The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Inside IWM, April 13-16, 2014: Other Places, Other Wines

A look back at the week that was

Château Margaux

Château Margaux

IWM clearly has been struck by wanderlust. It’s most evident by Garrett Kowalsky’s post about his upcoming trip to Italy, where he details the three things you should know in planning your trip. However, it’s just as plain in Robin Kelley O’Connor’s detailed history of Bordeaux’s Château Margaux, and our primer to the indigenous grapes of Friuli (get your red-hot Refosco and Picolit panda here!). Only David Bertot seems pretty happy to be at home with his bottle of Monastero Suore Cistercensi Coenobium Ruscum, but then he also made risotto for his wife.

Our experts enjoyed sharing a little knowledge with their picks this week. Crystal Edgar explained “winemaker’s vintage” with two bottles of 2002 wines. And Will Di Nunzio explored cult wines with picks from Italy’s North, Sandro Fay and Miani.

Cheers to you and your wines, wherever you may be, and wherever you may wander!

Inside IWM, March 9-12, 2015: Big Thoughts, Big Wines, and Lots of Nebbiolo

A look back at the week that was

The hills of Barolo

The hills of Barolo

This week was all about serious thinking here at Inside IWM. We kicked off the week with part two of Francesco Vigorito’s series on building a serious Italian wine collection. He laid the foundation in part one, and in part two, Francesco talked Piemonte wines that every collector should have. As if picking up Francesco’s cue, Robin Kelley O’Connor took a long look at Barolo and explained why this wine is hot on the auction and collector market. On Tuesday, David Bertot gave his impassioned take on the Donnas’ under $25 “Mountain Barolo.” And on Wednesday, Emery Long took on the divisive topic of natural wines in the effort of helping you decide when you should go natural–and when you should reach for its opposite.

As much as our writers were taken by big thoughts about big wines, our experts were gripped by spring fever and the sheer joy of enjoyment. Garrett Kowalsky poured out a pair of 1998 Super-Tuscan icons from Tenuta dell’Ornellaia and Tenuta San Guido. On Thursday, Garrett’s brother Justin reveled in the spring weather and chose two classic white Burgundies, one from Gilbert Picq and the other from Domaine Leflaive. Crystal Edgar appreciates unusual wines, and she picked a pair from Fantinel’s boutique estate, La Roncaia, that offer full flavors of Friuli. And like Crystal, David Gwo opted to celebrate a single estate, but he chose the Rhône Valley’s E. Guigal, selecting Hermitage–one white, one red, both gorgeous.

Cheers to you, whether you’re simply enjoying the weather or thinking big thoughts with big wines!

A Field Guide To Building The Ideal Italian Wine Collection, Part 2: Piemonte

The first pillar of an Italian wine collection: Piedmont 

The sinuous hills that are home to Barolo

The sinuous hills that are home to Barolo

Originally posted at the blog of Revel Cellars, a company that builds custom wine cellars, this post is the second part in a series by Francesco Vigorito ofIWM Aspen; here is part one.

No Italian wine collection would be complete without wines from Piemonte, home of collectable, age-worthy wines revered around the globe. Let’s start today with the “King” and “Queen” of Italian wine, Barolo and Barbaresco. Both are composed exclusively of the indigenous Nebbiolo grape, one of the world’s most tannic and acid-driven varieties, characters that allow their wines to mature and age gracefully for over 10-70 years.   Not all Barolo and Barbaresco are created equally—in fact, there are only a handful of producers in these tiny regions that should garner your attention as far as collections go.

Leading that charge in Barolo is Giacomo Conterno and its Barolo Riserva Monfortino. Words simply can’t describe the experience of drinking this wine from a standout vintage. The 1955 is the best bottle of Italian wine to ever touch my palate, and I still think about today, even though I drank it about a year ago! Barolo Monfortino is the most sought-after Barolo made, and with fewer than 600 cases produced in the vintages when Conterno chooses to make it, there isn’t much to go around. If these bottles are ever offered to you, make sure not to hesitate to pick them up. Without Monfortino in your collection, you really can’t call it an Italian wine collection. If we wanted to make a comparison to Burgundy, Conterno’s Monfortino is the DRC Romanée-Conti of Barolo; perhaps that puts it in perspective.

With Barolo Riserva Monfortino at the top, there are a couple of other producers right on its tail, most notably Aldo Conterno’s Granbussia, Bartolo Mascarello’s Barolo (the estate’s only Barolo), Luciano Sandrone’s Barolo Cannubi Boschis (no Riservas made here), Bruno Giacosa’s Red Label Barolo Riservas, Giacosa’s Barolo Collina Rionda (no longer produced), and last but absolutely not least, Guiseppe Rinaldi’s Brunate-Le Coste (also no longer produced). Certainly, there are other producers making exceptional Barolos that are not on my list, but to my thinking, these six represent the finest and most collectible out there.

Let’s now turn to Barbaresco. Producing roughly a third less wine than Barolo and lying only 10-15 miles to the northwest, the wines are very similar in profile, but Barbarescos tend to bring a more elegant style of Nebbiolo to the game. Because there is less Barbaresco produced, it really comes down to two producers who craft totally different styles of wine, but both have the same respect for the Nebbiolo grape and the Barbaresco region. These producers would most definitely be Angelo Gaja and Bruno Giacosa.

You can’t say enough about Gaja and all that he has done for the Italian wine scene, both his contributions to spurring quality winemaking practices as well as the attention he drew to Italian wines through his deft hand at marketing. Gaja’s single vineyard “Barbarescos”—I use quotes here because they are technically not Barbarescos due to the addition of Barbera—are the flagship wines in his portfolio. With their black and white labels, showcasing his name “GAJA” in all caps, you cannot miss these bottles in any wine shop or wine cellar. The Gaja family is originally from Spain, but these wines are as Italian as Italian wines get and will be the cherry atop many Italian wine collections.

Another vital Barbaresco you cannot miss are Bruno Giacosa’s Red Label Riservas that he produces only in the finest vintages. His wines present a more refined and suave style than Gaja’s, attracting more the Burgundy collector because of the nuance and elegance in his mature wines. One word of advice: don’t go opening up a Giacosa Red Label prematurely or you will run into a wall of tannins that can scrape the plaque off your teeth and leave you with a bad experience. All of this said, Giacosa’s famous Red Label Riservas, wheter Barbaresco or Barolo, garner serious attention from collectors world-wide because of their sheer rareness, deliciousness and performance on the auction block. If I had just one producer of Barbaresco in my cellar, it would have to be Bruno Giacosa.

So here we have the backbone of the superior Piedmont collection. From Conterno’s Barolo Riserva Monfortino to Giacosa’s Red Label Barbaresco Riservas, these recommendations will guarantee more than a lifetime of joy and great drinking. If you enjoy Sangiovese, Cabernet and Merlot, stay tuned for part three later when I detail the collectible wines of Tuscany.


Inside IWM, February 17-19, 2015: Warm It Up!

A look back at the week that was.

Chinese-New-Year-2015-28-Cool-Wallpapers-HD-1024x1024A short week always means an intense one, and we hit the ground running with Julia Punj’s review of Le Volte 2012. Leave it to an Aspen girl to know a thing or two about wines to keep you warm in winter. We closed the week by looking forward to spring with David Bertot’s picks; these bottles make you forget that the vernal equinox is still almost four weeks away! In between, we enjoyed Crystal Edgar’s expert guidance in pairing wine with emblematic Chinese dishes. It’s the year of the sheep/goat/ram (depending on your point of origin), and it’s time to celebrate!

Crystal let the cold weather be her guide in selecting a pair of Roger Sabon Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines; they’re ideal for warming you from the inside. Like Crystal, Francesco Vigorito selected two wines from a single producer, showing the past and the present of Burgundy great Louis Jadot. And Will Di Nunzio is looking for a little immediate gratification, so he chose two 2009 Brunello di Montalcino; these bottles are delicious right now–no waiting necessary!

We hope you and yours are keeping warm, drinking deliciously and enjoying life–wherever you may be!

A Look at Brunello di Montalcino’s Storied History

A thumbnail history of the “little brown one”

Franco Biondi-Santi's hat and candleholder, which he kept at the ready for trips to his private cellar.

Franco Biondi-Santi’s hat and candleholder, which he kept at the ready for trips to his private cellar.

As we continue to roll out the 2010 Brunello, it seems like a good time to revisit the history of the grape that is responsible for this wine, Sangiovese Grosso.

In the great pantheon of Italian wine, perhaps only Barolo supersedes the importance of Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. Celebrated for its ageability, structure, cult status and sophisticated palate, Brunello di Montalcino essentially owes its impressive reputation to three things: a clone known as Sangiovese Grosso, the extraordinary microclimate of the region, and the winemaker Clemente Santi. Were any of these factors different, or missing, Brunello most likely would be impossible, and it would be a very sad world indeed.

At 150 years old, Brunello di Montalcino is a relative upstart in the world of Italian wine. In the mid-1800’s, Clemente Santi realized that one strain of grape growing on his estate seemed to withstand both rot and phylloxera. He focused his attention on the grape he called Brunello, or “little brown one,” and in time, this clone would be known as “BBS11.” His son, Feruccio Biondi-Santi, was the first person to bottle and release a single-varietal wine fermented from this grape; a handful of bottles remain from his 1881 inaugural bottling. Arguably, the Biondi-Santi family has had a greater impact on Brunello than any other family has had on any other Italian wine. While the idea that Feruccio “invented” Brunello is more myth than fact–historical evidence dates award-winning Montalcino wines to years well before 1881, there is no disputing that the family established guidelines for the Brunello di Montalcino, shaped those guidelines with an iron fist, and remained the only makers of the appellation until around W.W. II. Moreover, by intentionally keeping production low and pricing the wine high, by choosing to skip vintages they saw as inferior, and by mindfully creating a wine that requires intense aging, the Biondi-Santi family effectively created the Brunello mystique–a magical wine that you have to pay a lot to get and wait to enjoy.

Gianfranco Soldera before his very big botti

Gianfranco Soldera before his very big botti

To understand the singularity of Montalcino, you need to consider that although the town is only 25 miles south of Siena, it is higher, dryer and cooler than the surrounding Tuscan regions–most of Toscana has a yearly rainfall of 35” a year; Montalcino receives about 28”; in 2012, it received none from April until September. The township of Montalcino essentially splits the DOCG area into two broad categories: those vineyards north of the town, and those to the south. Northern vineyards have calcareous clay soil, higher altitudes, a cooler microclimate and they create more aromatic, structured and elegant wines. The vineyards to the south possess a more Mediterranean climate, a lower altitude, and sandier soil; these factors cause grapes to ripen about a week earlier than those in the north and to create fuller, juicier, rounder, more approachable wines.But the other important piece in the Brunello puzzle is the region itself. While it’s indisputable that the Biondi Santi family recognized potential of the Sangiovese Grosso and that they developed the grape into its quintessential expression, neither of those achievements would mean a thing were it not for the extraordinary terroir of Montalcino. Brunello begins around the hilltop town of Montalcino located in the southern central reaches of Toscana, just south of Firenze. Its elevation that ranges between 820 and 2,170 feet means that Montalcino, perhaps more than any other important wine growing area in Toscana, benefits from the Mediterranean breezes that blow across the region.  Moreover, Montalcino has intense climactic diversity; in the region’s approximately 3,000 acres, there are two different major microclimates, five separate climactic zones and 24 unique sub-microclimates.

Valdicava's organic vines

Valdicava’s organic vines

Minimum ageing requirements in Brunello di Montalcino DOCG tend to run longer than other zones in Italy.  The Brunello normale is an annual production with a requisite aging period of 4 years (this involves a combination of minimum 2 years in barrel and at least four months in bottle). Even though the total minimum ageing requirement is less than four years, producers abiding by Brunello DOCG cannot release wines until 48 months after the vintage year. Riserva denotes a bottle that is crafted exclusively in vintages that are deemed of high quality, derived from the producer’s best grapes, and aged for a minimum of five years (a combination of minimum three years in barrel and at least six months in bottle); the same rule regarding release date applies to productions of both riserva and normale.However, because of the extreme popularity of Brunello, the uniformly high price the wine garners, the multiple microclimates and the varying quality of the wine, some winemakers (including Franco Biondi-Santi) are arguing the need for the DOC to separate the DOCG zone into five smaller sub-zones. Statistics illustrate the argument for stronger regulation; in 1960 there were only eleven bottlers of Brunello and 157 acres planted, but by 2004 those numbers had exploded to 175 bottlers and almost 6,300 acres. This blow up has also led to Brunellopoli, a 2008 scandal wherein the DOC has investigated several producers for reportedly adding unapproved grapes to soften the often formidable Brunello for early drinking.

Brunello di Montalcino varies by producer and microclimate, but in general it is medium to full-bodied, with a heady aroma of black fruits that are echoed on the palate. Many people also note black spices like licorice, a whiff of bitter orange and a slight earthy quality. Alcohol percentages range between 12.5-13.5%. Brunello is made to be aged. In general, it is best starting at about ten years after vintage, but recent vintages, especially the benchmark vintage of 2007, have been amazingly approachable.

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