The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Expert Picks: Borgo dei Santi and Gravner

Two expert selections from Perry Porricelli

PerryAt a recent party down at the Jersey Shore I brought a couple of white wines that I want to share with you today. The response to the first went like this: “I’ve never had a Pinot Grigio like this!” That’s what I hear all the time when I open up Borgo dei Santi. It drinks like no other Pinot Grigio that people have had before. The second wine I brought was another introduction to a white that was unlike any other—Gravner Ribolla Gialla 2005. I had it decanting while we drank the Pinot Grigio and when we finally got to the Ribolla, it was a beautiful grapefruit orange color and people were asking, “What is this? Some kind of run-of-the-mill rosé?” Far from it—this wine blew everyone away. Pour this pair and expect to see your friends’ eyes pop open in surprise.

Drinking:

Borgo dei Santi Pinot Grigio 2011 $19.99

Rich, almost lush, but with a pure expression of fruit that is absolutely delicious, this Pinot Grigio’s golden color alone sets up your senses to experience an inexpensive Bianco like you’ve never had before. Perfect wine for the summer season, you can enjoy it with appetizers as well as just about any main course, which is really saying something for a supposedly “simple” white wine. Almost all of my clients who have tried this have come back for cases. Try some and see what I mean.

Cellaring:

Gravner Ribolla Gialla Anfora 2005 $89.99

The Gravner Ribolla Gialla’s complexity, structure and powerful fruit profile made the collectors in the room think, “Wow, this is one for the ages.” It was amazing to drink last weekend, but you can tell it was holding back a great percentage of what it will have to offer. This is a “white” that will age and eventually drink like a fine Barolo for the next twenty years, and those who had the foresight to put a case in their cellars have a new baby for their collection that is different from anything they have in their bins.

 

This Week on Inside IWM, March 11-14, 2013

A look back at the week that was on Inside IWM

Poppies and vines, Montalcino in bloom

Poppies and vines, Toscana in bloom

This past week on Inside IWM has been a celebration of place, beginning with this educational tour of Toscana, one of Italy’s most beloved winemaking regions. When people fall in love with Italy, they often fall in love with Toscana first, and it’s easy to see why!

Garrett celebrated a dinner at home with mom with a bottle of Burgundy that’s both great and a great value at less than $30.

David Bertot got us back in an Italian frame of mind with his Tuscan-inspired recipe for Short Rib Ragout (which he paired with a nice bottle of Brunello).

And RKO spun us around and landed us somewhere between New York City and Burgundy with his reportage of La Paulée de New York, the recent Burgundy bacchanalia held here in Gotham.

Our Experts chose some very fine wines too.

On Monday, Perry opted for two bottles that he’d shared with IWM clients (only to find everyone drinking more than they’d expected): Seghesio and Gaja.

On Tuesday, Will used geography as his guide and chose one bottle from Italy’s North and one from its South: Scavino and COS.

On Wednesday, Brian just went flat-out for one of IWM’s favorite producers, the natural winemaker Paolo Bea from Umbria, one scintillating white and one powerful red.

And on Thursday, Francesco used something he calls the “interesting factor” to select two unique wines, one from Gravner and one from Antico Broilo.

Expert Picks: Antico Broilo and Gravner

Two expert selections from Francesco Vigorito

Francesco_1More than using grape variety or region in choosing a wine, I tend to seek out the “interesting factor.” Regardless of what grape is used or where it’s grown, if a wine doesn’t have any character, it’s not a wine I’m keen to drink. The interesting factor of the two wines I’ve chosen are divergent. One has an aging process occasionally found in whites and rarely, if ever, found in reds: aging in clay anfora, or large clay vats buried in the ground. The other is a mono-varietal bottling of an ancient northern Italian grape, one that’s grippy with tannins and inky in color but gives a wine that balances elegance with wildness.

Drink now: Antico Broilo Refosco 2008 $39.40

Here’s something you don’t see too often. Refosco is very robust, refreshing and tangy red from northern Italy. Its dark color, bright aromatics and slightly tannic texture make for a memorable drinking experience, especially when paired with Speck and Montasio cheese from Friuli.

Cellar: Gravner Ribolla Gialla Anfora 2005 $89.99

Gravner is considered the pioneer of anfora usage ,and nothing displays his anfora prowess as much as this wine. His Ribolla Gialla is difficult to describe as it changes from minute to minute and hour to hour—sometimes even day to day. Its texture is more indicative of red and the aromatics are deep and layered, creating a unique drinking experience.

An Ode to Wines of Sentiment

Giving the gift of feeling

The wabi-sabi villa where the author lived

There are many methods to the madness of buying gift wines. You can, as I recently did, choose a designer wine for a friend who is drawn to the glamour of big names. You can buy a vintage wine that celebrates a special year—a birth year, anniversary or other landmark. You can choose wines according to palate profiles, using the thumbnail sketch of someone’s tastes as a guide to exploring the new, the undiscovered, and the unknown.

But I prefer to rely on sentiment as my divining rod in wine gift giving.

Proust had a point when he bit into that madeleine. Our human sensory experiences sit inextricably twisted with our personal histories. That’s why, for example, the opening chords of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” gives me the Pavlovian reaction of looking for the nearest keg of Pabst Blue Ribbon, or why I can’t smell a solid Brunello without being transported to this beautifully wabi-sabi stone villa I lived in for a month in Montalcino last fall.

Wine, like bread or salt, bonds the disparate elements in a meal, raising them to a higher plane than the components alone deserve. But unlike bread or salt, wine alone has the faculty of making company sparklier, words more meaningful, feelings more manifest, and people closer. For this reason, to give wine is akin to giving books: the best gift is steeped in sentiment.

The feeling of feeling is why I gave my dad a bottle of 2000 Il Palazzone Brunello for his 69th birthday this past November. My dad had read my rapturous descriptions of Brunello and had responded as I’d intended: he wanted some. However, he’s a stolid, level-headed, frugal Vermonter, not given to buying hundred-dollar bottles of wine for himself. So he bought one for a friend as an anniversary gift. I sent him one for himself because he deserved to enjoy it, because I have spent many glorious days at Il Palazzone, and because its estate manager, Laura Gray, is both a friend of mine and shares the same birthday as my dad and myself. It’s kind of a mille feuille of feelings.

It’s pretty easy for me to pick out the wines I’d give as gifts because they’re the wines that make me clap my hands with glee. Anyone who knows me knows that this is something I don’t do often. I would pick La Stoppa Ageno and Pratello Lieti Conversari, both orange, or skin-contact, wines and both introduced to me by my friend Christy Canterbury, one of only thirty Masters of Wine in America. I have a deep, abiding love for orange wines (and for Christy). I am spun by their wildness, their cheek-piquing tannins, their strange cidery scent. Both of these wines would be on my sentiment list just because I love them so.

I’d likewise be moved to give wines from Josko Gravner. The first time I had Gravner Breg and Gravner Ribolla Anfora, I was in Verona with IWM Founder Sergio Esposito for VinItaly. We had dinner with Filippo Polidori, one of Sergio’s close friends and the sales manager for Josko Gravner, at this café that was very clearly the industry spot. My Italian is pretty lame, but even were I fluent, I’d have been so delirious with the company, the capretto risotto and the Gravner wines that I doubt I’d have been witty. I can’t separate the heady, textured feel of drinking these wines from the glittery Verona night, its spectacular romance and the sense that the air was buzzing with everyone wine.

Gianfranco Soldera at his estate, Case Basse

Had I money enough, I’d give Soldera, the first Brunello I ever tasted, the first cantina I ever visited and the only Italian I can understand when he speaks. His recent tragic loss of six vintages of wine would only raise the sentimental bar.

I’d give Castello dei Rampolla because I visited the estate on this insanely gorgeous April day, a visit that culminated with Lucca di Napoli drinking a bottle of wine with Eleanor Shannon, my guide at the time, and me. We didn’t even look at the cantina. We just toured the fields, talked for a couple of hours and drank. Every wine tour should be so generous and lovely. The wines are forever linked with spontaneous friendship.

Lionel Cousin of Cupano

I’d likewise give Cupano because its makers Ornella and Lionel are inspiring, beautiful, magical people, and their wines reflect their family’s fairytale existence. And Bodega Chacra, especially its entry-level Barda, because Piero Incisa della Rocchetta embodies a citizen-of-the-world glamor to which I can only aspire. I’d give Grattamacco because I fiercely love its unabashed geeky aesthetic, and Le Macchiole because Cinzia Merli spoke to me with such passion about understanding her wines as her children, and Mascarello Barolo because Maria Teresa Mascarello is one strong, upright, forthright woman; an unmitigated badass, she commands instantaneous respect.

Having visited Italy, having lived there for weeks and months on end, I have a rosy set of experiences from which to draw. But all wine-lovers have wines that they’ve come to love because of the people they drank them with, or because the wine was so glorious that it made a bad situation at least tolerable, or because they stumbled on the wine in some serendipitous way. These are the wines that make the best gifts because in giving them, we’re giving a piece of ourselves and our memories.

And with these wines of sentiment we can make more memories—or help others, and that’s really what giving is all about.

 

Orange Wines of Italy, Balancing the Wine Universe

Exploring the wine world in a range of colors and styles

Vitovska in a glass

Last week, our team of Portfolio Managers sat down to a nice dinner and tasting with Paolo Domeneghetti of Domaine Select Wine Estates.  It was an important occasion for the members of our team, both those who are veteran and those new to us, one that allowed us to engage with one of IWM’s key business partners and to pick the brain of Domeneghetti, a tremendous authority of fine Italian and European wine. We began the night’s dinner with antipasti, meats, and cheeses, all paired with a flight of tremendous orange wines—among others. Orange wines, for those of you who might be unfamiliar, are most easily explained as wines made from white grapes that are vinified like reds; they macerate longer than most whites, and thus the skins give an orange, coral or cidery hue. We tasted mostly new releases like Movia 2008 Lunar Ribolla, Gravner Breg Anfora 2005, and Kante Vitovska and Malvasia, followed by Massolino Barolo 2007 and vintage selections of Castell’in Villa Chianti Classico.  All said, it was a magical night that won’t be forgotten.

In looking back on the conversations with Paolo and replaying the evening’s wines in my head, I found our experience with orange wines left the greatest imprint. Being one of the world’s newest wine sensations (it’s an old style, but a new fashion), it is possible to lose sight of orange wines’ spirit in light of the sheer number of red wines produced in Italy. This number simply eclipses the orange wine camp all together. Nonetheless, the small scale of Italian orange wine production is a great reminder of the craftsmanship behind the producers who have championed this evolving and extremely intimate wine. I say intimate, because this is a wine style not beholden to generational norms. Rather, every style of orange wine is signature to the winemaker behind it. Josko Gravner, Edi Kante, Paolo Bea, Ales Kristancic (Movia), all of their orange wines exhibit an individual signature of the of the winemaker. Each wine is like a song that could only come from that person.

I see orange wines as the last quarter of a wine circle. In the grand spectrum of wine, red and white wines are at the opposite points of the wheel; the top and bottom quadrants are filled in by rosés and orange wines: rosés are red wines taking on the features of whites, and orange wines are white wines taking on the features of reds. Intimidating to those inexperienced at winemaking, the orange wine arena is an open forum of interpretation to those brave and experienced enough to experiment. You could say orange wines are balancing out the wine univers, and I’m sure Alex Krisistancic would appreciate this celestial metaphor. Nevertheless, we should all agree that orange wines offer a unique experience for audiences to push the conceptions of what wine “should” be and to connect very intimately with the extremes of a winemakers pursuits. It very much is the wild frontier of our global wine world.

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