The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Inside IWM, April 4-7, 2016: Weird, Wild, Wonderful Wines

A look back at the week that was

Gravner's "orange" Ribolla Gialla

Gravner’s “orange” Ribolla Gialla

What do you expect from a week that kicked off with Franciacorta, Italy’s only méthode champenoise sparkling wine? It’s going to be a little weird–and a lot wonderful. Lombardia is often overlooked, but its small Franciacorta region gives you a very good reason to explore it. We take a look at the beauty of Italy’s “Champagne.” Our go-to Tuesday wine bridges the gap between red and white, and it’s flexible enough to drink anytime of year. Sean Collins describes this delicious under $23 Rotberger Rosato. And we finished the week with Crystal’s take on the amber wines of Josko Gravner. She says to drink them with meat. Intrigued? Get to know Gravner!

Like Crystal, Michael Adler loves Josko Gravner, and he puts a special bottle of Breg Anfora in the company of another great orange wine from Paolo Bea; skin-contact rules! John Camacho Vidal looked to Chardonnay–Italian Chardonnay from Angelo Gaja. You really can’t go wrong with wines from this Piemonte maverick. And Francesco Vigorito kept it classic with two warm vintage wines from a pair of traditional Barolo makers, Bruno Giacosa and Giuseppe Rinaldi.

Here’s to exploring the weird, the wild, the wonderful–and the tried, true and trusted–in your wine glass.

All About Franciacorta DOCG

What’s so special about Italy’s only méthode champenoise sparklers

Bottiglia e calice di franciacorta, or bottle with Franciacorta DOCG label, from Wikipedia

Bottiglia e calice di franciacorta, or bottle with Franciacorta DOCG label, from Wikipedia

In the province of Lombardia, south of Lake Iseo, lying in the low hills between Bergamo and Brescia is the 3,500-acre DOCG region Franciacorta, home to Italy’s only méthode champenoise sparklers. Sparkling wine requires two fermentations–and while the first is always in a vat of some kind (traditionally wood or clay, now most often stainless steel), vintners have a choice about where they carry out the second. Most of the sparkling wine made in Italy is made by the Charmat, or autoclave, method where the secondary fermentation takes place in a stainless steel vat, but the vintners in Franciacorta carry out their secondary vinification in the bottle as winemakers do in Champagne, France, hence the term méthode champenoise. The resulting wine is very much on par with Champagne, though as the producers themselves would be quick to tell you, it is not a copy of Champagne.

However, there is a sense of perhaps protesting too much. The winemakers of Franciacorta do more than just accept the French method of producing their sparkling wines; they embrace French grapes and the French system of sparkling classification. Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir are the varietals that comprise the vintages of Franciacorta, and not coincidentally they are the grapes of choice for Champagne. Similarly, DOCG rules employ French terms for their wines–nowhere on a bottle of Franciacorta will you find the word “spumante”; in fact, it’s forbidden. You will, however, find the terms “Extra Brut,” “Brut,” “Sec” and “Semi-Sec,” and you’ll find the designation “Rosé” rather than “Rosato.” This implementation of non-Italian terms can make the marketing, finding, and even introducing of Franciacorta wines difficult, but their bouncy bubbles, happy acidity, elegant structure and proper sparkling “feel” to make quick converts of wine drinkers.

While it’s likely that French grapes are not new to the region, the production of sparkling wine is. Despite receiving its DOC status in 1967, Franciacorta had only been making its now emblematic bubblies since just after WW II; although the region had made primarily only still red wines until 1950, by 1995 it had proven itself well enough to receive DOCG elevation. In many ways, however, the terroir is perfect for sparklers. Situated in a natural bowl that looks across Lake Iseo to the Alps, Franciacorta has lower temperatures than the rest of the very fertile Lombardia. In addition, its gravelly, glacial moraine both forestalls ripening and imparts a piquant acidity to the wines. Certainly, the explosion of producers in the once-sleepy area attests to its viability.

The DOCG rules for Franciacorta are among the most comprehensive in the entire system. This stringency means that there is very little identity crisis in Franciacorta. There are rules for cultivation, rules for harvesting, rules for fermentation, rules for ageing, and rules for labeling. It is simply a machine of organization. But given that méthode champenoise requires labor-intensive processes and a concomitant amount of money to fund it, this regimentation is neither surprising nor detrimental.

Essentially, there are three main types of Franciacorta: Brut, Rosé, and Satèn. Each comes in two varieties, one regular and one millesimato, a kind of superiore; the regular version is aged for 25 months, the millesimato for 37. The Brut, which also appears in Extra-Brut, Sec and Semi-Sec versions, is comprised of Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco; the Rosé of Pinot Nero (at least 15%) and the remainder either Chardonnay or Pinot Bianco; and Satèn, which is another word for Crémant, or a version that has a lower concentration of carbon dioxide and is thus less fizzy, is comprised of Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco.

The best way to get to know Franciacorta is, of course, to enjoy some. IWM offers a wide array of this unique Italian sparkler, and we’re particularly fond of vintage bottles from Ca’ del Bosco, as well as the more wallet-friendly wines from Barone Pizzini. Franciacorta is a the ideal way to toast to new adventures, with all the sophistication of Champagne and all the style of Italy!

It’s National Artichoke Heart Day!

What should you use to toast your artichoke?

artichokes_bkgrdIt’s National Artichoke Heart Day. A member of the thistle family, artichokes are delicious, if sometimes prickly. I’m a big fan of their mealy, rubbery, fibrous texture, and their slightly sweet, herbaceous flesh that’s reminiscent of fennel. Rarely have I encountered an artichoke I haven’t enjoyed eating. I like them small and fried, big and steamed, chilled with hollandaise, hearted and pickled. I like them mashed into tapenade, stuffed with breadcrumbs, barbecued in the Spanish style, even turned into liqueur, as they are in Cynar, an aperitif made by Campari.

I love artichokes, but they are notoriously difficult to pair with wine. For one thing, artichokes contain cynarin, a compound that makes food taste sweet, and putting them with red wine makes the wine taste weirdly metallic. Like green beans and asparagus, artichokes can be the death of wines. But, as the adage goes, what grows together goes together, and from Rome to Sicilia, artichokes are a mainstay of Italian cooking.

I turned the question over to IWM’s authorities to see how they handle the thorny issue of pairing artichokes and wines.

Francesco Vigorito:

Sardinia is big into artichokes, so maybe a Vermentio di Galura for white, or you could also go for a Punica if you’re looking for a red. If you do floured fried baby artichokes with a squeeze of lemon, then a sparkler to cut through the fry would be nice. Maybe something with a good fruitiness to it like the Barone Pizzini’s Rose Franciacorta, the slight sweetness in the wine should cut the artichoke quite nicely.


Crystal Edgar:

As a rule of thumb with wine and food pairings, the stronger the acid in the food, the more challenging the pairing. Vegetables like artichokes, asparagus spinach and other bitter greens are rather acidic but can be tamed by adding sweetness and/or richness, which helps to mute the acidity. Without going to sweet on the spectrum, I would recommend Pinot Gris from Alsace or Oregon, Friulano from Italy, Grüner Veltliner from Austria or another weighty white with some residual sweetness.

Garrett Kowalsky:

Pairing artichokes with wine is always a difficult task. Many times I opt for other beverages, but that is not always an option for my clients. My suggestion is to pick a high acid white with little to no oak. A bottle like that will be less likely to be thrown off by the strong flavors in the food. Think Sauvignon Blanc, or if you really prefer Chardonnay, then lean towards the wines from Chablis. Finally, don’t forget some of the delightful bottlings from Italy like Verdicchio and Vermentino.

John Camacho Vidal:

I have played around with different wines to pair with artichokes and have found that a very dry, high acid wine or a Fino Sherry with floral notes always does well. I’m also a big fan of orange wines, and I think they pair great with artichokes. I suggest clients they try their favorite artichoke dish with Gravner anfora white. Gravner’s oxidative quality mixed with the wine’s fruit will really bring the flavors together.


Go-to-Wine Tuesday: Col Vetoraz Prosecco

A balanced, bright, delicious Prosecco that’s under $22!


Picture 717The holiday season is over, but it’s always time for more bubbly! My favorite pick for aperitivi, brunches, and parties is Col Vetoraz Prosecco, which we also have in the impressive magnum format. The 750ml bottle is under $22, so it’s easy to pop this Prosecco any night of the week.

Many Prosecco wines on the market are in my opinion too sweet and aromatic, almost peach candy flavored, but the Col Vetoraz is dry and shows perfect balance between its aromas of succulent orchard fruits and pointed acidity. Col Vetoraz’s vineyards overlook the mountains are situated in an immense amphitheater, sheltered from the west winds. Founders of the original estate, the Miotto family settled down in the Veneto in 1838 and started growing vines. In 1993 Francesco, a direct descendant of Miotto family, together with Paolo De Bortoli and Loris da’Acqua established the current Col Vetoraz. In the few last years, Col Vetoraz has gained renown and won several Italian winemaking awards.

We know of the origins of the Prosecco grape (formerly called Glera) from Roman writings in the second century BCE. In writing on the main wines of ancient Rome, Pliny the Elder lauded Prosecco’s forbearer as one of the great wines served at the tables of Roman dignitaries, and he added that it could make people live longer. The wife of Emperor Augustus, credited for her longevity, said, “No other wine is better for medicinal purposes.” I don’t know whether or not Prosecco adds years to your life, but it surely can’t hurt.

Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG sits in the area from from Valdobbiadene to Conegliano in the Veneto region. Prosecco, unlike Champagne, undergoes secondary fermentation in a tank rather than in the bottle, and is then disgorged and bottled tightly to capture its magic bubbles. Col Vetoraz makes a Prosecco that’s one of the best values out there. I like to enjoy it with family and friends, and you should try it the next time you want to celebrate life and all its every day joys!


Toasting the New Year with Prosecco

What will be in your glass tomorrow night?

Prosecco_Flutes jpegProsecco seems to be hitting its stride. In fact, as New Year’s Eve arrives, lots of sparkling wine drinkers are reaching for this Italian bubbly, and for many reasons. One of the main reasons is Prosecco’s price point; you can get really fantastic, organic bottles priced in the $20 and under range. This means it’s easy to afford wine for you and your guests to enjoy, and given that Prosecco clocks in at around 11% alcohol—less than Champagne—you can drink more of it.

Sales of Prosecco have shot up in recent years as consumers discover the value-oriented alternative to champagne; in fact, Prosecco’s sales have outstripped those of Champagne. Prosecco’s light body and citrus flavor profile makes it easy to drink at any time, and that’s just one reason why Prosecco has gained popularity of late. The other reason is that Prosecco has definitely upped its quality in the past twenty years, in part because of changes in DOC regulations.

Since April 1, 2010, when the current DOC regulations became effective, the term “Prosecco” refers to a specific place—the 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 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, commonly known as Prosecco, also goes 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. Composed 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.

A wine that dates back to ancient times, Prosecco is Italy’s most emblematic sparkling wine. Made with the Charmat method that, unlike in Cava and Champagne, has its secondary fermentation takes place in a vat, Prosecco is beloved for its refreshing acidity, pleasant aromatics and delicate flavors of peach and green apple. It’s a lovely alternative to Champagne, whether on New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day brunch, or any time a sparkling wine seems to fit the festivities.

keep looking »