerly known as Prosecco, will now go by the ancient name of Glera, a name unfamiliar even to the people within the region.  However, only the name has changed; Italian Prosecco has always been made with Glera, though lesser known varieties have figured into the wine’s composition in rather negligible amounts over time.

The incorporation of the new DOCG classification (Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore) ensures that wines from the two most prominent zones will face stricter controls and be given the highest guarantee. Comprised of fifteen communes (or townships), the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene zone is a hilly region with very steep slopes that require vineyard operations to be performed by hand, a practice that has been in place for over three centuries. In addition to the general designation, wines that derive from a single hillside will, in conjunction with standard DOCG labeling, include the term rive, which refers to the finest vineyards and those receiving favorable exposure.

According to Decanter, these “new regulations will also regulate yield for both the new DOC and DOCG zones should be reduced. The DOC will show the most drastic decrease – from the current 180hl/ha to 126hl/ha. There will also be a small reduction in yields in the DOCG zone, from 95hl/ha to 90hl/ha.”

What all this tech talk means for wine consumers is that we can expect a rise in the quality of Prosecco—that’s good news for us. Full of refreshing acidity, pleasant aromatics and delicate flavors of peach and green apple, Prosecco is a perfect sparkler for summer. And its reasonable price point and easy-drinking nature doesn’t hurt, either. However, because of these recent changes, Prosecco may become a more serious wine.

While Prosecco hasn’t carried the same prestige or fastidious production as Champagne— where secondary fermentation is carried out in bottle (méthode champenoise) as opposed to stainless steel tanks (the charmat method)—with the spanky new DOC/G areas and the accompanying raising of standards, it has a reason to take itself more seriously—even if it remains a seriously fun wine to drink!

A Tour of Friuli Via Three Men

A personal look at Radikon, Movia and Gravner











Along with a group of IWM’s clients, I recently took a trip to Friuli, where we explored the region’s history and culture with a specific focus on wine. Every region in Italy is so different, especially its history, food and wine. I found Friuli to be fascinating in no small part because of its location that borders Austria and Slovenia. The region’s history and geography have strongly shaped the lives of the people, and in turn these people have shaped Friulian wine as we know it today. We were very fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit the producers who have made history in the wine-making world: the amazing Radikon, the magical Movia and the great Gravner.

Radikon

When we arrived at the Radikon estate for a lunch and tasting, there was a beautiful table set up right on the edge of a hill; we could see vineyards for miles. We were first greeted by their tail-wagging dog, Fortunato, carrying a ball in his mouth; he was followed by the rest of the family. While Suzana and Stanko were cooking away in the kitchen, the eldest son Sasa gave us a tour of the vineyards and cellar. When we sat to eat, we were delighted. The dishes were paired with several of their wines from different vintages, and the meal couldn’t have been more perfect. The Radikons were so kind and welcoming that it felt as if we were a part of the family, if only for that afternoon. It’s that welcoming philosophy and tradition that informs the winemaking process and makes Radikon wines truly special and, in my opinion, best enjoyed with people you love.

Movia

The night before our lunch at Ales Kristancic’s estate in Slovenia, he sent us an email saying that plans have changed and to throw the old menu, which had been in the works for several months, out the window. He claimed he had something even better waiting for us—and if you know or have heard stories about Ales, you know that this is no surprise, for he’s an unpredictable, free spirit. We had a magnificent six-course lunch cooked by a professional chef, accompanied by a solo guitar performance by Ales. When it was time to tour the cellar, he preceded us by a few minutes so that he could prepare. Descending into the cellar, we found he’d lit candles around his pieces of art that were displayed, thus setting the tone for his performance. He led us quietly around and whispered the secrets of the wines that surrounded us. Not able to contain his excitement, he grabbed a few glasses and dipped them into a small metal canister filled with a golden liquid. It was a special dessert wine made from Picolit and Ribolla grapes when the vines get affected by botrytis (he only makes this wine for personal consumption). It’s easy to see how Ales’ personality appears in every one of his bottles, but it’s especially evident in the Puro, his sparkling wine that he leaves undisgorged so that it has to be opened under water to remove the dead yeasts. Opening this wine is an event in itself that commands attention and draws in a crowd for the show, much like its creator.

Gravner

Visiting the Gravner estate in the afternoon for a tour and tasting, we were met by Josko himself. He appeared much more reserved than the other producers that we had met, perhaps because he still considers himself a farmer before anything else. Even before we arrived to the heart of the cellar, he paused to tell us about his journey, almost as if it were a right of passage. He wanted to make sure we understood who he was and his purpose—in short, why he made wines this way. He chose every word that he spoke carefully to show us his spirit and way of life. Wine to him is an extension of his soul; he considers it a part of him, like his children. Josko leads by example and feels that to make good wine you need to be at peace with yourself. He told us that he’s going to start aging all of his wines for seven years, because that’s the time it takes for a cell in the human body to fully regenerate. We paused before a wooden platform with an orange rim peeking up like a strange flower; this was one of the ancient clay anfora from the country of Georgia that Josko lines with beeswax and buries underground. Josko explains that the anfora was the first known technique for making wine. Believing in this tradition, Josko told us that to his thinking, there is no use in reinventing the already perfect wheel. It’s clear that Josko is sure of who he is and what he wants, and this certainty manifests itself in his wines—they embody his persona and are just as complex and nuanced as he is.

All three of these producers create magnificent wines, and I can’t even begin to give them the justice that they deserve. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to have met them all and to begin my journey of understanding wine, where it comes from, who makes it and how those two factors work together make wine the glory that it is.

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