The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

The Terroir of IWM

a sense of place

The day begins early, and watchful eyes survey the landscape. People make notes preparing for the day’s activity. The espresso machine hums while I check messages. Discussions break out on the roster of incoming wines. The portfolio managers settle before their computers, wrapping up the previous days business—printing tasting notes and gift cards, fulfilling pre-arrival orders, and generally gearing up for the day. Downstairs the sales staff are doing inventory, polishing and reassembling the necessary items from the previous night’s event. Scents begin to waft from the kitchen as the staff prep for the servings of the day. Mid-morning the phones ring more often as our portfolio managers begin to weave their magic. There is advice to be given, pairings to be made, and deliveries to be coordinated as we cater to the particular needs of our loyal clientele.

Sometime around noon staff lunch is called, served family style in our Studio del Gusto, and we scramble downstairs in shifts to partake. We troupe up in scattered shifts. The espresso machine hums. Phones ring.

Momentum builds as the afternoon deepens. Constant streams of conversations abound as we process orders, organize campaigns, and make impossible requests of our acquisitions department. The store is also in full swing, and a bottle is selected for patrons to taste as they browse. One or another of us drops downstairs to meet a client, confer with our chef, visit the cellar or speak to our shipping department. A happy bustle reigns.

The crescendo approaches as evening approaches. Shipping deadlines are met, allocations made, and the vintage room is prepared for the night’s event. Wines and glasses are arrayed, appetizer courses laid out, bottles opened and some are decanted. The guests arrive, speeches are made, and many a glass of wine is tasted, and n atmosphere of conviviality is achieved. Occasionally, festivities carry on, and celebrities are gently removed from the chandeliers.

Upstairs the work continues. The phone calls slow down and often there are new wines to try. Merits and shortcomings are discussed, opinions solicited, and while the loose ends are tied, the homeward-bound workers begin to file out. Eventually it dwindles to the last two or three, staying to provide coverage for our west coast clients, or just going the extra mile, because it’s expected of us.

To my thinking, the terrior of IWM is as magical as the slopes of Piemonte, the sun slanting on the Valle d’Aosta, or the breeze from the Adriatic Sea. We work hard to create the “sense of place” you experience in every interaction with us, and above everything else, we stand behind what we do.

Drinking on the Job

another day at IWM

When I arrived home from IWM last night, my roommate asked me how work was, as is the custom.  In reply, I gave a small anecdote from the day.  A colleague commented on my unusual combination of beverages that lay before me: water, Diet Coke, and a glass of wine.  Telling my roommate, I believed I was pointing out my strange taste in combinations, but my roommate saw it differently. She immediately exclaimed, “You’re drinking wine at work!”

I thought to myself, well, yes, of course!

The wines we tasted yesterday afternoon were three wines featured in our Cellar Selections from Waters Winery.  Before the tasting, I was given information on each wine’s flavor profiles, the producer, and varietal distribution.  As I was reading, I noticed a small group of co-workers forming behind my desk.  The tasting had begun!

Each of our tastings happens in a similar manner.  First, our Wine Acquisitions Director, Christy Canterbury, sends an email naming the wines that will be opened and kindly reminds us to BOG (Bring Your Own Glass).  Then we gather and we each pour small tastes of the wine, give our own perceptions of the wine, and confirm certain details of production.  It’s a very casual but collaborative effort that enables me to understand the different ways people can experience the same wine.  It also provides me with the ability to relate to the wine, understand it, and use my experience to better inform my clients of what to expect when they open a bottle.

Wine is so much about personal experience and personal flavor profiles.  It is impossible to describe a wine in its entirety having never experienced its taste or smell.   For Portfolio Managers at IWM, drinking wine is essential to helping our clients in the best way possible. And for me personally, it’s also a great, big, delicious perk.

Being There

how portfolio managers help make special occasions extraordinary

I am a Portfolio Manager at Italian Wine Merchants. I’m sure many of you wonder what exactly that means. To put it in simple terms, we are “consultants” who live and work to help our clients with their wine goals. Whether we’re helping people figure out what wine they should drink that night, or what wine they should buy and save for the next twenty years, we’re all here to share our knowledge and expertise.  But more than that, we’re kind of the fairy Godmothers of our clients’ wine worlds.

Often, we get pretty close with our clients—after all, we virtually live in their cellars. For example, I had one of my clients call me the other day to ask for my help choosing a wine for a big date that he had planned. With him on the phone, I went to the restaurant’s website and took a look at the wine list and walked him through it. It was an Italian restaurant, so the wine list was broken up by region, and we went through and I pointed out certain wines that I recommended with some talking points. I told him which ones were good values and what kind of food they would complement. This way he could choose the wine that best matched what they were both eating, feel confident in his decision, and impress his date.

I also had a lot of fun helping a client who was looking for wines from 2006, his son’s birth year. He wanted to find wines that would age long enough to open up and celebrate on his son’s 21st birthday. We ended up choosing a mixed case of several different bottles so that they could open up some the year of his son’s birth, and others after his birthday passed. It was such an honor to help pick these selections out because I knew how much it meant to the client and how much trust he had in me. I hope that in 17 years they will enjoy the wines to the fullest.

These are just some of the ways that I help my clients throughout the day. My work really takes the shape of my clients’ needs. That’s what keeps it interesting and personal; I get to know people on a deep level and understand what wine means to them. And I get to go home happy that on some invisible level, I’m there with my clients, sharing in their best memories.

A View from a Tasting

France vs. Italy

This past Saturday we had a terrific tasting event at our Studio del Gusto: France vs. Italy. Since as far back as I can remember, these two countries have been forced to measure up in almost everything—empire, architecture, art, fashion, soccer and, of course, food and wine.

On Saturday, wine was clearly the competition at hand. However, because it wouldn’t be fair to designate a winner from such a small selection of wine, what we experienced on Saturday was less a contest than it was a study. We paired up a French wine with an Italian wine for a total of four pairs, or eight wines. I then helped our guests compare each French and Italian wine to each other. What follows are my notes from last Saturday’s tasting.

Fantinel NV Prosecco Brut Extra Dry vs. Bereche NV Brut Reserve

Although the Bereche is a lovely NV Champagne with good acidity, the genteel simplicity of the Fantinel took the lead (by a single vote) as an ideal wine for aperitivo and desserts. However, I have to be honest here and acknowledge that I’ve had many exceptional Italian sparklers, and the world of sparkling wines unquestionably belongs to the French.

Aldo Conterno 2006 Chardonnay Bussiador vs Domaine Latour Giraud 2006 Mersault Les Narvaux

Aldo’s Chardonnay is a wonderful representation of the grape, and our guests chose it for its elegant oak, notes of vanilla and soft minerality, but the preferred wine here was the smooth Meursault by Giraud, an outstanding white burgundy with a delicate bouquet and a lighter body than the Bussiador.

Canalicchio-Franco Pacenti 2004 Brunello di Montalcino vs. Chateau Haut Bages 2004


This was a tough choice for many because the wines were not identical. However, our guests had fun comparing the legendary Bordeaux to the legendary Brunello. This particular Brunello happens to have a slightly lighter body than most, yet it still maintains its rich flavors. The Haut Bages, a 5th growth Bordeaux, was a smooth and easy drinking wine that’s ideal for everyday. There was some debate, but the Brunello was the preferred wine here. We should keep in mind that we’re talking about a 5th growth Bordeaux and not let the victory go to our head.

Giacomo Conterno 2005 Barolo Cascina Francia vs. Domaine de Montille 2005 Volnay Le Mitans 1er Cru

The Gran Finale! There was no instant decision on these two incredible wines. Given that both wines could use a few more years, I was sure to give enough the air so that we could enjoy the fruit, silkiness and elegance of both of these wines. Being a huge Conterno fan, I hoped that the group would lean toward that, but it was an even split. Both of these beauties were superb!

Ultimately, it was an even game, which makes sense because the real winners of the tasting were the tasters themselves. When the wine—and the company—are good, there are no losers, only a big pile of win.

Family Meal at IWM

sometimes a mystery, always a treat

The kitchen staff awaits the onslaught.

The kitchen staff awaits the onslaught.

Nearly every day at around 12:30pm, a call is made.

“Lunch!” someone screams from the back of the room, and people suddenly
pop up from their desks like meerkats and rush the elevator like buffalo.
Everyday, the IWM staff is treated to “Family Meal,” a banquet-style lunch
in the Studio del Gusto that includes salad, a selection of vegetables,
one or more meat options, along with an occasional bonus assortment of
Italian cheeses and desserts. Carefully prepared by the IWM’s culinary
team, it’s a great way for the staff to experience one of the services
that IWM does so well: events. Moreover, we get the opportunity to enjoy
IWM staff, converse like normal people, and flesh out ideas.

It’s true that occasionally lunch can be so much a mystery that while
devouring it, we’re all questioning what it’s in dish x, we appreciate
this IWM perk. It’s always a fabulous experience because it allows us to
bond, and it brings us closer to the kitchen staff, and they to us. H

Because a picture’s worth a thousand words (and I’ve given you only a
couple hundred), here are some photo opportunities from a recent “Family

IWM staff lines up for lunch

IWM staff lines up for lunch

Senior Wine Portfolio Manager, Will Di Nunzio looks debonaire with chicken.

Senior Wine Portfolio Manager, Will Di Nunzio looks debonaire with chicken.

The Studio del Gusto, a cook's eye view

The Studio del Gusto, a cook's eye view

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