The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Three Things When Planning for Italy

What to keep in mind as you plan your Italian vacations

The hills of Barolo

The hills of Barolo

In just three days the Kowalsky Clan begins its Italian adventure. My brother, Justin, and I are taking along our parents for their first journey to Italy, and to say that we are all excited is a bit of an understatement. You could even say that I am ecstatic. For nearly five years I have completely immersed myself in Italian wine and culture. The idea of finally being able to walk through the vineyards and feel the soil beneath my feet, or to be able to sit down and enjoy a traditional meal from the place that created them—it’s a little overwhelming.

Much of our planning has taken place in the last few weeks, and I’ve learned a few things that I did not know before. I wanted to share a few pieces of knowledge that might be helpful for you if you’re planning a trip to Italy’s wine regions:

1) Consult an Italian Calendar: Be aware of international holidays. I discovered that one of the Saturdays during my family’s trip falls on Italian Independence Day. Needless to say, most places we aimed to visit will be closed, but we did manage to come up with some cool ideas relating to the holiday with the help of one of our hosts. That said, Italy is not like the US; they take their holidays very seriously. It’s not always easy to find alternate plans, so be aware.

2) Patience in Estate Planning: Booking winery visits in Tuscany is exponentially easier than in Piemonte’s Barolo or Barbaresco. At the forefront of the agriturismo movement, Tuscany is prepped for all kinds of visitors because many of the estates are larger properties (even the elite ones), so they frequently have rooms where you can stay. Even more helpful, they often have someone who speaks English on hand to answer the phone. This has made things a breeze. Barolo and Barbaresco are a much different story. These estates tend to be tiny family-run properties that do not have receptionists or tour guides. They are quite welcoming, but you need to be prepared for a little bit of work in this region.

That said, we’ve planned visits to Giuseppe Rinaldi and Aldo Conterno in Barolo, and in Montalcino, we’ll be staying at Canalicchio di Sopra and visiting a few other Brunello estates.

3) Affordability is Now: Travel to Europe is more affordable now than it has been in years. At this very moment the Euro conversion is $1.07 US Dollars, one of the lowest rates it has been in years and certainly less than the $1.31 I experienced when I went to France in 2013. We are booking gorgeous hotels in Barolo and Florence for $100-125 a night. You can barely stay at a Hampton Inn stateside for that.

That said, I can’t wait to land in Italy, and I look forward to sharing my experiences with you upon my return!

Inside IWM, April 6-9, 2015: Savor the Flavor

A look back at the week that was

Fiddlehead ferns, one of spring's most evanescent pleasures

Fiddlehead ferns, one of spring’s most evanescent pleasures

This week we were all about the flavor. We began with Julia Punj’s impassioned, nostalgic review of an under $22 bottle of Frappato, and her reminiscences of a tiny Italian restaurant in Vancouver, BC. We stayed in southern Italy to take a small tour of Campania’s most emblematic grape varieties, offering mini-primer to help widen your wine horizons. And then Crystal finished the week strong with suggestions for tricky wine pairings; she put a selection of spring vegetables with their wine complements. It’s all about wresting the best from your fiddlehead ferns!

Our experts were very motivated by the change of seasons. Garrett Kowalsky picked a pair of white Burgundies from Domaine Barat and Henri Boillot; his brother, Justin, turned to Meursault’s Latour Giraud for value and taste. Robin Kelley O’Connor found himself swept up in Rioja fever, selecting two beautiful bottles from CVNE and Artadi. And John Camacho Vidal looked to Campania to put into bottle what our primer explained, choosing wines from Galardi and Raffaele Palma.

Here’s to good taste–especially yours!

Inside IWM, March 16-19, 2014: Spreading the Love and the Knowledge

A look back at the week that was

1-very-old-wine-carl-purcellIt was all about education and wine this week on the blog. Monday was National Artichoke Hearts Day, so we kicked off the week with a round-up of expert wine suggestions to pair with this humble thistle–with a bonus recipe from Emery Long. We finished with a meditation on learning how to enjoy mature wines from John Camacho Vidal, a process he knows well. In between, Jessica really enjoyed an under $27 2012 cru Rosso di Montalcino from Fuligni, and we took a look at that sneaky indigenous grape Dolcetto–and its amazing, juicy wines.

Our experts were similarly instructive. Garrett offered a heartfelt toast to François Lamarche, picking a pair of this esteemed vigneron’s Burgundies, and Robin Kelley O’Connor picked up the Burgundy banner to choose two affordable luxuries, a Pouilly Fuissé and a Meursault. Will Di Nunzio shared the fruits of his recent wine dinner discoveries–bottles from Cupano and Aldo Conterno. And Francesco Vigorito wants you to learn to embrace dessert wines, so he picked a pair from Antinori and Quintarelli.

Cheers to you and your wines, old and new, as we enjoy the vernal equinox and slide into spring!


Inside IWM, March 2-5, 2015: We Contain Multitudes

A look back at the week that was

julia's negroniThere’s no question that IWM enjoys a diverse experience–in wine, in food, in cocktails, and in taste! This week, our blog took a whirlwind trip to Friuli-Venezia Giulia, where we discovered there’s a lot to drink beyond the bright white Pinot Grigios the region is known for. We welcomed a new contributor, Matt Di Nunzio, with his appreciation of Fantinel’s under $20 Brut Rosé sparkler. We sang the praises of stock, that glorious liquid that gives life to dishes from soup to risotto. And we enjoyed the many faces of the Negroni, the emblematic Italian cocktail, as thoroughly presented by an impassioned Julia Punj.

Our Experts were no less catholic in their interests. David Gwo picked a pair of delicious, hedonistic Amarone, while Francesco Vigorito selected two vintage Sassicaia bottlings, one to drink now and one to put away for awhile. Drawing from recent dinners, Will Di Nunzio chose two recent favorites, a Quintarelli Valpolicella and an unusual Amalfi Coast white. And Robin Kelley O’Connor couldn’t forebear continuing NYC’s Burgundy week, selecting two righteous Burgundies from Chavy Chouet and Emmanuel Rouget.

Cheers to broad tastes, well cultivated, and exercised often.

Discovering Diverse, Delicious Friuli-Venezia Giulia

A look at Italy’s North–and it’s not just great whites!

Taken from Wikipedia

Taken from Wikipedia

Bordering Austria and Slovenia in the northeastern region of Italy, Friuli-Venezia Giulia’s culture offers an intriguing amalgam of cultural influences. Even the region’s name shows that cultural melange. “Friuli” recognizes the ancient Friulani who first settled the area, while “Venezia” refers to the people of the Venetian Republic. Like its name, Friuli-Venezia’s wine culture reflects its heritage, blending indigenous and international grapes, modern and ancient methods, and producing a dizzying array wines ranged along a wide stylistic spectrum.

Friuli is disposed to be a white varietal specialist: Many of its wine zones receive the benefit of a propitious interaction between mountain air and warm sea currents, and this moderate environment lets grapes realize rich fruit flavors while retaining their incisive acidity. The ideal terroir is considered to be the provenance of the zone’s premier regions, Collio and Colli Orientali, which feature soils comprised of limestone, marl, and sandstone, and vineyards situated at a high elevation.

The Friulian standard-bearer wine is a crisp, clean white, and while imitated throughout Italy, no other region possesses the breadth of Friuli’s white varietal canon, composed of both indigenous and international varietals. The principal members of the former category include Tocai Friulano, Malvasia Istriana, Ribolla Gialla, and Picolit, while the latter is headlined by Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Bianco, and Pinot Grigio.

Also from Wikipedia

Also from Wikipedia

While Friuli-Venezia Giulia is understandably known best for its white grapes, the region also possesses a healthy relationship with red varietals. Friulia has enjoyed particular success with the Bordeaux varietals, but its indigenous varietals—Refosco, Pignolo, and Schioppettino—are on the rise in the wine world’s radar. While many regard Refosco as the leader of the trio, all three have been making their way back into the Friulian landscape. Schioppettino, Ribolla Gialla’s black counterpart, may be translated into a powerful wine of black fruit and spice that reflects kinship with a Syrah from the Rhône.

Josko Gravner with his anfora

Josko Gravner with his anfora

Friuli-Venezia Giulia has a long, storied history of winemaking, one that encompasses modern wine protocol, but also one that has increasingly been hearkening back to winemaking’s roots. None lead the oxymoronic charge of “new” old winemaking more successfully than Josko Gravner, whose work with anfora has for all intents and purposes ignited a wine movement. Starting about fifteen years ago, Gravner began fermenting his wine in anfora, large clay pots buried in the ground, leaving his white grapes in extended contact with their skins. His method has caught on, and in part because of Gravner, Friuli is one of the pivotal centers of natural winemaking in Italy. Like Gravner, producers such as Marjan Simcic, Stanko Radikon, Miani’s Enzo Pontoni, Movia’s Ales Kristancic and others work to create unique interpretations of the region’s grapes using natural, often biodynamic methods.

While Friuli-Venezia Giulia might not have the name power of Toscana or Piemonte, there’s no doubt that this is a powerhouse of a winemaking region—especially when you’re talking about Italian whites. Of course, that’s no reason to sleep on the reds! Friuli is all about diversity, much of it undiscovered and most of it delicious.

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