The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Expert Picks: Casa Vinicola Giacosa and Bruno Giacosa!

Two expert selections from Garrett Kowalsky

Garrett_8.6.14_72dpiToday we go back to basics. Indeed, we visit the producer who started my love affair with Italian wine—Bruno Giacosa. For more than three decades the world has marveled at the magical wines that this estate produces. Collectors are no doubt familiar with Giacosa’s “Red Label” Barolo and Barbaresco Riservas, and the vino being produced here is celestial from top to bottom. However, Giacosa’s beauty doesn’t begin and end with the expensive and incredible Red Label bottlings. There’s a lot more Giacosa to love. I’ve chosen two of my favorite bottles and while these wines bring a little less clout, they still bring a whole lot of awesome.

Casa Vinicola Bruno Giacosa 2014 Roero Arneis $29.99

When people think of Italian white wines, their minds often drift to Pinot Grigio, Trebbiano, Friulano and Vermentino. I am here to tell you there is another grape to consider, one we almost lost to extinction: Arneis. Piemonte’s Arneis and was almost completely wiped out before a small group of producers (Giacosa included) realized that it needed saving. This Arneis bottling from Giacosa is rich and straw colored, but it still provides a mouthwatering acidity that allows it to pair with almost anything you could imagine during an antipasti or fish course. Drink until 2019.

Bruno Giacosa 2012 Barbaresco Asili $149.99

Asili is one of Barbaresco’s most prestigious vineyards, and perhaps nobody does it justice like Giacosa. The soil, grape, vine, and terroir marry to give elegance and delicacy in Giacosa’s Barbaresco Asili. Giacosa has come to be known for crafting wines of ethereal elegance that seem to live forever. 2012 was a year that had its challenges, but the estate triumphed by making the hard decisions when it came to fruit selection. The result is another stunner that is sure to be enjoyed now and a generation from now. Drink 2017 to 2030.

Go-To-Wine Tuesday: Cornarea 2014 Roero Arneis

Uniting Italy’s North and its South with this delicious wine and a simple pasta dish

stephane pastaArneis, also called Nebbiolo Bianco, stands alongside Gavi di Gavi as one of Piedmont’s most highly regarded white wines. Arneis almost went extinct, and it was rescued only in the 1970s when the Cornarea estate started replanting a 35-acre hillside vineyard with the grape, assuring its revival in the region.

Recently, IWM got in the 2014 Roero Arneis from Cornarea, and I had to take a bottle home. Dry and crisp, this Roero Arneis bursts with blossom-like aromas complemented by flavors of fresh pear and stone fruits. This white is a great alternative to Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. This ’14 has really nice acidity that makes it a perfect to complement a wide range of foods, from white meats to seafood; today, I chose to pair it with a great southern Italian dish, pasta ai calamari, or pasta with calamari, a dish you can find if you make it down to Campania’s Amalfi Coast.

Unifying the Italian North and the South has been a political issue in politics for hundreds of years, but it works incredibly well in cooking! I am happy to share with you today a great food and wine pairing that will make your palate travel from the hills of Piedmont down to the Amalfi Coast, and given that Cornarea Roero Arneis is inder $27, you’ll want to enjoy it often.

This is my recipe for this delicious summer dish:

Carefully wash the calamari and separate the “legs” from the “tubes.” Cut the tubes in ¼ inch rings. Keep both parts in two separate bowls.

In a frying pan prepare the “soffritto” by gently frying 2 cloves of split garlic and one small dried red pepper in 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.

Put the “legs” into the pan and increase the heat to sauté the legs until the legs are all curly and slightly grilled; then add the rings as well and stir.

Add half a glass of Cornarea Roero Arneis and let the alcohol evaporate—it should take a couple of minutes at high heat.

While the alcohol is evaporating, prepare the pasta by dropping it in a very large pot of salted water. Taste the water to check the lever of salt. I prefer to use “Paccheri” pasta (a smaller version of the cannelloni, typically Neapolitan), but large spaghetti or linguine are a great alternative.

Once the alcohol has evaporated, lower the heat of the pan and add a dozen hand-crushed mini-tomatoes and 2 tablespoons of salted capers. Rinse the capers carefully to get rid of the excess of salt. (It is important not to choose the capers in vinegar because the strong acidity is not what we are looking for in this recipe).

Cover and let cook for about 7-9 minutes at low heat, then take the lid off the pan and add a 6 to 12 pitted Gaeta olives; if you can’t find these wonderful southern Italian olives, you can replace them by some small kalamata olives. It is important to choose brown/purple olives in brine, not the very dark and dry, back olives that are too strong.

As capers and olives are already very salty it is not necessary to add any salt to the sauce.

Once the pasta is cooked al dente, strain the pasta and add it to the pan with your calamari sauce, mix well at medium heat to finish the last 30 sec of cooking. Add freshly cut Italian parsley before serving in large plates.

Italian White Wine Grapes A-Z: Drupeggio to Grillo!

The second in our multi-part series on Italian white wine grapes

Erbaluce ripening in the sun

Erbaluce ripening in the sun

Each Monday for the next few weeks, we’ll be detailing the white wine grapes of Italy. From the well-known to the obscure, this alphabetical list offers insight into the grapes that make your favorite Italian white wines. Last week, we looked at grapes beginning with A, B and C, or Albana to Cortese, and today we continue with Drupeggio to Grillo!

Drupeggio (droo-PEHJ-joh)

Cultivated in the Orvieto region of Umbria, Drupeggio is the name for the white Canaiolo, which is often added to Grechetto, Malvasia and Verdello. Drupeggio also goes by the names Drupeccio and Lupeccio.

Erbaluce (ehr-bah-LOO-cheh)

The romantically named Erbaluce, called Alba Lux in Roman times, got its name from the copper glow around its berries at dawn. Indigenous to Piemonte, Erbaluce is characterized by a very high acidity and profound aromatics, two qualities that make the grape amenable to being made into dry, sparkling and desert wines. Erbaluce’s DOC appellations are limited to the commune of Caluso near Turin. Erbaluce’s dry expression, Erbaluce di Caluso, is characterized by fresh acidity, a wildflower bouquet and a palate of crisp fruit. The Erbaluce DOC desert wine, Caluso Passito, which as the name suggests is made in the passito method, is a deeper gold that hedges on amber, quite full-bodied, velvety, redolent of honey without being overly sweet and still imbued with the bouquet of wildflowers.

Falanghina (fah-lahn-GEE-nah)

This ancient grape is undoubtedly indigenous to Campania and quite possibly is the formative grape in the great wine of Roman antiquity, Falernium. Falanghina was poised on the brink of extinction by the mid-twentieth century because of the one-two punch of the phylloxera epidemic of the early twentieth century followed by the decimation of vineyards during W.W. II. Falanghina has, however, been nursed back to health and is now experiencing a renaissance of sorts. While producers had long considered this varietal as just a component grape in a faceless corps of grapes to concoct yet another anonymous white, today’s winemakers are vinifying Falanghina on its own to produce a straw-colored wine with bouncy acidity, a palate of citrus fruits underlain by a vanilla note, all complemented by a clean finish. Ten DOC(G) appellations require Falanghina, all are in Campania, and a couple also appear in passito versions.

Fiano before ripening

Fiano before ripening

Fiano (fee-AH-noh)

The piquantly flavored Fiano has been cultivated in Campania for over two thousand years. There are two clones of Fiano in Campania; the more famous clone is called Fiano di Avellino, or “Fiano of the bees,” due to the way that ripening grapes draw clusters of the insects; Fiano di Avellino is the main component in its eponymous DOCG appellation. Fiano is an unusually sapid varietal that makes a wine with an interesting waxy quality, a nuanced aroma, and a palate often full unto bursting with wildflowers, honey and smoky hazelnuts. As happened to other indigenous grapes, Fiano was nearly extinct in the early twentieth century, but it has recovered due to the diligence of famed winemaker Dr. Antonio Mastroberadino.

Garganega (gar-gah-NAE-ga)

Wine experts agree on two points about Garganega: one is that this varietal grows easily–possibly too easily; and the other is that when winemakers take care to prune the vines and keep grape yields low, Garganega can make splendid wines, but when they don’t, it doesn’t. Garganega is cultivated in pockets throughout Italy, but it grows most expressively in the Veneto, where it is the basis for the oft-maligned Soave, a DOC appellation, as well as the oft-vaunted Recioto di Soave, a DOCG. Unrestrained crops of Garganega make bland, insipid, uninspired wine. Carefully cultivated Garganega, however, can make a lovely hay-colored wine redolent of elderflowers, tasting of almonds and lemons, and finished with a creamy undertone. The Recioto version, wherein the grapes are dried on mats or in boxes until winter, is an elegant balance between sassy acidity, sweet yellow fruit and almonds or tea.

Gewurztraminer or Gewürztraminer [guh-VURTS-trah-mee-ner, geh-VEHRTZ-trah-mee-ner)

While most famous for its cultivation in the Alsace region of France and in Austria, this varietal actually originates in Tramin, or Termeno, a town in Trentino-Alto Adige (in this bilingual region, everything is named in both Italian and German). Indeed, Gewurztraminer, or Gewürztraminer, is known as Traminer in Italy. Gewurztraminer is a varietal with especially tangled familial roots, and as much as ampelographers disagree over the varietal’s multiple clones, most agree that today’s Gewurztraminer versions did at least in part descend from a varietal called the Traminer indigenous to Trentino-Alto Adige.

Traminer differs from the Gewurztraminer grown in France and Austria. With a whisper of lichee and a palate of wildflowers, yellow fruit and a slight mineral undertone, Italian Traminer makes a more subdued, softer and more gently aromatic wine than its northern cousin, which is known for its powerful bouquet that fairly screams of lichees and for its deep gold color tinged with pink or copper. However, because all the varietals in the Traminer family mutate quickly, it’s hard to know whether these differences derive from changes in terroir or in genetics. Although cultivation of Traminer in Trentino-Alto Adige has largely diminished, there are still some producers who are committed to the grape.

A bunch of Grecchetto

A bunch of Grecchetto

Grechetto (greh-KEHT-toh)

Grown throughout central Italy, Grechetto is cultivated most assiduously in Umbria, where it forms the basis of two of the region’s better known DOC wines, Orvieto and Torgiano. Historically treated as a grape for a blended wine, Grechetto has recently become the object of vintners’ exploration into single-varietal wines. When vinified as a single-varietal, Grechetto’s wines are characterized by a nose of wildflowers and pear and a palate of lime and nuts. Though Grechetto is sometimes called Greco Spolentino or Greco Bianco di Peruglia, and though most likely descended from the same genetic pool as Greco Bianco, Grechetto is not the same varietal as Greco. A very sturdy grape with a thick skin, Grechetto is often also used to make Vin Santo.

Greco (GRAE-co)

To make a long story short, ampelographers agree the name “Greco” essentially designates two clones: Greco Bianco cultivated in Calabria and Greco B or Greco di Tufo cultivated in Campania. To explain at length, Greco is another one of those deeply problematic names. In 8th century B.C. Greeks sailed across the Ionic and the Adriatic Seas to find new and potentially more fruitful homes along the east coast of Italy, and when they emigrated, they took grape vine clippings and seeds to plant. Over time, these disparate Greek grapes became known under the umbrella sobriquet “Greco,” a term that was also applied in antiquity to any great wine, much to the great disgruntlement of current-day ampelographers. To further complicate the Greco issue, as these vines mutated and adapted to their new climates, the name Greco became yet muddier. For example, while Umbria’s Grechetto and the Veneto’s Garganega appear to be descended from the Greco, they are not synonymous with Greco, and while the varietal Albana has been called Greco, it shows no relationship at all to Greco. The only two varietals that can rightly be called Greco are the Greco Bianco and the Greco B.

Greco Bianco (GRAE-co BYAHN-koh)

One of the two main Greco clones, Greco Bianco is cultivated almost exclusively in Calabria, where it is a component of all of the region’s dry white wines, notably Cirò Bianco and Lamezi Greco. Greco Bianco is the basis for the confusingly, nearly identically named Greco di Bianco, a sweet wine made by drying the grapes before pressing. The varietal Greco Bianco when vinified into a dry wine is pale gold and carries note of figs and roasted almonds. As a sweet wine, it’s an unabashed golden color with a bouquet of oranges, figs and honeysuckle.

Greco di Tufo (GRAE-co dee TOO-foh) or Greco B (GRAE-co bee)

Greco di Tufo, which also goes by the prosaic name Greco B, is one of two main Greco clones; it is cultivated in Campania. Having taken root in the volcanic slopes of Mt. Vesuvius, Greco di Tufo has shown its affinity for higher altitudes, preferring sites around 400-700 meters above sea level. Unlike most other whites from the region, Greco di Tufo has a decidedly fruity profile, which it shows to advantage in its confusingly and eponomously named DOC wine, Greco di Tufo.

Rows of Grillo

Rows of Grillo

Grillo (GREEL-loh)

Grillo, which means “cricket” in Italian, is most likely indigenous to Puglia, but it found a home in Sicilia when it replaced Sicilian vines killed in the nineteenth-century phylloxera epidemic. The fortune of Grillo has followed the popularity of Marsala, Sicilia’s most famous fortified wine. When Marsala was in vogue in the 1930’s, Grillo comprised a majority of Sicilia’s vines, but now due to Marsala’s drop in popularity, the increased use of the aromatic Inzolia in Marsala, and the enthusiastic growth of Catarratto, Grillo accounts for under 5,000 hectares of cultivation. Grillo has a high sugar content and makes full-bodied whites; these points have spurred Sicilian winemakers into experimenting with single-varietal dry Grillo whites. When vinified into a dry wine, Grillo forms a pale gold wine with evident notes of nuts and honeyed fruit.

Italian White Wine Grapes A-Z: Albana to Cortese!

The first in our multi-part series on Italian white wine grapes

Each Monday for the next few weeks, we’ll be detailing the white wine grapes of Italy. From the well-known to the obscure, this alphabetical list offers insight into the grapes that make your favorite Italian white wines. This week, we look at grapes beginning with A, B and C, or Albana to Cortese!

A bunch of Albana grapes

A bunch of Albana grapes

Albana (ahl-BAH-nah)

This varietal dates back to fifth-century Emilia-Romagna, though given the oft-damning controversy surrounding Albana, one might wonder how it has lasted this long. When the appellation Albana de Romagna received DOC status in 1987, many wine producers saw this move as strictly political, for there’s really nothing special about this Albana-based dry wine. Quaffable, faintly aromatic and simple, Albana de Romagna rarely is anything to talk about, even if in the interceding decades some producers have managed to give the wine some depth. No, what makes the Albana memorable is its passito version. Drying the Albana makes its quince, pineapple, and apricot flavors stand out and creates a wine wherein its sweetness is utterly balanced by its acidity. Albana is sometimes called Greco, although erroneously, for this varietal bears no genetic relationship to either Greco Bianca or Greco B.

Albarola (ahl-bah-ROHL-lah)

Albarola grows almost exclusively in the tiny, crescent-shaped Liguria region in northwest Italy, though the varietal almost certainly originated in neighboring Toscana. Often a component in blended wines in the Cinque Terre zone, Albarola occasionally shows up as a single-varietal wine that’s pale yellow, slightly astringent, and with an herbaceous tang. It also makes an appearance in a rare passito desert wine with Bosco and Vermentino.

Arneis (ahr-NAYS)

Its name translates from Piemontese to mean, variably, “little rascal,” “difficult and demanding person,” or “child who doesn’t listen to his parents.” Maybe this varietal’s truculence was the reason that it took the DOC until 2005 to recognize this indigenous Piemonte grape in its Roero Arneis appellation. More likely, it’s all the other great wines in Piemonte overshadowed those made from Arneis, which is also sometimes called Nebbiolo Blanco. Generally vinified into a dry white wine, Arneis makes a delightful, refreshing straw yellow wine with a bouquet of apple and apricot. Producers who make more concerted efforts can produce a rich, viscous wine redolent of apples, pears and licorice.

Bianco d’Alessano (BYAHN-koh dahl-ISS-sahn-oh)

This extremely rare varietal grows in Puglia. There’s not a lot of information on it.

Blanc de Morgex (bwlahnk deh MAWHR-ghoh)

Grown high in the Alps of the Valle d’Aosta, Blanc de Morgex is the Valle d’Aosta’s only indigenous white grape. Blanc de Morgex’s high acidity makes it an ideal component in combination wines, although it is also vinified on its own.

Bombino bianco bunch

Bombino bianco bunch

Bombino Bianco (bom-BEE-noh BYAHN-koh)

Named either for its fecundity (like a bomb, or bomba) or for the pyramidal shape of its grape bunches that resemble a child with up-flung arms (bambino), Bombino grows in both white (Bianco) and black (Nero) versions, but the white is much more prevalent. Grown throughout most of central Italy, Bombino Blanco is another one of those grapes that has different names depending on where in Italy it is. Due to its easy-growing nature, in Emilia-Romagna it’s called Pagadebit, or “debt-payer,” and Stracciacambiali, or “tear up the invoices”; however, in Abruzzo the grape varietal also goes under the name Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, despite its having no genetic relation to Trebbiano. Generally a component of a blend, Bombino Bianco often produces an unremarkable wine. When, however, winemakers carefully prune the vine to limit grape production as some vintners in Abruzzi are doing, a high-quality, golden hued, creamy yet citrusy wine can result.

Bosco (BOHS-koh)

If there is a quintessential illustration of just how confusing Italian wine can be, Bosco might just be it. First, there is the varietal Bosco that grows exclusively in Liguria, predominantly in its Cinque Terre region. Then there are several wine producers named Bosco, none of whom make wine in Liguria. Then there is the Italian wine and food term “frutti di bosco,” which refers to flavors reminiscent of the “fruits of the forest,” or wild berries and currants. As if that’s not enough, there is also a style of wine called Bosco that is not made from Bosco (the white version is made from Sauvignon Blanc, the red from Fortana), nor is it made by Bosco, nor does it possess frutti di bosco.

That said, Bosco is a varietal that forms the basis of almost every white wine produced in Liguria. When vinified, it ranges in hues from straw to gold, possesses an herbaceous floral quality, and shows a savory undertone that is redolent of the sea.

Carricante (cahr-REE-kahnt-tay)

This indigenous varietal has been cultivated on the eastern slopes of Mt. Etna in Sicilia since time immemorial. Also going by the names Catanese Bianco and Nocera Bianca, this grape thrives on Etna’s volcanic soil. When vinified, Carricante can yield a medium-bodied wine that possess aromas of peony, fennel and lemon and a strong mineral finish.

Cattaratto grapes

Catarratto grapes

Catarratto (kah-tah-RAHT-toh)

Catarratto has the dubious distinction of being, after Sangiovese, the second most-planted grape in Italy. Grown solely in Sicilia, only a portion of the crop of Catarratto ends up in wine glasses–the rest becomes industrial alcohol. Catarratto further suffers from its reputation for being a plentiful, if negligible, filler grape in white wine and for being a basis for Vermouth. However, Catarratto comes in two forms: Catarratto Comune, the type predominantly used in so-called jug wines and in the industrial alcohol, and Catarratto Lucido, a fine, high-quality, lower-production grape that can be vinified into tiptop wines. When tended with care, this latter clone yields a nicely balanced, freshly acidic, straw color wine with a palate of honeysuckle, apricots and lemon and slightly savory finish. Catarratto used to be a major component of Marsala, but now Grillo has assumed that role.

Chardonnay (shar-doh-NAY)

Chardonnay is one of the world’s most-cultivated white grapes, and while it may have France to thank for its history and California for its celebrity, Chardonnay has a firm root in Italy. Quite easy to cultivate, Chardonnay has two desirable characteristics: it is a grape that happily reflects the terroir in which it’s grown, and Chardonnay also gleefully responds to a variety of vinification techniques. These traits, combined with Chardonnay’s happy acclimation to most microclimates and its broad range of flavors, make it the extremely popular varietal it is–both with the producers of wine and the drinkers of it.

Italy’s fourth-most cultivated white wine grape, Chardonnay grows widely throughout northern and central Italy, though it also grows as far south as Sicilia. In Trentino-Alto Adige, where for a very long time it was confused with Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay has been known as “Gelber Weissburgunder,” or golden white Burgundy–Pinot Blanc is called simply “Weissburgunder.” Italian Chardonnays may be aged in oak or not, blended or vinified singly. Perhaps the best expression of Chardonnay comes from Piemonte, where renowned winemaker Angelo Gaja makes his hedonistic, chewy version with notes of guava, tangerine, honey, marzipan, and oak spice. In a word, though, Chardonnay is a crapshoot. You can take home a jackpot or you can go utterly broke. In general, the Chardonnay grape makes wines with a wide variety of characteristics that range from buttery to citrusy, from smoky to steely, from appley to melony. This range of flavors is as much due to Chardonnay’s chameleon-like ability to adapt to its environment is it is due to its easy response to vinification techniques.


A singular bunch of Cortese

Cortese (kohr-TAE-zae, kohr-TEH-zee)

Indigenous to Piemonte, Cortese flourishes in Piemonte’s southeastern Monferrato Hills, but it also grows in Lombardia and the Veneto. As the sole varietal in Cortese di Gavi, the second white wine to earn a DOCG (the first was Albana di Romagna), Piemontese Cortese has in recent years achieved high popularity that has, unfortunately, preyed upon this delicate grape. In its worst expressions, Cortese makes a wine that is banal, indistinguishable and insipid. In its best expressions, however, this varietal makes supple wines with an acidic flair and subtle flavors of apple, citrus, and honeysuckle, underlain by a satisfying minerality. Cortese is also sometimes vinified into a sparkling version of Gavi.

Inside IWM, June 1-4, 2015: All the Colors

A look back at the week that was

Cap and Terraces with Sea in background

Cap and Terraces with Sea in background

This week took us to Cassis, France, and to Aspen, Colorado, but we began with a consideration of orange, or skin-contact, wines. These wines made from white grapes in the manner of red wines are weird and beautiful, and they’re incredibly chic; one writer explores their appeal. On Tuesday, David Bertot drank a white-white from one of the great makers of Italian reds, Bruno Giacosa; this under $30 beauty is a must-have bottle! We welcomed Michael Adler, a new contributor, to the blog with his recounting of a trip to Cassis, which was magical and filled with rosé. And we finished the week with Aspenite Julia Punj looking forward to the Aspen Food & Wine Classic; this will be her fourth time at this world-famous foodie event!

Our experts broke down white, rosé, and red this week. Crystal Edgar took the lead with two whites from Antinori, both wines she has on hand for hot summer months. Garrett Kowalsky turned his gaze to serious, intense rosé expressions from the Rhone and the Amalfi Coast. And Will Di Nunzio couldn’t restrain himself from singing the praises of two extraordinary reds, one Amarone from Quintarelli and one vintage Super-Tuscan wine by Antinori.

Cheers to what’s in your glass: red, white, rosé, or orange!

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