The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Expert Picks: Le Macchiole and Tua Rita

Two expert selections from David Gwo

David Gwo 12.8.14Today our focus will be on Merlot coming from Tuscany’s Bolgheri region. Commonly referred to as one of the “Bordeaux” or “international” varietals, Merlot is one of the main grapes used in the red wine blends in both the Left and Right Banks of Bordeaux, as well as the famed region of Pomerol. Merlot is called an international varietal because, like Cabernet Sauvignon, it appears in many wine-producing regions around the world. Believe it or not, though, there are far fewer examples of exceptional Merlot as a single-varietal wine.

There are three top Italian Merlots coming out of Italy that immediately come to mind, they are: Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Masseto, Tua Rita Redigaffi, and Le Macchiole Messorio. On its own Merlot can be rather mediocre, but a few places do extremely well with the grape, and Bolgheri happens to be one of them. My focus is on the 2009 vintage of Tua Rita and Le Macchiole. 2009 was a great year for the wines of Bolgheri, if you’ve yet to be impressed by Merlot, these bottles will not disappoint. If you can be patient, I’d encourage you to wait a bit before popping their corks; these wies will offer years of drinking pleasure down the road.

Le Macchiole 2009 Messorio $189.00

Le Macchiole is famous for its mono-varietal bottlings. While the estate’s entry-level Bolgheri Rosso is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, Le Macchiole’s other wines all focus on a single grape, and the Messorio is their flagship 100% Merlot offering. This wine is consistently great in every vintage displaying dark plummy fruit backed by notable structure and notes of earth, chocolate, and spice. This wine always possesses really terrific concentration and enters a great drinking window 5-8 years after the vintage date.

Tua Rita 2009 Redigaffi $299.00

Redigaffi is undoubtedly one of my favorite expressions of Merlot anywhere. The estate only started producing wine in the mid-80’s, but it skyrocketed to wine super-stardom in the ‘90s with this flagship Merlot bottling, which grabbed the attention of major wine critics and publications. I’ve had the pleasure of tasting some back vintages of Redigaffi, and it always impresses for its depth, complexity, and sheer drinking pleasure. If you enjoy full-bodied wines that age gracefully, this is one to have in your cellar!

Expert Picks: Peter Dipoli and Peter Dipoli

Two expert selections from Crystal Edgar

Crystal 2014As much as I love wines from the popular regions of Piedmont and Tuscany, I am always on the hunt for delicious wines from other “shadow” regions. Today I am focusing on a talented pioneer winemaker from Italy’s northern region of Alto Adige, Peter Dipoli.

Peter Dipoli represents one of Italy’s top talents, producing wines on a level beyond what anyone thought possible in the mountainous region of Alto Adige. Going against the grain in regards to tradition , Peter discovered that the steep, high-altitude slopes near Bolzano are ideal for the production of complex, age-worthy white and red wine, something for which Alto Adige is not necessarily well known. He began by replacing the local native grapes with French varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvginon Blanc) that are better suited to the climate and able to enjoy a longer growing season. In doing this his crops attain impressive ripeness while retaining the acidity that would allow it to age in bottle. To enjoy Peter’s wines is to experience the unique artistry of one of northern Italy’s best rising stars, a secret somewhat guarded within Italy’s borders….until now!

Peter Dipoli Sauvignon Voglar 2009 $34.99

Peter’s comprehensive study of terroir has clearly paid off, as his Voglar bottling is beautifully poised and pure. Volgar is made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes grown on limestone cliffs and fermented and aged in acacia casks. The wine offers gorgeous exotic fruit, white florals with impressive precision minerality – a lovely alternative to whites of the Loire and Bordeaux and the perfect match to fresh seafood.

Peter Dipoli Iugum 2007 $59.99

Peter’s research also led him to identify another plot of land with a milder climate and soils of clay and limestone, perfectly suited to grow Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Similar to his findings for the Sauvignon Blanc, he can achieve longer hang time lending for optimal maturity of the fruit while avoiding those unpleasant vegetal flavors that can be found in some of the indigenous local reds. After four years of age, two in barrel and two in the bottle, Iugum is released. Peter’s goal is to make an age-worthy, complex red from Alto Adige that simultaneously reflects its terroir and Iugum is just that! This cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon oozes with class and is surprisingly approachable at a young age while offering exceptional cellaring potential. Broadly useful at table, this is a great match to a number of hearty dishes.

Expert Picks: Movia and Bodega Chacra

Two expert selections from Crystal Edgar

Crystal 2014Merlot is either adored or overlooked by wine aficionados as many complain its lack of sophistication when compared to other noble varieties. I beg to differ as Merlot has more depth than meets the eye (or lips in this case.) A bit of a chameleon, this grape offers a myriad of flavors and textures based on the location of vineyards, temperature, the time of harvest and the winemaker’s technique. Merlot is blended within just about all of the greatest wines in Bordeaux and, depending on the style, can range from soft, smooth and fruit forward to austere, earthy and tannic. It is grown across the globe and accounts for 600,000 acres worldwide.

Sadly the grape was chastised in 2004 when a character from the movie Sideways gave a memorably negative assessment of merlot in just two script lines, pushing it off of its pedestal in many markets. Sure there are wines that give every grape a bad name, but we choose not waste our time on those unfortunate examples. Not only has Merlot allowed many novice enthusiasts to develop their palate for wine in early years but also has provided serious collectors to cellar some of the most prestigious and powerful wines of all time, Petrus and Masseto to name a few.

Looking through our cellar, I came across a few biodynamic Merlot that I would like to place in the spotlight today. Both wines are beautiful, unique and natural expressions of the grape, articulating the regions’ distinctive terroir while sharing a bit of the passion and talent of the hands they were crated from. Offering exceptional quality and value, these bottles will fit just about any occasion and pair beautifully with a range of fall and winter favorites.

Bodega Chacra Mainque Merlot 2010 $42.50

Bodega Chacra is something of a dynastic operation. The estate is the project of Piero Incisa della Rocchetta, a young man from the family of Super Tuscan, Sassicaia. His Mainque Merlot is polished with impressive concentration, depth and length. Dark, almost brooding fruit, a subtle humidor of smokiness, and a tempting savory meatiness make the biodynamically produced Mainque stand apart from the crowd.

Movia Merlot 2004 $39.99

Movia has long been committed to biodynamic agriculture, the practice that is beyond organic and one that works with the power of the sun, the planets and the earth to cultivate plants and, in Movia’s case, to make wines. Deriving from almost 70-year-old vines, this unusually dense, jammy Merlot is picked late and macerated until all sugar is fermented, and then it ages in barriques on its lees and is bottled. This dry, fruit-forward interpretation of Merlot puts its earthy, woodsy foot forward in a lively body that excites the senses with its lively yet smooth and gentle palate of juicy red fruit, fresh-cut herbs, minerals and spice.

Pour That Funky Wine

Why some folks enjoy a little funk in their wine–and two wines to celebrate it

The resident horse at Cupano, Cavallo

The resident horse at Cupano, Cavallo

After I read this Monday’s blog post on the role of smell in wine memory, I started to wonder exactly why it is I’m partial to wines that, well, are funky. I love wines with some barnyard, earthy notes, sauvage, wildness or funk in them. The blog post notes how closely aligned memory and scent are, and as a wine educator, I find it’s sometimes difficult to describe a smell since it is tied to this memory. It’s our own memory bank makes wine so personal and links it to our individual experiences. This personal history both makes certain wines special to us and makes it hard to always pinpoint why. After thinking about why I love funky wines, I began to get a clue.

When I was growing up my parents used to send my brother and me to Colombia every summer vacation. If school was out on Friday, by Sunday I was at my uncle’s farm with my cousins running around and riding horses. These are some of my fondest childhood memories. I love horses and I remember hosing them down and brushing them after an afternoon of riding. Horses smell like barnyards, like warm leather, like hay, like animal sweat, and like the plains where I rode them. When I smell a wine that has some of these aromas or traits it transports me to that point in time. When I host a tasting and ask people to describe what they smell in a particular wine I have noticed that when they describe it passionately it is because they have made a memory connection and have been transported.

While it’s pretty easy to get behind scents like roses, fruit, river rocks or spice, there is a bit of controversy when it comes to funky wines. The question most asked seems to be, do these characteristics reflect a bad or faulted wine or is it the terroir coming through?

The rustic aromas of farmyard, barnyard, leather and cured meat that you often get in a wine are imparted by a yeast called Brettanomyces or BRET. Some love what this yeast does to a wine and others don’t. Many wine experts argue that this is a non-desirable wine fault. Others say that it is terrior, and since BRET smells and tastes earthy and funky, it is often understood as a component of terrior—or in excess, as mistaken for terroir.

Whatever the memory or reason is, if you like funky wines the way I do, we are not alone. There is a growing population of wine drinkers who love the funk. A bit of earth leather or funk goes a long way on certain wines, so I say let the experts argue all they want. The truth is that if you love the funky, then drink the wine; it’s entirely up to your taste buds to decide what you prefer. To illustrate my love I chose two of my favorite wines that are all about bringing the funk.

Radikon Merlot 2000

This wine is not for every palate. If funk is not your thing then absolutely skip it. But if you want to taste a wine that will shock your palate and give you an experience that is unlike any other, you must taste this Merlot. When I first poured this 2000 Merlot, the first thing that came to mind was how funky it was on the nose. It smells a little like borscht soup (in a good way), or if you have ever walked through a stable of sweaty horses after a fox hunt, it will bring back that pleasant memory. Intense red, slightly hazy or opaque, this wine blow off some of its funk with some time and lots of aeration, revealing some really sweet, ripe red fruits, herbs, cocoa and a bit of licorice. The mouth-feel is incredible—the tannins are sweet and complex, rich with hints of ripe fruit with a very persistent aftertaste of cherry and spice. Over a three-hour time lapse, this biodynamic ’00 Merlot develops further to become almost a completely different wine, more nuanced, more mellow, yet still fresh.

image003Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses 1990

Chinon is produced in the Loire Valley of France. I haven’t had many Chinons, but and when I tasted this 1990 by Olga Raffault I fell in love. From the get-go the nose is full of leather with notes of black tea, herbs, tobacco and olives followed by iron minerality, notes of red and dark berries, smoke, a hint of eucalyptus and some game and coffee. The palate is silky but gripping almost chalky. The acidity is great followed by spice, red and black fruit and a nice lingering finish.

What Do Millennials Want? A Wine with a Story

Finding meaning in a bottle of Movia Merlot

Findings by the Wine Market Council, graph from

Findings by the Wine Market Council, graph from

Being a kid in the 90’s was awesome. My days were typically spent rolling around town on my Razor Scooter, sipping on Capri Sun, listening to Now! Volume 7, and generally being boss in every imaginable way. But alas – one must grow up and enter the real world. As time passes and my generation, known as “Millennials,” enters adulthood, we bring with us a fresh set of tastes, preferences and values. And while I’m typically wary of such all-encompassing generational monikers, it is impossible to negate the effects that Millennials have had on the world of wine.

Now, at the ripe age of 24, I’ve been lucky enough to taste a lot of amazing wines at IWM. My unique position does not make me an outlier, however; nationwide, young people are encompassing an increasingly broader share of the consumer market. Twenty-somethings in 2014 drink a lot more wine than twenty-somethings in 1994. Wine bars are popping up all over the city.

Most importantly, the Millennial wine market is less concerned with “old-guard” standbys such as traditional rating systems. Younger wine drinkers value an intriguing story over a number. Quoted in a recent Fox Business piece on Millennial wine drinkers, Melissa Saunders of Communal Brands says, “Historically, wine has been marketed to older generations and came with a huge pretense. But this generation is blowing all of that out of the water. They don’t care about the pretentiousness of a wine, they want something that is authentic and speaks to them.” I know my own experience attests to the truth of Saunders’ assertion.

One of my favorite wines comes from Movia in Brda, the land that straddles the border of Italy and Slovenia). Centuries old, the Movia estate is rare in that it combines old-world traditionalism with new-world sensibilities. Ales Kristancic, owner of Movia produces all of his wines biodynamically, meaning that not only does he grow the grapes and make the wine without intervention, he uses the movements of the moon and the stars to guide his practices. You might be inclined to raise an eyebrow at the cosmological aspects of Kristancic’s winemaking process–that is, of course, until you actually taste his wine. I recently had the pleasure of tasting the Movia Merlot 2004, which I found lively while remaining smooth and gentle. The 2004 Merlot from Movia offers a delightful expression of terroir that is drinking beautifully today.

Maybe you’re a Millenial, in which case I suggest you open a bottle of this biodynamic beauty for your friends. And maybe you’re a Gen-X or Baby Boomer, in which case I suggest the same. A great wine is a great wine, and as long as you’re over 21, you’re adult enough to enjoy it.

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