The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

IWM’s Secret Wine Cellar

The IWM difference–our temperature-controlled cellar and our cellarmen

Most IWM clients have never visited our cellar. They just know that their wine magically arrives in the dumbwaiter, gets tenderly wrapped by a sales associate, placed into a happy maroon box, and that’s it. But below the wooden floor of the IWM showroom sits a magical wonderland of wine and cellarmen. This is their story.

This picture shows your hypothetical bottle of Barolo. You want to buy it because it does look lovely on the shelf and you know it’ll be tasty; however, you don’t get this actual bottle of Barolo. Yours comes from the cellar, and your IWM sales associate sends the order downstairs, where it is received by one of several workers.
The workers downstairs in the cellar work really hard.  They don’t just fetch your bottle of wine (and mine); they also catalog, unpack, pack up, organize and otherwise keep the warren of the cellar in manageable order. It’s tight and cold in the cellar.  Shelves are crammed with bottles, making the space seem smaller than it is. The fans are loud and there are many, many boxes.

The boxes are, frankly, drool inspiring. If you look at this picture of Gaja and Sassicaia crates and don’t feel lust in your heart, you’re probably reading the wrong blog.

Likewise if this picture of shelves of Dal Forno don’t make you feel a bit like snatching and running..

The best part of the IWM cellar–other than the proximity of that much wine–is the link between the cellar and the store: the dumbwaiter. There’s a childlike wonder inherent to dumbwaiters, a kind of now-you-don’t-see it/now-you-do household prestidigitation. I also love that the IWM dumbwaiter is crafted from an Ornellaia box. It’s perfect that wine arrives in the casing of one of the most enchanting Super-Tuscan wines. Look down the shaft of the dumbwaiter and seeing the wine and the workers. It’s not quite seeing the White Rabbit or the Keebler elves, but it’s magical all the same.

Inside IWM, February 16-18, 2016: Short but Intense Edition

A look back at the week that was

Growing Sangiovese Grosso vines

Growing Sangiovese Grosso vines

For Monday being a holiday, Inside IWM packed a lot into this week. Sean Collins told us how he wowed his friends with an unexpectedly delicious $19 bottle of Chianti Classico from La Maialina. We got an inside view of the IWM NYC showroom from John Camacho Vidal, who explained how what we do is different from every other wine shop. And we completed our series on Italian red wine grapes with a rousing post that details some of our favorites; from Refosco to Uva Rara, this exploration of red grapes expands your wine knowledge.

Our Experts were similarly intense. Crystal Edgar looks forward to summer with two fine Verdicchio wines from Sartarelli, one of our favorite Le Marche producers. Michael Adler looks at Meursault and “Meursault,” offering a pair of wines that will reward lovers of fine Chardonnay. And Will Di Nunzio picks a pair of under $35 quintessentially Italian wines, making sure that you can drink great wine any night of the week.

Here’s to making the most of your time–and enjoying it with terrific wine and even better people.

Why the IWM Showroom is Different

It’s more than just our wines

Store 1I’ve often walked into wine shops–sometimes out of curiosity and sometimes because I’m looking for something specific–and each time I walk out of one, I appreciate more and more the way our showroom is set up.

I can easily see how the average wine-drinker, someone who has been recently kissed by the wine bug, or even someone with some wine experience, can feel intimidated or confused when shopping for wine. With few exceptions, I walk into wine shops to find a labyrinth of bottles scattered all over the place in no particular order and lacking the knowledgeable staff to guide me. Now that I do know a bit about wine, I’ve realized that the experience gets worse; so often I see a nice bottle from a great producer and a great vintage just sitting on a shelf under bright florescent bulbs. It’s enough to make me run out in disappointment or just grab anything out of frustration just to have something for dinner.

For the most, part people walk into IWM with something already in mind, but not always, so the other floor staff and I try to guide them. Since we are Italian Wine Merchants, everything on display is Italian (we do sell global wines, but these bottles are only rarely on display), but what sets us apart from all other wine sellers is the fact that we have only one bottle of each producer displayed on the shelf.  Well, this and our Vintage Tasting Room, whose brick walls are lined with killer bottles.

Store 3We don’t segregate between varietal or region; our organization is intuitive, simple and very friendly. The shelf is organized by price point, starting on the left with the lowest priced bottle increasing in price as you stroll to the right. Each bottle has a description of the region, varietal and tasting note next to it. We display only one bottle of each producer’s wine because everything from our delicious Per Linda Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (one of the best $11 bottles you’ll ever have) to the amazing six-liter bottle of 1999 Montevertine Le Pergole Torte (one of the best bottles you’ll ever have at 83 times that price) is kept in our temperature-controlled cellar. At any given time we have approximately 40-50,000 bottles in the cellar.

When people shop at IWM, chances are they will walk out with a smile. Maybe that’s why they keep coming back, though perhaps it’s the wine selection or our staff who’s eager to share their knowledge. I like to think it’s because of my charm, but in reality it’s a bit of all this combined.The other tool we have to better guide our clients is that we always have an open bottle so we can taste with them. This practice is extremely helpful, especially when we ask the clients if they are looking for anything in particular and they have no clue. Tasting with clients allows us firsthand to get a feel for clients’ palate and flavor profiles, what they like and dislike about the wine and point them in the direction of something they might enjoy at their particular price point. Once the client makes a selection, the bottle is sent up via dumbwaiter straight from the cellar at a cool 54°F to end up in the client’s warm hands. Everyone new to IWM always gets a kick out of watching the bottle pop up as if sent by the wine elves hidden in the cellar.

Inside IWM, July 6-9, 2015: Hot Summer, Cool Wines

A look back at the week that was

Gianfranco Soldera's hands and vineyard rocks

Gianfranco Soldera’s hands and vineyard rocks

Probably the post with the biggest bang for your blog-reading buck this week was from David Bertot, our acquisitions manager. As the guy who deals with shipping logistics, David knows a thing or two about weather, so his post about IWM’s hot weather shipping–paired with two great reds for your summertime enjoyment–is more or less required reading. We continued our series on Italian white wine grapes with a look at Pagadebit to Riesling Renano, and, wow, did we learn a thing or two about Trebbiano! Francesco Vigorito explained why the best wines come from the worst soil (it’s called Sassicaia for a reason), and over in Aspen, Emery Long raised a glass of Antinori’s $25 Super-Tuscan rosato from Bolgheri.

Our Experts were in an Italian frame of mind this week, starting with David Gwo, who chose two affordable luxuries from Piemonte icon Aldo Conterno. Garrett Kowalsky looked towards Chianti for his picks, selecting a pair of biodynamic Super-Tuscans that blew him away at past tastings. And Crystal Edgar asks you to put down the rosé wines and pick up the amber ones; she picked two Josko Gravner beauties that will make your summer sing!

Summer 2015 shows clear skies for great wine! We hope you’re enjoying yours with people you love!

Vino tinto or Vino Finto? Wine Fraud, IWM and You

What to beware of and how provenance helps avert fraud

Wine fraud, old as Pliny the Elder

Wine fraud, old as Pliny the Elder

Wine fraud is arguably one of the oldest cons around. For as long as wine has been a valuable commodity, scam artists have stuck labels of premium wines on lower priced bottles. In fact, this practice dates all the way back to Roman times when the Romans themselves “treated” wine with various substances (one being lead – yikes!) to make them taste sweeter and, as it turns out, deadly! Today, as the popularity of investing in fine wine continues to increase, so too does the number of imposter bottles on the market. Clearly the fine wine industry has a dilemma. There is a lot of forged wine out there, and even if not forged, much of the correctly labeled collectable wine is not properly cared for as it travels the world. The key solution to this is to verify the provenance of the wine before purchasing.

Wine scandals happen in just about every country; however, areas where affluent individuals with deep pockets and underdeveloped palates are numerous incurs more fraud. Living in Asia for six years I personally came across a number of fake bottles – some rather humorous (“Pentolds” posing as Penfolds of Australia, “Chateau Latite” printed on the label rather than Lafite), as well as others that were trickier to spot. I heard firsthand from a number of restaurateurs in China how certain purveyors would offer high amounts of cash to purchase the empty bottles of premium wines, or trade food items for empty bottles, which they would later refill with some sort of swig and sell to another restaurant or rich individual at a very high price. Unfortunately, this practice remains quite common throughout the region as many clients (particularly in China, India and Southeast Asia) know the names of the wines but have never actually seen or tasted a bottle, making them more susceptible to scams and fake bottles.

For us here in the Americas and for those in Europe, fraudsters are clever. Talented “artists” do their research, conning their way into the good graces of rich investors and collectors. A recent incident that made a big splash over the past few years is the claim of fake wine involving a billionaire American wine collector Bill Koch, who filed lawsuits alleging that he was sold fraudulent wine, one being a 1784 Château Lafite reputedly owned by Thomas Jefferson. (Read the full article on Wine Spectator). Koch’s story and fury have inspired a book, The Billionaire’s Vinegar, likely to be turned into a movie. Thanks to individuals like Koch who have taken a stand on the issue of fraud, wine collectors are now becoming more aware and concerned with authenticity, provenance and trust with their local wine merchant.

Serious collectors, especially those dabbling in older wines, have several figures worth of reasons to investigate the bottles’ integrity. Verifying a wine’s provenance means tracing the bottle’s history; it means knowing with certainty how many hands have touched and stored the bottle previously—the fewer, the better. Many enthusiasts and collectors look at wine fraud like death: it always happens to someone else. The truth is that it can happen to any hapless collector.

When we at IWM are given a choice between wines at an unbelievable price from an unknown online “reputable source” or paying a slight premium to buy the wine shipped directly from the estate or the winery’s preferred partner, we always stress the latter. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Pristine provenance—the ability to draw a straight, connected line from the estate to your cellar—is the only way to be assured that you can judge that wine by its label. And it’s the only way Sergio Esposito and IWM’s acquisition team will buy wine. Having seen my fair share of counterfeit bottles while I lived in Asia, I feel good about this choice.

keep looking »