The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

The Haunting of Orange Wines

Finding strange beauty in skin-contact wines

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Paolo Bea’s range

Orange wines are a style that I’m very fond of for myriad reasons. Orange wines sit in an unusual position; they come about when winemakers treat white wine grapes with the same kind of protocol that they treat red wine grapes. In this, they’re the inverse of rosé wines, which treat red grapes like white, and it’s why some people refer to these wines as “skin-contact” wines.

It’s not merely the weirdness of so-called orange wines that draws me to them, however. Weirdness is a factor; I’m drawn to the unusual and strange, the unconventional and the, Bacchus help me, outside the box. It’s also that orange wines confound expectations. Everything about drinking a white wine tells you to expect a certain prescriptive set of sensations and flavors—even leaving room for a range of producer styles, grape varieties, vintage variations and regional differences.

Orange wines confound those expectations. There’s white wine freshness and red wine tannins. There’s white wine fruit—citrus, tropical, white-flesh or otherwise—and there’s red wine thrumming of earth, underbrush and wildness. There’s white wine scent and red wine weight. And on top of all of that sensory confusion, there are aspects that only orange wines have, a strange oxidative, sometimes caramelly, often funky-dirty-woodsy quality.

Gravner's "orange" Ribolla Gialla

Gravner’s “orange” Ribolla Gialla

These are wines that know no boundaries (at least when they’re good—and the ones by Paolo Bea, his son Giampiero’s project Monastero Suore Cistercensi, Josko Gravner, Movia, Radikon and IWM’s other producers of long-macerating whites are excellent). Likewise, they know no season. They feel right on a winter night with a nice roasted chicken or pork loin. Moreover, orange wines are pretty much the provenance of natural winemakers, and being a longstanding advocate of wines that come from organic grapes, made with little intervention, this appeals to me.

I remember the first time I drank Paolo Bea Santa Chiara. It was at the 2011 ViniVeri wine festival, held the same weekend as the enormous and sprawling VinItaly. Sergio Esposito and I tasted through the line of Paolo Bea, and it was like a symphony; each wine built on the one we tasted before, one musical line picked up by another, complicated, intensified, and reinterpreted. It was a beautiful experience, even in the middle of the big hall, even with the migraine I was suffering at the time.

Drinking these wines over the past couple of years, I’m reminded of that song I felt as I first experienced Paolo Bea’s skin-contact wines. I heard it again when I had this 2012 Santa Chiara, and I heard it most recently when I drank this 2006 Gravner Ribolla Gialla Anfora, which is, by the way, like drinking salty velvet. Orange wines are like haunting songs, and some melodies, no matter how strange, no matter how unusual, never leave you.

Tinto for TECHO: Exclusive Annual Fundraiser & Winemaker Dinner

A special charity event with IWM

Tinto-For-techo-iconExclusive Annual Fundraiser & Winemaker Dinner
TINTO FOR TECHO 2015

Thursday, May 28

7:00-10:00 pm
Four Seasons Restaurant
(Pool Room)
99 East 52nd Street, New York, NY 10022

Italian Wine Merchants & TECHO are delighted to invite you to Tinto for TECHO’s third annual fundraising dinner to be held at the Four Seasons Restaurant on Thursday, May 28, 2015. Hosted by Jorge Mora, Paolo Domeneghetti, Sona Dula, Sergio Esposito, Martin Brand and Pablo Calderini this special multi-course dinner will feature two great winemakers, Didier Depond, Président of Champagne Salon and Delamotte, and Marc Perrin, CEO of legendary Château de Beaucastel.

Founded by Eugène Aimé Salon in the early twentieth century, Salon Champagne is one of the legendary Blanc de Blancs bottlings, and along with “sister” Champagne house Delamotte, Salon forms the foundation of iconic Champagne house Laurent-Perrier. One of the largest and oldest estates in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Château Beaucastel is no stranger to those who love of the wines of the southern Rhône; indeed, you can make a strong argument that Beaucastel crafts some of the region’s greatest wines.

All proceeds from the winemaker dinner event will be donated to TECHO, a youth-led non-profit organization. TECHO offers social development programs in education, health, and housing to extreme poverty communities in 19 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean.

While this event features Salon and Beaucastel’s two winemakers, sommeliers will also pour choice selections from Italy’s Antinori, Slovenia’s Movia, and Spain’s Alvaro Palacios. Enjoy terrific global wines, fine cuisine, and an intimate gathering of like-minded individuals–all while helping others. It’s an evening that you and your guests will remember for a lifetime.

To learn more about TECHO, please download the PDF.

Host Committee:
Jorge Mora | Paolo Domeneghetti | Sona Dula
Sergio Esposito | Martin Brand | Pablo Calderini

Individual Seats: $1,000
Table for 10: $10,000

Sponsorship Packages also Available.

For all purchases and inquires, please contact your portfolio manager or contact Lupe Ayerza at 917-592-0085 or lupe.ayerza@techo.org

To purchase your tickets online please click here.

Discovering Diverse, Delicious Friuli-Venezia Giulia

A look at Italy’s North–and it’s not just great whites!

Taken from Wikipedia

Taken from Wikipedia

Bordering Austria and Slovenia in the northeastern region of Italy, Friuli-Venezia Giulia’s culture offers an intriguing amalgam of cultural influences. Even the region’s name shows that cultural melange. “Friuli” recognizes the ancient Friulani who first settled the area, while “Venezia” refers to the people of the Venetian Republic. Like its name, Friuli-Venezia’s wine culture reflects its heritage, blending indigenous and international grapes, modern and ancient methods, and producing a dizzying array wines ranged along a wide stylistic spectrum.

Friuli is disposed to be a white varietal specialist: Many of its wine zones receive the benefit of a propitious interaction between mountain air and warm sea currents, and this moderate environment lets grapes realize rich fruit flavors while retaining their incisive acidity. The ideal terroir is considered to be the provenance of the zone’s premier regions, Collio and Colli Orientali, which feature soils comprised of limestone, marl, and sandstone, and vineyards situated at a high elevation.

The Friulian standard-bearer wine is a crisp, clean white, and while imitated throughout Italy, no other region possesses the breadth of Friuli’s white varietal canon, composed of both indigenous and international varietals. The principal members of the former category include Tocai Friulano, Malvasia Istriana, Ribolla Gialla, and Picolit, while the latter is headlined by Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Bianco, and Pinot Grigio.

Also from Wikipedia

Also from Wikipedia

While Friuli-Venezia Giulia is understandably known best for its white grapes, the region also possesses a healthy relationship with red varietals. Friulia has enjoyed particular success with the Bordeaux varietals, but its indigenous varietals—Refosco, Pignolo, and Schioppettino—are on the rise in the wine world’s radar. While many regard Refosco as the leader of the trio, all three have been making their way back into the Friulian landscape. Schioppettino, Ribolla Gialla’s black counterpart, may be translated into a powerful wine of black fruit and spice that reflects kinship with a Syrah from the Rhône.

Josko Gravner with his anfora

Josko Gravner with his anfora

Friuli-Venezia Giulia has a long, storied history of winemaking, one that encompasses modern wine protocol, but also one that has increasingly been hearkening back to winemaking’s roots. None lead the oxymoronic charge of “new” old winemaking more successfully than Josko Gravner, whose work with anfora has for all intents and purposes ignited a wine movement. Starting about fifteen years ago, Gravner began fermenting his wine in anfora, large clay pots buried in the ground, leaving his white grapes in extended contact with their skins. His method has caught on, and in part because of Gravner, Friuli is one of the pivotal centers of natural winemaking in Italy. Like Gravner, producers such as Marjan Simcic, Stanko Radikon, Miani’s Enzo Pontoni, Movia’s Ales Kristancic and others work to create unique interpretations of the region’s grapes using natural, often biodynamic methods.

While Friuli-Venezia Giulia might not have the name power of Toscana or Piemonte, there’s no doubt that this is a powerhouse of a winemaking region—especially when you’re talking about Italian whites. Of course, that’s no reason to sleep on the reds! Friuli is all about diversity, much of it undiscovered and most of it delicious.

Falling in Love with Ribolla Gialla

Finding room in the heart and the fridge for a new love

Ribolla Gialla ripening in Radikon's vineyards

Ribolla Gialla ripening in Radikon’s vineyards

As much as I’ll always be devoted to Sangiovese, my first great Italian love, I’m finding I frequently gravitate toward Italian whites in general and Ribolla Gialla in specific. A few weeks ago, I had the great pleasure to meet Josko Gravner and to taste six vintages of his extraordinary Ribolla Gialla wines. I don’t know that I’ll ever look at “white” wines the same again.

Given my predilection toward wines that are decidedly hands off, natural and a little left of center, it’s not surprising that I do love Ribolla Gialla. It is Friuli’s emblematic white grape, and Friuli is the land of Italy’s most assertively natural winemakers—Gravner, Miani’s Enzo Pontoni, Stanislao Radikon, and Movia’s Ales Kristancic represent the old guard of natural Italian winemaking, and they all live and make wines in Friuli. In fact, you could argue that only Umbria’s Paolo Bea, Piemonte’s Giuseppe Rinaldi, and Toscana’s Querciabella and Castello dei Rampolla challenge this group of winemakers for their devotion to making wine with as little intervention as possible. I’m also a fan of these other producers—even if they live too far south to grow Ribolla Gialla.

Descended from the Greek varietal Rebula, Ribolla Gialla dates back to 1289 in Friuli, and this grape was popular enough to inspire Giovanni Boccaccio to include it in a diatribe against gluttony in the fourteenth century. There are two main types of Ribolla, and they are not created equal. Ribolla Gialla, or yellow Ribolla, is different from the Ribolla Verde, or green Ribolla, which is a less interesting and less cultivated clone. The primarily grown Ribolla Gialla is probably also related to the Schioppettino, a red grape that is sometimes called Ribolla Nero.

Ribolla Gialla makes full-bodied wines with great structure, qualities that seem at odds with its often neutral palate. When vinified to coax out its flavors, Ribolla Gialla can make wines with a sassy acidity that complicates its full texture in compelling ways. Typically, these wines hold delicate flavors of Golden Delicious apples, cantaloupe, and butterscotch, but they can also drip with juicy stone fruits, show remarkable minerality, and waft with smoke and spice.

Recently, I enjoyed the 2010 Ribolla Gialla from Movia, and it was a beautiful study in contrasts. The nose smelled like a hot summer day—it was all sun-warmed fruit and hay, a spicy turn of earth, and white flowers—but the mouth was brightly acidic, struck with minerals and more than a little salty. To be most succinct, it tasted like a sweaty kiss, and that’s not a bad thing. Thinking about this bottle against the range of Gravner bottlings, I can see a common thread of aromatics and intensity running through Ribolla Gialla, but where Gravner was weighty and meditative, the Movia was nimble and flirtatious. It makes me excited to experience more, this time perhaps from La Castellada.

One thing’s for certain: there’s room in my heart and in my wine fridge for more than just Sangiovese. There’s also Ribolla Gialla—and Malvasia, and Aglianico, and Nebbiolo, and so many more.

A Look at the Wine Glass, Humble or Huge, Ridiculous or Sublime

It’s not just what you drink–it’s also what you drink it out of

Josko Gravner's own tumblers

Josko Gravner’s own tumblers

More than merely being functional, the design of wine glasses often emphasizes the symbolic nature of the wine itself. Perhaps the best historical example of this marriage between wine and metaphor is the story that the champagne coupe was modeled on Marie Antoinette’s (or Empress Josephine’s) breasts. Sadly, this story is a canard, and the coupe, however titillating its design might be, was concocted independent of any aristocratic woman’s physical attributes. Still, you have to admire how the glass embodies Champagne’s decadence, even if it doesn’t actually enhance its drinkability.

Some people make an understandably big deal about matching their wine to the proper wine glass—and for good reason. The right glass helps to facilitate aeration in wine (important for breathe-worthy reds like Bordeaux or Barolo) or serves to limit CO2 emissions (important for sparklers like Champagne or Prosecco). The iconoclastic Ales Kristančič of Movia, for example, designs his own glasses to complement his biodynamic wines. It’s hardly unsurprising that this man (ballroom dancer, musician, artist, raconteur) would throw himself so wholeheartedly into creating a holistic wine experience; the sun and the moon guide the making of Ales’ wines; they are his world. I can’t imagine anything making Movia’s Puro any more charming than it already is, but these crystal glasses just may do it. Likewise, Josko Gravner has designed a set of humble tumblers for his wine, and they’re available only at IWM. These hand-blown crystal tumblers are as elegant as they are unique

And yet, if form can follow function and make a beautiful complement, form can also defy function—and then you get art. The Deadly Glasses, a set of wine glasses made by London’s Kacper Hamilton, is based on the seven sins, and as problematic as drinking wine from the Envy glass (or as painful as drinking wine from the Wrath glass) might be, there’s no denying that these are beautiful objects, as deeply metaphoric as the apocryphal Antoinette Palace Coup, and twice as ineffectual.

Perhaps too effective is the Glass Tank from Kyouei Design. Big and bulbous, this wine glass is a physics lesson and a potential hangover in the making—it was designed to hold just about a full bottle of wine and to never, ever spill, no matter how inebriated its drinker becomes. Still, it is a gorgeous item, as useful as it is exaggerated, and perhaps the closest thing to a beer hat that a wine snob could carry and still call himself “connoisseur” in the morning.

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