The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Go-To-Tuesday Wine: Sartarelli 2014 Verdicchio Castelli di Jesi Classico

A lively, vivacious under $18 Italian white!

WH1883-2TFinally, some consistent white wine weather (or just spring weather for the rest of us). As the mercury rises in New York, it means only one thing: it’s the perfect time for a lively, vivacious white. I decided to enjoy my weekend with Sartarelli 2014 Verdicchio Castelli di Jesi Classico.

This wine was born in a region called Castelli di Jesi, arguably the best region for Italy’s Verdicchio grape. Situated around 1,000 feet above sea level where nothing blocks the cool sea breezes coming off the coast of Ancona,  Sartarelli’s vineyards impart the estate’s wines with a rich minerality. This mineral core balances out the wines’ fruitiness and adds substantive structure. Despite the seemingly ideal landscape for Verdicchio,  the talents of winemaker Alberto Mazzoni make Sartarelli wines something special. Dedicating Sartarelli entirely to Verdicchio, Mazzoni uses his experience with the ancient grape to create wines with a silky texture.

Like most of Sartarelli’s wines, this Verdicchio Castelli di Jesi Classico is an easy starter wine and a real crowd-pleaser. And did I mention that this wine is under $18? Yes, this white is probably one of the best value wines we offer at IWM. I shared this with my friends and heard nothing but excellent reviews as we drank it with linguine and shellfish. Although it has powerful fruity aromatics, this Verdicchio is very well balanced and goes well with almost any food as its flavor will not overpower any dish. However, I will say we particularly enjoyed it with seafood. Its minerality and almost almondy finish just seemed to lend itself perfectly to mussels, clams, and linguine. I full-heartedly recommend keeping a few bottles (or cases) of this on-hand for the warm weather ahead.

Go-To-Wine Tuesday: Il Conventino 2014 Rosato

A delicious organic under $20 rosé made from Sangiovese!

ROS26-2Spring is finally kicking in, so it’s time to get ready for some serious aperitivi! Italian rosé can have the reputation of being too rich and heavy, but not all of them are. I recently enjoyed Il Conventio 2014 Rosato, a fantastic under $20 rose that is fresh, aromatic and much lighter that you would think. It’s exactly the bright, succulent rosato you’re looking for for your long summer nights.

Il Conventino winery was acquired in 2003 by the Brini brothers, who started their career as attorneys but eventually realized their dream to operate a winery right in their native Tuscan region of Montepulciano. Under the guidance of a great oenologist, Il Conventio now produce high quality organic wines they ship in more than 20 different countries; these wines include Montepulciano, Bianco, Vin Santo, Grappa, and, of course, today’s Rosato!

This beautiful Rosato is made with 100% Sangiovese, which might surprise some of you because this grape is more famous for the Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino and Super-Tuscan blends, but when you vinify Sangiovese with brief skin contact it actually makes an outstanding Rosé. Clean, fresh aromas and flavors of strawberry and flowers abound, and this wine is both crisp and juicy in the middle palate. Although not very complex, this rosato has quite a persistent finish and offers an incredible value at $19.99. I recommend you served it chilled in an ice bucket–it will be your best companion for the summer!

Enjoying the Amber Wines of Josko Gravner

Friuli’s food-friendly, mysterious, magical wines

Gravner's "orange" Ribolla Gialla

Gravner’s “orange” Ribolla Gialla

White wine with red meat? I say yes—when the wine in question is made byJosko Gravner. These magical golden wines from Friuli are fascinating on their own, and they’re even more enticing when paired with food. They are some of the most versatile wines I have ever tasted. Not only do I enjoy partaking in these wines but also I take great pleasure in playing with spices, herbs, textures and proteins to bring out different flavors and nuances in these special wines. Similar to great red wines, Gravner’s Ribolla promise vitality and are destined to live a long life through their acidity and tannins.

Friuli’s Josko Gravner is an iconoclastic producer; he’s ever evolving and constantly refining his embrace of a “new-old” approach in his winemaking. Gravner’s passion for perfection through experimentation changed his philosophy; today he strives to achieve great wine through great simplicity, retaining the unique character and of each vintage, the integrity of his grapes and most importantly the “life” that exists in each amphorae and bottle of wine.

I had once had the privilege of tasting through seven vintages of meeting Josko Gravner and tasting through his prized Ribolla Gialla, 1998 through 2006. These mysterious Ribolla wines aren’t always instantly scrumptious; instead they slowly draw you in, evolving with time. Drinking them is similar to the feeling I get when a book or a movie starts slowly then gradually draws me in, and next think you know I’m hooked. These cerebral Ribollas require an open mind and time to observe and appreciate the life that each bottle has to offer.

The majority of the time people pair wine to go with their food; however, when a bottle of Gravner is involved, I believe it should go the other way around. Indigenous to Friuli, Ribolla is a somewhat obscure grape, but Gravner’s natural approach and use of amphorae give the wines weighted layers of earth, fruit and spice. When I think of pairings for Gravner’s indescribable amber wines, I immediately go to foods that will play off their texture, fruit and spice, while matching their weight and intensity. I encourage you to try it with anything from a simple steak and eggs or oven roasted chicken to French cassoulet, mushroom risotto, adobo pork, veal blanquette or ossobucco. The bottom line is to have fun and indulge all of your senses to experience the full breadth of what these special Ribolla wines can offer.

Expert Picks: Valdicava and…Valdicava!

Two expert selections from Garrett Kowalsky

Garrett_8.6.14_72dpiValdicava is one of the most revered names in all of Montalcino. Though the estate dates back several generations, contemporary owner-winemaker Vincenzo Abbruzzese unlocked the property’s potential and took it to new levels in 1987, when his grandparents turned the estate over to him. Over the past decade, the estate has grown even better, producing some of its finest wines. Today I wanted to give you two looks at this property, the first being Vincenzo’s scrumptious Rosso and the second being a 13-year-old example of Valdicava Brunello. Both of these wines are sure to put an ever-widening smile on your face.

Valdicava 2013 Rosso di Montalcino $44.99

All Montalcino winemakers will tell you that their Rosso is like their business card—the least expense and most easily accessible wine, it’s your first introduction to the estate and as such should give you a glimpse into the house style. Valdicava’s Rosso is large scale and possesses a tremendous about of depth and complexity, truly earning the nickname “Baby Brunello.” Drink to 2020.

Valdicava 2003 Brunello di Montalcino $139.00

Some will tell you that ’03 was a warm vintage and that you should avoid it. I am here to tell you that in the case of Valdicava’s wine, those naysayers are way off base. I had the opportunity to taste this with the winemaker a few weeks ago, and I found it to be opulent and generous, with loads of fruit from front to back on the palate. Drinking it was an immensely enjoyable experience. Drink to 2022.

Expert Picks: La Maialina and Castello dei Rampolla

Two expert selections from John Camacho Vidal

CamachoChianti Classico may feel synonymous with Italy, but it has changed a lot over the years. Once associated with the straw-covered bottle (a fiasco), Chianti was ubiquitous at every pizza restaurant. However, Chianti Classico has been evolving for over 700 years and its DOC and DOCG criteria are still changing today. Produced in central Italy’s Tuscany, the Chianti region extends between Florence and Siena with the Chianti Classico region covering around 100 square miles. For Chianti to be Chianti, it must come from the Chianti region and be made from at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. Chianti Classico can be earthy and rustic with great acidity, which allows it to pair well with an array of foods. The characteristic aromas include strawberries, violets, cherries and its high acidity on the palate.

In addition to a DOCG for Chianti, there are three DOCGs for Chianti Classico: Chianti Classico, wherein grapes are from the Chianti Classico zone and the wine must age a minimum of 12 months; Chianti Classico Riserva, where the wine ages a minimum of 24 months; and Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, wherein grapes must be estate grown and wine aged a minimum of 30 months. It’s important to note that Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva wines both have the Gallo Nero seal (black rooster) on the neck of the bottle, each with different colored borders, red for the Chianto Classico and gold for the Riserva.

Today, I’ve chosen two Chianti Classico that provide great expressions of the Classico region, one from La Maialina and one from Castello dei Rampolla. Both of these wines are delicious, and each offers insight into its individual estate and maker.

La Maialina 2010 Chianti Classico $18.99

La Maialina makes its Chianti Classico to express the essence of the territory, and this wine is a deep ruby color; the nose is full of juicy red fruit followed by aromas of violet and rose petal that slowly open up to some earth notes. The palate is silky with tamed tannins that linger nicely with black and red fruit on the finish. This wine’s quality-to-price ratio is unmatched, and it drinks like a higher priced Chianti Classico. The estate’s name refers to a breed of pig (Cinta Senese) that originated in the Siena area during the 1300’s and is the only Tuscan native pig to survive extinction. This is a gem of a wine that will not burn a hole in your pocket; I suggest you buy it by the case.

Castello dei Rampolla 2012 Chianti Classico $37.99

Castello dei Rampolla uses biodynamic practices, which I love. Mostly known for its Super-Tuscan Sammarco and Vigna d’Alceo, Castello dei Rampolla started out making Chianti, and in my opinion its one of the best Chianti Classicos from the zone. This Chianti has a little smokiness on the nose, which gives way to aromas of cherry, red currant followed by some hints of balsamic, rosemary and slight herbal notes. The palate is full and a bit savory with notes of leather and hints of oak. The finish is loaded with spicy, raspy tannins that cling nicely. Drink now and for the next few years.

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