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.

A Look at IWM’s New eLetter

So many changes, so many more delicious wines

A snapshot of yesterday’s eLetter offer

Today I wanted to point how great our new eLetter format has become. It’s a big change from our previous version and I wanted to make sure that everyone knows about.  Not only is it more educational but it is also more efficient and a lot easier to navigate (you can find previous offers on the web, here).

The new and improved eLetter is broken down in to 5 segments, all of which detail something very specific.  For instance our new segment of “Our experts suggest” is one of my favorite parts because you will get to see what we IWM wine guys and gals love to drink ourselves. What’s better than getting insight direct from the source?

Another one of my favorites is the “Only at IWM” block. This is where we feature wines that are exclusive to us and not available elsewhere.  Through Sergio’s dedicated work in Italy, finding the rarest and most unique wines for us to offer, we decided to put a spotlight on this very important part of our business.

Of course then there is Sergio’s “Spotlight on Excellence.”  In this segment you will find the crème de la crème of Italian wine production.  Producers like Gravner and Paolo Bea have been featured, just name a couple, and there will be very many more to come.

I hope that everyone enjoys this new format  and can find something that engages not only your palate but also your mind! And if you haven’t subscribed, you should. Just go to IWM’s webpage and add your name to the subscription box located in the upper right-hand corner.

A New Yorker in Bolgheri

working a harvest in Toscana

This past fall, IWM Purchasing Analyst Tara Carille had the unparalleled opportunity of working the harvest at Le Macchiole. Below is a brief introduction to her experience picking grapes, sorting them, and doing the work that makes the magical wines of Le Macchiole possible.

I always thought I had a good idea of how much work and dedication goes into making wine, but that appreciation exploded when I got to work the harvest this September at Le Macchiole. Everyone is so dedicated and pulls such long hours. Despite the intensity it’s a fun atmosphere and people were genuinely excited to be a part of the process—including myself. I have a new appreciation for the difference in price and rank of wines and how they are made. For example, to choose the grapes that make up Messorio (the estate’s highly regarded mono-varietal Merlot) there are about 14 people working specifically (and this is excluding the hand selection in the vineyard) to ensure that only the very best grapes (and a small amount of stems, leaves or any altering objects) go into the press.

To the left is a photo of the second sorting table inside the cantina. After the bundles of grapes are harvested by hand, the bunches are loaded onto a first sorting table where the bad bunches are thrown before going into the destemmer. Following destemming, the grapes fall into the second sorting table where workers ensure that only the very best grapes (and a small amount of stems, leaves or any altering objects) go into the crusher.

I had my first experience in the vineyard harvesting grapes for Le Macchiole’s 100% Syrah called Scrio. It had rained pretty hard the night before, so it was wet and muddy, but that didn’t take away the excitement for me; I had no problem destroying my sneakers or clothes for a little time in the vineyard. Everything from pruning, trimming and harvesting is done by hand at Le Macchiole, which means I was handed clippers and a pair of gloves and sent out to ensure only the belle uve (beautiful grapes) make it back to the Cantina. After about four hours of picking I returned back from the vineyard named Puttone (Le Macchiole has seven vineyards that takes up about 22 hectares of Bolgheri land) with many crates full of Syrah and purple soaked hands (it took a really good manicure to get my cuticle back to normal).

Go-To-Wine Tuesday

Domenico Clerico Dolcetto Visadi 2008

When I talk to friends and clients about the wine market, I always put the search for a great house wine in a hunter-gatherer context. There is a predatory reward that comes from savoring the finding of a pleasing wine that doesn’t make you go broke. Although nothing can fully replace a Valpolicella Superiore, Gaja Darmagi, or Giacosa Barolo Faletto, when you capture a peak experience on the cheap, you feel a sense of accomplishment—as well as one of pleasure.

This past week I picked up a bottle from our store—Domenico Clerico Dolcetto Visadi. The producer is one of the best Barolo makers alive, and the wine derives from the deliciously food friendly Dolcetto grape.  I decided that this would be the centerpiece to meal I was putting together that evening, and for under $20 how could I refuse?

Surprisingly, the Domenico Clerico 2008 Dolcetto Vsadii was far more than a structure of sweet fruit and supple acidity. I found there was a particularly noticeable tannic structure that complemented my meal of tomato basil over Fusilli pasta and seasoned beef. The blending of high notes from red fresh cherries, rose, pomegranate, and plum blended incredibly with my sautéed mushrooms, olive oil, and garlic. Although my Montreal seasoning wasn’t traditionally Italian, I found Clerico’s Dolcetto production held with this slight twist. The tannic structure provided greater complexity and range to what is typical with a less full-bodied Dolcetto. Without a doubt, the acidity of this wine ultimately made the meal. I would recommend putting this bottling in your arsenal of solid beats for nights in. The meal reinforced that the Dolcetto, or “little sweet one,” is a rewardingly approachable food friendly wine.

When you want build a meal around Italian flavors but need a wine that can handle a few alternative deviations, understand that Domenico Clerico’s slightly modernist Dolcetto wine will allow you to take more international flavor risks without forcing your meal off of the Italian boot. And the pride of announcing that it’s under $20 a bottle only adds to the sweetness.

Wine with Friends

or why you want to stop with the good stuff

One of my favorite pastimes as weather turns from brisk to chilly is sitting next to a fire and sharing wine with my closest friends. I spent this past Friday with a co-worker and a friend relaxing, chatting boisterously, nibbling some artisanal cheese, and sharing some great wines:  Paolo Bea’s San Valentino and Il Macchione’s Vino Nobile Riserva 2001.  Both wines were selected from IWM and are quite affordable considering the high quality and complexity of the wines themselves.

Paolo Bea has a reputation for his natural winemaking, and he does wonders with this predominantly Sangiovese wine (there’s also Montepulciano and Sagrantino).  It’s awesome to come across a Bea wine at such an affordable price—under $35—with Sagrantino as one of the varietals in the blend.   We enjoyed the wild berries, sweet spices and floral notes the wine had to offer, and it went down quite easy and complemented antipasto exquisitely.

We quickly moved on to our next wine, Il Macchione’s Vino Nobile Riserva 2001. This wine is spectacular for the price—just over $55.  It’s a Riserva, which I love, and has nine years of age, which gives it some depth and complexity.  It exhibited dark plum, oak and went down silky smooth.  I found myself laughing along with my friends and thinking that was turning out to be a great way to start off the weekend.

Two bottles down and we were off to the second destination of the night.  We went to a jazz club in the West Village, and wanting to continue my wine kick, I ordered something called “Cherry Wine.”  I figured it was wine made from cherries, or at least I was hoping so—and that it wasn’t a cheaply vinified wine with some cherry flavoring.  Feeling bold, I took my chances and ordered.  It was great! Very sweet, it tasted just like rich dark red cherry. I don’t think it’s possible to drink more than 6 oz of this wine in a night, but it was a nice change. It could’ve done well with a cheese plate and a savory or sweet dessert.  This wine is wonderful for diverse pairings.

As the night went on, I got a little cocky and decided to order a Cabernet at one of my favorite dive bars on Jones St.  My senses being much more subdued at this point of the night helped me get half way through this awful glass of Cabernet, but then realized that it tasted solely of candy corn.  At first, given its only a week after Halloween, I thought this was interesting and a good thing.  A couple more sips of the sickly sweet yet drab wine, and I called it quits.  Yuck!

I suppose the moral of the story is this: if you start out with great wine, it’s not a good idea to end with a bad one. No matter how tipsy you are, if you know wine well, you’ll know the difference. I should have had a water—or a tequila.

keep looking »