The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Expert Picks: Ca dei Mandorli and Paolo Bea

Two expert selections from John Camacho Vidal

CamachoWith Valentine’s Day around the corner, I’ve been focusing on wines to pour at the end of that special romantic meal. I wanted to showcase two different wines that will lend to a sweet ending to a great meal—and perhaps something more. While the origin of Valentine’s Day remains up for debate, today, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates are the custom. This is mostly due to chocolate having a reputation for having aphrodisiac qualities and the genius marketing of the chocolate industry. In the mid-1800s, Cadbury began producing chocolate boxes with popular sentimental images as well as red heart-shaped boxes and the rest has been history. Today’s wines will help you and your beloved enjoy those chocolates in style!

Ca dei Mandorli 2014 Brachetto d’Acqui $22.00

Brachetto d’Acqui is a red DOCG wine named for the Brachetto grape, a variety that is native to Piedmont and the Acqui district in southern Piedmont. It has a long history often mentioned in Italian theater, and legend also tells that Julius Caesar and Marc Antony gave this wine to Cleopatra. Bursting with a floral nose full of rose and violets followed by raspberry, cherry and strawberries, this wine is bright and almost refreshing with a slight fizz to get you in the romantic mood. The palate is pleasant not overly sweet with a good acidity in the background and an elegant, fizzy finish. The combination of a moderate degree of alcohol along with the fresh, fruity, floral aromas and slight carbonation make for a wine that is perfect with chocolate and fresh strawberries.

Paolo Bea 2008 Sagrantino di Montefalco Passito $94.99

There are two things that make this wine special for Valentine’s Day. The first is that it is from Umbria, the putative home of St Valentine himself, and the second is that this Sagrantino wine is made in a passito style, which consist of harvesting the grapes late in the season and then drying them out on straw mats until 40% of the moisture has evaporated. As the grapes dry and almost become raisins, they concentrate their sugars and flavors. The semi-dried grapes are then gently pressed and the juice fermented until it reaches the desired level of sweetness and alcohol the producer wants making a wine that is intense, aromatic, and rich. I love to pair this wine with chocolates or enjoy it with a nice aged cheese. Deep, dense, thick, ruby red, this wine’s nose is Port-like with hints of cedar wood mingled with loads of black fruit, blackberry and plum, opening up to some lovely chocolate and slight smoky herbal notes. The palate is sweet and almost savory at the same time with a freshness that leads to a decadent finish that you wish would never end. Drink now to 2023.

Expert Picks: Josko Gravner and…Josko Gravner!

Two expert selections from Crystal Edgar

Crystal 2014Today, I recommend reaching for something a bit more adventurous, austere and beguiling, two bottles from Friuli’s Josko Gravner. These special “orange” wines offer remarkable weight with a punch of tannin, tricking your palate to believe that it might be a red wine. Personally, I find these wines utterly fascinating both alone and with food!

While rosé wines are made with red wine grapes whose skins are removed early in the process, oranges are made in the opposite style. They come from white wine grapes that are left to macerate with their skins on, instead of separating the pressed juices from the skins to preserve clarity and avoid tannins. The result is a pour with a unique amber hue, tannins that grip your mouth, and flavors and aromas that range from red tea, musk and mushrooms to cantaloupe and ginger.

Orange wines have been made in the republic of Georgia for thousands of years, but more recently Italy and Slovenia have resurrected the traditions. Gravner is considered the leading pioneer in the skin-contact wine movement; he spearheaded this unique style of winemaking, and his wines are often considered the standard bearers for other wines in the category. Today I am highlighting two different versions of his Ribolla Gialla, both “amber” wines, as Josko likes to call them. Drink these with cheese, pasta, seafood or steak, these special bottles are chameleons when it comes to the realm of food pairings.

If you’re trying orange wine for the first time, I recommend to serve these wines at red wine temperatures, and don’t be shy to decant so that they open up and reveal their full personalities.

Gravner 2006 Ribolla Gialla Anfora $94.99

Exquisitely balanced, the ’06 Ribolla is a gorgeous, textured wine. This saffron-hued wine has an unctuous mouth-feel that’s filled with velvety tannins, a deceptively chewy body, and Gravner’s trademark psychedelic palate. Ripe apricots, honeycomb, red tea, wildflowers and spices are all found here.

Gravner 1998 Ribolla Riserva 1.5L $339.00

I had the great pleasure of tasting this special wine with Josko Gravner earlier this year. The 1998 Ribolla was only made in magnum format, using wooden vats rather than Anfora. This wine offers more “umami” character with incredible elegance as the wine has had time to soften and evolve. This large bottle is a rare treat!

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.

Expert Picks: Tenuta San Guido and Castello dei Rampolla

Two expert selections from John Camacho Vidal

CamachoThe other day a friend and client who is appreciating and learning more about Italian wines asked me if I would taste a couple of Super Tuscans with her wine-tasting group. Loving to tell the story behind wines, I was excited to set something up. We chose two Bordeaux-blend Super Tuscans to showcase the Bordeaux style, both made with primarily Cabernet Sauvignon and no Sangiovese in them at all.

The first wine we tasted was the 2012 Guidalberto from Tenuta San Guido, the legendary estate that makes Sassicaia. Guidalberto is a blend of 60 % Cabernet Sauvignon and 40 % Merlot; the grapes for this bottling are harvested and fermented separately in temperature controlled steel tanks then aged for 15 months in mostly French oak with a small percentage of American Oak barrels, followed by three months in bottle. Our second wine was Castello dei Rampolla 2001 Vigna d’Alceo. Estate owner Alceo di Napoli’s first Super Tuscan was Rampolla; he planted his first Cabernet Sauvignon vines about 30 years ago. After his death, his children created the cru Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot blend Vigna d’Alceo to honor him. These wines are big and powerful and live up to the nickname of “Super” with that Tuscan terrior.

Tenuta San Guido 2012 Guidalberto $49.99

This wine is very accessible when young and drinks like a champ. It’s ruby red in the glass with aromas of bright red berries followed by cedar, spices and minerals; with some air, you get Tuscan earth and a slight tobacco scent. The palate is very elegant with silky, chewy tannins that mingle with juicy acidity and a nice lingering finish. Drink 2015-2018.

Castello dei Rampolla 2001 Vigna d’Alceo $249.00

A blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Petit Verdot, this wine has a deep, dense ruby color with aromas of ripe berries; herb notes of sage and rosemary blend with hints of cedar and earth, slight leather, licorice and black currant. The palate is full and inviting, and intense but elegant, silky tannins mingle with dark fruit. Lots of layers and a finish that lasts for more than a minute make this ’01 Vigna d’Alceo exceptional. Drink 2016-2027.

Expert Picks: François Gay and Fiorano

Two expert selections from Will Di Nunzio

will expertLast week, I had the pleasure of hosting one our longtime clients and his family for a dinner. After some bubbly and a little tour of the cellar, we sat down and enjoyed Chef Mike Marcelli’s amazing food—from his never-ending antipasti to the Waygu sirloin, it was all just an incredible meal. Of course, the wines were just glorious, and the two that stood out for me in particular were the François Gay Aloxe Corton 2013 and the Fiorano Sémillon N 42 1987. While very different, these two wines were exceptional in their own.

François Gay Aloxe-Corton 2013 $59.99

This little estate on the north face of the Côte de Beaune is run by François Gay, a man who seems to really care less about status and prestige. François makes great wine, and all he wants to do is make his wines the best he possibly can. Interestingly enough, he has no premier cru vineyards, although all of his vines grow in premier cru locations, meaning that his wines carry all the quality of this AOC level without the price. This Aloxe-Corton should be twice the price at least. Light, elegant, silky and a wine you can drink all night, this 2013 Aloxe-Corton is a magical little bottle of wine for any occasion.

Fiorano 1987 No. 42 Sémillon $149.00

The story of Fiorano is now well known, and this bottle is a cult wine that you would be hard pressed to get your hands on. Fortunately for everyone, Sergio Esposito, IWM’s founder, was able to get an incredible allocation many years ago, so our cellars are one of the guardians of this estate’s odd, astounding, and impossible wines. Why impossible? There are not many wines in the world—white wines that is—that show the way this 1987 does. That night, we opened an ‘88 and an ‘87 side by side. While the ‘88 showed great notes of nutmeg and almonds, some earth and port-like aromas, it was a little tired. The ’87, however, was brilliant, clear, bright and fresh. As we tasted this wine, we couldn’t believe what our heads were whispering to us. “This is a 1987?” we kept asking. It didn’t make sense; it was impossible. That is Fiorano at work—an unbelievable experience.

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