The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Expert Picks: Antico Boilo and Petrolo

Two expert selections from Will Di Nunzio

Will_2We all know the big wine names in Italy–Brunello, Barolo, Barbaresco, Amarone, and so on–but one of the great things about this small country is discovering the lesser-known wines from off the beaten path. It’s even better when they are incredible wines. When I started to think about obscure Italian wines, two sprang to mind, Antico Brolio’s Schioppettino and Petrolo’s Galatrona.

Antico Broilo Schioppettino 2009 $38.80

Hailing from Fruili, in a small town called Prepotto right on the border of Slovenia, the Antico Broilo estate is a place of great winemaking in the Colli Orientali. Schioppettino, meaning “little gunshot,” is also locally known as Ribolla Nera (the counter part of Ribolla Gialla produced by big names such as Gravner and Movia). A fruit-forward wine with notes of blackberries, blueberry and raspberry in its youth, Scioppettino acquires notes of spices and black pepper with age, making it perfect for a variety of foods from red and white meats to game and vegetable stews. Ideally, serve this wine at a few degrees cooler than room temp.

Petrolo Galatrona 1997

Just as Grattamacco and Castello dei Rampolla’s Sammarco were unknown Super-Tuscan gems that were comparable to Sassicaia and Ornellaia, Petrolo’s Galatrona is akin to famed Merlot mono-varietals Masseto, Messorio and Redigaffi. A powerhouse of a wine with lots of structure and age-worthiness, this wine was first created by Luca Sanjust in 1994. Sanjust wanted to make a wine comparable to Bordeaux’s Pomerol; did he succeed? You’ll have to find out. Expect a smooth wine with notes of blackberries, coffee, balanced tannins with a very, very long finish from this 1997.

A Special Radikon Radikon Special

There’s nothing as delicious as a delicious bottle of wine for less

This week, IWM is running an online special of a magnum of perfectly aged Radikon Merlot 2000. A couple of weeks ago, our own PM extraordinaire John Camacho Vidal wrote a really evocative post about his enjoyment of the wine. Here’s an excerpt:

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.  I can honestly say that no wine drinker is complete until he or she tries a bottle of Stanko Radikon’s wines. They will take you to a long-forgotten time in Italian winemaking, a time of natural winemaking with no artificial chemicals, and a time of minimal intervention from the winemaker. Radikon’s philosophy is present in every bottle: he simply guides and lets the wine make itself.

When I first poured this 200 Merlot, the first thing that came to mind was how funky it was on the nose; the closet thing that I can compare is that it smelled like borscht soup (in a good way), or if you have ever walked threw a stable of sweaty horses after a fox hunt, it will bring back that pleasant memory. It is intense red, slightly hazy or opaque. After some time and lots of aeration the funk dissipates a bit to reveal 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 lapse, it developed further and was completely different, more nuanced, more mellow, and yet still fresh.

This is the perfect wine to complement a roasted loin of lamb and to share with a table full of the people you love. Magnums make every bottle last, deliciously, and do be sure to decant this Merlot to ensure the best tasting experience.

Spotlight on Italian Merlots

What a difference a terroir makes in this International grape

Italian Merlot is a thing of beauty. When the likes of Le Macchiole’s Messorio, Ornellaia’s Masseto and Tua Rita’s Redigaffi rival the very best of Pomerol, you know you have something special. Merlot does best in Tuscany, specifically in the region of Chianti and, more importantly, Bolgheri.  You can also find Merlot growing in northeast Italy, where the wine’s character is usuall much leaner and fresher, but even this generalization has exceptions when you look at wines like Friuli’s Simcic’s Opoka Merlot.

In the great pantheon of wine grapes, Merlot is generally not looked highly upon for some reason.  When I say, ” You have to try this Merlot!” people are sometimes unenthused. I think that feeling exists because of all the subpar, uninspiring, and over-oaked Merlot coming from California.  If you have a taste of this stuff, you will hate Merlot as well. The good news is that really good Merlots are nothing like that, and the ones from Italy challenge that commonplace reasoning from first whiff to last, lingering sip.

The best Merlots are aromatic, rich, full, complex and extremely silky.  If find the right stuff, they also age very, very well, which makes them perfect for the cellar.  The most age-worthy Merlots from Italy are definitely coming from Tuscany.  There, the soils have the prefect mix of sand, clay and gravel, lending great freshness and verve to this soft, seductive grape.  The bright hot Tuscan sun also does a great job at helping the grape achieve full ripeness.  Because these conditions, many Tuscan winemakers produce high quality grapes, and their wines are able to stand up to French Oak, unlike most of the their California counterparts.

Once you get hooked on Merlot, I can guarantee it will become part of your everyday drinking repertoire. Then the only problem becomes choosing one.

In Frank Praise of Radikon

There is some sweet fruit behind all that funk

Those of you who know me know how much I love biodynamic wines. Whether it’s Josko Gravner, Paolo Bea (who grows biodynamically but isn’t certified biodynamic) or Movia, I find natural, biodynamically made wines fascinating and very enjoyable.

Last week I had an opportunity to taste some Radikon Merlot 2000. This is a wine for the adventurous taster—in fact, the wines of Stanko (Stanislao) Radikon are about as exciting a wine drinking experience as you can get. Radikon has a tiny farmhouse/winery of about 11 hectares in the town of Oslavia, on a relatively tiny stretch of hills north of the border town of Gorizia in the Isonzo zone of Friuli.

Radikon forms part of a vanguard group of winemakers (Jasko Gravner, Edi Kante, Paolo Bea and Ales Kristancic are other members) in Italy who strive to make unique wines that do not reflect the recent international trend of wines that all taste the same. Most importantly, they make natural wines, made without additives, yeasts, sulfur or even temperature control. The whites are orange owing to the extended maceration on the skins for three or four months–or longer. Long skin-maceration has been proved to promote extraction of tannin and other grape compounds, and this is why long-macerated wines have very intense color, contain natural antioxidants for wine preservation, and do not need further chemical preservatives such as sulfur dioxide.

Radikon makes his wines in the traditional Slovenian style, with hand harvesting, extended skin maceration, and fermentation in large older barrels (30-35 hl) without temperature control.   Radikon goes so far as to avoid sulfuring his wine, a risky practice that can result in spoilage, but if done skillfully, it produces a fresh, lovely wine with flavors beyond compare, as is the case with the 2000 Merlot I tasted. Following the maceration he proceeds with the racking and a slight pressing. The wines are then aged in large oak barrels (30-35 hl) for three years or so and later left another year in bottle before being released. The wines reflect the area and, in my opinion, are very terrior driven. Every vintage is different, allowing nature to express its climatic conditions through the wine.

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.  I can honestly say that no wine drinker is complete until he or she tries a bottle of Stanko Radikon’s wines. They will take you to a long-forgotten time in Italian winemaking, a time of natural winemaking with no artificial chemicals, and a time of minimal intervention from the winemaker. Radikon’s philosophy is present in every bottle: he simply guides and lets the wine make itself.

When I first poured this 200 Merlot, the first thing that came to mind was how funky it was on the nose; the closet thing that I can compare is that it smelled like borscht soup (in a good way), or if you have ever walked threw a stable of sweaty horses after a fox hunt, it will bring back that pleasant memory. It is intense red, slightly hazy or opaque. After some time and lots of aeration the funk dissipates a bit to reveal 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 lapse, it developed further and was completely different, more nuanced, more mellow, and yet still fresh.

All though this wine might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I urge you to try it. It’s an experience you will not forget and that will stay with you for a long time, and whenever you see the Radikon label, you will probably want a glass again. Try drinking your bottle over a three-day time frame and see how it evolves.

 

Sleepy Wine, Sleepy Heads

Looking at why wine can make you tired

Lioness after a glass of Soldera

Here is question that I often get asked, being the only wine nerd in my family: I sometimes drink a glass of wine and get pretty sleepy afterward. What is it about wine that makes you tired?

This question, in some ways, stands for everything that wine represents, and its simplest response also answers all wine questions: wine affects everyone differently. It makes a lot of people tired, but many people also feel invigorated, those like me, for instance. Drinking a glass of wine, be it cheap jug wine or  high-end juice, creates a personal experience for your mind, palate and body.

Of course, simple answers rarely give satisfaction, and thus we look to the more complex. Alcohol—all alcohol—is a depressant.  Ethanol, the principal alcohol in wine, inhibits the activity of the central nervous system pure and simple. This in turn, makes you feel “down” and sleepy.

Some other people blame their wine-related sleepiness on sulfites. While sulfites are sometimes added to wine to help preserve it, they’re also added to cold cuts, hot dogs and other preserved meats. Sulfites in wine also occur naturally; they’re just there, a byproduct of fermenting grapes. Many people blame the sulfites in wine for a host of woes like headaches, allergies, hangovers and sleepiness. It may or may not be the sulfites that make you tired because, as I said before, everyone is different. Maybe hot dogs make you sleepy too.

There may be additional research that suggests wine’s role as a soporific. Recently, Italian scientists tested eight varieties of grapes for melatonin, the sleep hormone that is secreted by the pineal gland in your brain.  These scientists found large levels of this hormone, or a possible melatonin-like compound, in the skins of the grapes.  Nebbiolo, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese had the highest amounts.  However, there is skepticism from other scientists that the compound found may not actually be melatonin. Clearly, more testing is in order.

If you find yourself getting tired because of wine, try to eat something before you drink as to slow the absorption of alcohol into your system. Or just drink near your bed. There are worse things than drinking a glass of wine and taking a nap.

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